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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katie

I had an interesting epiphany regarding weight loss a few years ago. I had been practicing and teaching Ashtanga yoga for years, which of course is the perfect style of yoga for driven, goal oriented people who like to work hard and sweat. I was also someone who struggled with my relationship to food. I’ve always been one of those people who feel like if I could only lost 10 pounds, my life would be dramatically improved and my self worth and confidence unshakable. (What I now know is that our self worth can only be temporarily altered by changing… Read more »

Nancy

I have always been enthusiastically active to attempt to balance out my eating habits. Although i tend to eat healthier foods i know i eat portions that are too large, i eat unconsciously at my desk at work or the couch at home and gulp things down much too quickly. My mother used to tell me to slow down or people would think she didn’t feed me regularly. Recently, a waiter commented that i had really “ploughed through” my dish. I usually brush this off as just a personality quirk. However, your words hit home. I need to apply the… Read more »

Bridget Ingham

This all makes complete sense to me. The less stress less cortisol, the mindfulness, “we know better and we do better” . I believe that yoga really opens us up to what we are doing both on the mat and off in more ways than I ever imagined. Before yoga I think I probably obsessed over my weight and body image but after I started doing yoga everthing shifted on its own. I wasn’t even trying to loose weight or have a better body I was just trying to feel better over all and feel integrated as a person. The… Read more »

valorie zagelbaum

I appreciate the points made in regard to yoga and weight. Truely what is key is the mental transformation in the practice that really keeps the weight off as well as reducing or eliminating other unwanted behaviors. Irina’s points are really good too -stress is a factor not often considered with weight problems. How often we see others trying to sweating it out at the gym and going on unhealthy diets which in the long run only add to the problem. Clearly from the point of view that the main benefit of yoga is stress relief it can be a… Read more »

Charity Baker

I never considered yoga as a means for weight loss, but more for stretching, core strengthning and de-stressing. For the past several years I have incorporated Yoga into my almost daily work-out routines and could not be more pleased with the results. However, in the past two years I underwent a ton of stress and watched my weight increase to a place I’ve never seen before. Needless to say, this weight gain stressed me out more than the original sources of stress! I just finished a yoga teacher training course and figured that I would have lost weight while emersed… Read more »

cindy

since i began yoga 11 years ago, my body feels great. i have muscles i never had even in my 20’s! I’m 38…and proud to proclaim that #, and feel stronger and healthier than ever! I completely credit my yoga practice for this healthy way of life.

Irina Soyanen

One of the major cause for being overweight is stress. It sends our brains the signals to release the hormones and puts our bodies into fight-or-flight mode, but at the same time it shuts down the digestion and our bodies start to store fat in case of emergency. Even if you are sweating it out at the gym and monitoring your diet like a nutritionist but still remain stressed out your body holds onto fat. The main benefit of yoga is stress relieve and from this point of view yoga can be considered as a great tool for weight loss,… Read more »

Dianna

We as a society are constantly bombarded with body images of the super slim and beautiful. it’s no new subject that women are surrounded with so many weight issues and looking for ways to reduce weight or maintain a body beautiful.
So taking yoga into this arena is so positive as it changes your perception of SELF This can only be beneficial as a way to change weight from the inside out.

Ellen Blumenfeld

This is so important and something I discovered accidentally by practicing yoga. Its so true that reducing stress helps us not gain weight and eat when we are hungry not to satiate emotions. Over the years I hear this many times from my student too. They stopped overtraining, practice yoga mindfully and to their surprise their body didn’t “go to pot”

cindy

i agree dinneen. It’s living a yogic way… from the inside out. Mindfulness in all we do…

Dinneen

For many people yoga is also our first introduction to the concept of Plant-Based Nutrition. Not all, but many yoga teachers speak about the yogic principle of Ahimsa or non-harming and not of the translations of Ahimsa may be “not eating animals”. New yogis begin to feel their body in new ways as they practice, they become more mindful of their hunger signals, but they also get turned on to taking better care of themselves overall. And for many people yoga is a great introduction to the concept that one need not eat meat, fish, poultry and dairy for protein… Read more »

Leslie

I totally agree with the tenets of mindfulness. I have been weight training 2x/week for 6 months, and reached a plateau in my weight loss (after baby #3). After starting Yoga teacher training, something has kicked in, and my metabolism seems to have jumpstarted again. I am sure it’s from the mindfulness, but the physical poses and new challenges I’ve put my body through have woken up my metabolism. Yay!

