“You can’t lose weight doing yoga!”
“You can’t be burning many calories, it’s just a bit of stretching.”
“Yoga is so easy, it can’t be doing anything useful.”
Have you heard one or more of these statements before? Whoever said them quite clearly hasn’t tried advanced Bakasana before! These comments are often made by well-meaning friends, addicted to the gym, the whirl of spin bikes or the thud of the barbell.
I’m here to bust these myths and tell you it is possible to lose weight, look lean and get that heart rate up doing “just” yoga, and you know what? It can be done even if you have bad knees; high blood pressure or you’ve had surgery. Yoga is a safe way to increase strength, endurance and flexibility without causing unnecessary strain and injury.
Not convinced? We firstly need to explore what yoga and asana practice really is.
Yoga is a union of the mind, body and spirit. It’s about awareness and asana practice is only one of several key elements of yoga. We will focus on asana practice first as this is the area that can help us reach our physical body shape goals. Asana practice will test your strength, flexibility and endurance.
Yoga poses use large muscle groups
The beauty of yoga asanas is that they require us to use the largest muscle groups in our bodies. It is these muscles, deep in our thighs, our core and our shoulders that will burn the highest number of calories when activated. Why? Because the more muscle surface area that is engaged in exercise, the more burn potential there is.
Yoga is as much about strength as it is about flexibility. Many poses require a person to either hold up their own body weight or resist against it. A great example is a handstand where you are defying the gravitational force that pins us to the ground, using the strength of your core and hip flexors. That’s no mean feat. It requires strength and power and this ensures we are sculpting our body for success.
Yoga will also speed up your resting metabolic heart rate (RMR) . RMR rises because it takes your body more calories to maintain muscle than fat. Daily yoga asana practice will build lean muscle and you will burn calories quicker than before you started your practice.
Lets break the theory down, looking at a specific pose, downward facing dog. This iconic pose activates the gluteus maximus, the hamstrings, deep hip flexors, latisimuss dori (deep core) and the deltoids. For just one move, that’s packing quite the punch on muscle groups. Compare this to a traditional gym floor exercise like a crunch. This, which focuses on a smaller muscle, set, whilst the intensity might feel the same or even more at the time, the long-term strength gains cannot compare.
Strength in stillness
Another question you may want the answer to is ‘how can you lose weight or look lean when you’re holding a pose?’ When we hold a yoga pose it is an isometric stretch, it works to lengthen deeper muscles without bulking. So yogis tend to look leaner and they are always strong!
Also, the deeper we get into a pose, the more of the muscle we are using. By increasing the tension, for example, folding a little deeper into Uttanasana (standing forward bend) we can activate the hamstrings more. A deeper hold means a bigger challenge on the body and increased burn on the muscle.
“I just don’t like static poses?”
I say, that is not a problem! Yoga isn’t just about static poses.
If cardio really is the only way to go, there are many “flow” sequences that will aid weight loss through movement. Suryanamaskar A, or sun salutation A is an example of this. Ashtanga Vinyasa classes will give you that buzz you are craving and repeated chaturanga and jump backs will soon have you working up a sweat!
The final element of yoga that will aid your weight loss is not related to asana practice but rather pranayama and meditation.
Yoga teaches us awareness and control. Pranayama can be roughly translated into the controlling of breath. Breathing represents life force. If we can control this and deepen our awareness of our breath we can take this knowledge to much deeper levels. Yogis have been known to be able to make their hearts slow down or even stop.
Now I’m not advocating you stop your heart from beating and you’re probably thinking, how will this help me lose weight? But the point is simple: If you can feel in control of the very thing that keeps you alive, that sometimes skips a beat or races at the sight of first love, surely you can have better control over life’s other temptations?
Daily yoga practices helps cultivate laser sharp focus, if we direct our focus onto food, one will become acutely aware of what kinds of food benefit the body temple and those that don’t. You will taste things as you never have before and you will be regulating your intake in such a way that only foods that serve your health needs make it to your plate.
In summary, yoga isn’t just stretching.
Your flexibility will improve for sure but you’ll also be strong, increase your resting metabolic rate, develop long and lean muscles and lose stubborn fat.
But that’s half the story. The other half sits in your head.
Yoga helps you get control of your thoughts and how you respond to all of life’s brilliant stimulus, so you can make wiser decisions, feel more confident about yourself and be less at the mercy of your emotions when making food choices.
That’s not to say unwise decisions can’t be fun…. in moderation of course.
Author Bio: Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, Yoganonymous, OMtimes and others. She is among top 20 Yoag bloggers as reviewed by ThoroughlyReviewed. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali).
 Always seek professional medical advice before starting any new yoga course.