Yoga for Weight Loss: A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Weight With Yoga

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The surprising truth that weight loss it not about calories at all.

Weight loss has never been easy.

That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, though!

Your body is capable of tremendous things regardless of what your current physical shape is.

Yoga has an uncanny way of letting you see how amazing the human body is, and once you begin developing your own practice, you’ll feel better mentally and physically.

yoga for weight loss

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What you are going to learn in this guide

  • Learn the science behind yoga that helps with weight loss
  • Common weight loss pitfalls
  • Detailed information about the effects of yoga on various body systems
  • What type of yoga is best for weight loss

Note: This is going to be a very long post, so take your time or quickly jump to the section you are interested in using the quick links below.

Struggling to avoid Weight Loss Booby Traps?

Society has made it really hard to maintain a healthy weight or be happy with your body. Twenty years ago, all you had to worry about was having a bikini-ready body.

Fast forward to today, and you have to have a Christmas Party Body, Valentine’s Day Legs, and Fourth of July Biceps. Okay, maybe it isn’t quite that bad, but it may as well be.

You can’t turn the TV on without being inundated with meal plans, diet shakes, and workout programs promising to get you ripped, toned, and shiny for whatever event you’re being pressured into attending.​

Before we get into all the details, check out what famous yogini Tara Stiles has to say about the weight loss benefits of yoga.​

The Problem with Fad Diets​

Whether you purchase a program or you try a strict diet on your own, it’s hard to stick to. Abstaining from sugar, carbs, or caffeine probably feels slightly unnatural, too, doesn’t it?

The Vicious Diet Cycle is frustrating because when you withhold certain groups of food, you do see results.

  • Your pants get looser​
  • You notice your shirts don’t fit as tightly
  • You just feel better about yourself all around.

What’s the problem with “get fit quick” schemes? I think the biggest mistake people make when they’re trying to lose weight is starting a program that isn’t sustainable over time.

Sure, cutting out carbs is doable for a couple of months, but is it something you can maintain for the rest of your life?

Eventually, bread will call your name and your new, unsustainable diet eventually slips away.

The single most important aspect of maintaining weight loss is that you have to enjoy the processes and not just the result.​

That doesn't mean that you can't support the process in various ways like essential oils or various superfoods but there is no "quick fix" that will help you overnight.​

The single most important aspect of maintaining weight loss is that you have to enjoy the processes, not just the result.​ #yogaforweightloss

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Why Even Science Says Dieting is Unhealthy​

​Weight loss and maintaining that loss should be attained by a way of eating and exercising that you can manage to hold onto for the rest of your life. It isn’t just me that feels that way, either!

A research study performed by UCLA yielded some pretty telling evidence that proves diets aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

The lead author of the study said you can easily lose five to 10 percent of your weight on any “diet”, but the weight will come back for at least ⅓ of people.

Even more startling are the findings from other studies that numerate how many people gain more weight after following a strict diet.​

  • 95% of diets fail with most dieters regaining the lost weight within four to five years.
  • Commercial weight loss programs and weight loss drug companies grossed over $315 billion in 1996. This accounted for over 3% of the American economy.
  • At least 35% of dieters become disordered eaters, and 25% will eventually develop an eating disorder.


"95% of diets fail with most dieters regaining the lost weight within four to five years"

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The Scary Effects of Calorie Restriction and Fad Diets

Since fad diets are structured to help you lose a lot of weight in as short a time as possible, they involve a severe calorie deficit. If you calculate how many calories a diet “allows” you, it ranges from 1200-1500 calories.

This seems like a lot, but the average 150-pound woman needs at least 1800 calories per day if she is completely sedentary. A typical diet deprives you of necessary calories to fuel your body for its normal functions.

You’ll lose weight, but eventually you get weak, tired, and prone to illnesses. You’ll also notice effects on your mental health.

Your moods will become erratic and you might notice you’re obsessive, irritable, and depressed for no reason.

Long term effects of severe calorie restriction include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Iron deficiency (anemia)
  • Gallstones
  • Immunodeficiency
  • Infertility
  • Hair loss, brittle fingernails, wrinkles

Yoga for Weight Loss - After all this, does it really work better than diets?

Short answer...yes it does! But you probably want more than that so keep on reading.

The Beautiful Benefits of Yoga​

Thanks to a common misconception about yoga, many people think yoga is simply stretching and improving your flexibility.

