Yoga for weight loss - why it works, when to practice and the three moves you need to know about

Want to stretch and slim? Then it's time to try yoga for weight loss...

woman rolling out yoga mat
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Choosing yoga for weight loss might not seem like the most obvious idea, but it turns out low-intensity exercise can be just as effective as high-intensity exercise when it comes to shedding unwanted pounds and keeping fit and healthy. 

So, if you prefer going slow, you're in luck. "High-intensity exercise, as we know, has big benefits, especially towards fat loss," says Nick Hewitt, personal trainer for The Training Room. "However, high-intensity exercise often includes a good level of strength and fitness to perform safely without the risk of causing injury. Low-intensity exercise reduces the likelihood of injury.”

So, what are you waiting for? It's time to invest in one of the best yoga mats and get started on your yoga journey. 

What are the benefits of yoga?

Weight loss isn't usually the first benefit that springs to mind when people start practicing yoga.

“Yoga is a collection of physical, mental and spiritual practices or disciplines, which originated 5,000 years ago in ancient India,” says leading yoga teacher Sarah Highfield. “In the west, yoga is mostly known as a physical practice, designed to increase strength and flexibility, as well as for its breathing exercises.”

Yoga can also help you improve posture, memory, and mental wellbeing. Additionally, yoga can help you to become more conscious and aware of your body and lifestyle. Yoga will help you become more mindful of what you consume, which can lead to healthier food choices, resulting in weight loss.

Just remember, if you’re working out at a lower intensity, you will need to up the duration to reap the same benefits.

Best yoga practices for weight loss 

Here's the good and bad news. While yoga for beginners is fun and accessible, for the practice to make an impact on your weight loss, you need to go for a more dynamic style.

Yoga can help some people to lose weight, but they have to try a more intense practice, like a Vinyasa or power yoga, and this should be combined with healthy eating too, according to Sarah.

“While most styles of yoga are not strenuous enough to be considered ‘exercise’, it will definitely help you to strengthen your body and reduce stress (and stress levels are linked to weight gain),” says Sarah. 

What are the best yoga moves to help you lose weight?

woman doing hip opener yoga pose

(Image credit: Future)

1. Hip opener 

First, get into a downward dog position. In downward dog, lift your left leg towards the ceiling, foot flexed, and 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 downward dog before walking your hands to your feet and slowly curl up to a standing position. Repeat on the other side. 

Woman doing easy lunge twist

(Image credit: Future)

2. Easy 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 up 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.

woman doing a yoga squat

(Image credit: Future)

3. Malasana yoga squat

Stand feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointing outwards. Squat as deep as you can and bring your elbows to the inside of the knees and bring your palms together. Use your elbows to push your knees apart and hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds.

How to get the best weight loss results from yoga

“For best results, practice as often or as little as makes you happy," says Sarah. "Yoga should never be an activity that you don’t look forward to." 

Try to find a balance that works for you. For some people that might be a 30-minute session every day. But, for others, it’s three 45-minute sessions per week or it could even be one 60-minute session per fortnight. 

“My recommendation is do what you can, and you will find that if you enjoy it, you will end up doing more and if it’s not for you, then don’t worry,” says Sarah. “I personally try to fit in three 45-minute sessions per week and that helps to keep me feeling healthy and balanced.”

Three women doing tai chi

(Image credit: Getty)

Other low-intensity exercise to help you lose weight

Not sure yoga is right for you? These other low-intensity exercises could also help you lose weight.

  • Tai Chi
    “Tai Chi is great for your mental health as well as physical wellbeing, as it can help reduce stress whilst improving your posture and strengthening your legs,” says Nick. “It can also improve your balance and general mobility, which, if you are an older adult, will help reduce the risk of falls.” Practitioners recommend that you attend two to three classes a week and diligently practice 10 to 20 minutes a day for beginners. If you want to practice at home, search ‘tai chi for beginners’ on YouTube for a wealth of videos.
  • Walking
    Walking briskly is a great form of low-intensity exercise, as it can be done anywhere. All you need is a pair of the best women's walking shoes and you are good to go. “If you are not very active, start with a stroll and gradually increase the pace and distance,” says Nick. “Walking can help you build stamina, improve your muscular endurance and body composition, burning any of those excess calories.”
  • Swimming
    Swimming is a great full-body workout and can help you tone up and lose weight. Swimming a few lengths works all of the muscle groups, and you'll get a good aerobic workout if you increase the pace. How much will you lose? This depends on your weight. As a rough guide, someone weighing around 9st can burn up to 590 calories in an hour when swimming fast and 413 an hour when swimming slower. To lose weight, aim for two to five hours every week. Want to burn more? Try outdoor water swimming. The cold water will make your body work harder to keep you warm, meaning you’ll burn more calories. Do make sure to acclimatize first, always swim with others and speak to your doctor if you are unaccustomed to cold water swimming.