If you do a quick search on yoga and weight loss, particularly yoga for reducing belly fat, you'll come up with some pretty sketchy responses. So today I'm going to attempt to answer questions about yoga for weight loss and burning belly fat. I hope this provides some clarity, so that you can decide for yourself whether or not a yoga practice is right for you and your goals.
But First, Yoga is More Than Exercise
Before we dive into this topic, it's important to understand that yoga is more than just a series of physical poses that you do on a mat. It's an entire life philosophy and an ancient tradition.
Traditionally, yoga poses (known as "asanas") were practiced to prepare the body and mind for meditation. Now, we see them as a way to strengthen the body and elevate the heart rate. While yoga is a great form of exercise, I would be remiss not to point out that it's so much more than that. Yoga can change your life for the better.
Can you lose weight only doing yoga?
I've answered this post in the past, but it's worth repeating that yes, yoga is an effective way to lose weight, but the reason is not as obvious as you might think. Practices such as power yoga or vinyasa are certainly great ways to improve strength and get your heart rate up, but a regular practice can do much more than than just tone your body.
Practicing yoga a few times a week will help you feel more connected to your body. I know that might sound a little squishy, but it simply means that you will become more present with your physical state. So rather than reaching for a cookie every time you get stressed, you may choose more productive ways to cope with stress.
It may also help you reduce inflammation caused by stress, help relieve digestive issues and improve the functioning of your vagus nerve that connects your gut to your brain.
You may also find that yoga leaves you feeling more peaceful and happier, so you don't need to numb your feelings with food and alcohol the minute you feel emotional discomfort.
The benefits of yoga go far beyond the scope of this blog post, but I hope that provides some general insight into how it can help support your weight loss journey, and your general wellbeing.
Can you burn belly fat with yoga?
Now that we know that yoga can help us lose weight through better lifestyle choices, a calmer nervous system as well as burning calories, let's address the issue of belly fat.
Belly fat typically results from poor lifestyle habits such as overeating or consuming too much sugar, alcohol and process carbs. It's also caused by a lack of exercise - a critical component for healthy metabolic function.
Research also shows that belly fat can often come about because of too much stress. A Yale study shows that women who are chronically stressed suffer from elevated cortisol which leads to a greater level of visceral fat (fat around the internal organs). This explains why otherwise lean and healthy women can suddenly find themselves with a belly.
In both cases, yoga can help by reducing stress, improving metabolic function and bringing more awareness to lifestyle choices that might be causing the weight gain.
Anecdotally, it was my yoga practice that helped me quit smoking many years ago. My practice enabled me to walk through near-irresistible cravings and stay present with my vision for better health and freedom from nicotine addiction. The power of present-moment awareness is an incredible tool for creating positive change in anyone's life.
Which yoga is best for burning belly fat?
There are so many styles of yoga that it's hard to pinpoint one style as being best for fat loss. However, I will say that the style of yoga that brings you the most peace and presence is going to be the best route to success.
As I mentioned before, belly fat is often related to stress and hormonal issues, so anything that lowers cortisol by better managing stress is going to be most helpful.
For some people, a hot and sweaty vinyasa style practice with a lot of movement is the best way to bring themselves into calmness. For others, a slower, but more strength-focused practice, like power yoga might be a better fit.
Personally, I find yoga sculpt to be particularly effective as it draws from other exercises like PiYo and Barre. This is one of the styles of yoga I am trained in (as well as vinyasa) and it's a practice I really enjoy.
What are the best poses for burning belly fat?
I did a quick search for this question and I found some odd suggestions from the top articles in Google. Poses like cobra or Pavanamuktasana are suggested as core strengtheners that trigger fat loss in the midsection if held longer than a minute. This is a complete fallacy.
Poses such as cobra do not activate or strengthen the core at all. They also don't elevate the heart rate enough to enter a fat burning zone. The same is true of Pavanamuktasana (curling up into a ball while laying on your back - also known as "wind releasing pose"). This is hardly a strength or cardiovascular workout.
More over, holding a passive pose where you're lying on the floor for a minute or longer does nothing to promote fat loss. Instead, working through a series of active poses that engages muscles, elevates the heart rate and calls for steady, rhythmic breath that improves vagal tone, may help burn fat. The intention should be to keep the body moving and the breath deep and notable.
Ready for some yoga classes that may actually help you burn fat?
Instead of listing a bunch of poses that if practiced on their own won't do anything to help you with your belly fat issues, I'm going to share some of my favorite online classes that will help you work on your overall mind/body condition.
The Real Truth About Belly Fat
Even though I do believe yoga can help with belly fat, its only going to get you so far. At least 75% of excess fat is gained through poor dietary habits. If you think you might be eating too much, try counting macros for a few weeks to see if you're over-consuming food. I have a short, but effective macro counting program that will help you determine exactly how much you should be eating in terms of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
If your body fat is disproportionally centered around your mid-section, you may want to focus on cutting back on processed carbohydrates as you may have developed metabolic syndrome.
I hope this helps you on your road to better health. Overall, I think yoga is a powerful addition to a healthy lifestyle for all the reasons I mentioned above, but all the yoga in the world will not overcome a poor diet. Speaking as someone who has lost over 80lbs and kept it off, what you put in your mouth mostly determines how you look and feel.
Caren is a certified yoga teacher, fitness instructor and author of The Fit Habit. Here she shares simple, low carb recipes, quick home workout ideas and practical ways to foster mind + body wellness.