These are big components of the practice, but they aren’t the only benefits!

Certain types of yoga are actually excellent ways to lose weight, increase your cardiovascular fitness, and build muscle.​

A quick look at the health benefits of Yoga in it's entirety:​

  • reduces the anxiety and depression related to eating disorders, disordered eating, and body dysmorphia
  • strengthens the back muscles to alleviate back pain
  • boosts the metabolism
  • increases heart and lung health
  • improves the lymphatic system and strengthens the immune system
  • improves your balance, a particularly important benefit for the elderly who are prone to falls
  • eases the pain associated with carpal tunnel, arthritis, and fibromyalgia
Yoga Instagram @mynameisjessamyn

Source: Instagram @mynameisjessamyn

If you think only people built like ballerinas can do yoga, I’m here to tell you differently. Yoga is for every body; you won’t find a body type, disability, age, or injury that will keep you from doing yoga.

Obese people can do yoga, frail elderly ladies can do yoga, and beefy weightlifters can do yoga. Paraplegics are able to practice yoga, as can amputees.

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done a lick of exercise since you were in high school gym and you have grandkids now.

Yoga accepts your body where it’s at, meaning it’s a great place to start if you want to lose weight.

What Yoga Is NOT and why it still is one of the best ways to loose weight​

The benefits of yoga are endless, but it’s important to note the things that yoga isn’t.

First, it isn’t a high intensity workout. Yoga burns calories and strengthens your muscles, but there are other activities in which you’ll burn more calories.

However, this is what also makes yoga accessible for people no matter the size of their bodies or fitness levels.​

If you like calorie breakdowns, here’s a quick runthrough.​

How Yoga Helps You Lose Weight

​If yoga doesn’t burn 700 calories an hour, how is it going to help you lose weight? Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t just how many calories you’re burning per hour that helps you lose weight.

Your body is far more than a calorie machine. And before we get into the best types of yoga to lose weight, let’s look at why yoga is actually so successful in helping you loose those extra pounds.

There are so many factors involved in losing weight, and yoga touches on almost all of these.​

#1 Elevates Your Sense of Self-Awareness​

It isn’t possible to practice yoga and not become more aware of your body. You notice you’re getting stronger, but you gradually notice the release you feel in your heart is connected to the release you get in your back or shoulders.

When you are more aware of your body, you start to take better care of it.​

Mindfulness allows you to overcome the roadblocks you’ve created in reaching your goals.

If you’ve been unable to lose weight because your relationship with food, destructive self-talk, or a penchant for making excuses, is sabotaging you, yoga can help you overcome these with a steady practice as WebMD suggests.​

  • A good practice takes your focus inward. It isn’t so much about how you look but how the practice makes you feel, and that’s enough to get started in changing damaging patterns that sabotage your health and fitness goals.
  • When you focus on feeling good, you start doing the things that make you feel good, such as healthy eating and sleeping better
  • Yoga slows the endless loop of negative thoughts because it teaches you to slow your mind in the middle of chaos

#2 Boosting the Lymphatic System

lymphatic system yoga

Weight loss isn’t all about calories. If your body’s systems are out of whack, it’s going to be that much harder to shed those pounds.

Certain yoga poses have “benefits that far exceed mere calorie burning and muscle strengthening”, and that’s where you’re going to find the most benefit for your weight loss goals.

When you stimulate the endocrine system, hormones are released that help regulate the body’s metabolism.​

The lymphatic system also plays a role in flushing toxins and cellular waste from the body. If your lymphatic system becomes congested, you might notice:

  • recurrent sore throats​
  • inflamed tonsils
  • slow healing from infections and illnesses.

A congested lymphatic system also contributes to a sluggish metabolism because your body is trying to flush out toxins and waste to keep you healthy.

Fast paced and vigorous yoga classes, especially vinyasa flow, are especially effective at relieving lymphatic congestion.

Inversions drain lymph from the legs while twists stimulate the movement of lymph by squeezing the abdominal organs, pushing out the bad and allowing room for the good fluids.

Poses that help stimulate the body’s endocrine systems

Shoulder stand or fish pose: Shoulder stands stimulate the thyroid by squeezing the blood out of the gland while fish allows blood to flow back in, essentially massaging your thyroid gland.

This induces a rush of hormones to activate your metabolism.

