Yoga for Weight Loss

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

October 19, 2005

Still hesitating joining the pretzel set? Well, if weight loss is your goal it’s time to venture into the Zen zone. Yoga is now for “ab” seekers as well as “om” seekers.

In the past, many gym denizens dismissed yoga as a flaky workout, not part of a real fitness regimen. But as more and more yoga-toned celebrities have sung the praises of sun salutations (and sported seriously buff arms), the perception of yoga has changed from less granola to more mainstream.

And it’s not just for the freakily flexible either. While it’s true that yoga provides a terrific stretch, it also enhances the two other major components of all-around fitness — strength and cardiovascular health.

But perhaps the most interesting news, especially for the weight conscious, is that certain types of yoga, primarily the active flow-type classes, are also major calorie incinerators.

Feel the Burn — of Calories
In fact, a recent study from Adelphi University in New York found that power yoga can obliterate up to 9 calories per minute!

According to Jonathon Fields, co-founder of Sonic Yoga in New York City, “Vinyasa yoga is uniquely effective at burning calories because it keeps the body moving in a dynamic, rhythmic flow, much the same way as some classic calorie-burning activities do, turning it into a potentially aerobic adventure.” And unlike many cardio pursuits, such as running, and even other styles of yoga, it uses all major muscle groups in both the upper and lower body to accomplish this effect. In fact, in an average 90- minute power yoga practice, students move through an average of 30 to 60 chatturangas (a yoga pose similar to a push-up, and the equivalent of one from a fitness standpoint), utilizing the arms, legs and core muscles simultaneously.

“While some of the less dynamic styles of practice are wonderful, life- enhancing pursuits, they are likely significantly less effective as a calorie- burning solution,” says Fields. “So for that added benefit, look for classes, videos or DVDs that say ‘Flow,’ ‘Ashtanga,’ ‘Vinyasa,’ or ‘Power’ yoga.”

Gentle is Good Too
However, Fields says not to discount the benefits of all types of yoga, even gentler approaches, or simple meditation and breathing exercises in conjunction with weight management. “Emphasis on cultivating a meditative breath and mindset is also a powerful adjunct to a weight-loss program. This helps center the mind, induce the relaxation response and ease anxiety. Repeated attention to the fundamental philosophies of self-acceptance, non-violence (even to yourself), compassion and non-judgment, also help cultivate self-acceptance and confidence.”

Portability is another big benefit of yoga. “Once you learn the core vinyasas (move sequences) and sun salutations, you can do them pretty much anywhere,” says Fields.

Now, don’t you think it’s time to go with the flow?

Note: While some gyms and studios may tout the benefits of doing yoga in a super-heated room, take caution in such settings. Inexperienced, overweight, or pregnant exercisers may not tolerate such an extreme, and to date there is no definitive research showing that adding a heat element while practicing yoga increases its calorie-burning potential.

Let’s Go to the Videotape
The best way to learn yoga is from a qualified teacher whom you like and respect. But if you simply can’t get to a class and would like to try a yoga video, here are some we recommend:

Bryan Kest’s
Original Power Yoga: 20-Minute Beginner Workout or The Basics Step-by-Step. Kest has an easygoing, encouraging style and is an authentic and knowledgeable instructor. One "student" in each video shows modifications to poses, which will be helpful for beginners. (These two are combined on one DVD or available as two videotapes. Buy them from Kest’s web site, www.poweryoga.com, or through standard outlets.)

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