Yoga for Weight Loss
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Yoga for Weight Loss

Yoga is a form of exercise that originated in India where it was seen as a religious practice. This article will explore the development of yoga since then, specifically exploring any potential weight loss properties.

Traditionally, yoga was seen solely as a spiritual practice within the Hindu religion which aimed to improve both your physical and mental wellbeing. However, yoga has developed over time and has become an increasingly popular form of exercise, particularly in older people and those who wish to achieve mental benefits as well as physical improvements.

This article will look into yoga and its origins, specifically exploring its potential benefits, especially in terms of the effects it has on weight loss. Other benefits of yoga will also be discussed, using clinical evidence to gain a more accurate insight into the practice.

What is yoga?

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Yoga is an ancient exercise which originated in India, and it is said to have physical, mental and spiritual benefits. While yoga was traditionally most popular as a Hindu practice, it has since become increasingly popular amongst all different cultures.

Yoga focuses on developing your strength and flexibility through a series of different ‘yoga poses’, with a diverse range of styles for people of all abilities. There are a number of different styles of yoga, each targeting different people with various levels of difficulty.

These vary from gentle styles such as ‘hatha yoga’, which is the standard practice that refers to the actual poses, ‘iyengar yoga’ which focuses on details at a slow pace and can involve props, ‘kripalu yoga’ which involves slow, progressive movements, ‘viniyoga’ which focuses more on your breathing, and ‘sivananda yoga’ which is said to be easily adaptable, and involves 13 poses with a lie down in between them.

It’s believed that the more challenging styles of yoga include ‘ashtanga / power yoga’ which is allegedly more fast-paced involving a special breathing technique and a sequence of different positions and ‘bikram / hot yoga’ which sees people performing a sequence of 26 yoga positions in a very hot room of over 100°. It’s important, however, that patients with conditions such as hypertension or diabetes consult their doctor before exercising in this temperature.

The styles mentioned above are all generally more physical types of yoga. However, ‘kundalini yoga’ is said to be a more spiritual and philosophical style which combines the yoga poses with breathing techniques, meditation and sometimes even chanting, and this is the more traditional style which may have been popular as a religious practice when it originated in India.

How can Yoga contribute towards Weight Loss?

Like all forms of exercise, yoga is said to contribute towards weight loss by working the body to burn fat and calories. While there’s evidence that suggests that yoga may have the potential to cause weight loss, as investigated below, some argue that the results are unlikely to be as effective or as significant as other, more intense exercises such as cardio, running, swimming or aerobics.

This is because yoga is generally much gentle, and doesn’t require as much strength or energy. However, while it may not cause as immediate and dramatic effects as other exercises, it is said to have very slow and gradual effects in terms of weight loss, if it’s practiced regularly and especially if it’s combined with a healthy diet.

It’s believed that a typical 1 hour hatha yoga class can burn roughly 298 calories, which may not be as much as more vigorous workouts or athletic exercises, but it’s still something. While this method of exercise will produce slower, more gradual effects, it’s said that yoga is more about getting in touch with your body, which is something that other exercises aren’t as capable of doing.

As yoga is a calm process and as it was traditionally a spiritual practice, it’s said that this encourages mindfulness. Supporters of yoga argue that while the physical effects on weight loss may not be as evident or as significant as other forms of exercise, it’s more of a mental process.

Some say that yoga helps to improve your relationship between your mind and body, and this is said to have the potential to gradually improve your relationship with food, and this may encourage you to improve your lifestyle.

Of course, there are some more advanced styles of yoga, as mentioned before. Ashtanga / power yoga is meant to be much more fast-paced and more intense, which is a much more physical version. Bikram / hot yoga is the same, more vigorous exercise, but takes place in an extremely hot room, and is therefore said to reduce water weight due to the sweat / perspiration. However, these methods are still said to be less effective than cardiovascular and aerobic exercises.

Clinical Studies on Yoga for Weight Loss

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One study was very large-scale and was called the ‘Vitamin and Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort study’, using a sample of 15,550 healthy adults aged between 53 to 57 years old. The study was self-reported and required each candidate to discuss their personal weight(s) and physical activity during the 10 years prior to the study, and this included yoga.

After multiple analyses were created from the measurements given, they found that candidates with a ‘normal weight’ saw an average reduction in weight gain of 3.1lbs when yoga was practiced for 4 years or more. They also found that the average reduction in weight gain amongst overweight participants who partook in at least 4 years of yoga practice was 18.5lbs.

