Yoga for Weight Loss

Yoga for Weight Loss

Can Yoga Help With Weight Loss?

As a Yoga teacher who is also a nutrition coach, I am often frustrated by the lack of awareness about how Yoga can help with weight loss/weight management. This comes from some basic confusion in general about how weight loss works. Like most health myths, this can be really harmful! 

The fact is, the majority of the US population is considered overweight or obese. While it’s 100% true that health can exist at any size, and that fat doesn’t mean unhealthy just like skinny doesn’t mean healthy, it is an alarming statistic. Obesity and overweight are associated with some scary health outcomes, so it makes sense that most of us would like to have some control over our weight. While not everyone is meant to be skinny, we all deserve to feel our best and be our best at our body’s optimal size.

Most people believe that weight is as simple as calories in/calories out. While this is true, thermodynamics always wins, it’s not an accurate picture. Which explains why, hours of arduous cardio, i.e. lot’s of calories out, is not actually that effective at reducing excess weight. The misconception that cardio is king for weight loss naturally disqualifies Yoga as a tool for weight management. 

But if we dig a bit deeper into the science, you will see that Yoga offers some really powerful effects to a weight loss program. Let’s discuss how Yoga can help with weight loss, and even with the scourge of unwanted belly fat.

Actually, Yoga Can Burn Some Serious Calories

Some Yoga styles actually do burn a significant number of calories. Most in the SMY community know that I can lead a pretty spicy class. When students use their heart rate monitors (which are admittedly not super accurate) they are often shocked to see a caloric expenditure rivaling 30-40 arduous minutes on the treadmill. And they were probably way more engaged and less miserable than on a treadmill. Again, heart rate monitors are not very accurate, neither in Yoga or on cardio equipment. But it’s a decent gauge to see how Yoga and traditional aerobic exercise compare.

AND! If you are just starting out with fitness, yoga is a powerful and very accessible form of resistance training that can perform as well as more mainstream exercise at increasing muscle and burning fat. (1) 

Let’s depart a bit here though from the calorie conversation. Because the stuff that really matters when considering Yoga for Weight Loss has nothing do do with caloric burn.

Maybe it’s not all about calories though?

Yoga is all about mindfulness, and that translates to your relationship with food. As you practice, you become more aware of your body’s hunger cues. You learn to distinguish between true hunger and emotional eating, helping you make conscious choices about what you put on your plate. Research from the Journal of Obesity suggests that mindfulness practices like yoga can help individuals develop healthier eating habits [2]. Cross sectional research has shown that people who report practicing Yoga regularly, also report making healthy choices on a daily basis. In our diet culture this may seem a bit trivial. But diets don’t work, sustained lifestyle change does. If you can commit to a practice that encourages you to unconsciously make healthier choices, you will be much more successful in the long run. 

Hormones Influence Our Weight Too!

Chronic stress wreaks havoc on our hormones, particularly cortisol. Cortisol increases our appetite, especially for sugary, fatty foods that provide a temporary mood boost. Cortisol doesn’t just nudge you toward overeating, it demands it. It has no regard for your best intentions and willpower. If you have chronically high cortisol levels, it’s likely that you are also struggling with your weight and with making healthy food choices. Cortisol is truly a double edged sword. Not only does it make us overeat, it also makes it very hard to burn fat. The presence of a high amount of cortisol in your blood absolutely inhibits the burning of fat storage for fuel. It is very well known that Yoga’s many components help to reduce stress and stress hormones.  fact, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that participants who practiced yoga for 12 weeks had significantly lower cortisol levels compared to a control group [3]. It’s pretty simple, if you can reduce your cortisol, you can be way more effective at your weight management efforts.

Let’s not forget sleep!

When you’re sleep deprived, your body produces more ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” and less leptin, the “satiety hormone,” making you crave more food and feel less satisfied after eating [4]. Research shows that even a modest sleep deficit, of about 2 hours per night increases calorie consumption by about 300 per day due to this hormone imbalance. 

Worse yet, when sleep deprived, more of our excess calories are stored as fat in our abdominal region. You heard it here! If you are struggling with belly fat, you may want to optimise your sleep in addition to your diet and activity. []

Good quality sleep can also make your weight loss efforts more effective! [] Research shows that when we get enough good quality sleep while in a caloric deficit, we lose more body fat and less muscle. This is essential for good health and also for keeping the weight off permanently!

Yoga can improve your sleep quality in several ways. The deep breathing exercises and focus on relaxation promote a sense of calm before bed. Additionally, some yoga poses can help ease tension and improve flexibility, further promoting better sleep. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that regular yoga practice led to significant improvements in sleep quality for adults with insomnia [].