Karen

When I started yoga five years ago, it was to improve my overall fitness and mental well being. After practicing a while I saw my body change but also believed my yoga practice would improve if I lost weight. That in fact happened. It’s much easier on the shoulders when I weigh less! At first I thought I had to do a power practice to gain the benefits of yoga. Now I realize that there are benefits to a slower practice which holds poses for a longer time. The mindfulness also led me to a healthier diet and I began… Read more »

Rose D

Great article about such a relevant issue in today’s world! We race around at such high speeds that stress and its consequences part is a regular part of everyday life. Anyone who has found peace of body and spirit in a yoga class, knows how much better it feels to have this sense of well-being and calm that the frantic, stress-filled pace we set for ourselves. My personal yoga journey began as a way to combat the stress from working in the finance industry for over 7 years. I was very unhealthy — living on 5-6 hours of sleep, coffee,… Read more »

Ciara

I have a coworker that said she didn’t like yoga because it made her sick. She stated she always ate a heavy meal before so she wouldn’t be hungry while practicing. I told her that was her problem. It was yoga that made her sick, it was over eating.

I find that one must be extremely mindful of what they eat before and after yoga. And if you practice everyday, there are at least two meals of the day that are conscious. 🙂

Victoria

In my experience people who have never taken yoga only think about it as a means for relaxation and stretching. Four years ago I decided I wanted to honor my body more by making changes to my physical self. I started out by doing what was easiest at the gym, cardio. The concept is pretty easy to understand – less in more out. Then, I started seeing a personal trainer. Things were going really well, but I was missing something. After 1.5yrs, I decided to give yoga a try, just to become more flexible, to stretch. What I didn’t anticipate… Read more »

Marina Blokhin

I’ve been actively practicing yoga for year and a half. I can see constant progress, slow but steady. First, my lower arm lost unnecessary weight. Now I can see my tights and glutes taking a desired shape.

Sassi Basir

I have never really been over weight but i did gain a bit of weight when i first went to college (freshman 15?!?!) – that coupled with the stress and anxiety i felt when my father passed away. It didn’t take me long to realize that i needed to take care of myself; body and mind. Correction – mind first then body. That is what first brought me on to my yoga mat 8 years ago. It is SO important to understand the mind body connection in a persons approach to anything in life – in this case body weight.… Read more »

Farah

The year before last I gained a lot of weight due to stress and “eating my feelings” and have spent the last year exercising and dieting to take it off. Yoga has made me much more mindful and aware of my body and of my hunger levels. It has additionally decreased my anxiety levels substantially so that I am not “eating my feelings” as much. While I was at first reluctant to use my precious workout time for yoga as it didn’t burn as many calories as an aerobics class or hitting the treadmill, the psychic benefits of yoga have… Read more »

Bianca F.

I gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy 8 years ago. This article really speaks to me. I already eat pretty healthy, I am vegetarian but I was never able fully to loose the weight I gained in pregnancy. Being also an entrepreneur my cortisol level were completely out of control due to stress. I started a full time yoga practice in 2009 and my cortisol level are back to normal and I have been steadily loosing weight. Yoga helped me to deal with stress and after a crazy day I look forward to coming to my mat.

