Can you Lose Weight with Yoga?

Can you Lose Weight with Yoga?

When we think of weight loss training we might not necessarily think of Yoga – but with a strong focus on strengthening and flexibility can it help you achieve your goals? In this article we take a look at the research.

Read on to learn more about:

  • What is Yoga?
  • The studies behind it
  • Just how effective is it?
  • The final word – can it help you lose weight?

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a system of principles and philosophies originating in India that have been practiced since ancient times. The word itself means ‘union’ and is a reference to the relationship between the consciousness, the body and the soul – although the meaning of the word may differ dependent on context.

It is characterized by exercise that focuses on strengthening activities, it also aims to improve flexibility and breathing. The main features of this exercise are ‘postures’ – often referred to as poses. These are a series of movements that challenge the body in different movement patterns.

There are a number of different approaches and styles of this exercise. These include Hatha, Ashtanga and Sivananda. Each has a strong emphasis on inner energy channels and psychic centers.

A typical Hatha session would last 60-90 minutes and would expend more than 250kcal and as such would meet the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for weight control [1]. However, many sessions are less vigorous and would not necessarily influence energy balance.

Due to its emphasis on relaxation, posture and flexibility, it is traditionally seen as a more of a health and wellness training approach rather than a fitness or fat burning one. But can it help you lose weight?

Let’s have a look at the research:

Key Point: Yoga is an ancient Indian discipline focused on strengthening, improving posture and improving flexibility.

The science – Can it help you lose weight?

There’s a ton of research out there on the effects of Yoga on weight loss – here’s a breakdown of the best studies:

#Study 1: Hedge et al [2]

This study aimed to investigate the effect of this exercise on anthropometry – weight and body composition – in type 2 diabetics. 123 volunteers were assigned to either standard care or a Yoga intervention for a 3 month period.

In comparison to standard care, the Yogi group saw significant reductions in their body mass index, as well as glycemic control. The study concluded that yoga is an effective therapy in increasing weight loss.

#Study 2: Telles et al [3]

This study not only looked at how useful yoga is in terms of weight loss, but also how it compared to walking.

68 participants – 5 overweight, and 63 obese, were put into one of two groups:

  • Group 1: 90 minutes walking each day
  • Group 2: 90 minutes Yoga each day

The results of the study were interesting – both groups saw a significant difference in weight loss, waist circumference and fat mass. The second group, however, were the only intervention to see an increase in leptin levels – a hormone that regulates fullness and satiety. Both groups saw a similar decrease in cholesterol levels and body mass index.

The study concluded that the activity favorably influences multiple health outcomes in overweight individuals.

#Study 3: Kristal et al [4]

In this study the authors examined 15,550 men and women over a 10 year period in order to find out whether participating in the activity had any effect on weight loss or gain.

The results found that those that participated in the exercise for four or more years had 3.1lb less weight gain in comparison to non-participants.

Whilst the non-participation group put weight on over the 10 year period (around 18lbs), the Yogis lost a modest amount of weight – it was far better attenuated.

#Study 4: Benavides et al [5]

This study, published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice aimed to investigate the impact of participation in the activity on weight in overweight children – aged 8-15 years old.

14 volunteers underwent a 12 week program of Ashtanga taking part in 3 sessions per week. Each class lasted around 1 hour.

On average, the participants lost 2kg in weight over the 12 weeks – with the highest weight loss being 5.9kg. 

ey Point: Studies show that yoga can be useful for weight loss as well as health improvements.

So how effective is it?

There is quite a bit of research suggesting how yoga may help you with your weight loss goals – as modest as the results might be, they are still positive results.

As an addition to a healthy lifestyle and eating regime, Yoga can help you lose weight and improve your health – but really it should form part of a holistic approach to weight loss to maximize results.

All of the studies discussed above used overweight or obese participants – for that reason it is probably unreasonable to suggest that similar results would be seen with more active individuals. Or that this activity can replace more intense exercise such as weight training or HIIT training.

Yoga does seem to be, however, an effective method of weight loss in those who are of a lower fitness level – if you do it regularly enough and aim to do challenge yourself with more vigorous sessions. As a combination of exercise modes alongside more advanced training, you’ll be well on your way to weight and fat losses.

Summary – Does Yoga help you lose weight?

Yoga is a system of principles and philosophies originating in India that have been practiced since ancient times. It aims to increase the the union between the consciousness, the body and the soul by improving strength, flexibility and relaxation.

Studies show that in obese and overweight people, it can increase energy output, decrease body mass index and improve body composition – it’ll also improve some health risk factors too.

It might be unreasonable to suggest that this form of exercise will challenge the more able, conditioned individual as much as other types of training, but the fact that it promotes relaxation will assist in recovery so that you can train hard in other sessions.

  1. Pollock ML, Gaesser GA, Butcher JD, et al. The recommended quality and quantity of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, and flexibility in healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998;30:975-991
  2. Hegde, SV et al. Effect of 3-month yoga on oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes with or without complications: a controlled clinical trial. Diabetes Care. 2011; 34(10): 2208-10
  3. Telles, S et al. A comparative controlled trial comparing the effects of yoga and walking for overweight and obese adults. Med Sci Monit. 2014; 20: 894-904
  4. Kristal, AR et al. Yoga practice is associated with attenuated weight gain in healthy middle-aged men and women. Alternative Therapies. 2005; 11(4): 28-33
  5. Benavides, S et al. Ashtanga yoga for children and adolescents for weight management and psychological well being: An uncontrolled open pilot study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2009; 15 110–114