Your body image is separate from your weight

Yoga encourages self-acceptance and appreciation for your body’s unique abilities. This shift in focus away from vanity metrics and towards feeling good in your own skin can be incredibly liberating. Regular yoga practice can help cultivate a more positive body image by promoting self-compassion and reducing body dissatisfaction. A study published in the Journal of Body Image found that people who participated in a yoga intervention for 12 weeks showed improvements in body image and self-compassion compared to a control group [6]. This can be especially helpful for those struggling with weight management, as negative body image can be a risk factor for unhealthy eating behaviors.

Is Yoga More Effective than Cardio for Weight Loss?

Finally, a bonus reason that Yoga helps with weight loss. While it’s true that an intense cardio session will burn more calories than your average Yoga class, this may not be best for actually losing weight. Recent research shows that intense exercise can reduce subsequent activity and also body temperature []. Let’s look at this in the real world. So maybe you do an hour of serious cardio on the elliptical machine. After you are pretty gassed, instead of heading to the grocery store to grab some food to prepare for dinner, you choose to drive through. Rather than taking the stairs you choose the elevator. Instead of going for a stroll after dinner you netflix and chill. So your overall activity for the day is significantly diminished. This has real consequences for your overall total daily energy expenditure. Remember when I said that thermodynamics always wins? Same is true here. When body temperature goes down, so do the number of calories you burn both during activity and rest. When you combine the reduction of daily activity (NEAT) and reduced body temp you have essentially slowed down your metabolic rate. Keeping that metabolism revving high is key to weight loss and weight management.

Let’s face it, weight loss is hard, especially in modern society. Nothing, even yoga, is a magic bullet. Success will come from layering a number of strategies such as nutrition, acitivity, sleep, stress, education, mindset and more. Yoga just happens to improve our ability to optimize each of these in a gentle, but profound way. Maybe a less intense Yoga practice, with strong but flowing movement, calming breath, and emphasis on present moment awareness is the very best way to encourage healthy weight. 

Weight loss is complicated! It’s confusing and confounding and frustrating. We know that diets don’t work, but we also know that lifestyle change does. So choosing a practice which helps you to conquer the unconscious and biological obstacles to making healthy choices seems like a winning strategy. Is it going to help you “shed 10 lb in 2 weeks!” or “Reveal your 6 pack tomorrow”? No, but will it amplify your efforts to eat well and exercise more? Yes. That, my friends, is the key to results that last.

Sound Method offers a variety of yoga classes in Omaha for any level of student. We love our vigorous Vinyasas but we also love our slower gentler practices. We would love to help yoga a part of your life. It’s our passion to help our students discover how this practice can enhance every part of life. Come see why we have the best yoga classes in Omaha

About the Author

77, Sound Method Yoga

Mandy Ryle, ERYT 500, CSCS, Certified Nutrition Coach

Mandy is the owner and founder of Sound Method. She is also a wellness coach specializing in helping those challenged by chronic pain. Mandy is a voracious consumer of scientific research and uses evidence to guide her clients toward sustained lifestyle changes. Her passion is helping her clients move from pain and fear to strength, resilience, robustness and confidence. She utilizes mindfulness and Yoga for chronic pain as well as nutrition, evidence informed pain education and resistance training to help her clients achieve goals they never thought possible.


Wernig, C., Schindler, S., & Binder, R. (2017). The effect of exercise on resting metabolic rate in previously untrained individuals. International journal of sports medicine, 38(1), 76-83.

Shapiro, S. L., Schwartz, G. E., & Santerre, P. R. (2005). Mindfulness training for overweight adolescents: Effects on binge eating and emotional eating. Journal of clinical child and adolescent psychology, 34(4), 920-929.

Pascoe, M. C., & Loretta, L. S. (2017). Effects of a 12-week hatha yoga intervention on stress, cortisol, and sleep in adults with elevated stress. Journal of sports science and medicine, 16(2), 253.

Arlet V Nedeltcheva et al (2010) Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity

Naima Covassin , Prachi Singh et al 2022. Effects of Experimental Sleep Restriction on Energy Intake, Energy Expenditure, and Visceral Obesity

Chaput, M., LeBlanc, P., & Bouchard, C. (2004). Short sleep duration is associated with overweight and obesity in adults: results from the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Health. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 79(2), 352-357

Daisuke Funabashi et al. (2024) Acute Vigorous Exercise Decreases Subsequent Non-Exercise Physical Activity and Body Temperature Linked to Weight Gain. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

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