Better start reaching for those toes! New research has demonstrated that yoga may be a safe, low cost and effective way to shed some pounds.1 While yoga is a common and established tool used for health and preventative care in other countries like India, it is not the first thing that comes to mind in the U.S. in the midst of fad diets and diet pills. A long term commitment to a yoga practice can lead to weight loss greater than 5% of body weight in three months, with the added benefit of improving mood and self confidence.2 Weight loss is not the only benefit of yoga either, study participants also decrease markers of inflammation for a total reduction in disease risk.3
What is Yoga?
Yoga dates back over 5,000 years and the actual word means “to join or yoke together” as in a meeting of the mind and body.4 There are over 100 different methods or schools of yoga, which are passed down from teacher to student over the centuries. Yoga combines a series of postures, stretches and movements with rhythmic breathing. There is a heavy emphasis on relaxation and meditating during each session as well. Yoga can be a form of aerobic activity, getting the heart pumping to improve cardiac function through decrease in resting blood pressure.3 There is a common misconception that yoga requires flexibility, however yoga is modified to all levels of practice and is very accessible to individual state of fitness or flexibility. So do not worry if you can’t reach those toes at this time.
How it Works?
Yoga values mindfulness, self-compassion and stress reduction which may be implicated in healthy behavior changes and therefore weight loss and weight management.5 Cumulative research has found that yoga combined with nutrition instruction most successful for weight loss goals.1 Self-efficacy around diet related choices has been correlated with yoga practice along with changes in perceived stress.2
What can I expect?
Researchers found close to a 15 pound weight loss over a three months for those participants faithful to their yoga practice and adhering to nutritional recommendations.2 Initial research in children has also demonstrated a slow healthy loss of 2 kg over 12 weeks in children mostly of Hispanic decent.6 However, not all studies have found weight loss to be the ultimate result. Waist circumference was decreased by an average of 3.1 centimeters in among breast cancer survivors after a six-month yoga intervention, with no significant weight loss.7 Researchers have also been collecting data on other health markers finding improvements in blood pressure, lipids, markers of inflammation as well as measures of self-esteem, self-confidence and quality of life.
A Word of Caution…
Where weight loss results have been impressive in some initial studies, other studies did not had any significant results. Additionally, many of the studies completed thus far have been small and short duration pilot studies. Therefore it is difficult to predict or guarantee weight loss results from yoga.
How to get Started:
So if you are thinking that yoga for weight loss is something you would like to try here are a few guidelines research has provided for getting started:
1) Incorporate a yoga routine of three days per week for 75 to 90 minutes
2) Include multiple different yoga techniques including sustained asana practice, breathing techniques and deep relaxation
3) Commit to at least a three to six month trial of a yoga program
A yoga camp or weekend retreat has also been identified as beneficial for beginning a yoga practice.1,5 This can be especially helpful for those who have never practiced yoga in the past. While some researchers gave nutritional advice, others did not. However healthy eating and mindfulness is likely an important component of successful weight loss.1
Check out the following resources for additional yoga information:
- Yogavibes – Online yoga videos and Core Fusion classes from the world’s leading instructors. http://www.yogavibes.com/
- Top yoga retreats in the U.S. of 2013: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/20/best-yoga-retreats-2013-8_n_3117491.html
- Yogaglo – Yoga poses and step-by-step online yoga classes and yoga postures featuring very basic to advanced yoga sequence for every level. http://www.yogaglo.com/poses.php
- Yogafinder – Directory of yoga instructors and facilities around the world. Organized by location, can also search for instructor or facility by name. http://www.yogafinder.com/
- Rioux J, Ritenbaugh C. Narrative review of yogic interventions including weight-related outcomes. Altern Ther Health Med. 2013;19(3):46-60.
- Rioux J, Thomson C, Howerter A. A pilot feasibility study of whole-systems ayurvedic medicine and yoga therapy for weight loss. Global Adv Health Med. 2014;3(1):28-35. DOI: 10.7453/gahmj.2013.084
- Sarvottam K, Magan D, Yadav RK, Mehta N, Mahapatra SC. Adioponection, Interleukin-6, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Are Modified by a Short- Term Yoga-Based Lifestyle Intervention in Overweight and Obese Men. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2013;19.5:397-402. Doi:10.1089/acm.2012.0086
- General Yoga Information. The American Yoga Association. Accessed May 26, 2014. Available at: http://www.americanyogaassociation.org/general.html.
- Braun TD, Park CL, Conboy LA. Psychological Well-Being, Health Behaviors, and Weight Loss Among Participants in a Residential, Kripalu Yoga-Based Weight Loss Program. International Journal of yoga Therapy. 2012;22.
- Benavides S, Caballero J. 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. doi:10.1016
- Littman JL, Bertram JC, Ceballos R, Ulrick CM, Ramaprasad J, McGregor B, McTiernan A. Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of yoga in overweight and obese breast cancer survivors: Effects on quality of life and anthropometric measures. Support Care Cancer. Feb 2012; 20(2):267-277. Doi: 10.1007/s00520-010-1066-8