Can Yoga Really Help You Lose Weight?

by | Feb 13, 2020 | Last updated Feb 25, 2023

Yoga is a way to connect the mind and body in a meditative approach to exercise. Yoga has a unique origin that has transformed throughout the years so we will examine the history of how yoga came to be what it is today, why people choose to practice yoga, and how yoga can lead to a healthier lifestyle and potential weight loss. Read on to learn about how yoga can assist you in not only losing weight but cultivating an overall healthier lifestyle. 

Origins of Yoga

Yoga originated as a largely spiritual practice and has morphed into a way to improve one’s physical and mental self. The origins of yoga began thousands of years ago, making it difficult to pinpoint how it evolved into the practice that it is today. The type of yoga that we are familiar with today originated from the Indus-Sarasvati valley civilization in Northern India over five thousand years ago (White Swan). 

The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit term “yuj” which means “to unite” and is related to the union of the individual self with the highest self, with this spirituality at its core (White Swan). Physical texts were discovered in early Indian scriptures, known as the “Vedas”, as noted in David Gordon White’s academic research on yoga. There yoga is described as a hierarchy of a mind-body connection, which combines the senses, mind, and the intellectual being in order to find a higher state of consciousness (White). 

These texts introduced the use of acoustic spells or formulas, known as mantras. The most popular mantra is the syllable “OM”, which is the verbal form of the highest brahman, which is the highest or absolute being (White). This particular sound “OM” has stuck with yoga throughout the years and is commonly heard in yoga practices today. Yoga has developed into a modern-day phenomenon as it has successfully intertwined mindfulness and the mental state with physical activity and the body to gain the attention of the masses.

Yoga as It Is Today

The historical and culturally rich practice of yoga has exploded in recent years with its widespread effect in studios, social media, brands, marketing campaigns, kick-start campaigns, and lifestyle brands, just to name a few. Yoga has become a major part of popular culture and has gained popularity in the past few decades. A scientific study performed by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2016 found that about 31 million adults have ever practiced yoga and about 21 million have practiced yoga in the past 12 months. 

Yoga classes are created for a variety of different populations, and are taught around the globe whether it be in gyms, studios, at home, online videos, social media, or yoga retreats. Some different types of yoga include hot yoga, ashtanga, vinyasa, yin, hatha, and many more. These different yoga sequences and varying forms of yoga were created as this practice developed and evolved. This happened in order to serve populations looking for different outcomes in terms of their yoga journey. Whether it be to increase aerobic capacity, find a relaxed or meditative state, burn calories, develop self-awareness and attunement with the body, or any other reasons, there is bound to be a yoga style for it. 

Overall, yoga has moved towards a more mindful and meditative approach rather than its more spiritual-based beginnings. The yoga of today is more focused on moving physical postures known as asanas, breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana) (NCCIH). This article provides some info on a few popular types of yoga today and provides some detailed yoga sequences and styles to try out. Be sure to check with your medical professional and be cleared for exercise before beginning any type of exercise program.

Reasons to Practice Yoga

There are a wide variety of reasons to practice yoga, including basic overall health benefits, weight loss, exercise, improved sleep, meditative benefits, mind-body connection, a complement to other exercises, stress reduction, among many others. When surveyed, it was found by the National Institutes of Health that Americans tend to practice yoga for its improvements to general health. A whopping 94% stating they practiced it for wellness benefits, such as reducing stress, feeling better emotionally, exercising regularly, improving sleep, and simply feeling better. This same study also found that the most important health reasons for yoga practice were disease prevention and back pain relief (Cramer). 

More thorough research needs to be done on yoga and its benefits to specific health conditions, but so far studies have successfully shown that there are great benefits physically, mentally, and emotionally, to practicing yoga. 

Yoga and Weight Loss

A review of various studies done on the topic of yoga and weight loss was performed and made several discoveries on its connection to losing weight and obesity. This study performed by the National Institutes of Health discovered that yoga can be helpful for maintaining weight, preventing obesity, and reducing the risk of diseases related to obesity. This detailed review examined 17 weight control programs that were based on a yoga approach and found that most of them led to moderate reductions in weight (Rioux). With this benefit to weight loss, successful yoga programs should have these key features according to this review: a higher frequency of yoga, a longer duration of yoga sessions, a yoga-based dietary approach, a residential component (such as a full weekend to start the program), a large number of yoga components, and practicing yoga at home. The scientific research discovered that the most successful programs had a higher number of the aspects mentioned above. 

A scientific study conducted by the Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2016 examined yoga studies and found that these yoga practices led to a reduction in waist to hip ratio in healthy adults and a reduced body mass index (BMI) in overweight or obese individuals. BMI is the ratio between height and weight in an individual and can be an indicator of high body fatness as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With obesity rates rising across the United States, finding a method to help combat this is extremely valuable. 

The International Journal of Yoga performed a study in 2012 on a specific type of yoga, referred to as Kripula. Kripula yoga is geared towards weight loss and emphasizes meditation, physical healing, and spiritual transformation. The study discovered that this type of yoga has the potential to develop psychological well-being, make healthier food choices, and facilitate a path to lose weight. While more evidence is needed, it has been shown that yoga for weight loss is a possibility and can be a helpful addition to an individual’s exercise routine along with providing overall health benefits. 

When considering yoga as a tool to achieve your weight-loss goals, be sure to do your research on the types of yoga out there and how they affect your body. Some yoga classes have a more aerobic approach that can be similar to high-intensity interval training where your heart rate is raised considerably and others are more calming and lower key with a meditative effect for stress reduction. Find a yoga practice that works well in your routine and for your lifestyle. 

While reflecting on yoga and its potential benefits, check out Noom for a 14-day trial as a companion to reaching your weight-loss goals. Noom can provide the motivation, accountability, and coaching to get you on the right track and create change for good.