Side angle pose, revolved chair, or side crow: These asanas wring out your abdominal glands and organs, flushing out used lymph fluid from the lymphatic system and getting your digestive system working efficiently​

#3 Stress Reduction

Stress is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean the effects of stress have to take a toll on your body. Stress causes weight gain in a few different ways.

cortisol stress yoga
  • Most commonly, a lot of people handle stress by eating because it’s comforting and makes them feel better. This is pretty common in people suffering from chronic stress.
  • When you become stressed, whether it’s over a large bill or your job has been overwhelming you, your body releases adrenaline (for energy), corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH, and cortisol.
  • Cortisol’s job is to restore the body after the adrenaline has faded and the stressor has disappeared. Cortisol increases your appetite, but it doesn’t go away as quickly as the adrenaline does.

This system is fairly ineffective in today’s world because it was designed for humans who were in physical danger for much of their lives.

Our bodies don’t necessarily need the cortisol’s lingering presence to enhance our appetite because it simply leads us to carbohydrates likes fried foods and baked goods.

How does yoga help reduce stress?

First, it allows you to access your inner strength. When you’re faced with a stressful situation, your fight-or-flight instinct kicks on in your nervous system, and you have to decide whether you’re going to face it head on or run screaming.

In yoga, you’re going to access a range of postures that challenge you physically and mentally. If you’ve never had to hold a Warrior II pose for three minutes, consider yourself lucky.

If you have, then you know how incredibly challenging it is to hold your leg in a lunge while your arms are extended out to the side.

You use your breath to support you through the challenging aspects of your practice.

Even if every muscle in your body is burning, you’re sweating, and you want nothing more than to collapse onto your mat in a puddle of sweat, your breath is there to remind you it’s a brief moment in time.

When you’re able to hold difficult poses without a mental meltdown, you start to realize you’re pretty tough! This means your ability to hold through chaos is getting stronger. When this starts to spill out into the rest of your life, you’re able to face stress with a little more grace and a little less madness.

#4 Aiding Digestion

Digestion plays a bigger part in weight loss than you’d imagine. If someone asked you what your digestive system did, what would your answer be?

A lot of people say the digestive system absorbs food, which is half true. In actuality, your digestive system absorbs nutrients, not food. It breaks food down and absorbs the nutrients.​

  • The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body’s digestion, but it often takes a backseat to the more domineering sympathetic nervous system (SNS) that handles our body’s response to stress.​
  • When you’re stressed, your SNS takes over your body, putting your digestion on the backburner.
  • This is why stress gives you indigestion, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • When the body doesn’t get a chance to rest, restore, and digest, you are drawn to carbohydrates for energy and your weight starts to creep up because of the levels of stress-induced cortisol.

What do you do if your body is a constant state of stress and your digestion is completely out of whack? Breathe!

  • Breathing is the perfect way to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.​
  • Breathing through your nose stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing the digestion to start functioning properly again.

The ujjayi breath you utilize in class means you’re breathing exclusively through your nose. If you already practice yoga regularly, you know that a yoga class almost immediately kick starts your digestive tract.

Yoga poses are an excellent tool for stimulating your digestive tract. Gentle twists manipulate the abdominal organs and increase the intestines’ peristalsis so they start working more efficiently.

yoga poste twist to aid digestion

These twists can be as simple as a supine spinal twist. Just make sure you start on the right side because the digestive system moves food from right to left.

If you really want to get into your digestive organs, place your fists between your thighs and stomach in child’s pose. Deep breaths massage your hands more deeply into your belly.​

IMPORTANT: If you’re regularly having digestive problems, you should see a doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.

When you get a clear bill of health, you can start changing your diet and incorporating yoga to improve your gut’s function.

#5 Increased Self-Esteem

Countless studies have shown a direct connection to weight control and self-esteem.

It can be difficult to maintain a healthy weight (on either end of the spectrum) if you have low self-esteem or you constantly engage in negative self-talk.

Negative thinking makes it infinitely harder to start and maintain change, and this certainly spills over into your weight loss efforts.​

A regular yoga practice helps you learn that perfection is impossible, but improvement is always attainable. One day it may be impossible to balance in crow, and the next day you might hold your crow pose for a good 10 breaths.

Everything changes and that’s something you can count on. Accept things as they come and you’ll spare yourself a ton of stress!

