Is yoga good for weight loss? Here's what the experts say

We asked a yoga teacher if yoga is good for weight loss and the best type of practice to get started

Man practicing yoga outside
(Image credit: Getty Images)

People are attracted to yoga for a number of reasons. There are those interested in the headspace and spiritual development it can offer, others enjoy the increased flexibility it provides — some simply like the way it feels. But is yoga good for weight loss? 

If you're looking to drop pounds but prefer mindful movement to lifting weights, you'll be pleased to hear that yoga can help you to lose weight. Dynamic yoga for weight loss routines are designed to raise your heart rate and strengthen your muscles, and all you need is a yoga mat to practice. 

However, even the gentler, mindful-based sessions can shape your mindset and allow you to tune in with your body and its needs. We asked Whitney Berger, a yoga teacher and the founder of WhitFit NYC, about whether yoga is good for weight loss and the best way to get started. 

Whitney Berger

Whitney Berger is the founder of WhitFit NYC and a certified yoga instructor. She created the WhitFit HIIT workout, a combination of boxing footwork, barre, pilates, yoga and bootcamp workouts, to maximize results.

Can you lose weight doing yoga?

When it comes to the best exercises for weight loss, many people think of intense workouts like HIIT or running, but yoga can play a role in helping to achieve your weight loss goals.

“Yoga helps burn calories, and increases muscle mass and tone. Factoring in the type of yoga you’re doing, length of class and whether it’s heated can all influence the calories burned,” says Berger.

Yoga can help weight loss in two main ways. While some types of yoga aren't considered an aerobic exercise, there are certain forms that are more demanding than others. Intense styles of yoga are going to burn the most calories. However, even slower paced classes can help with weight loss.

Woman practicing yoga at home

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One study, published in the American Journal of Managed Care, looked at the benefits of restorative yoga for clinically obese women, and compared it with the benefits of simply stretching. 

The study found those practicing restorative yoga lost significantly more subcutaneous fat over six months, and at a later follow-up, the yoga group had continued to lose weight, while the stretching group started to regain weight.

“Many will say yoga cannot help you lose weight and is not an exercise — both are false! The poses alone will help burn calories but it is the overall lifestyle change and leaning towards a more active routine that will help jump start your life,” says Berger.

One healthy change can often snowball, resulting in a new lifestyle that better supports your health and fitness goals. For example, your yoga practice might encourage you to fuel your body properly, develop a meditation practice and get to bed in good time, which can all aid your weight loss goals.

How effective is yoga for weight loss?

“If you are consistent with your practice and doing it 3-5 times a week it’s effective. But besides just practicing yoga, something to keep in mind is that yoga is great for stress relief and helps aid with sleep," says Berger. 

If you've been trying for a while, poor quality sleep may be one of the reasons you can't lose weight. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has linked inadequate sleep with a range of negative health outcomes, including obesity.

However, anyone who's been to a relaxing yoga class will tell you that it can help them sleep like a baby — and there's science to back it up. A meta-analysis (a study of published studies) in the journal BMC Psychiatry found that yoga was also helpful for managing sleep problems.

What type of yoga is best for weight loss?

“I suggest doing a more athletic style yoga, something with a faster pace and flow. My top two suggestions would be ashtanga and vinyasa. Both are similar as they focus breath with movement,” says Berger. 

If you haven’t tried either, which one should you pick? “The big difference is that ashtanga typically has a set sequence while with vinyasa the classes will never be the same. Do you like to change it up or do you like to be regimented?” she explains.

If that level of intensity is not accessible to you at the moment, practice some yoga stretches for beginners or take a more gently yoga nidra class to begin with. This can help you decide if yoga is right for you and if so, build up your confidence. 

The most important thing is to find a type of movement that you enjoy. Exercising for happiness is a goal in its own right, and it'll also make it easier to do it consistently, which is a key factor in using yoga to lose weight. 

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

“Yes! Practicing consistently is the most important thing. While the movement alone is good for burning calories, yoga is also great for lowering cortisol levels which is your body's main stress hormone that can lead to weight gain,” says Berger. 

If you’re looking for ways to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable manner, don’t discount yoga. Not only can the more active classes help burn calories, but the mindful benefits associated with all forms of yoga could be just as powerful in helping you achieve your health and fitness goals.

Learning how to meditate can also be a great way to bring your attention to the present moment and develop a mindful eating practice, which is one of the top ways to eat healthily without depriving yourself

And if you want to stay fuller for longer after a meal to reduce snacking, then it's worth adding the best protein powders for weight loss into your diet. These are low in sugar and fat, but packed with protein to support your goals and help your muscles recover. 

Abby Driver

Abby Driver is a freelance health writer and qualified fitness instructor based in Cornwall. Away from her desk she enjoys exploring the Cornish coast path, sea swimming and experimenting with new recipes.