Yoga has long been known to increase flexibility, reduce stress and improve well-being. But does all that “OM”-ing and bending have a significant impact on weight loss?

Consciousness in yoga will encourage you to be more conscious in all areas, including eating.

Losing weight is simple in theory but much more challenging in practice. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume — in other words, eat less and exercise more. Practicing yoga certainly qualifies as the exercise component of this strategy, as yoga is a terrific calorie-burning exercise that strengthens and tones every muscle of your body, waking up deep muscles and using more of the body more intelligently than many other exercise modalities.

Yet while the math is clear on paper, once you begin your yoga practice with yoga techniques for weight loss in mind, your mind can turn to a thousand other distractions to pull you from your weight loss goal.

This is precisely where the mental benefits of yoga step in to help weight loss. Practicing yoga helps to increase your sensitivity to your inner signals such as hunger and cravings. There are physical components to both of these sensations, but true hunger to feed our body’s basic needs is a totally different experience than craving foods that do not nourish us. Yoga helps to slow you down mentally so that you can learn to distinguish between the urge to eat and the emotional impulses that sometimes drive us to eat to quell our feelings. Yoga can help us discern what we are truly hungry for, and knowing what makes us tick internally can help us lose weight by making better food choices.

Because yoga also helps you be totally present, it also helps you eat more mindfully — so you pay more attention to the taste of food and learn how to savor each bite instead of wolfing food down unconsciously. Yoga teaches you to feel true satiation instead of eating until you feel stuffed.

Couple that with the breathing and meditation techniques yoga teaches us, and you have a system that acknowledges your total health every time you practice. Stressed out bodies are overloaded with cortisol, which packs on intra-abdominal fat. The stress-reducing properties of yoga help you relax more effectively so that fat cannot accumulate.

The physical changes from conscious movement yoga are evident immediately: Your muscles burn, you break a sweat, you feel loosened up and relaxed for hours afterward. But it’s the mental transformation that really makes lasting weight loss through yoga possible. A mind tuned in to the body’s deeper thoughts and feelings about itself is a mind that is no longer willing to accept extra weight or excess mental baggage.

Learn about Yoga Tune Up at home.

Find a Yoga Tune Up class or workshop near you.


[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]

Jill Miller

Jill Miller, C-IAYT, ERYT is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide and creator of the self-care fitness formats Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® Method. With more than 30 years of study in anatomy and movement, she is a pioneer in forging relevant links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, massage, athletics and pain management. She is known as the Teacher’s Teacher and has trained thousands of movement educators, clinicians, and manual therapists to incorporate her paradigm shifting self-care fitness programming into athletic and medical facility programs internationally. She has crafted original programs for 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox, YogaWorks, and numerous professional sports teams. She and her team of 500+ trainers help you to live better in your body with an emphasis on proprioception, mobility, breath mechanics and recovery. She has presented case studies at the Fascia Research Congress and International Association of Yoga Therapy conferences. She has the rare ability to translate complex physiological and biomechanical information into accessible, relevant moves that help her students transform pain, dysfunction and injury into robust fitness. Jill is the anatomy columnist for Yoga Journal Magazine and has been featured in Shape, Men’s Journal, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, Yoga Journal, Self, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. Jill is regularly featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is the creator of dozens of DVD’s including Treat While You Train with Kelly Starrett DPT and is the author of the internationally bestselling book The Roll Model: A Step by Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility and Live Better in your Body. Based in Los Angeles, CA, she is a wife and mother of two small children and is currently writing her second book.

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Anya Taylor

Jill’s comments about the mental benefits of yoga influencing our body’s action of holding on to fat (too much stress increases cortisol) in addition to the psychological benefits of being more connected with our body, calmer in our minds, and then not needing to eat (neurotically) is thought provoking

Martine Lauzon

I always lose weight when I practice yoga consistently. Of course slowing down, breathing, stretching and strengthening will help boost metabolism! When I am more relaxed, I really do make better food choices. Sometimes we think we are hungry but really are cells just needed some oxygen!

Angela

Since many people struggle with will power when it comes to making healthy decisions, mindfulness and awareness that yoga gives us is huge. The benefits of slowing down, being more mindful, breathing and relaxing sometimes outweigh the benefits of what we think of as exercise.

erika mills

I underestimate the lasting mind-body benefits of yoga. I always noticed I felt better for up to two days after class, but I will now pay attention to the influences it has on my behavior. Thanks for this post!