Are body image issues getting in the way of your fitness and health goals? Don’t feel like you’re the only one out there. 

Did you know that:

  • The “ideal” woman’s size/weight has flatlined at a weight that’s 13-19% below a healthy weight for most women
  • 89% of 3,452 women surveyed wanted to lose weight

Body image anxiety affects people of all sizes, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a size 0 or plus-sized. You certainly aren’t immune to struggling because of your size.

The biggest reason yoga helps people--especially women--with body acceptance is because the practice encourages you to let go of your need or obsession with being perfect.

Professionals agree that eating and body image disorders stem from a deep-seated need to control things as you can read in an article published by the Huffington Post. Yoga allows your ability to let go blossom.​

Yoga is also wonderful for helping self-esteem because the yoga community is actually very body positive.

Social media and magazines have made society think that yogis are always tall, lithe goddesses, but if you spend enough time in an actual studio, you see the teachers are far from maintaining one type of body and the students are all shapes and sizes!

Surrounding yourself with people who are loving their bodies for what they can do and not what they look like is incredibly empowering!​

You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

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Best yoga for Weight loss

Yoga isn’t known for sending 800 calories up into smoke, but depending on the type of yoga you do, you can still get a pretty impressive calorie burn.

Obviously, the highest burn comes from fast-paced classes that incorporate cardio. Add that to all the other benefits and you get an insanely powerful package!

#1 Vinyasa Flow​

Of all of the yoga styles, vinyasa flow is the highest calorie burner. Vinyasa flow incorporates traditional yoga poses in a flowing class.

Instead of holding your poses, you’ll flow to a new one with each breath, creating a practice that’s both strength and cardio and feels almost like dancing.

A one-hour vinyasa class burns at least 550 calories, making it the most efficient form of yoga for losing weight.​

#2 Bikram/Hot Yoga​

Bikram/hot yoga is different from other types of yoga because of the temperature of the room.

While a typical yoga room is heated to about 85-90 degrees, a Bikram or hot yoga class turns the heat up to a steamy 104 degrees/40% humidity. Each class lasts 90-minutes and consists of a set series of 26 postures.

If you’re looking for a class with maximum weight loss benefits, you might be surprised to learn hot yoga isn’t at the top of the list.

You sweat like crazy during hot yoga classes, but sweat isn’t an accurate indicator of how many calories you’re killing.

Bikram/hot yoga doesn’t burn as many calories as other types of yoga, but you can solidly cream about 450-470 calories an hour.

#3 Ashtanga Yoga​

Ashtanga is an intense workout that combines fast-flowing postures and dynamic breathing. Ashtanga classes have only three variations depending on whether you’ve mastered the previous series or not.

This style of yoga is said to purify your body as it builds an intense internal heat while strengthening your body and improving your flexibility.

An average Ashtanga practice lasts at least 90-minutes and singes about 350 calories per hour.​

#4 Hatha Yoga​

Hatha yoga is more of a slow burn type of yoga. You won’t get too much of a cardio workout, but you’ll definitely feel your muscles working and burning.

Instead of moving quickly from pose to pose, you sink deeper into each pose and hold it.

Hatha has a very low calorie burn, so I don’t recommend devoting your entire practice to hatha if you want to lose weight.

If fast flowing classes aren’t your thing, consider using hatha as a way to build muscle strength and tone and get your cardio in elsewhere.

An average 60-minute hatha class will burn less than 200 calories.​

Increasing Your Calorie Burn​

Like any other type of exercise, you can increase how many calories you burn with a few simple adjustments in your poses.​

Scientifically, you burn more calories when you engage the larger muscles in your body. That means if you use your thighs and glutes (the biggest muscle groups in the body) more, your calorie burn will be higher.

Without sacrificing alignment, deepening your warrior poses and yogi chair (utkatasana) will definitely elevate your calorie burn.​

Yoga Weight Loss Stories​

Anyone who hasn’t seen Arthur’s transformation due to yoga is missing out!​

Arthur was a paratrooper during the Gulf War and too many jumps took their toll on his back and knees. Eventually, his knees deteriorated to the point where he needed knee braces and crutches to get around.

At that point, he became so depressed that he gained over 100 pounds and sunk into a period of inactivity.

When he had to start utilizing a wheelchair, he knew it was time to change, so he contacted Diamond Dallas Page. With a carefully constructed yoga plan guided by Page, Arthur started doing yoga every day.

