Yoga, Your Diet & The Weight Loss Connection
Yoga as a Form of Exercise: Will it Help Me Lose Weight?
When it comes to exercise, it is not recommended to throw yourself into the deep end. While it would undoubtedly help you lose weight and become leaner, you wouldn’t commit to running a 5k a week from day one.
In fact, it can be dangerous to go from a sedentary lifestyle to performing high impact exercises every day. If you are overweight, you might be out of breath and feel dizzy, you could endanger yourself due to a spike in your heart rate, not to mention you are likely to sustain a muscle, ligament or even bone injury if the body had not been conditioned to perform these types of exercises.
Yoga is a perfect exercise for circumstances like that. It is generally considered a low impact exercise; however, yoga offers a variety often missing from other types of exercise. There are plenty of classes aimed at complete beginners, (Check out our list of the top 10 YouTube Yoga Teachers) as well as slow-paced yoga classes, specific sessions aimed at the older population or modified options such as chair yoga for anyone with mobility issues.
Many people perceive yoga as merely “stretching” but it is a lot more sophisticated than that. A well-balanced yoga session not only helps to increase your flexibility, but it also builds strength in muscles and ligaments that support your joints, improves your sense of balance, strengthens your core, and has a positive impact on your mental health. Anybody who has done a 30 min. Weight loss Yoga session will tell you that Yoga is no joke.
Why is it important to work on your flexibility and muscle strength?
Building strength and improving your mobility makes everyday tasks such as going up the stairs or playing with your kids easier and more enjoyable. It also opens an avenue for more complex and demanding exercise. When it comes to mental health, it can be a big factor affecting your weight. You might feel too anxious or self-conscious to perform exercise, you might seek comfort in food, or it might impact your motivation in a negative way.
By the way, just because yoga is regarded as a low-impact exercise, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t burn calories. While it is true that a fit and healthy person will not find a beginner’s class as taxing as someone who doesn’t exercise regularly, it does not mean that yoga only caters to a particular type of person. Think of yoga as a sliding scale – when you try it for the first time, it’s likely to feel difficult – some people struggle most with flexibility, others lack endurance or muscle strength.
The good news is that if you practice regularly, you’ll get stronger, and by extension, certain poses and sequences will feel easier to perform. Thankfully, many yoga poses offer modifications to make them more challenging to help you maintain the same level of effort. Even within a beginner-friendly class you usually have the option to deepen a pose, take a more challenging variation, or even replace some poses with something more advanced.
Once those options have been explored, you can take your practice to the next level by switching to a more dynamic style of yoga or exploring classes aimed at intermediate practitioners. There are many YouTube Yoga teachers that offer 30 daily challenges that will help you step up your yoga routine.
When you get used to a particular routine and get better at it, it can be hard to leave your comfort zone. It might feel disheartening to be challenged again, it could be hard to leave your yoga buddies, or you might feel anxious about interacting with a new teacher. In moments like this, it’s important to remember why you are doing it and embracing the change, just as you would embrace the way your body changes throughout your weight loss process.
Best Yoga Styles for Weight Loss
Since its mass popularization in the western world, yoga has evolved and branched out into many styles, varying in their levels of difficulty and their approach to physical practice. Some yoga styles advocate for a heated room. Some promote quick, dynamic transitions between poses, while others insist on holding asanas for a prolonged period of time.
Some yoga styles focus on form and alignment, while others are less strict and more adaptive. Different styles focus on different aspects of asana practice. It’s important to remember that even within a particular yoga type, each teacher has their own teaching style, which means the effectiveness of their teaching really depends on their approach.
As long as you find the style and intensity that works for you, there isn’t a wrong or a right style when it comes to weight loss. For example, dynamic styles such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa can be considered a cardio workout, while Hatha or Iyengar styles bring focus to alignment and endurance.
Hot yoga creates a heated environment that results in high levels of perspiration and creates an extra challenge of keeping your concentration in high temperatures. The most important thing to consider when picking a yoga class to aid your weight loss is whether it is suitable for your level of experience and skill. Make sure the teacher can take your limitations into consideration and make reasonable accommodations if necessary.
Best Yoga Poses and Sequences for weight Loss
Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) is a sequence commonly practiced near the start of the yoga session. Sun Salutations consist of a set of dynamic movements synchronized with one’s breaths, which helps to warm up and mobilize the whole body while increasing heart rate and awakening the mind ready for the practice.
Plank works towards strengthening the core, arms, shoulders, wrists, back, legs and glutes. It builds lean muscle, improves your strength endurance and teaches you patience.
It is basically a whole-body workout. It is also highly adaptable: if holding a full Plank Pose is too difficult, you could start by resting the knees on the ground or lowering down to the forearms instead of resting the weight in the wrists. You can hold it for as little or as long as you like, practicing it on its own or placing it in a movement sequence.
Staff Pose (Dandasana) looks relatively simple. However, practicing it with proper alignment requires concentration and engagement throughout the whole body. It is typically a static position held up to a minute but holding it for a whole minute requires a lot of skill, strength, and coordination. It opens the chest, lengthens the back and neck muscles, stretches the hamstrings and lower back, improves ankle and wrist flexibility, and strengthens hip flexors. Just like other yoga poses on this list, it can be adapted to make it more achievable until it can be practiced with proper form.
Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana) helps to lengthen and strengthen muscles in the arms and upper back improves shoulder mobility and creates an opportunity for internal hip rotation. It is also a great pose to complement other physical activities, such as weightlifting, running, or cycling.
