Yoga, like all forms of exercise, burns calories -- some forms more than others. A fast-paced, vigorous style of yoga, like Vinyasa or Ashtanga, will burn more fat and calories, for example, than a slow, restorative class.
"Yoga certainly does have a cardiovascular element," says Annelise Hagan, a yoga instructor in New York City. "A vigorous athletic form of yoga can raise your heart rate for a good 20 minutes." And moves that focus on the core -- such as plank, chaturanga, and boat pose -- can help tone the abdominal muscles underneath, she adds.
That may not be the most important thing to consider when choosing a yoga class, however. "What's really going to give you more weight loss is the mindfulness aspect of yoga," says Colleen Saidman Yee, creator of Gaiam's Yoga for Weight Loss DVD. "You may build strength and burn calories from a faster paced class, but you'll really develop the tools you need to listen to your body in a slower, more meditative practice."
A 2009 study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute found that people who practiced yoga regularly were likely to maintain or lose weight during the study period, while those who did no yoga were likely to pack on extra pounds. The researchers credit the yogis' weight control to their mindful eating habits -- they paid attention to what they ate and stopped when they felt full. [Source: FHCRC.org]
In addition, yoga has been shown to help improve sleep problems and symptoms of depression. [Source: Pedersen] And if you're already trying to lose weight by dieting, research shows that not getting enough sleep can sabotage your body's efforts to burn fat. [Source: Peeples]
When Saidman Yee set out to make a weight-loss DVD, she incorporated all of these ideas: "The first section focuses on a lot of standing poses and arm movements to get the heart rate up, and the second section is all about the midsection," she says. "But the last section is all restorative poses and breathing exercises, to help you wind down get a good night's sleep."