Gradually, he was able to walk without his crutches, then his knee braces, and eventually he was walking and running with little to no pain. In just 10 months, Arthur lost 140 pounds and regained his ability to walk, run, and jump again.

His secret?

There isn’t one. He simply dedicated himself to yoga to lose weight and feel good again.

Getting Started with Yoga for Weight Loss​

Yoga is incredibly easy for beginners to get into. While there are many varieties of yoga and fancy poses to aspire to, the practice itself is simple enough that there’s really no excuse not to get started.

Arthur couldn’t walk unassisted when he started yoga, and he developed his practice into something absolutely beautiful. Let him inspire you!

I could go on for days about the reasons why you should get started doing yoga today, but I’ll try to keep my list a bit shorter for your sake!​

#1 No Dress Code or Fancy Equipment Required​

When you start an exercise program, you feel obligated to buy a ton of stuff to go along with it: expensive running shoes, hand weights, protein shakes, and costly DVDs.

The biggest financial investment you’ll need to make for your yoga practice is a quality yoga mat and maybe some yoga blocks depending on your flexibility.

There aren’t any fancy clothes or tools needed to make yoga work for you. Don’t want to buy expensive yoga clothes? Practice naked!

You can make it work however you need too. All that matters is you get started.​

#2 Start at Home!​

​Many people report the biggest reason they don’t work out in public is because they feel like they need to lose weight before they can.

yoga at home

Source: Instagram @andreanne6

I hope you don’t feel this way, but if you feel more comfortable learning about yoga in the comfort of your own home, there is a plethora of online yoga videos geared for beginners.

Whether you check out our beginner selection on YouTube or subscribe to a yoga online streaming service like Grokker or Curvy Yoga, you’ll find accessible and easy-to-follow videos that teach you the basic poses and safe alignment.

Don’t feel like you can’t start yoga unless you’re practicing under a teacher. While it’s helpful to have a teacher to begin with, you can still learn a lot about yoga at home until you’re ready to head out to a studio.

#3 Find the Style of Yoga You Love​

After trying a multitude of yoga styles, I can honestly say I prefer to stick to one type of yoga. Vinyasa flow fulfills everything I need, so I find that dedicating myself to that type is what makes me happy.

Regardless of what style of yoga you love, stick to it. Even if it’s at the bottom of the calorie burning chart, if you love it, you’re more likely to do it every day and stay with it.

It’s obvious I love yoga, but science loves yoga, too. If you’ve been frustrated with your weight loss efforts because you haven’t found an activity you love enough to stay dedicated, yoga could be the ticket to reaching any number of your goals.

Yoga’s wide range of benefits range from the physical to the mental, including:

  • increased flexibility to alleviate joint and muscle pains
  • straightening your posture
  • protecting your spine by improving its flexibility and strengthening your back muscles
  • helping prevent a slew of diseases like osteoporosis, high blood pressure, arthritis, and high cholesterol

Because you’re getting top-to-bottom benefits, every system in your body is going to benefit. Now that you know losing weight isn’t simply a matter of eating well and exercising, it’s easy to see you need a well-functioning body for efficient weight loss.

The benefits of yoga create a cascade of positive effects to help you lose weight.

  • Lowers stress, thus decreasing appetite-increasing cortisol production that adds fat to your belly
  • Cultivates self-awareness, teaching you to make more conscious decisions in regards to taking care of yourself
  • Releases a slew of happy hormones that reduce depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem
  • Helps you get more sleep by inducing relaxation and relieving tension you build up throughout the day

Yoga has long lasting effects on your weight. The practice is fairly gentle even if you attend advanced classes, so there is almost no wear and tear on your body as long as you’re aware of correct alignment.

Regardless of your weight, stamina, flexibility, or strength, you are able to have a consistent and beneficial practice to restore and build your entire body.

Yoga works wonders on your mental state, too, giving you focus, patience, and acceptance in everything your practice--and life--throws your way.

It’s easy to get started at home or in a studio, and after one class, you will notice a significant difference in the way your whole body feels.

There’s no better time to get started than today! Instead of feeling unhappy with your goals, it’s time to explore all of the truly incredible things it’s capable of doing! 

2 thoughts on “Yoga for Weight Loss: A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Weight With Yoga”

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