Yoga for Weight Loss

Have you embarked on a weight loss journey and you are wondering whether yoga is an effective type of exercise for weight loss? It is!

Yoga helps you burn fat and tone muscles. It also promotes your overall strength and flexibility enabling you to feel fitter. In addition, it lowers stress levels and helps you to sleep better which are critical factors for promoting weight loss.  When coupled up with clean eating and consistently eating at a caloric deficit, you can see a significant drop in weight within a few weeks.

While there gentle and restorative types of yoga that are not quite aerobic, there are intense types of yoga that burn a significant amount of calories per session. These include Ashtanga yoga, vinyasa yoga, and power yoga styles of yoga.

Contrary to what many people may think, restorative yoga can also support your weight loss efforts as it helps the body to recover faster from previous intense workouts  enabling you to exercise more effectively, and at high performance. It also helps to calm the mind and heightens mindfulness enabling you to be more aware of your eating patterns. Heightened mindfulness also keeps you mentally grounded enabling you to make healthy food choices.

Some people may feel that they need to be flexible to practice yoga. Flexibility is not a prerequisite for doing yoga. Rather you become flexible as you practice.

If you are a yoga beginner, the practise may feel challenging at the beginning since you have limited flexibility and strength.However, it does get easier with time as long as you keep practising consistently.

Yoga Poses for Weight Loss: Integration Sequence, Sun Salutations, and 8 Fat Burning Yoga Poses for Weight Loss.

Yoga for Weight Loss Collage

How to use yoga for weight loss

  • Frequency: aim for 3-5 one hour sessions of intense style of yoga per week.  Like with any exercise type, you need to practice consistently and frequently to see results.
  • Types of yoga:  on most days, practice intense yoga. However, aim to have at least one session of relaxing, gentle styles of yoga such as yin yoga, hatha yoga or restorative yoga per week.
  • Intensity. If you are new to yoga and exercise, start slowly and build up gradually. You may start with three 30-45 minutes’ beginner friendly sessions per week. Take time to transition between one pose to another. In the beginning, the poses may be challenging and you may not be able to get into their full expression. Give it time. As long as you continue to practice regularly, your body will become flexible and stronger and you will be able to do more in your practice. If you are an advanced yogi, make your classes fast-paced and go deeper into postures to enable you to burn more calories.
  • Either practice yoga exclusively or integrate it with other types of aerobic exercises or strength training exercises.
  • Eat Clean. Research has proved that 80-85% of your weight loss is dependent on what you eat and exercise contributes only 25%. The reality is that you cannot out train a bad diet. To see results you will need to control your portions, cut out or reduce processed foods, hydrate adequately and eat at a calorie deficit.

For weight loss, yoga poses that target the thighs and glute muscles are a must-do. This is because the leg muscles are the largest in the body and when engaged they burn numerous calories. When practicing yoga for weight loss, consider your practice as a circuit – flow from one pose to another without stopping. This helps to generate an internal heat and to keep your heart rate elevated. Hold the poses for longer if you can, 30-60 seconds per pose as doing so translates to more calories burnt.

Below is a selection of yoga poses to help you lose weight. The first three items on the lists are a sequence of poses to help your body warm up and begin building internal heat to et you ready for your practice and burn calories. The sequences are then followed by 9 fat-burning yoga poses.

1.Integration Sequence

The integration sequence centers you both physically and mentally to get your ready for your practice. It increases blood circulation within the body and offers the various muscles a gentle stretch. Take your time in each pose and allow it enough time to lengthen the muscles.


Integration Sequence

Instructions

  1. Begin in child’s pose with the soles of your feet touching, glutes on the heels, forehead on the ground, and hands reaching forward. Stay here for 5 breaths
  2. Transition into a downward facing dog by pressing your palms down, untucking the toes, and lifting your glutes up into an inverted V. Hold the downward facing dog for 3-5 breaths. If you need to bend one knee at a time on the down dog allowing the entire body to awaken.
  3. Come to stillness on your down dog and walk or jump your feet between your hands.
  4. Rest hands on the shins or the ground and lengthen your spine into a half lift for 3 breaths.
  5. Bow forward into a rag doll, and hold for 5 breaths.
  6. Roll up gently into a mountain pose.

2. Sun Salutation A

Sun salutations are a great way to begin an intense yoga workout. They are a dynamic warm-up that generates heat in the entire body and gets your heart beat up. Sun Salutation A is a bit gentler than Sun Salutation B. You can do as many cycles of the Sun Salutations as you would like.

Even practicing Sun Salutations only for 15 minutes can offer a great aerobic workout. Some people opt to occasionally do a sun salutation marathon that is made up of 108 sun salutations. Sun salutation sequencing may vary from one style of yoga to another. The Sun Salutation A and B routine below is adapted from the Baptiste Power Yoga sequencing.


