If you’re looking for the maximum calorie burn, high-intensity aerobics is the go-to fitness activity. A vigorous one-hour swim will burn around 700 calories for the average 160-pound person. And going on an hour-long fast-paced run can burn a whopping 850 calories or more.
Compare that with a typical Hatha yoga class and you will likely burn around 180 calories. Even a fast-moving, heated power yoga class will burn just under 300 calories for that same 160-pound person, according to Mayo Clinic’s calorie expenditure guide.
But weight loss is about a lot more than just calories burned during a workout; it’s about the quality and quantity of food you put into your body throughout the day.
Although yoga has a lower calorie burn than many physical activities, it’s a powerful tool for weight loss because it helps you tune into the sensations of your body, so you are less likely to overeat when you’re anxious, depressed or bored.
Research shows that adding yoga to your fitness routine can help you keep those extra pounds off. For example, in a U.S. study of 15,500 healthy men and women in their 50s, the overweight individuals who did a minimum of one yoga session a week for at least four years lost about 5 pounds. The group that didn’t do any yoga during the same time frame gained nearly 14 pounds.
The whole foundation of yoga is built on mindfulness and being fully present in your body. Here are a few ways yoga can help you keep those extra pounds off over the long haul:
- Lowers stress hormones that pack on fat. When you’re anxious and overwhelmed your body releases a stress hormone called cortisol. This increases your blood sugar level, which can cause your body to store excess sugar as fat. Slow, deep yogic breathing calms your nervous system, so you’re less likely to polish off that pint of ice cream because you’ve had an emotional breakup or a clash with your boss.
- Decreases distractions and mindless multi-tasking. Many of us talk on the phone, check email or speed around in our cars while eating. Yoga teaches us to bring our full attention and awareness to everything we do. That means sitting down to a meal without any electronic devices, newspapers or music to distract us, so we can notice the first signs of feeling comfortably full and satisfied.
- Boosts mood and energy level. The combination of focused breathing, stretching and movement can open up blocked energy and areas of tension or stiffness in our bodies, so we feel more open, rejuvenated and upbeat. When we feel more energetic, we tend to be more physically active and productive – and less likely to wander into the kitchen looking for comfort food.
- Less chance of getting sidelined because of injuries. Sports and fitness classes encourage competition, but yoga emphasizes the opposite. Instead of comparing yourself to the people around you, the goal in yoga is to stay focused on what feels right in your body – which means modifying or skipping a pose whenever needed. When you practice yoga, this heightened body awareness can transfer over to any physical activities or sports you participate in. So instead of pushing through pain or developing an overuse injury, you’ll be more inclined to listen to your body when you’re at the gym or competing on the court or field.
The true power of yoga lies not in its ability to burn calories, but in the mindfulness it cultivates through focused breathing, introspection and relaxation. It helps us to slow down, make better food choices and to eat when we’re actually hungry – not because we’re feeling stressed or need emotional comfort. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever have that bowl of ice cream. But if you do, make it a conscious decision and sit down and savor every sweet, creamy spoonful.