Practicing yoga regularly produces a myriad of health benefits with very few downsides. It can strengthen muscles, reduce stress, and improve sleep; but can it help you lose weight?
Of course it can, though the weight loss doesn’t necessarily originate from calories burned on the mat.
“Yoga, if done right, becomes a lifestyle change,” Judi Bar, the yoga program manager at Cleveland Clinic Center for Integrative Medicine, says. “Which in turn can help increase physical activity and decrease emotional eating.” Yoga can also help you manage stress, which can naturally improves weight maintenance, she says.
Bar also co-authored a study in 2013 for the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine which deeply evaluated the effects of yoga on weight loss. Her data indicated that yoga is closely to connected to weight management for a number of reasons: energy expenditure during yoga sessions, encouraging more exercise by reducing back pain and joint pain, heightening mindfulness, improving mood and reducing stress, and by helping yogis feel more connected to their bodies, their satiety, and eating habits.
Yoga burns calories, yes, but it really redefines your lifestyle
But what exactly does striving for “mindfulness” truly achieve? Yogis are strengthening more than just their physical muscles on the mat, says Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston and director of research at Yoga Alliance. They are also strengthening the mental muscles of mindfulness.
You see, yoga is a practice of flow and repetition, with specific moments of stillness wedged into the cracks. Like life, itself, yoga requires focus and release. Really, it requires getting tuned into the body.
In the kitchen and dining room, mindful eating is a similar practice of recognizing hunger cues and limiting binge eating. Over time and with diligent practice, mindful eaters learn to appreciate the way specific foods make them feel, like which ones have more negative effects. Khalsa says learning to be sensitive around food can help transform a diet into a lifestyle change. When you care deeply about focus and are sensitive to the way you feel, food choices instantly improve.
“This is where yoga shines,” Khalsa says, referencing a July 2015 in the International Journal of Yoga that found that yoga has been linked to changes in eating behavior, specifically cutting back on dietary fat and adding more fresh vegetables, whole grains, and soy-based products. It’s not just about the physical activity you’re doing. “It’s about listening to your body’s cues.” For many, the beginning of that journey to self-discovery is the day they first step onto the yoga mat.