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Yoga for Weight Loss: Poses and Positions

Yoga can help tone and tighten your core.
Yoga can help tone and tighten your core.
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If your primary purpose for exercising is to lose weight, yoga may not be the first activity you'd consider. Minute for minute, you'll certainly burn a lot more calories with a fast-paced, cardiovascular sport like running or kickboxing, a boot camp class, or even a strength-training routine that involves heavy weights and lots of reps.

But ultimately, the type of exercise that's going to help you lose weight is the type that you're actually going to do. If you enjoy yoga, keeping up a regular practice can help you slim down, thanks to both its calorie-burning potential and the unique way it can connect the mind with the body, helping you to make smarter decisions -- and burn more fat -- off the mat, as well as on.

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"It's all about mindfulness and being aware of your body," says Colleen Saidman Yee, a Long Island-based yoga instructor. "If you eat a big greasy meal right before yoga class, you're going to feel it when you're twisting and stretching." Life coach and yoga instructor Sophie Herbert agrees: "Yoga helps you build confidence in your body, as you see yourself improving and gaining strength and balance that you didn't have before. It really makes you want to take care of it so you'll be able to perform at the highest level."

Research supports this idea, too: In 2009, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center published a study in which people who practice yoga regularly lost about five pounds, while their non-yogi counterparts gained about 14. The authors concluded that the yoga group was more mindful about their food, eating only when they were hungry and stopping when they were full. [Source: FHCRC.org]

Saidman Yee, who created the Gaiam DVD "Yoga for Weight Loss," says the best yoga postures for weight loss are the ones that get your heart rate up, that work your core, and that promote healthy sleep -- another important aspect for anyone who wants to drop a few pounds. A routine that incorporates these elements, along with breathing and stress-reduction techniques, will offer any yogi a holistic and well-balanced approach to slimming down.

Sun Salutations

This isn't just one move; it's actually a sequence of several postures that takes you from a standing position down to the mat and back up. Sun salutations are a great beginner routine to get your heart rate up and to work your core and upper body muscles, says Saidman Yee. There are many variations for sun salutations, but a basic one might follow this sequence:

  • Start in Mountain Pose, reaching your arms overhead.
  • Dive forward into a Standing Forward Bend, hinging at the hips and reaching toward the ground.
  • Plant your palms on the ground and step or hop back into Plank Pose.
  • Lower halfway, as if you were doing a push-up, to Chaturanga.
  • Roll over the tops of your feet and straighten your arms into Upward Facing Dog.
  • Tuck your toes and push your hips back to Downward Facing Dog.
  • Step or hop to the front of your mat and roll up to Mountain Pose, repeating the sequence from the beginning.

Sun salutations often include lunges and balancing postures, like Warrior I, II, and III, that will build strength and help you work up a sweat, as well. Saidman also suggests warming up by standing in Mountain Pose and windmilling your arms in different directions; not only will it loosen you up, but it will also increase your heart rate, too.

Abdominal Work

"Yoga can help you lose weight all over, but I think it's particularly good at helping to firm up the muscles of the core," says Herbert. She recommends incorporating moves that require abdominal contractions -- like Side Plank, Boat Pose, and Dolphin Plank Pose -- but also mini backbends that stretch and stimulate the abdominal organs, like Locust and Sphinx Pose.

Sleep-Inducing Postures

Restorative, relaxing poses -- especially when they're practiced at night -- can help you get a good night's sleep. This is critical for anyone who wants to lose weight, since the body cannot burn fat as efficiently when it's sleep deprived. (Not to mention, the body also craves junk food when you're tired) Saidman recommends Standing and Seated Forward Bends, Legs Up the Wall, Plow Pose, and Supported Headstand or Shoulderstand to get you prepared for bed.

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Sources

  • Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. "Regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating." August 3, 2009. (April 27, 2013) http://www.fhcrc.org/en/news/releases/2009/08/yoga.html
  • Hensrund, M.D., Donald. "Can Yoga Help Me Lose Weight?" Mayo Clinic. (April 27, 2013) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/yoga-for-weight-loss/AN02100
  • Herbert, Sophie. Yoga instructor. Personal interview. March 21, 2013.
  • Saidman Yee, Colleen. Yoga instructor. Personal interview. April 21, 2013.

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