Chances are, you’re familiar with the idea of a “yoga body.” The long and lean shape, as displayed in the media, is often associated with those who can contort themselves into a headstand like it's no big deal. While the benefits of yoga, both mentally and physically, are vast, there’s one question that seems to be up for debate: Can yoga help you lose weight?
"Yoga isn’t necessarily an obvious thing that people turn to for weight loss, but it’s this idea of connecting your mind and your body,” says Rebecca Hajek, an instructor at New York City’s Yoga Vida. This mind-body connection, Hajek explains, can be a catalyst to weight loss because of the way it changes your thoughts about food. "When you start to build a practice and build a relationship with your body, you start to be more mindful about things like what you’re feeding it,” she says. "You become more conscious of how you feel after you eat certain things; it creates this awareness, so then you can create healthier eating habits or simply become more aware of patterns.”
And although yoga may not torch calories in the same way 60 minutes of Barry’s Bootcamp does, that doesn’t mean it’s not making a difference on your body. Yoga is known to reduce stress, increase metabolism, strengthen muscles, improve cardiovascular health, lower your triglyceride levels, and lower your blood pressure — all of which are beneficial when you are trying to lose weight. “I think when we speak of weight loss, too many people gravitate towards reckless and unhealthy lifestyle habits, but I believe yoga is more about moving your body every day in a way that makes sense for you,” says Laura Mucci, a certified yoga instructor at EverybodyFights.
Another appeal yoga has for those looking to shed pounds is that it challenges your body in ways that are different from other exercises. You can choose from physically demanding flows, such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa, heated flows that make you sweat, and slower-paced flows that focus on balance and breath. Fun fact: A study funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that women who did restorative yoga — a gentle practice in which poses are held for a long time, typically supported by props — burned 2 percent more body fat than those who just stretched for that same period.
But if serious weight loss is your ultimate goal, Mucci recommends cross-training. Try supplementing your yoga practice with a combination of cardio and strength-building exercises. Think high-intensity interval training (HIIT), boxing, and cardio dance classes. “Build workout routines that make you feel good, because when you exercise for enjoyment without adding pressure or stress, it becomes something you are able to sustain,” she says.
Having spent the better part of the past two months trying to craft a “yoga body” of my own with three to four classes per week under Hajek’s guidance, I can personally attest to the difference the practice has made on my physique. While it hasn’t necessarily helped me shed pounds, it has changed the way I approach food. It’s made me crave healthy meals that I know won’t make me feel sluggish, as opposed to mindless eating. In addition to a noticeable shift in my eating habits, attending regular classes has also made me more flexible and a heck of a lot stronger. After only a short period of time, I can now bend my body in ways I had never been able to before (I touched my toes for the first time last week!) and can hold a plank for upwards of 2 minutes.
"I think the biggest benefit of yoga is the mindfulness, because everything starts from there,” says Hajek. By working on your body andmind, you will ultimately become healthier overall.