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Trying to Lose Weight? Try Yoga!

written by: Melanie Greenwood • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 6/4/2010

Trying to lose weight? Consider adding the ancient discipline of yoga to your exercise program. Read on to learn how yoga can help weight loss.

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    Yoga for Weight Loss?

    It seems odd that something as simple as stretching can help win the battle of the bulge, but it can. Read on to learn how yoga can help those trying to lose weight.

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    The Mind-Body Connection

    According to a study funded by the American Cancer Institute, individuals who practice yoga tend to be leaner than those who do not (Bouches, 2006). The study found that during a ten-year period, “those practicing yoga who were overweight to start with lost about 5 pounds during the same (10-year) time period those not practicing yoga gained 14 pounds.” (Bouches, 2006).

    Try Yoga Image Credit/Cobra Pose/Wikimedia Commons/Bhujangasana

    This is interesting, because yoga burns far fewer calories than aerobic activities such as walking or running (for example, a 60 minute session of yoga burns 115 calories, while walking for 60 minutes at a 3mph pace burns 311 calories) (Bouches, 2006).

    Many people believe yoga is conducive to weight loss because it helps break the American habit of ignoring the body's messages. The American lifestyle encourages staying up when tired, working even when in pain, and (most significantly for those trying to lose weight), eating when not hungry. When people do yoga, they learn to pay attention to body alignment, to breathing, and to how a stretch feels. The same focus can be used to recognize physical hunger (or its absence).

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    Better Sleep

    Sleep is vital to those trying to lose weight. Recently, scientists discovered sleep-deprivation affects the balance of two hormones, leptin and ghrelin, that affect appetite and satiety (the ability to sense when one has had enough to eat). Sleep-deprived people tend to have higher levels of ghrelin (which produces increased appetite) and lower levels of leptin (which controls satiety), (Silence, 2006), making it much harder for them to control their eating.

    Try yoga 3 Image Credit/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

    Though Americans tend not to get to bed on time, chronic stress also plays a role in sleep-deprivation. Tense muscles don't relax easily, which is why practicing physician Mark Hyman recommends stretching before bed to help the body relax. A low-key yoga routine is one of the best ways to stretch all muscles in the body and prepare for a good night's rest.

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    More Lean Muscle Mass 

    Though yoga poses can be adapted to fit just about any ability level, beginners are often surprised at how tiring a 30-45 minute yoga session can be. Holding a yoga pose requires significant physical strength.

    Try Yoga 2 Image Credit/Camel Pose/Wikimedia Commons/Ushtra Asana

    Regular yoga practice can build lean muscle mass. Since muscle burns more calories than fat (Redmond, 2009), yoga can raise resting metabolism, a real boon for those trying to lose weight.

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    Some Things to Be Aware Of

    Like all physical exercise, yoga carries some risk of injury. To minimize this risk, follow these guidelines:

    • Speak to your doctor if you have any serious physical problems, especially those that affect balance
    • Start with beginning exercises: experienced yogis can make advanced moves look a lot easier than they really are
    • If it hurts, back off. Healthy stretching should cause no more than mild discomfort
    • Remember, it's not a competition: yoga is about connecting with your own physical being, not being better than someone else
    • Yoga won't replace cardio; you'll still need aerobic exercise. Why not make yoga your pre-workout stretching routine?
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    References

    Bouches, C. (2006, 21 July). Yoga for Weight Loss? WebMD. Retrieved 1 June, 2010 from http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=63034

    Hyman, Mark. (MD) (2010, 9 January). Sleep Tips: How To Sleep Better, Lose Weight, And Live Longer. Huffington Post. Retrieved 2 June, 2010 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/sleep-tips-how-to-sleep-b_b_416658.html

    Redmond, C. (2009, Sept). The Truth About Calories. Body + Soul, 26, 90-95.

    Silence, M. (2006, 27 September). Weight Loss & Sleep: Is Your Diet Being Sabotaged By Your Sleeping Habits? The Diet Channel. Retrieved 2 June, 2010 from http://www.thedietchannel.com/Weight-Loss-and-Sleep.htm