Can you lose weight with yoga? Why it works and the 5 moves you need to know about

Want to lose weight with yoga? This is what a personal trainer wants you to know

Woman sitting down on yoga mat in resting pose, trying to lose weight with yoga
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can you lose weight with yoga? If weight loss is your goal and you're not a fan of high-intensity exercise, preferring a more zen-like state, then we have some good news for you.

Yoga is an excellent exercise, ideal for strengthening muscles, improving your flexibility, and even boosting your immune system. Some forms of yoga, like hot yoga, are also famous for being serious calorie-burning exercises and can improve cardiovascular fitness as well. 

However, there's one catch when it comes to learning how to lose weight with this particular activity: you'll need to turn up the intensity and start doing yoga as a workout. Yoga can certainly contribute to healthy weight loss, as with any exercise, but it won't be the most effective exercise on its own unless you can get your heart rate up. Here, a specialist personal trainer explains to woman&home exactly how to lose weight with yoga and how often you should do yoga to maintain your progress. 

Can you lose weight with yoga?

Yes, absolutely, says Rachael Sacerdoti, a personal trainer and wellbeing expert. "As yoga helps reconnect the mind, body, and soul, it helps you gain insight and awareness into your overall wellbeing," she says. "However, to achieve your goals and see constant long-term results, you need to combine regular yoga sessions with cardio and weight training, alongside good nutrition."

It's an exercise that's beneficial for weight loss for several reasons though. "You will eat more mindfully, fuelling your body with goodness as you become more aligned with what your body actually needs and the slow pace of exercises, along with the inner focus of breathing, is also proven to lower stress and cortisol levels," Sacerdoti says, pointing to another study by University College London. "This level of calmness brings balance to the entire body, meaning your cortisol is less likely to spike, which is something that causes many women to gain and hold unwanted fat and excess weight."

As well as exercise and nutrition, sleep is essential when it comes to weight loss. It allows your body to restore, rest, and repair itself without distraction. "Consistent yoga practice will not only encourage this deeper state of relaxation, but it will also improve your sleep, helping you to settle faster and wake up feeling fresher," she says.

How to do yoga for weight loss 

1. Stay consistent

Consistency is key when it comes to any fitness regime, regardless of the activity. Without consistency, you're unlikely to see progress. 

"Aim for regular practice, whether it's 30 minutes or an hour, several times a week," says Amanda Place, an award-winning fitness coach. You could even try doing yoga every day to settle into a routine. "By making yoga a part of your routine, you will create a sustainable habit that can support your weight loss goals." 

Yoga class of women standing on one leg

(Image credit: Getty Images)

2. Focus on dynamic yoga styles

Particular yoga styles, like dynamic and active yoga, will help to increase your heart rate and challenge your muscles, says Place, who is also the founder of Sculptrition. Focus on these, instead of the more meditative poses. 

"Styles like Vinyasa, Power Yoga, or Ashtanga can provide a more vigorous workout, helping you burn calories and build strength," she says. "These styles often incorporate flowing sequences and poses that engage multiple muscle groups at once." 

Take a look at some of the poses below to get started:

  • Hip opener: First, get into a downward dog position using your pick of the best yoga mats. In downward dog, lift your left leg towards the ceiling, your foot flexed, and your hips level. Bend your left knee and let your heel move towards your hip. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg. Return to the downward dog before walking your hands to your feet and slowly curl up to a standing position. Repeat on the other side. 
  • Lunge twist: In downward dog, exhale and bring your left foot forward and place it between your hands. Bend your left knee to 90°. Then place your right hand next to your left foot, so it’s directly under your shoulder. Inhale and lift your left arm towards the ceiling by rotating the upper body to the left. Rotate your gaze up to the ceiling and lengthen through your spine. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
  • Eagle pose: Standing up straight in mountain pose, bend both knees, lift your right foot and slowly wrap your right thigh over your left thigh. Move your right foot behind your left calf and wrap it around securely. Then, reach both of your arms out in front of you and move your left arm over your right arm, wrapping it around. Make sure you cross your left elbow over your right upper arm. Cross your forearms, slide your right hand toward your face, and press your palms together. Make sure your elbows are at the height of your shoulder. 
  • Tree pose: Standing up straight in mountain pose, press your feet into your yoga mat firmly. Bend your left knee and bring your foot up high to your inner right thigh, pressing your foot into your thigh. Maintain your focus and gaze on a point in front of you, making sure that your core remains engaged throughout the move. 
  • One-legged plank: Move into the standard plank position, moving your shoulders over your elbows to engage your core. You may find choosing one of the best thick yoga mats is better for this, as it'll help take some of the tension away from your wrists. Make sure your shoulder blades are retracted back and down. From here, elevate your right leg from the hip all the way to your toes into the air - as high as it will go. Engage your core throughout, pulling your belly button. 

3. Combine yoga with cardio exercise

"While yoga offers numerous benefits, combining it with cardiovascular exercises can help enhance weight loss," says Place. "Incorporate activities like brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming as a workout into your routine to elevate your heart rate and boost calorie burning." 

Incorporating some elements of resistance training, like Pilates for strength training, outside of your yoga practice will also help you with this by supporting the muscles you typically use during cardio exercise. 

"Performing low-intensity movements with your own body weight will help strengthen and tone your muscles, all while minimizing any stress to the joints or bones," says Sacerdoti. "The longer you can hold a position, the better your strength, muscle endurance, and stamina will be." 

Is yoga good for fat burning?

Yoga isn’t typically known as a high-intensity exercise for fat burning, says Place. "While it can contribute to overall weight loss and improved fitness, its primary benefits lie in promoting flexibility, strength, balance, and mental wellbeing." 

But as noted, certain forms of yoga such as power yoga or hot yoga provide a more intense workout, which will lead to a higher calorie burn for weight loss.

When we talk about fat burning though, it's important to point out that it's not possible to spot-reduce fat. For example, around your stomach. While it's possible to strengthen muscles in particular areas, like your abs, you'll need to lose weight across your whole body to see this. 

Weight loss and fat burning are also influenced by various factors, some of which are outside of our control, Place reminds us. "Some of these factors include diet, overall activity level, and individual metabolism. If your goal is primarily focused on fat burning, incorporating yoga with a combination of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and a balanced diet will be more effective." 

Can 30 minutes of yoga a day help you lose weight? 

Engaging in 30 minutes of yoga per day can be a beneficial addition to a weight loss routine as it will help improve your muscle tone, flexibility, and balance, which will support better overall fitness and body composition, coach Place says. 

However, if you're looking to learn how to lose weight without dieting, you'll need to include other forms of exercise to ensure you're still in a calorie deficit to lose weight. As well as picking up more cardiovascular exercises and strength training, the coach recommends focusing on your diet. 

"Adopting a balanced and healthy diet with lean proteins, slow-release carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fruits and veggies is crucial for achieving sustainable weight loss," she says.

Grace Walsh
Health Editor

A digital health journalist with over six years of experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.

She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.