Kayla Lee

The component of yoga I am finding related to weight loss/ eating for me is sankalpa. With the intention to feel physically and emotionally well when I eat it is really impacting both my food choices, and how much I eat. My sankalpa during asana is simply, to feel. Putting the pressure of burning calories/ weight loss was too much for my yoga practice, it took me too far away from my initial intuition, to feel. I now do exercise outside of yoga to work on those parts.

Michelle Corbeil

Such a great article! I also feel when my practice helps me become more mindful I make better choices!! That is the dilemma often the “busy” in life shushes the internal voice that leads to being able to listen to the internal knowing that becomes evident once I can slow down to hear the signals.

Sarah

This is an area which has challenged me much of my life. At 40, I finally feel fit and comfortable in my skin, but I have to stay conscious about how I feel and what’s happening in my life. In addition, with a surgery coming up that will leave me without the use of one arm for quite some time, my biggest concern, rehab? Nope, how much weight will I gain from moving less, from having another glass of wine – which usually leads to more chocolate. I am trying to strategize now so I won’t fall into my habitual… Read more »

Katie Alba

Truth!! I love this! Mindfulness in all that we do and in all that we are. A true yogic state. Thank you.

Teresa

Thank you for the explanation of how yoga is a stress reliever to stop the build up of cortisol in the body and abdominal fat accumulation . This is a great A-HA moment !
Thank you Jill

Colleen Alber

I simply love this perspective on ‘yoga for weight loss’. While I agree there is a physical/exercise component to the practice, the bigger benefit comes mentally. Personally, I believe that 80% of losing and/or maintaining a healthy weight comes from a proper, healthy diet, not running for hours on a treadmill to CNN. Since many of us (including myself) struggle with will power when it comes to making healthy decisions, the self-control, mindfulness, etc that yoga gives us is huge. I can’t wait to carefully share this with my students.

Mary

I really appreciate this article, Jill. I am a personal trainer, and often clients come to me with the goal of weight loss, wanting me to “kick their butt” so they can burn off extra calories. Yet these same clients arrive at a session entirely stressed out, exhausted, achy, on a few hours of sleep. I feel I am doing them a disservice if I spend an hour working them to their limits. With their cortisol levels already spiked, an hour of hard exercise is going to make things go even more haywire, which in the end will undercut their… Read more »

Devon

Thank you for this article. So many people enter the yoga realm with weight loss in mind- which is fine! However, there’s so much more too it, and so many more important things to think about, like our health. It’s true that when I started doing yoga more regularly, I lost some weight, but it was actually totally unintentional. I was just so focused on my practice, being around like minded people, and aware of what made me feel better, that I naturally was eating properly and exercising a lot. It’s so much better to start doing something because you… Read more »

Mary

Great idea. I feel more mindful and less likely to eat junk food when I practice yoga as well. Another thought is what would it be like if you actually tried to om while in boat pose. Would it help hug the abdominals in?

Taryn Shultz

I havent lost any weight from yoga, in fact I’ve gained weight. That being said yoga has taught me to appreciate my body in a way that I never have before. The number on the scale isn’t very important to me anymore. I’m more concerned with how I feel and what I’m able to do!

Beverly N.

Thank you for a beautiful introduction to mindful weight loss. Mindfulness includes turning toward versus away from places where we get stuck. It forces us to look at the habits of the mind-body including cravings, as well as our relationships with our bodies and food. I believe, however, that there is a paradox here in using yoga as a strategy for weight loss if one of the foundational attitudes of mindfulness is non-striving. In mindfulness, we are not trying to get anywhere. Perhaps, weight loss is in the same category as relaxation – a by product of being present. Thanks… Read more »

Megan

What a great way to address yoga and weight loss. I know so many people that think that they are going to lose weight just from taking a vinyasa class once or twice a week and still maintain their not always exemplary dietary habits. The real message here is, as while any type of movement is great and better than sitting around doing nothing, yoga is more, as stated at the end of this piece, ” it’s the mental transformation that really keeps the weight off. A mind tuned in to the body’s deeper thoughts and feelings about itself is… Read more »

Liz Lor

I have found in my practice that taking my yoga off the mat and applying the principles of the asanas helps my body to tone all over all day long. For instance, sitting at a desk or standing in line at the grocery store, I am constantly listening to my body and feeling tadasana in the stance. The feeling of being overfull on your mat also helps me to be mindful when choosing my diet.

