Is yoga enough exercise to lose weight?

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I asked this question to several fitness experts a few years ago and I never got a straight answer. Then last week someone asked me the same thing.  Now that I’m a personal trainer, I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the answer.

A little backstory – I also have a 200 hour teacher training certification in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga under my belt. I went all the way to India to get it. While there, I spent about 4 hours a day learning and doing, yoga. That’s a A LOT of sun salutations.

Anecdotally, that experience should have been an adequate answer to my question of whether yoga was enough exercise to lose weight, but it really wasn’t. For even though I did lose a few pounds over the course of my trip, it’s hard to say if that was the yoga, or the constant diarrhea from the filthy squaller I was living in. I was also highly stressed from the excessive traffic, heat, animals, cow shit, sketchy people and everything else India has to offer, so my cortisol levels were constantly elevated and my sleep was crap. These are two things that have a HUGE influence on body fat levels and diet control.

Striking a pose in India.

Striking a clearly inappropriate pose in India.

A few years after I returned from India and resumed normal life, I decided to take a hiatus from running, which was my go-to form of exercise at the time. Instead, I did 30 minutes of yoga most days and nothing else.

Guess what happened!

I lost about 10lbs of bodyfat.

Why? Because now my cortisol levels were normal being back in the ever-so-calming city of Los Angeles (compared to India, that is). I was sleeping like a boss and eating way less because I wasn’t constantly hungry from all the running I was doing (excessive cardio elevates hunger levels). So the net result was less hunger/exhaustion/stress and therefore less overall calories consumed.

So what does this mean?

It means that yes, yoga can be enough to lose weight and/or maintain decent fitness. From the perspective of cardiovascular heart health, as long as you can get into the range of 50 to 75% of your max heart rate for at least 20 minutes, you doing good. You may not win an Ironman anytime soon, but your heart will be just peachy.

From a musculoskeletal perspective, bodyweight exercises that at least challenge your current strength on a regular basis, will improve overall strength and can maintain muscle quality. You’re not going to win any bodybuilding competitions, but for most people, that’s just fine.

Crow pose.  On a rock, no less.

Crow pose. On a rock, no less.

From a balance, agility and flexibly standpoint, yoga is king, so you’re not going to get much better than this kind of training.

What it boils down to is that yes, yoga can be a great exercise for weight loss. So can Pilates, barre or Zumba. The thing to watch out for is repetitive movement injuries. Yoga has a lot of forward and back bending and chaturangas, so the more you do it, the more you increase the risk of overuse injuries.

In an ideal situation you would pair yoga up with something else like cycling, speed walking, hiking hills or sprinting. Anything that uses more lower body strength would compliment yoga’s upper body concentration just swimmingly.

If you are going to make yoga your one and only exercise, switch up your styles to keep things interesting and safe. Bikram is not as flowy as ashtanga or vinyasa, but still provides a good challenge (or so I hear, I’ve never done it).

But the key thing to remember is that fitness is a teeny weeny portion of your overall health and fitness result. If you want a rockin bod, that’s a kitchen job, not a gym job. 80% of your fat loss efforts result from what you put in your mouth, so just keep reminding yourself of that!  Your stress levels and sleep quality is equally (and perhaps even more) important than exercise, so keep your investment in fitness in perspective.  And finally, if you want a perky butt, regardless of what else you’re doing, unless you’re genetically blessed, you’re going to have to do weighted squats.  End of story.

Are you a fan of yoga?  Have you ever focused on that exclusively?  It might be worth a try for 30 days to see how it makes you feel.

This article is also posted on Jill Conyer’s Fitness Friday Link Up.

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