Sun Salutation A

Instructions

  1. Inhale as you reach your hands up and stand firmly in your mountain pose – feet grounded down, belly muscles engaged and tailbone dropped downwards.
  2. Exhale as you hinge forward and downwards into a standing forward bend, hands either resting on the ground or your shins.
  3. Inhale as you lengthen your spine into a half lift.
  4. As you exhale step back into a high plank and transition into a low plank. If you are a beginner, you may bring the entire of the front side of your body to the ground.
  5. Inhale into an upward facing dog or cobra pose.
  6. Exhale into a downward facing dog. Hold the downward facing dog for 3-5 breaths.
  7. Inhale as you step your feet between your hands into a halfway lift.
  8. Exhale bow forward into a forward bend.
  9. Inhale reach up into mountain pose.
  10. Repeat the above steps 3-5 times

3. Sun Salutation B

Now that you have warmed up the body with the integration sequence and the Sun Salutation A above, Sun salutation B will help you to build up an internal heat that will accelerate calorie burning and warm up your muscles well enough to enable you to get deeper into other poses.


Sun Salutation B

Instructions

  1. Begin in chair pose on the inhale.
  2. Exhale and bow forward into a forward bend.
  3. Inhale into the half lift, exhale into a high plank through to a low plank.
  4. Inhale into upward facing dog/cobra pose.
  5. Exhale into a downward facing dog.
  6. Inhale, step your right leg between your feet and reach your hands up into a warrior 1
  7. Exhale back into a downward facing dog.
  8. Inhale step the left leg between your hands and reach hands up into a warrior 1 on the left side.
  9. Exhale step back to a downward facing dog.
  10. Hold the down dog for 3-5 breaths.
  11. Step forward to a half lift on the inhale.
  12. Bow forward into a forward bend on the exhale.
  13. Roll up into chair pose on the inhale.
  14. Exhale into mountain pose, hands beside your body.
  15. Repeat 3-5 times

4. Sun Salutation B Variation

The Sun Salutation B cranks up the gear even more by elevating your heartbeat further and allowing you to burn more calories. Make the sequence fast paced to make it more aerobic. If you find a fast pace too difficult to keep up with, you may slow it down by holding each pose in the sequence for 1-5 breaths.


Sun Salutation B Variation

Instructions

  1. Follow steps 1 to 6 of the Sun Salutation B instructions.
  2. From warrior 1, exhale into warrior 2.
  3. Inhale and take the reverse warrior.
  4. Exhale and shift your weight to the right leg into warrior 3.
  5. Step back into a downward facing dog and take a complete breath.
  6. Inhale step the left leg between your hands and reach hands up into a warrior 1 on the left side.
  7. Exhale into warrior 2, on the inhale take the reverse warrior, and exhale into warrior 3.
  8. Step back into a high plank, then low plank followed by the upward facing dog or cobra pose.
  9. Exhale into a downward facing dog and hold for 3-5 breaths.
  10. Follow steps 11-15 of the Sun Salutation B instructions above.

5.  Downward Facing Dog Split

Also known as the three-legged downward facing dog, the split downward facing dog strengthens the standing leg, opens the hips, works out the arms, core muscles, back, shoulders and glutes. Since it is an inversion, it increases blood flow to the brain allowing you to calm down.

For beginners, this variation of the down dog can be challenging as it brings in an aspect of balance. Your arms may get shaky and you may find yourself breaking a sweat in this pose. If you need to, place your hands on a block. Hold the pose for as long as you can even if it means a breath at a time. As you become stronger you will be able to hold the pose for longer.


Downward Facing Dog Split

Instructions

  1. Start in the downward facing dog.
  2. Press your palms down to firmly ground yourself.
  3. Lift your right leg up towards the ceiling.
  4. The three-legged downward facing dog is a closed hip pose. Your right hip may tend to lift up higher than the left one taking your pelvis out of alignment.  Keep both hips in line.
  5. Point the toes of your right foot towards the ground to encourage an internal rotation of the right thigh muscles, and consequently close the hips.
  6. Keep the left leg strong and grounded with the heel going downwards as opposed to spiking it upwards.
  7. You may slightly bend both knees.
  8. Hold for 3-5 breaths
  9. Switch sides.

6. Flipped Dog

The flipped dog is an intermediate level back bend that burns calories throughout the body, improves spinal mobility, opens the chest and hips, and strengthens the arms, back, shoulders.

This pose can be challenging for beginners and poor alignment could cause shoulder injury. If you feel not ready to flip the dog, stay in the three-legged downward facing dog and bend your lifted knee for a deep hip opening.


Flipped Dog

Instructions

  1. Start in the downward facing dog and lift your right leg into a down dog split as described in the above pose.
  2. Bend your right knee and take your right foot towards the left side.
  3. Continue to open the right hip as you pivot on the balls of the toes of the left foot.
  4. Drop the right foot down to the ground so that your hips are pointing upwards.
  5. Keep the right arm off the ground and reach it towards the front.
  6. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  7. To come out of the pose, pivot on the left foot and flip back into a downward dog split.
  8. Repeat the steps above for the other side.