Sharrari Fit

I wish there were more blog topics on this one. There are statistics of yoga helping people feel better about their body, but not actually loosing weight. Loosing weight is a combined effort of exercise and diet. Without proper attention to both, it will not heed the expected results. I was 152lbs when I started yoga again after a long year of travel and eating everything as a cultural exploration and not exercising more than the daily walking of site seeing and transporting myself from city to city. I started hot yoga, and I found myself not eating/wanting the “unhealthy”… Read more »

Debi

I am asked this question a lot. My answer is yoga helps you care for yourself and that will pour into all other parts of your life on and off the mat.

Di Anderson

As someone who has struggled with their weight and maintaining healthy eating habits, mostly due to stress, I find this post a friendly reminder of the strides that I have made since delving into my yoga practice and completely agree with the sentiments shared. There is something about what happens on the mat that keeps us going back. Stress reduction is a KEY component for me. I have found that by doing yoga and releasing tension and pent up stressors, weight being one of them, my eating habits have shifted for the better and my weight is no longer the… Read more »

Liz Swift

I am so surprised that there is only one thread on Weight Loss, since it is something most of us struggle with.
I have really worked hard to be ‘present’ during my practice, but it soon fades after I leave the mat. I even grant myself a few more cheats when I practice more regularly, which doesn’t make any sense. I do need to bring that mindfulness to my eating and nourishment. Thanks for bringing this up for discussion.

Merissa

This post is the epitome of what yoga is and the powerful transformation it can create in one’s life. Like most women, I came to yoga for the amazing workout, but I fell in love with it after realizing how it was changing my life in every area- especially nutrition. Being in the YTU class right now, it’s even more transformational becoming even more self-aware and in tune with your own body. Thanks!

Melissa

I love the combination of emotional issues + hormones + stress reduction + the topic of weight loss. I hear all the time working with athletes that one week they need to slim down… the next week they need to bulk up… the following class they’re mentally exhausted and want a restorative class. There is so much pressure to slim and look like a model on the cover of a magazine, but not all bodies are meant to look like that; while the more we’re “out there,” the less we’re tuned into the inner signals of the body and mind.… Read more »

Shaina Ferguson

In our society, most people gravitate towards the practice of yoga for exercise. It’s a great way to get more people excited about the practice and hopefully they discover something deeper about themselves. I, like many others, got into yoga as a way to lose weight. Sometimes this external goal can keep you from exploring the other spiritual aspects of yoga. I’ve only recently begun to discover that the ability to lose weight comes from the strength and will within and not from external pressures. I have yoga to thank for that.

Nicole Shahida

Yoga has helped me to find balance in my life in all areas: I eat better, relax better and sleep better. Yoga has made me acutely aware of my bodies needs and limitations. Losing weight has just been one of the many benefits.

Yasmen Mehta

I figured this blog would have a lot of comments! Yes weight loss is such an asked question for new students coming into class. I have always said “not really” to my clients, and asked them to up their cardio a bit more. However the stress reduction is so important, and probably the number 1 reason for out of control eating in this country. There is some sort of reward system that sets in and I always here things like “oh, I’m going to have a tub of ice cream, I am so stressed out.” However there are some people… Read more »

Marion

Thank you for posting this. I have been advocating mindful eating and have broken it down to a simple plan for friends and family. 50% leafy greens (there are many greens that exist other than broccoli), 25% whole grains and 25% protein (beef, chicken, fish) You do not have to be completely vegan or vegetarian so long you stay consistent with a proper diet in combination with exercise. I also remind my friends to eat healthy and exercise for health as the #1 priority and weight loss as the last. Somehow it seems to get reversed. Sigh…

Nicolette

Thanks Jill! I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for the past 14 years but have suffered from food cravings since childhood. I think something is starting to click as my personal practice has gone deeper and now I’ve been teaching for one year 🙂 You are so right about the endless gifts that the physical practice of yoga as well as the philosophies can help you cultivate a healthy relationship with yourself and your food. I try to practice gratitude and set an intention before meals and I use to eat until I was stuffed. Now most times I… Read more »

Narcedalia (Nars)

I couldnt agree more. Stress is harmful in so many ways, and we even get more stressed of ‘not loosing the weigh’ and the vicious cycle of cortisol and stress continues like a snow ball. Breathing is a key we often forget in daily life, If we don’t breath properly, means we are holding back or rushing forward either in breath or in our minds, and of course this means also that we are not present in our bodies either, so we cannot align properly and be aware of posture. When we breathe all of a sudden is like opening… Read more »

