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Yoga For Weight Loss: What Does the Science Say?

Regular adherence to a yoga program has been associated with all kinds of different health benefits, both mental and physical.  From improving your mood to alleviating chronic pain, research shows that yoga can improve your health in multiple ways.  

As a unique form of exercise that engages both body and mind, many have also been drawn to yoga as a potential tool for losing weight.  But what exactly does the science say? 

Is yoga actually an effective means of dropping some excess body weight?  And If so, are some forms of yoga better than others when it comes to losing weight?  

Can You Lose Weight Doing Yoga?

A number of different studies have investigated the effects of yoga on body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference and to date, most research has demonstrated positive findings -- particularly when it comes to overweight/obese individuals.     

For instance, one randomized control trial published in the Journal of Yoga and Physical therapy examined the effects of a  yoga intervention on a number of different factors related to metabolic syndrome.  

100 adult participants were broken up into one of two groups -- group 1 (n=50) participated in a one-year yoga program, while group 2 (n = 50) routinely exercised, but did not do any yoga.  At the conclusion of the study, the researchers ultimately found that the yoga group, on average, lost 4.71 kg (10.36 lbs) compared to the control group who only lost around 1 kg of body weight.(1)

While a 10-pound weight reduction over the course of a year might not be jaw-dropping, it’s important to point out that many studies involving yoga and weight loss did not make alterations to participants’ diets or calorie intakes.  

Photo by: Amin Sujan

In tandem with weight loss, research also shows that regular adherence to a yoga program can help to improve your Body Mass Index (BMI), which measures your proportion of lean mass to body fat -- a BMI over 25 is considered overweight.  One study ultimately found that over the course of a 15-day high-intensity yoga intervention, study participants, on average, saw an almost 2 point reduction in their BMIs.(2)

Several studies have also demonstrated that yoga can significantly reduce the size of your waist as well.  For example, a 2013 randomized trial investigated the effects of yoga vs stretching on individuals with metabolic syndrome.(3)

After six months of intervention, the researchers found a significant effect of yoga on weight circumference, with participants demonstrating an average reduction of 2.6 cm, compared to the stretching group who saw no significant reductions at all.

Benefits of Yoga For Weight Loss

Researchers have attributed the positive effects of yoga on weight loss to several different factors.  From an increased daily energy expenditure to a longer average intervention duration, studies suggest that there are multiple avenues through which yoga can help to reduce your body weight.  

Increase Your Calorie Expenditure

One of the reasons people have been shown to lose weight with yoga -- even in the absence of dietary intervention -- is because higher-intensity forms of yoga have been shown to increase the number of calories your body burns off in a day, which in turn, helps improve your ability to lose weight.(4)(5)(6)

For example, a 2016 review evaluating the effects of yoga on energy expenditure ultimately found that yoga performed at moderate to high intensity significantly increased participants’ energy expenditure compared to baseline, leading the researchers to conclude that more rigorous forms of yoga can be an effective tool for weight loss and weight management.(7)

⫸Reduce Your Calorie Intake

Research also suggests that practicing yoga may help to reduce your daily calorie intake, which in combination with an increased energy expenditure, can help to further maximize weight loss.  

 It’s, true that participants lost more weight in studies where their daily calorie intakes were restricted by the researchers, however, a number of different studies have also demonstrated positive effects of yoga on weight loss even when they did not include any kind of dietary intervention -- research suggests that this may be due to both psychological and physiological factors.(8)

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⫸You May Stick With Yoga Longer Than Other Forms Of Exercise

Some research shows that compared to other forms of exercise like cardio and weight lifting, people were more likely to continue practicing yoga in the months and years following the intervention, leading to significantly more weight loss on average.  

Studies suggest that this may, in part, be due to the fact that yoga can be practiced with limited equipment in a number of different settings including at home and even at work, which may reduce your likelihood of falling out of your exercise routine. (9) 

Many of us lead busy lives, which at times, can make getting to the gym more difficult -- in fact, it’s one of the most common reasons people fall out of their gym routines.  However, with yoga, once you’ve learned the basics, you don’t always have to go to a class to get your workout in. This, in turn, can increase adherence, especially in instances when time simply doesn’t allow for you to get to the gym.  

Enhance Your Body Composition

On top of helping to shed excess body fat, research also shows that regular adherence to a yoga program can also increase your muscle mass.(10)In addition to enhancing your body composition, increasing the amount of lean mass on your body also helps to boost your metabolism -- your body requires more energy to maintain muscle mass in comparison to body fat.  

Having more lean body mass ultimately means that you’ll burn off more calories per day, which in combination with a healthy diet, can help to maximize your weight loss potential.

What Kinds of Yoga are Best For Weight Loss?

A number of different forms of yoga have been shown to be effective for weight loss in overweight/obese individuals.  For example, A 2016 systematic review exploring the effects of yoga on weight-related outcomes analyzed findings from 30 different trials.(11)

The reviewers ultimately found significant effects in studies involving several different forms of yoga, concluding that the following forms may be effective for weight loss:

  • Silver Yoga
  • Hatha Yoga
  • Restorative Yoga
  • Yogasana Yoga
  • Bikram Yoga
  • Vinyasa Yoga

Other types of yoga may also be effective when it comes to losing weight, however, in general, higher-intensity forms appear to be the most beneficial.  

How Often Should You Do Yoga for Weight Loss?

There’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for how often you should practice yoga if you want to lose weight.  Exercise frequency in yoga studies involving weight-related outcomes varies significantly, ranging from 1 to 7 times per week.  

With that being said, one review published in Preventative Medicine ultimately found that across dozens of different trials that demonstrated positive effects on weight loss, the average number of days participants performed yoga was 3.5 times per week.(12) The average session duration was 60 minutes.  

Wrap Up

There appears to be a sizeable body of evidence that yoga can be an effective tool for weight loss.  Research shows that even in the absence of a dietary intervention, you can still lose significant amounts of weight with regular adherence to a yoga program -- although you’ll lose even more weight when combined with a healthy, hypocaloric diet.  

Studies suggest that the positive effects on weight loss can be attributed to a number of factors, including an increased energy expenditure, decreased calorie intake, improved body composition, and a longer adherence duration.  

A number of different forms of yoga have been shown to be effective for weight loss, however, in general, higher-intensity forms appear to work best.  When it comes to exercise frequency, research suggests that somewhere between three to four 60 minute sessions per week should be enough for most people to see positive results.  

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