Each week, MyHealthNewsDaily asks the experts to answer questions about your health.
This week, we asked exercise researchers and nutrition specialists: Does yoga help with weight loss?
Beth A. Lewis, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Kinesiology in Minneapolis
“Regular yoga practice can influence weight loss, but not in the “traditional” sense of how we link physical activity to weight loss. Typically, weight loss occurs when a person's calorie intake (i.e., food and drink consumed) is less than their caloric expenditure (i.e., energy is expended all day and more is expended during exercise).
“Most individuals need to change both their energy intake and energy expenditure to lose weight.
Many yoga practices burn fewer calories than traditional exercise (e.g., jogging, brisk walking); however, yoga can increase one's mindfulness and the way one relates to their body. So, individuals will become more aware of what they are eating and make better food choices.
“Individuals may avoid foods that make them feel sluggish and lethargic (most processed foods). Instead,individuals will seek out foods that are healthier, which then may lead to weight loss.
“Additionally, many individuals eat more when they are feeling stressed and yoga can help combat stress, which can influence one’s energy intake.”
Dr. Lewis Maharam, fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine:
“Yes, and actually it's become in vogue with a lot of celebrities like Madonna, Halle Berry and Jennifer Aniston. Yoga is a sophisticated tradition with physical, relaxation and breathing exercises. [But] aerobic exercise is what helps you lose weight.
“If someone wants to lose weight in yoga class, they are going to have to be in a class that challenges them. They have to make sure that their heart is going to beat faster.
“There's all different levels of yoga. There is yoga that's meant for the mind, and there's power yoga that's more of an exercise. You've got to be sure that you're doing something more than just a mind experience with relaxing stretches, if you want to lose weight.” [Naked Yoga Stretches Self-Esteem, But Is It Healthy? ]
Jen Cassetty, an American College of Sports Medicine certified Health Fitness Specialist, based in New York City
“In theory it can. Yoga is not a high intensity exercise, usually, but the classes run 75 to 90 minutes of continual activity, so your muscles are working the whole time, strengthening and lengthening, and [doing] core work through chaturanga and balance poses.
“As with any activity program for weight loss, you should engage in this activity 4 to 5 times a week to see body changes with shaping, as well as keep a portion-controlled balanced diet. Then, yes, your metabolism will be raised through the activity and you can see body shaping changes and even weight loss.”
Leigh Crews, American College of Sport Medicine Media Expert:
“The short answer is, there’s no short answer. Yoga is too diverse for that.
“Experts agree that increasing your physical activity level is a good first step towards losing weight. So, with that in mind, it is important to choose the right style of yoga.
“If your goal is weight loss, choosing one of the vigorous, flowing styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa or Power Yoga, is the smart choice. These classes traditionally last 90 minutes, and can most definitely have a cardiovascular benefit. You will burn calories, tone and stretch your muscles, and provide weight bearing exercise for your bones with these forms of yoga.
“The second, more subtle factor, is yoga's ability to foster an inward focus , making you more aware of how your body feels in all of your daily activities. That self-awareness can cause a shift in the way you think about how you treat your body in other ways, such as eating when you are hungry, rather than because it is your normal time to eat, and choosing to stop eating when you are satisfied, rather than over full.”
Annie B. Kay, Lead Nutritionist, Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Mass.:
“Yoga facilitates weight loss in several ways and, when combined with evidence-based nutritional guidance, can be highly effective.
“Yoga is an ancient spiritual science developed in India over five millennia ago. While yoga is often thought of as the physical practice, the full practice includes all aspects of lifestyle including diet, mental attitude, choices about one’s lifestyle and philosophical study.
“The practice of yoga turns attention inward, as the practitioner observes her- or himself with an attitude of compassion. As the practitioner gains skill, a sense of physical, psychological and emotional realities often shift, becoming less influenced by the external forces of modern culture and more anchored in an internal value system.
“The practice of yoga and meditation may aid the development of mindfulness during mealtimes, aiding awareness of portions sizes, food preparation, and eating speed.”