Emma

I have always been a voracious eater. I love the way way food tastes, and in the past, I have had the bad habit of overreating simply because I could, and because I liked the feeling of being full. As I delve deeper into my yoga practice, I see myself becoming more aware of what I put into my body and the way that it makes me feel. It’s amazing because I’ve always wondered what it would take for me to practice restraint. Yoga makes me want to respect myself more. When I put bad food into my body, my… Read more »

Danielle

As a long term healthy eating vegan I am still undecided about yoga and wegiht loss. Over the years my diet has remained consistent. What has changed many times is my excercise cycle. I go through phases – yoga and weight training, yoga and cardio, yoga only, weight training only, weight training and cardio,, all 3…and i find that while i am happiest when i am only doing yoga, its just not enough for me to maintain the weight I want to be. If I dont cut calories when only doing yoga, pounds creep back on, and since I make… Read more »

Holly

I had an interesting experience with yoga and how it played out on my eating habits. It wasn’t the awareness – I already knew when I was eating when I wasn’t hungry (and yet still doing it!), it wasn’t the physical exercises, breathing or movement, or even the relaxation and it’s effect on my nervous system and digestive functioning. It was much more so the yoga philosophy. I realised through yoga I had a lot of anxiety issues, which I dealt with yet exacerbated by being an adrenaline junkie, extreme sports nut. Coming to yoga years of that gave me… Read more »

Lauren C

Yoga has helped me become a healthier person and more aware of my body. I have become much more present and listen to my body’s needs. I have struggled with my weight and found that a regular yoga practice has motivated me to be more conscious of what I put in my mouth. I also like feeling “light” when practicing so it all goes hand in hand. I feel as though, I have less “bad” cravings after practicing and have the desire to eat healthier.

Yelimar

As Jill says yoga helps us consciously down regulate. Being in a contant state of low level stress, be it physical or emotional, triggers our fight of flight response. Our body interprets this as it being an emergency, a time of lack and scarcity of food. It doesn’t feel safe so it slows down our metabolism to conserve energy. This stress also produces cortisol which makes us store more interabdominal belly fat. When we breath deeply and do yoga we turn on our rest and disgest response, the parasympathetic nervous system. It is here the body feels safe. It interprets… Read more »

Kirsten

Yoga is a practice, but your life is not. Allowing space for healthy choices is my current practice, both on and off the mat. On the mat, I am making healthier choices for my joints and overall stability. Off the mat, I am only beginning to honor my body instead of making faster, easier choices and using more readily accessible options to fuel my fire!

Angela Medina

As someone who has struggled with weight all my life, I can definitively say that adding yoga to my regimen is a crucial component to my weight loss goals. It is not the be all end all, of course, since my Kapha body type demands a rigour that yoga on its own simply can’t provide. Where yoga shines for me is in how deliberate it demands its practitioners to be. Before yoga I was all too eager to use momentum in my workouts in a way that didn’t serve me. I used speed and inertia as a crutch instead of… Read more »

Theresa van Vugt

I love the approach of this article. Many athletes that I work with that are trying to lose weight will ofter increase the intensity of their training and lower their caloric intake. I’ve argued this with them, as it can actually create a counter effect, putting more stress on the body. Introducing the meditate effects of Yoga to them as describe in the blog, is a digestible approach for them. It has the physiological effects of lowering the cortisol, heart and breath rate, releases stress in the muscles, and brings emotional awareness to triggers and feeling about their relationship with… Read more »

Jane

It is truly amazing what a consistent yoga practice can do with your mindfulness of nourishing your body. I have found that the more I practice yoga, the more empowered I feel to listen to and take care of my body; eating when I’m hungry, staying hydrated, steering away from bad food and health choices and getting enough rest. That right there has helped me lose weight, almost subconsciously! I love this article, it made me remember what it felt like when yoga first began to make a huge difference in my life.

Michelle

I’m a little surprised to see only one blog on this topic, but thank you for writing about it. I think weight loss is why MANY woman first come to yoga. I know thats one of the reasons why I started my practice years ago. Little did I know that I was also looking for something deeper. As a teacher, I think this can help me connect with my students who come to my classes with weight loss in mind. As your mention, weight loss is mainly the result of practicing awareness and consciousness through yoga. Sure, you might physically… Read more »

Fariba

Practicing yoga raises our awareness over our body, therefore, we become more aware of what we eat and what nutrients our body needs. In fact, when we eat healthy, we are practicing NIyamas and respecting ourselves.