Bella Moon

Weight has been an issue with me since I was a child. Throughout my life, I tried almost everything out there…from starving, slim fast, atkins, fancy scientific, mathematical formulas, it was insane. I was always in my head, not feeling, not paying attention to what was going on INSIDE. When I found Yoga and started practicing, I felt good pretty much right after my first class. Within a year, I had lost over 50 pounds! And I can tell you that I did not spend anytime calculating or figuring anything out with my foods. I learned with my practice, to… Read more »

Lindsey

This is really enlightening. I have found myself turning to yoga recently to relieve stress, as to attain the ethereal relxation afterwards. But I’ve never thought about how this ties to weight loss, aside from the obvious benefits of physcial exercise. I am a stress eater and have battled self-image issues for most of my life. Realizing that yoga has transformed people’s mentality towards stress/food is really intriguing. Every day I learn of more and more benefits of yoga. Now that I am aware of this connection, i am excited to see if I notice similar benefits as I dedicate… Read more »

jessicaf

Piggybacking on what Jill said about cortisol adding belly fat, I’ve found that when my self-image is low and I’m sending rays of hate toward my belly as I sweat and puff on the elliptical machine at the gym, I tend to not see results as quickly as I’d like. Conversely, when I go through more carefree phases of my life, and just stop caring as much about a few pounds, I find I’ve lost the weight simply because I’m less stressed or I’m not emotional eating or some combination. Yoga, for me, accomplishes both for me. My overall level… Read more »

Jess

The de-stressing effects of yoga have changed my life. With steady practice you naturally make healthier choices, not only with food but with other addictive substances as well. I love to hear this “consciousness” concept from Jill , because that is really what yoga is all about. Learning about anatomy adds another level of awareness to this consciousness. Thinking of how close together all of your organs are and how the body works together as a unit makes me want to nourish myself with the purest food possible.

Becky Czornobil

I often notice that when I am regularly practicing I am much more in tune with when I am actually hungry, not just bored. I also find that I just stop eating when I am full, and don’t mindlessly eat.

Dagmar Khan

Practicing Yoga was an amazing turning point in my life-I had food problems for years,which created despair,isolation and lot of frustration.Since embracing the practice of Yoga I was able to accept myself as I am,embrace my emotions as they arrive and become more embodied in my own self.Yoga is transformational,Yoga truly heals.

Sarah J.

Most people say that yoga isn’t a good workout because often times you don’t sweat (well I always do!) but in reality is a fantastic workout, not only for mind and body. Its the mindfulness that is so important to me, I am a mindless eater, especially when sweets are in front of me! But this idea of being mindful of what I am eating is such a great way to a more balanced approach to my eating lifestyle. Its helped me so much personally.

Steve

After reading this, the relationship between stress and increased appetite seems obvious, but I had somehow managed to miss it. A good explanation for how I’ve lost half of the 30 pounds I gained after I quit smoking (another result of yoga and reduced stress).

rcm

Cheers to a continued mental slowdown and overall patience and peace within.

Anita

Truly living a yogic life makes one more mindful of eating “clean”. Why do everything to keep your body in shape if you’re not going to be mindful of what you put into your body to fuel it? If you eat mindfully, weight will not be an issue. Thanks for the reminder!

Megan

I recently read about a study that showed that people eat significantly more when they have more food on their plates. Seems like a no-brainer but it really speaks to eating (and living) mindfully. People simply ate more because there was more on their plates. Thanks to Yoga we can start to put just what we need on our plates…both with respect to food and our metaphoric plates…

Allyson

I feel the same as Ariel. After strength training or cardio I feel famished and ultimately overeat (though I suppose I have “earned” it). After yoga, especially pranayama, I am fueled by the practice. I do not mindlessly eat to compensate for my lack of energy.

Becky G

I agree with the mental and physical benefits of yoga helping to lose weight. I am noticing an obvious change in my muscle definition, and I do notice that I am more mindful of the foods I choose to eat. Yoga makes me feel good mentally and definitely makes me want to only put good healthy foods into my body.

JS

I am a firm believer that every weight loss program should include yoga, meditation and pranayama. These tools help people learn to adopt heathly habits to lose weight and keep it off.

