Does yoga help you lose weight?

Does yoga help you lose weight? Image of a woman sitting on a yoga mat with a dumbbell next to her
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Does yoga help you lose weight? Ever since yoga first gained mainstream popularity, there have been numerous health benefits associated with the practice, including everything from increased flexibility to decreased stress. However, does yoga help you lose weight as well?

It’s easy to assume that it does when social media is filled with ab-tastic celebrities and yoga gurus posing on the best yoga mats. However, is there any scientific-based evidence that yoga is good for you and can it help you lose weight? After all, there are plenty of cardio-based workouts that can be effective, with treadmills, exercise bikes and rowing machines helping to lose weight.

We dig into the practice of yoga and whether it’s possible to downward dog your way towards weight loss.

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Does yoga help you lose weight?

Harvard Medical School acknowledges that the overall benefits of yoga go beyond the mat. In fact, the benefits of yoga can even include indirectly causing weight loss by promoting a mindful way of eating that leads to a more positive relationship with food. In fact, evidence even showed the people who practiced yoga once a week for a minimum of 30 minutes over at least a four-year period gained less weight during middle adulthood. Meanwhile, those who were overweight were actually able to lose weight.  

Does yoga help you lose weight? Woman sitting on a yoga mat in front of her laptop

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Another Harvard study explored how many calories yoga was able to burn in people with different body weights. According to the study, 30 minutes of Hatha yoga burned 120 calories for a 125-pound person, 144 calories for a 155-pound person, and 168 calories for a 185-pound person. 

Does yoga help tone the body?

While there are a variety of types of yoga, all forms include moving through a number of poses (asanas). Over time, these help to increase flexibility and strength as the body adapts to holding these poses for longer. 

One trial in the Complementary Therapies in Medicine journal followed 60 patients that presented with abdominal obesity who were practicing 90 minutes of yoga twice a week for 12 weeks. When compared to the control group, the yoga group showed a significant reduction in their abdominal circumference, as well as an improved waist to hip ratio. 

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The yoga group also showed reduced body weight and body fat percentage as well as an increase in body muscle mass percentage, showing that yoga does build muscle effectively. Meanwhile, The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health also reported that 63% of adults said yoga motivated them to exercise more regularly.

We already know that if we move more, we burn more calories. However, weight loss and fat loss are not mutually exclusive. Our physical weight can fluctuate quite dramatically from one day to the next due to aspects such as hormones, the amount of sleep we’ve had, injury and levels of water retention. However, this doesn’t equate to body fat loss or gain. In order to specifically achieve fat loss, Harvard Health Publishing states that we must eat fewer calories than we burn to be in a calorie deficit. 

Does yoga help you lose weight? Image shows group yoga session

(Image credit: Getty)

Meanwhile, a different Harvard Medical School article shows that fat loss essentially comes down to simple math. As 3,500 calories are stored in one pound of body fat, we would need to cut 500 calories per day in order to lose one pound of body fat per week. There are a number of online fat-loss calculators available to help you determine how many calories you burn on average for your height, weight and age. 

However, relying solely on the number on the scales during a fat-loss journey can result in frustration on days when body weight is heavier due to any of the reasons listed above. If you're attempting to lose body fat, it’s can be useful to try a number of methods to track progress, including taking weekly photographs and recording inch loss with a measuring tape. 

While yoga in itself may not be the most efficient way to burn fat, the research shows that those who practice yoga are more likely to be motivated to exercise, be in tune with their body and be more aware of hunger signals. This means that, over time, fat loss can occur through increased muscle tone and mindfulness. 

How does yoga improve your balance?

Yoga consists of a number of balance poses as part of its practice, which means that a strong core is an ideal foundation to help you achieve rock-solid postures. The traditional school of thought is that having a strong core is achieved through dedicated ab workouts and endless sit-ups. However, the good news is that yoga can naturally help you to engage your core as you move through the postures. In fact, your balance will improve over time as your core and other muscles in your body become stronger. 

In a review of studies published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine involving a healthy population ranging from school age to seniors, it was determined that yoga improved balance as well as other physiological factors. However, it concluded that more detailed research would need to be carried out to determine the measurable amount of balance gained, as well as which postures contributed best to improved balance. 

Significant gains in balance and improved flexibility were also observed in a yoga group study of college athletes published in the International Journal of Yoga in 2016. One group of subjects undertook 10 weeks of yoga practice as well as their regular training that involved resistance training and weight lifting, while the control group did no yoga on top of the other training. The results from the yoga group were significantly better at the end of the trial than the non-yoga group. If you want to know how to improve your flexibility, this is a positive sign that yoga could be adopted as a fundamental part of athletic training in order to enhance overall performance. 

So, does yoga help you lose weight? Yes, when combined with a suitable and healthy calorie deficit. What is clear from these studies is that yoga is a great option to strengthen and tone muscles. 

Amy Clarke

Amy is an Irish freelance writer living in London, UK, and specializes in fitness and wellbeing content. As a qualified dog groomer with over ten years of experience, she also writes extensively about pet care topics. 

Amy has a degree in Creative Writing from London South Bank University and a Master of Arts in Scriptwriting from Goldsmiths University of London. She is a comedy scriptwriter who has had her work placed across a number of screenwriting competitions. She is also a member of the BFI Network x BAFTA Crew program. Amy is a health and fitness advocate with a passion for resistance training and tracking macros to achieve her goals. She’s also a big fan of yoga and Pilates, and fully believes that a balance of both practices helps build a strong core foundation and reduces injury.