Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will yoga make me lose weight?

Emphatically, yes! Yoga will make you lose weight just as any exercise will make you lose weight if you haven't previously been exercising. That said, the real question is "How is yoga different from other forms of exercise?" or "How is it better?"

Yoga helps you relax which reduces your cortisol levels or stress hormones. When your cortisol levels are high your body tends to retain fat in expectation of famine or other calorie shortage (i.e. if you are working more you might have less time to eat.) When your body isn't stressed out any more it will then decide it's OK to stop storing fat. By the way, this is the reason small meals throughout the day boost your metabolism. Your body thinks there's a greater supply of food on hand and won't try to store as many calories.

While running and other aerobic activities will burn calories and are great for your cardiovascular system, these activities tend to increase your cortisol levels. Running to your body is flight, of the fight or flight response in the sympathetic nervous system. In other words, your body thinks you are running from a bear or other threat even if mentally you are enjoying your run. It does over time dissipate that same stress and causes your body to release endorphins which are the feel good hormones, (i.e. the runner's high.)

Yoga also produces endorphins without raising your cortisol levels. It may burn fewer calories and might not raise your heart rate to aerobic levels, (though some studies have shown yoga can burn between 250 and 300 calories per hour) burning calories is only one part of weight loss.

Pairing yoga with a good diet and aerobic activity is an excellent way to lose weight. It's a very balanced approach to exercise. Yoga will help you stay flexible and release muscles that have become tight from running etc. It will also give your body some down time and rest which is needed to avoid plateauing.

Plateauing happens when your body is no longer challenged by a particular form of exercise. (This is the reason I'm able to teach 2 to 4 classes a day. My body has adapted.) In the yoga classes I teach I try to consider how hard I've been working a class from week to week. If we've been doing a lot of active poses in the recent weeks, I try to incorporate some more restorative work. Likewise, with beginners I try to build them up to the more challenging poses little by little so that they don't get stuck with just the basics week in and week out. There are some 605 poses that are considered humanly possible so there's lots to chose from.

All things considered, yoga on it's own yoga is great for weight loss especially if you haven't been exercising regularly. It tends to be gentler on your body than pounding the pavement and will prepare your body from more challenging forms of exercise in the future through breath-work and muscle strengthening.

In my own life I've had to give up running and more aggressive forms of exercise due to bad knees. I overused my knees playing tennis and running when I was younger. Brisk walking, hiking, biking and rollerblading are my main forms of aerobic exercise. I don't weight train any more either as I found that yoga alone was enough to keep my muscles toned. (Yoga vs strength training is another blog topic altogether.) Overall, I feel I'm in better shape now than when I was twenty and running four miles or five miles a day. I also weigh less and I definitely notice the difference in my body which feels less run down and achy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, This is a good post, indeed a great job. You must have done good research for the work.

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