The fascinating link between yoga and weight loss

by Mike Stewart
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People often hear that yoga is good for losing weight. We all know yoga is great for losing weight, but how effective is it? Let’s take a look. 

Yoga as exercise: a quick history

Around the year 500 B.C. to 400 A.D. in India, a collection of aphorisms called the Yoga Sutras was the first compilation of yoga. Yoga first emerged in these collections as a practice of spirituality. Yoga seeks to liberate you from active thought and distractions, to liberate yourself from everything but your wisdom and consciousness.

With a style called Hatha yoga, the asanas (poses) started to take shape. A movement of physical fitness was sweeping Europe in the late 1800s and spread to India at the same time. Hatha yoga poses were incorporated with exercises and other physical activities, resulting in the Nationalist movement’s fitness regimens.

Modern yoga studios can be traced directly back to the Yoga Institute, founded by Shri Yogendra. A middle-class Bombay bourgeoisie followed him to his first yoga centre. The American branch of his organization was first opened in 1919. As the first guru to offer a worshipped yoga practice, he set the tone for modernized yoga. Those who practice this kind of yoga separate it from classical yoga’s religious tradition by calling it “modern postural yoga.”

Losing weight with yoga

The most common way of reducing weight and controlling your body mass index (BMI) is to burn more calories than you consume. This formula is split into two ends, the burning end and the consuming end. 

Are yoga exercises practical calorie burners? A short answer would be: it depends. Yoga can be categorized into several types, some being better for exercise than others. There are gentle restorative yoga sessions to intense workouts. 

Vinyasa yoga

The fascinating link between yoga and weight loss

Most yoga practices involve meditative exercises and breathing exercises. While some yoga styles emphasize the asanas, vinyasa yoga emphasizes the transitions between the asanas. It is more of an aerobic physical activity to perform these forms than to do poses. Researchers discovered that vinyasa yoga met the criteria for moderate-intensity exercise, yet it burnt fewer calories overall than brisk walking.

A more recent study carried out on obese adults showed significant differences when it comes to tempo. During three sessions, participants reduced their time in each pose from six to three seconds. However, even the fastest pace was slower than the metabolic equivalent of walking, but all rates qualified as moderate-level exercises suitable for overweight people.

Bikram yoga

Additionally, there is Bikram Yoga. During Bikram yoga, there are 26 asanas performed for 90 minutes in a warmed room to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity is maintained. Many experts claim Bikram is an effective fat-burning exercise. Scientific evidence does not support this claim. HIIT and running are some of the cardio exercises that have been shown in studies to burn calories at a rate of 1,000 calories an hour. However, numerous personal trainers and yoga instructors repeat it unquestioned. 

Even though Bikram yoga doesn’t burn as much as claimed, it’s still an excellent way to work out. The practice can burn up to 478 calories over 90 minutes, according to a 2014 study of beginners and experienced Bikram practitioners. These figures are pretty wide-ranging and influenced by many factors. More experienced practitioners achieved higher results due to their experience, burning a higher average number of calories.

Is walking better or worse? That depends. We can use the 0.75 calorie/kilogram body weight formula to calculate calories burned by walking. The amount of energy consumed per mile is about half a calorie per pound in U.S. measurements. A 197-pound man walking at 3.2 miles per hour would burn the same number of calories as a top-level Bikram exerciser. An individual weighing 120 pounds would have to jog at 5.3 mph to get the same effect.

That doesn’t mean a Bikram session isn’t a good exercise. It is. Even though it may seem like a less enjoyable activity, a steady brisk walk can be just as effective.

Other types of yoga

The fascinating link between yoga and weight loss

Bikram may burn fewer calories than other yoga styles. Total calorie expenditure does not appear to be significantly affected by the hot room or humidity. Many people believe more vigorous yoga styles, like Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, will have more robust cardiovascular effects.

Regular yoga practice can increase flexibility and relieve joint pain, even if it doesn’t burn as many calories as high-intensity exercise. In general, this may encourage people to gain more fitness or lead an exercise-driven lifestyle.

Besides reducing calories, some yoga benefits may tie into weight management. The following are some more ways yoga might aid in weight loss.

Yoga and sleep

You may think it is counterintuitive, but not doing anything is the most critical step to losing weight. But that doesn’t mean you’ll lose belly fat just by sitting on the couch. Healthy living depends greatly upon getting a good night’s sleep. 

Researchers discovered that reducing the time spent in bed by 90 minutes each day for five days a week might be an effective weight-loss method for people with overweight or obesity. On average, the sleep-deprived group lost less weight than the control group. It was more important to note where it was lost. The average loss of weight from those who slept usually was 80% of body fat. More than 86% of the lost weight happened in the sleep-deprived group, with only about 17% of that being fat.

Researchers suggest more deficient diets may be associated with shorter sleep duration in a large meta-analysis. Currently, there is no conclusive evidence why this is so.

Does this have what to do with yoga? 

Studies suggest that practicing yoga promotes better sleep quality, even though it isn’t a cure for insomnia. Not only does Hatha yoga relieve tiredness, but it also increases levels of melatonin.

Yoga and stress

Obesity and stress go hand in hand. Stress can influence our behavior, specifically how well we plan and control impulses. A lot of unhealthy foods can trigger overeating due to their sugar or fat content. One can become sedentary and lose sleep due to stress. As obesity can lead to anxiety, this creates a feedback loop. Does yoga have the potential to break this cycle?

Yoga benefits can’t be entirely attributed to their own by reducing stress and anxiety. Study results differ regarding whether yoga affects physiological markers of stress, including standing blood pressure and heart rate.

Sometimes the exercise alone is not enough to reduce stress; the more general practices matter as well. One study compared students and yoga only as an exercise in one college study. While both groups improved their mental health, only the control group that performed integrated yoga exercises recorded consistently lower stress hormone levels than the others. Studies have shown that breathing exercises or meditation in addition to yoga poses seem to have the most significant effect on managing high blood pressure. Though, even then, it only worked as an adjunct to medication.

It’s still not clear whether yoga can help with stress. But it’s agreed that it’s not hurting. 

Yoga and mindfulness

In addition to promoting mindfulness in yoga, it seems to affect our lifestyle choices, including food choices. Practising yoga may not transform a person into a vegan, but becoming more aware of what one puts into his body may enable greater self-awareness. The researchers found that those who practiced yoga consumed more fruit and vegetables and were less likely to consume fast food.

Yoga seems to be more popular among those who are more likely to eat healthy to begin with. The follow-up interviews revealed that 90% of respondents state that practising yoga helped them develop healthier eating habits. In the yoga community, mindfulness and self-awareness are likely results, of which internalized mindfulness is a consequence. It might inspire one to improve their diet if friends or fitness trainers have healthy eating habits.

What’s the verdict on yoga and weight loss?

So, will go to yoga classes make me lose weight? Going to the class may have a more significant impact than signing up. Yoga is an excellent addition to any workout regimen, although you may not lose as much weight as you might with intense cardio. This may also promote greater psychological well-being in addition to physical health benefits.

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