Therefore, the researchers concluded that those who incorporated regular yoga practice into their lifestyles saw a reduction in weight gain, and the results seemed to be especially significant in the overweight individuals, but more solid evidence is required to make a conclusion, instead of relying on self-reported measurements.

A second study observed the effects that a 6 week yoga training program has on a group of young, healthy individuals. The study specifically focused on whether the yoga practice influences ‘sweating response to dynamic exercise’, as well as observing its respiratory effects and handgrip strength and endurance.

A sample consisting of 46 healthy and young participants (30 males and 16 females) were randomly divided into 2 equal groups, each containing 15 males and 8 females. The first group were assigned to a yoga training program for a total of 6 weeks, while the other participants were known as the ‘control group’.
Measurements were taken before and after the 6 week study, and these included weight loss (sweat loss / a reduction in water weight), as well as ‘maximum inspiratory pressure, maximum expiratory pressure, 40 mm endurance, handgrip strength and handgrip endurance’.

Results showed that the group who were put on the yoga program saw a significant difference in their weight after the study compared to before, while the control group saw no significant difference in weight. They also saw that the yoga program caused an increase in respiratory pressure which resulted in increased muscle strength and endurance in both males and females.

Lastly, this study explored any patterns between yoga practice and physical activity, using a sample of adult patients who either have type-2 diabetes or are at risk of having it. The study lasted for a total of 15 months, and participants were either put on an 8-week program which involved a combination of yoga practice and physical activity, or they were placed in a control group.

Appropriate measurements were taken before and after the study, as well as at months 3, 6 and 15 to observe whether or not participants continued with increasing their physical activity after. The results showed that age and education didn’t seem to act as ‘individual predictors’.

Furthermore, although there were patterns between increased physical activity and those on the yoga program, the researchers indicated that the results may not have been significant enough. They concluded that overall, the 8 week yoga program didn’t seem to have an incredibly influential effect on physical activity over time.

They stated that in order to produce more accurate results, they’d need to conduct further research, perhaps looking at yoga more specifically instead of combining the yoga program with other physical activity.

Other benefits of yoga

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While there may be some evidence to suggest that yoga could contribute towards weight loss, it’s said that yoga possesses other benefits, too. As discussed before, yoga was traditionally practiced for spiritual purposes, and was originally associated with Hinduism.

It’s said that yoga can improve both physical and mental wellbeing; as many types of yoga focus on improving breathing techniques, this can provide a calming environment and is believed to reduce stress, which is why ‘kundalini yoga’ involves meditation.

One study explores the ‘psychological well-being, health behaviours and weight loss’ amongst 37 overweight/obese participants aged between 32 and 65, each of whom took part in a kripalu yoga program across 5 days.

Results showed ‘significant improvements’ in nutrition behaviours, self-compassion, mindfulness, stress management and spiritual growth after subjects embarked on the yoga program, and the size of the effects of these results were said to range from medium to large, and remained after a 3 month follow-up.

Similarly, improvements in physical activity and mood disturbance were also noted after the yoga program, but the results didn’t appear to last until the 3 month follow-up. In addition, participants were asked to self-report any weight loss after 1 year, and these results were said to be significant.

It’s also said that yoga can benefit people with certain conditions as it’s believed to target and improve strength, flexibility and the relationship between the body and mind. It’s said that people with arthritis may be able to improve flexibility and strength with yoga, and pregnant women sometimes use yoga for relaxation and to build strength and to stay in shape.

Allegedly, yoga may benefit patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol, although it’s still important to consult a doctor as some yoga positions may worsen the condition. If these patients choose to partake in yoga, it should combined with other aerobic exercises as well if it isn’t the fast-paced styles.

One article stated that past studies have indicated that yoga may be associated with a number of health benefits including ‘improved cognition, respiration, reduced cardiovascular risk, body mass index, blood pressure, and diabetes’. They also found that yoga may have improved joint disorders and encouraged immunity.

Conclusion

Overall, yoga is believed to have a multitude of health benefits, both physically and mentally. Evidence seems to suggest some link between incorporating yoga into your lifestyle with improvements in mental well-being, and there’s some evidence to suggest that it can even have weight loss benefits. However, these results will be slower and more gradual than most other forms of exercise which have a much higher intensity, regardless of the intensity of the yoga. It may be advised that you partake in both yoga and an aerobic exercise alongside a healthy diet to cause the most effective weight loss results.

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