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Can yoga help you lose weight?

Yoga can help you destress and gain flexibility, but it can also help you reach your weight loss goals.

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Yoga is my go-to form of movement when life is feeling really stressful -- which feels like basically all the time thanks to COVID-19. I know that any amount of time I spend breathing, stretching and attempting to clear my head will leave me feeling better than when I started. But when it comes to thinking about the best exercises for weight loss -- I'll admit that yoga usually does not come to mind.

While strength training, HIIT and cardio all have great benefits for losing weight or burning fat, don't write off yoga as a way to help you reach your weight loss goals. Setting aside that yoga is a great workout, it's also good for your overall well being, which can affect your weight. We know that stress can wreak havoc on your health, leading you to make poor decisions when it comes to food and sleep. Adding in relaxing activities that help you cope with stress in a healthy way, like yoga, can make a difference for your weight loss goals.

Yoga is what you make it: If you want a chill, relaxing workout, yoga can help. But if you want a workout that can get your heart rate up, help you burn calories and build muscle -- yoga can do that, too. Keep reading as Kelly Clifton Turner, yoga instructor and director of education for YogaSix, shares how yoga can benefit your weight loss goals.

Yoga can help you burn calories and build muscle

One common misconception about yoga is that it's not a "real" workout. While yoga has a reputation for helping reduce stress and tension, certain forms of yoga can be an intense workout that helps challenge your muscles and get your heart rate up. 

"Yoga can be an incredible complement in a person's quest to lose weight. From a physiological standpoint, yoga is exercise, and certain types of yoga can have an excellent cardiovascular and strength building effect in the body," says Turner. 

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Yoga can challenge your muscles and help you build strength. 

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If you're looking for yoga classes that can help you get your heart rate up to burn calories and help strengthen your muscles, look out for specific types of yoga that focus on those areas. 

Some examples include:

  • Hot yoga: Hot yoga classes are practiced in a heated room or studio. The actual temperature varies, but typically the room is heated to at least 90 degrees or more.
  • Power yoga: Power yoga is a fitness-based approach to practicing yoga. These classes will focus on strength and flexibility. 
  • Sculpt: Yoga sculpt, or any yoga class that includes "sculpt" in its description can vary in the exact technique, but will often include light handheld dumbbells or other tools to add resistance. Some yoga sculpt classes will also add bursts of intense cardio.
  • Ashtanga: This style of yoga follows the same set of poses in the same order. The class is usually fast-paced and physically challenging. 

Restorative yoga practices have a place in weight loss, too

Yoga can help you open up, stretch and recover from intense workouts, which is also an important part of reaching your fitness goals and losing weight. "Even the less intense, more stretch-focused yoga practices can help promote active recovery if done to counteract a more strenuous other forms of movement such as running or weight lifting," Turner says. For yoga classes with a restorative approach, Turner recommends looking for classes labeled "deep stretch," "restorative" or Hatha yoga.

Another, often overlooked, factor in weight loss is sleep and stress. Research shows that lack of quality sleep can sabotage your weight loss goals. Yoga can help you sleep better by helping you relax, reduce tension and keep stress in check. Not to mention that reducing stress and anxiety makes it easier to follow through with your healthy commitments. 

"Yoga can have a profound impact on a person's mental state by reducing stress and anxiety. That peace of mind can lead to making better decisions when it comes to food choices and diet, which can obviously affect your success," Turner says.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.