Elizabeth E

Love your distinction between hunger and craving. Obviously hunger for what our bodies need and craving foods that aren’t good for our bodies are very different, but I’m not sure how many people truly think about that distinction. I definitely appreciate the reminder – thank you.

AMV

Wow, I was just at a conference and a woman on the panel with me was with the USDA involved in food in schools programs. She talked a lot about what we’re feeding kids. I wonder how teaching them this viewpoint could affect child obesity rates…

Allison

I definitely agree that practicing yoga makes one more mindful when eating. You are much more in-tune to your body and what it needs.

Karla Huffman

This article really touches on the basis of the whole weight lose issue. It really truly is mind over matter. Physically you get in shape but you have to make more conscious food decision that will regulate your diet and daily work-out regimen. Before I started practicing yoga, I was a collegiate swimmer where I swam about 4-5 miles a day and was either too tired to eat or just ate whatever was available. When my collegiate swimming career ended I tried to stay in shape but found it hard because I was so worry about my work out plan… Read more »

Jaime S

I also find that I feel so good and clean after practicing yoga that I want to only put foods in my body with high prana.

Alexandra

Ever since I started practicing yoga I saw a big change not only in my body but my mental state too! I am aware of what I put in my body and my cravings are more controlled. Twisting poses are great for digestion so whenever I’m noticing discomfort after eating a meal, some simple twists to give my internal organs a massage. This is a great article for anyone who is just starting out and curious about the health benefits of yoga. You have to love yourself before you can love others.

Laura H.

This is so true! Since I started practicing yoga, I have naturally become more and more mindful in just about everything I do (including how I fuel my body).

Felicia

What a great Blog entry! People think it is important to have a positive mental attitude when trying to lose weight, but they may not even think to consider the benefits of pranayama and being mindful. Your article is a good introduction and inspiration for anyone trying to maintain proper body weight balance for their height, proportions and age,etc…
It can be very stressful to think about what to eat and what not to eat all day long, stopping to do simple breath work such as the Om pranayama is a wonderful solution.

Ariel Marcoux

After lifting weights or working out in other capacities, I always eat more. However, even after a rigorous yoga practice, I don’t crave a post workout meal nearly as much. Why exactly would this be?

Cathy

I came to yoga in a severely deconditioned state. Weight loss was not so much on my mind as was getting physically fit and having more energy. I was delighted to discover lasting weight loss through yoga. I think in general, yoga makes you want to be healthier in all ways, I have found I do not want to put as much junk in my body as I used to! This is a great post because some people think you cannot lose weight through yoga because it does not appear to be “active” enough!

Kristen

I am a stress eater. Very disiciplined most of the time but a little stress can lead me straight to the pack of Oreos. I have definitely experienced the benefits that yoga has had with helping me cope with stress. I no longer feel the need to stress eat because yoga has given me other tools to deal with stress.

Bonnie Zammarieh

Jill
Thank you for this blog. Some things here I did not know and am eager to be able to pass on this info. esp. to my gym based classes, where the focus seems to be mostly on losing weight.
The stress and the cortisol are particularly interesting.

lisa Moontague

As I get older it is harder to lost the last 5 lbs. I know I am a stress eater. I think using yoga and meditation will help slow me down. I like the idea of being more mindful!

Pam_SF

Totally agree on how the mindfulness that yoga helps us to attain is applicable to our relationship with food. Specifically how we we learn to be more in tune with what our body needs, or doesn’t need, with respecting to our eating choices (when, what, and how much).

Elizabeth S.

I love this approach. As a teenager (and in my early 20’s), I was challenged by an unhealthy body image which resulted in a serious eating disorder. Interestingly, I took my very first yoga class while experiencing a severe peak of anorexia. (I recovered, but for years I struggled with bouts of relapse). Since I have deepened my yoga practice in the past couple of years, I have new respect for my body – and know now how to give myself true grace. (I used to go low- cal-cardio-crazy; now my physical practices and diet are balanced). Thanks greatly to… Read more »

Lauren Iden

“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.”

Interesting. Did not know this and am so glad I do now!

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