7. Crescent Lunge with Eagle Arms

The crescent lunge variation with eagle arms is a full body exercise. In the crescent lunge, all your major leg muscles are activated strengthening them and causing your body to burn a significant number of poses. It tones the glutes, thighs, calves and core muscles.

As you lift your eagle arms into a shoulder level, it stabilizes the spine, engages the core muscles, works the back muscles, opens the chest and shoulders.  The pose requires you to use up quite a bit of energy to be able to hold it and maintain your balance. If you have difficulty interlacing your arms into an eagle position, reach them over the head into the traditional crescent lunge.


Crescent Lunge with Eagle Arms

Instructions

  1. Start in the crescent lunge on the right side.
  2. While keeping your torso upright and leg muscles active, interlace your hands into eagle arms on the right side.
  3. Keep your elbows and shoulders in line.
  4. Gaze ahead and hold the pose for 3-5 breaths.
  5. Release and switch sides.

8. Half Moon Pose

The half moon pose is a strengthening, stabilizing and a balancing posture. It promotes overall flexibility while burning calories. It opens the chests and the hips and stabilizes the pelvis and spine. The standing leg muscles engage to hold the weight of your entire body.


Half Moon

Instructions

  1. Begin in the triangle pose on the right side and rest your left hand on your waist.
  2. Lift your left leg off the floor until it is parallel to the ground.
  3. Shift your torso forward until the torso and the right thigh form a right angle. Keep the left knee slightly bent to avoid hyperextending it.
  4. Walk your hands about 6-10 inches along the floor, a few inches in front of toes of your right foot. You may rest your hand on a block for support.
  5. Lengthen the sides of the body and the entire torso.
  6. Keep your feet pointing forward and not turned in.
  7. Reach your left hand up towards the ceiling and spread your fingers.
  8. Either look straight ahead or turn your head to look at the lifted fingers.
  9. Hold for 3-5 breaths and switch sides.

9.  Handstand Hops

For most people, it takes time to muster both the strength and the courage to do a full handstand. That is not to mean that you cannot enjoy its benefits in the meantime. Handstand hops are an excellent way to build upper body strength and prepare you to do the full handstands. They also get your heart beating fast which means more calories burned.


Handstand Hop

Instructions.

  1. Start in a downward facing dog.
  2. Walk your feet in front about 3-5 inches away from your hands.
  3. Ground your palms downs and lift your right leg up like you would in warrior 3. Maintain a closed hips alignment.
  4. Lift your left heel off the mat and rest on the balls of your foot.
  5. Bend your left knee.
  6. Engage your core and kick your right leg up towards the ceiling taking your left foot a few inches off the ground. If you feel not ready to lift the right leg all the way towards the ceiling, lift it halfway through and make smaller hops with the left leg.
  7. Come back down.
  8. Repeat for 5-10 times
  9. Rest on child’s pose or tabletop pose for a few breaths.
  10. Switch sides
  11. Repeat doing the handstand hops but this time alternate the legs –do a handstand hop on the right side, then on the left side, then right side and so on.

10.  Side Angle Pose with a Twist

The side angle pose with a twist combines the benefits of the side angle and those of a supine twist to offer you a full body invigorating yet grounding workout. As you ground your feet down and bend the front knee, the thigh muscles engage and lengthen allowing you to burn fat and tone the legs. As you twist, the abdominal organs get a gentle squeeze promoting digestion and detoxification.


Side Angle with a Twist

How to do it

  1. Begin in a triangle pose on the right side.
  2. Bend the right knee at a right angle.
  3. Bring your palms to touch at the heart center and take the left elbow outside the right knee. You may also rest the left palm on the outside of the right knee, lengthen your torso and twist.
  4. Either look forward or up.
  5. Hold for 3-5 breaths and switch sides.

11. Chair Pose with a Twist

The chair pose with a twist is another fat burning yoga pose that burns fat off the thighs, glutes, and core. As with all twists, you also get the benefits of detoxifying the abdominal organs, strengthening the back and releasing lower back tension.


Chair Pose with a Twist

Instructions

  1. Begin in chair pose.
  2. Bring your hands to heart center in prayer position.
  3. Take your right elbow on the outside of the left knee.
  4. Sink deeper into your squat, lengthen your torso, press your palms against each other and twist. You may opt to place a block on the outer edge of your right foot and rest your hand on the block.
  5. Aim to keep both knees in line and behind the big toes.
  6. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  7. Release and switch sides.

12. Side Plank

The side plank is an invigorating and strengthening pose that helps to tone the core, back, and thighs. It also promotes spinal health by stabilizing and lengthening the entire spinal column.


Side Plank

Instructions

See instructions here

Conclusion

Like in any other workout, the warm up and cool down are integral. The integration series, Sun Salutation and Sun Salutation B presented above help the body to warm up. When winding down your practice, end in restorative poses such as the dead bug, eye of the needle, supported bridge pose, and easy pose among others. Rest for a few minutes in corpse pose to allow the body to rejuvenate and release any tension that might have accumulated during the workout. Remember, you can only see results by practicing frequently and regularly combined with eating consistently, having adequate rest, and staying hydrated.