Does yoga help with weight loss?

Many people turn to yoga when they want an activity to help with weight loss. Most of these people lead sedentary lifestyles and hate exercise. The most common image of yoga we get is that yoga is all slow and easy; hence these lazy people turn to yoga for something easy but seem to work. I was one of them.

So did yoga help me lose weight? Well, yes and no. I will explain with figures why this is the case.

Over the years I’ve done several body analyses here and there whenever the chance to do so happens. I wasn’t actively keeping track but happened to find some records kept in my book shelf. Thanks to the hoarder in me, I now have a picture of what happened to my body fat and muscle mass after yoga came into my life.

 

Fat %

Fat Loss (kg)

Weight difference (kg)

Before Yoga (December 2011)

42.1

2 years into yoga, 4 hours a week (May 2014)

30.9

8.8

– 8.1

1 year of 10 hours  a week strong yoga (July 2015)

24

3.04

+1. 4

I started gaining weight when I hit my 20s due to lack of knowledge on proper nutrition, unhealthy lifestyle, late nights, stress and perhaps a plunge in metabolism. I used to wear size UK8 (Small) for many years until suddenly it became too snug for me. That was when I knew I had to do something about my life to not let myself deteriorate.

I started yoga seriously around July 2012 and without any exercise background, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. The classes I started with were on the mild side, mainly stretching. The basic sun salutation was already considered as demanding. By chance, I happened to meet a teacher I liked, I got hooked onto yoga because of her, and this got me looking forward to attending more yoga classes. I soon began attending yoga classes about 4 times a week and this was considered to be remarkable because I previously had trouble attending even once a week. I would find excuses to skip my weekly yoga because I wasn’t passionate about it. Passion is what made me attend yoga so often, not discipline.

I also started to discover the diet type which best suits me, and this was the Paleo diet – though I did not adhere strictly. I habitually slept late and late night snacking happened every day. I did not stay away from wine and it was be a weekly thing for me. From July 2012 – September 2013, the yoga classes I attended were mostly mild classes and a typical week would be consists of 3 mild and only 1 fast paced class. My weight slowly reduced over time but it wasn’t very visible.

Towards fourth quarter 2013, the frequency of yoga increased and with my healthy diet, suddenly changes in my body became obvious. I could fit in UK8 easily once again and started taking out my older clothes to wear and buying some new ones because UK10 became way too big and unwearable for me. However, I only stayed a UK8 for a mere 1 or 2 months.

The changes were so sudden, I didn’t even realise it. I felt myself developing lean muscles (which were non-existent previously) but it wasn’t a lot. I soon decided to cut alcohol and bread (which used to be an easy night snack) out of my diet and before I knew it, my clothing size reduced to UK6 by the beginning of 2014 and this never happened in my life before. My weight settled to hover +/- 2kg for most of 2014. I credit the weight loss to my new lifestyle which includes yoga, Paleo diet and a lot of walking especially when I travel.

Towards second quarter 2014, I changed studios and attended around 7h weekly of yoga. The type of yoga also changed to be mainly Vinyasa yoga which is faster paced and more demanding on my muscles and will let you build lean muscles everywhere. From the chart, I have lost 8.8kg of fat by mid 2014 but my weight decreased by only 8.1kg. The extra 0.7kg must have been due to increase in muscles!

In October 2014, I switched studios and Hom Yoga became my regular studio. They offer mostly hot classes and I started attending a lot of hot Vinyasa flow classes. The membership is expensive so I try to attend as often as I can to make my money worth. For months, I’ve been doing around 10 – 12h a week of yoga, mostly Vinyasa, which is an increase in frequency compared to previously. My diet remains as Paleo as possible with little or no alcohol and mindfulness to avoid snacking on bread or anything non Paleo before bedtime.

Strangely, in recent months of 2015, I noticed an increase of 1 – 3kg in weight when I weigh myself from time to time, but physically I could still fit into the same UK6 clothes some even fit better than before. Within these few months I saw significant improvements in my yoga asanas and felt stronger than before, being able to do a chaturanga (took me 2-3 years ok!) and some inversions which requires core strength. My legs are also way stronger than before.

Only when I did a body analysis recently did I find out that my fat % actually reduced and I actually lost 3.04kg of fat! I gained about 1.4kg overall so that means I gained 4.4kg of muscles within the months. This explains my new found strength, and it’s true that muscles are heavier than fats.

So back to the question: can yoga help lose weight?

Yes, only if you attend yoga 10h – 12h a week of Vinyasa yoga. Such commitment to this kind of yoga is necessary.

As seen from the figures, 4h a week of mild yoga did not make significant changes. 7h a week of a mixture of mild and Vinyasa yoga did help me lose some weight but not a lot – and I think any weight loss during that period came from change in diet, and overall I did not much gain in muscle mass.

Only when I engage in 10h- 12h a week of Vinyasa yoga did I build up 4.4kg of muscles gradually and muscles can increase overall metabolism, burning more fat! Yoga is not a highly cardiovascular activity so fat burning doesn’t actually occur during the session. Yoga does make you gain lean muscle mass as a desirable by product and THAT is how yoga can burn fat.

Also, being busy with yoga keeps me from having too much free time to be hungry all day. This leads to less eating too. It uses up my energy and being exhausted, I can sleep better at night and not stay up looking for midnight snacks.

So in a way, you need to expect and embrace a change in lifestyle which comes with yoga in order to see a change in weight.

No, if you don’t attend enough sessions, attend only mild classes or simply treat yoga as a single activity – meaning you simply attend a class and then continue bad lifestyle habits like drinking and eating everything, will not give you any weight loss results. You would have better luck doing cardiovascular exercises like running, swimming or Zumba which burns fat directly.

 


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