Near the start of your yoga journey, you can use a block or a cushion to lift your seat and balance your posture, as well as using a yoga strap to connect the hands if they don’t come together. As you improve, you can start shortening the space between the hands or gradually lowering your seat.
Yoga & Diet
One’s diet is an important component of a weight loss regime. In theory, it’s quite simple – if you wish to lose weight, you need to create conditions for a caloric deficit. A caloric deficit occurs when the number of calories you consume is smaller than the number of calories you burn throughout the day.
As a guide, an average man needs about 2,500 calories a day, while an average woman needs approximately 2,000 calories. However, you shouldn’t simply look at the average and assume that it applies to you. The calorie consumption depends on a variety of factors, such as age, size, and levels of physical activity. The averages above are based on the fact that men are typically larger than women and therefore need more calories to sustain themselves.
This baseline is also founded in the assumption of a fairly sedentary lifestyle – you might be doing some activity such as low-impact work (i.e. office workers, writers, artists, etc.) and everyday things such as cooking or tidying, but overall these averages do not take any vigorous physical activity into account. For example, if you are a woman built larger than average (e.g. you are taller than 5’5) and you do a physically demanding job, you would burn more calories throughout your day. This means if you have gained some weight over a period of time, you have been consuming more calories than you have been burning.
The good news is, to lose weight, you don’t need to commit to starving yourself or even giving up your favorite treats. There are three options when it comes to creating a caloric deficit. You can reduce the amount you consume; you can increase the amount you burn, or you can do both. Since everyone’s circumstances are different, one of these options will not necessarily suit everyone.
For example, if you tend to cook for the whole family while being the only one with a weight loss goal, it could be difficult and time-consuming to cook something separately. In a case like this, you could opt to make changes to your daily exercise routine, and only modify meals that you make for yourself (such as work lunch or an afternoon snack).
The best and most methodical way to go about it is to determine your daily average and go from there. Nowadays, we are lucky to have the technology to help us do that. You could download a calorie tracking app or invest in a fitness tracker.
The latter option is more accurate as it takes your heart rate and your step count into consideration when determining your daily efforts. Be careful to only create a safe caloric deficit, i.e. if you are taking up one yoga class a week, you might want to slightly cut your calorie intake, whereas if you are doing yoga three times a week, you are probably better off sticking with your recommended daily intake, as the deficit would be created due to increasing in exercise.
Another bonus of taking up yoga as your weight loss method is that its benefits extend beyond the physical effort. Practicing yoga regularly creates a strong connection between the body and mind, and makes you more mindful. Practicing mindfulness in your approach to food means you are less likely to use food for comfort or snacking absentmindedly just because the food is within arm’s reach.
Yoga also promotes the principle of Ahimsa – non-violence in thought, word, or deed. Many yogis take it to mean non-harm to all living beings, which is why there is a strong correlation between yoga and vegetarianism.
Many practitioners adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet, which in turn has an effect on their physique. While it is true that you can be fit and lean on any diet so long as it’s balanced, there is an undeniable link between plant-based diets and weight loss. Plant-based foods often contain fewer calories in the same volume of food, which means you feel just as full having consumed less. According to some dietary studies, plant-based protein is absorbed easier than animal-based protein, which also has a positive effect on your metabolism.
A great book on weight loss that’s not only funny but helps provide you with common-sense changes to your diet that can help you lose weight (and keep it off) is “Healthy as F*ck: The Habits You Need to Get Lean, Stay Healthy, ad Kick Ass at Life”
I can’t recommend this book enough.
Contraindications and Good Practices
Yoga is sometimes presented as a universal remedy against illnesses, injuries, and life’s problems. It would be wonderful if it were true, but like any form of physical exercise, yoga comes with its own contraindications. While it is generally suitable for most people, there are factors that affect your performance.
Being overweight might create an undesirable amount of pressure on your joints, it might make you feel out of breath, or limit the range of movement in some parts of the body.
If your BMI is over 29, you should consult a doctor or a physiotherapist before you embark on your yoga journey. While it’s not likely to stop you from practicing altogether, a doctor might impose some limitations on your practice. It also applies if you have any underlying conditions, such as diabetes, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, EDS, or arthritis.
A good option is to start with restorative yoga as it’s less impactful than normal Yoga but offers a gentle form of exercise.
When attending a class for the first time, speak to your yoga teacher and let them know if you have any injuries or chronic conditions. A yoga teacher should also be able to address your concerns and advise you on the best way to modify your practice in order to reach your goals without injuring yourself.
It might be tempting to push your body to its limits in order to speed up the weight loss process, but it is not worth getting an injury. If a pose or a sequence are bringing you discomfort or pain, it’s imperative that you ease off or avoid that movement completely. The pain is our body’s way of signaling when something is not right, and practicing Ahimsa also means listening to your body to avoid bringing any harm to it.
Another common cause of yoga injuries comes from repetitive movement. While revisiting the same poses and sequences is helpful for tracking your progress, it is also important to mix it up. Try to attend a variety of classes with different teachers. It might be challenging in a logistical sense, but with a plethora of Yoga YouTube tutorials and phone apps, you have access to hundreds of teachers all over the world!
In conclusion, yoga is great for aiding your weight loss, especially combined with a mindful approach to eating.
Remember to put your safety first and practice carefully and appropriately. When you are working toward bettering your body and mind, it’s important to take things at your own pace and avoid treating yoga as a competitive activity.