Can Yoga really help with weight loss? This controversial question puzzled scientists for decades. Fortunately, the beginning of the 21st century brought us a large number of the studies dealing with Yoga and its effect on the body in a more tangible way. Even though yogis have always stressed the importance of this ancient practice, now there is a research to prove it.
Does Yoga Burn Calories?
The short answer is yes. A 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities provided calorie expenditure for the two types of Yoga – Hatha Yoga and Power Yoga. During one hour of activity, the first can burn between 183 and 273 calories, while the latter can cut between 292 and 436 calories per hour. Leigh Crews, an American College of Sport Medicine media expert said for Live Science that specific Yoga classes definitely have a cardiovascular benefit. “If your goal is weight loss, choosing one of the vigorous, flowing styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, or Power Yoga, is the smart choice”, advises Crews.
Yogi and Science
A 2005 study led by Alan Kristal, a yogi and medical researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was the first piece of research measuring the effect of Yoga on weight. More than 15,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 55 completed a survey on the physical activity and weight history. The study focused on the correlation between these two variables, independent of other factors, including the type of activity and diet.
The 45 year-old respondents of normal weight, who established a regular Yoga practice, gained 3 pounds fewer during 10 years, compared to the respondents who did not do Yoga. In addition, the research revealed that the middle-aged practitioners lost 5 pounds, while non-practitioners gained 14 pounds in a 10-year period.
“During a very vigorous yoga practice you can burn enough calories to lose weight, but most people don’t practice that kind of yoga”, said this yoga enthusiast. What can account for weight loss, then? The researchers behind the study hypothesized that mindfulness and increased body awareness, which are learned through Yoga, represent major factors responsible for losing weight. Four years later, they decided to test their hypothesis.
Kristal developed a Mindful Eating Questionnaire and administered it to 300 exercisers at fitness facilities and yoga studios as well as at weight-loss programmes. The results indicated that physically active participants with lower BMI had high scores on the questionnaire. Kristal explains that being calm while doing the physically-challenging asanas teaches us to be calm in other aspects of life. The practitioners of Yoga develop the inner strength to resist unhealthy eating patterns. They can diverse the feeling of being full and the feeling of being hungry.
The good news is that going to a Yoga studio is not a prerequisite for mindful eating. McGartland and O’Halloran behind a study entitled Overeating is not about the food: women describe their experience of a yoga treatment program for binge eating give us the insight into the relation between Yoga and eating disorders. Women who participated in home-based Yoga programmes for 12 weeks reported healthier eating habits, such as the decreased speed of eating and reduced food intake.
Online Yoga training is designed in such a manner that you always have the support of your mentor via regular correspondence. The mentors encourage you to have a positive outlook on life. The study shows optimistic results for all those who are denied the opportunity to practice Yoga at a studio. In essence, Yoga at home does not differ from Yoga in class.
According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 1300 licensed psychologists said that “understanding and managing the behaviour and emotions related to weight management” is the best strategy for weight loss. Since Yoga reduces cortisol levels, it stands to reason that this ancient practice is beneficial for our body and mind in more than one way. High levels of cortisol contribute to overeating and the accumulation of belly fat.
Yoga modifies the stress response (thus decreasing cortisol levels) by reducing the heart and breathing rate and by lowering blood pressure. Helen Lavretsky, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior found that Kirtan Kriya Meditation can reduce the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins.
The proteins decrease the immune system’s inflammatory response, which, if constantly elevated, lead to chronic health problems. The study shows how biological processes are impacted by stress. The participants were dementia and Alzheimer’s caregivers who usually report high levels of depression and stress.
Yoga teaches us that the traditional exercise is not the only path resulting in weight loss. A holistic approach to our wellbeing is also effective when we want to lose weight. Yoga not only helps us burn calories, but it changes the way we relate to our bodies and lifestyles.
Nicole is an avid traveler passionate about yoga and healthy living. She loves to explore different cultures and share her experiences with others. In her free time she likes to prepare healthy and delicious food for her friends. You can find her on Twitter and FB