If you want to lose weight and wonder if yoga is enough exercise to help you reach your goal, I’m proof that, yes, it absolutely is.
I remember feeling nearly hopeless about losing ten, then twenty, then thirty (the number kept creeping up) pounds. I’d suffered a knee injury and, since I couldn’t go for my usual daily run, I headed home after work to eat snacks and lament that I couldn’t run, instead. Say what you will about running, but it did me a lot more favors than
I remained stuck in that awful habit loop—work, stress, sugar, repeat—and missing my old level of fitness for years. I tried different diets and eating styles, strength training, kickboxing and HIIT training, to name a few, and I followed some phenomenal fitness experts on social media to learn and get inspired.
Nothing stuck, and I was miserable … until I tried yoga.
Of course, since my favorite exercise had been running three to five+ miles per day, I was skeptical, at first. I loved how I felt at the end of
In fact, yoga gave me back the very things that I’d been missing from my life since my beloved running days. These four things, for me, are key to living my healthiest life:
1 – A Healthy Routine
The most obvious, and perhaps most important gift that yoga gave me was a new version of normal. When I finally allowed myself to fully commit to yoga, I made it a near-daily habit. Instead of flopping on the couch with treats every evening, I took a 75- to 90-minute yoga class, instead. Not only did it help me unwind and decompress after work, yoga was much less calorically dense than my couch potatodom had been.
Plus, yoga put me in the mood to make other health-positive choices. As Gretchen Rubin describes in Episode 216 of her podcast Happier, “Good habits build on each other in a positive way, and bad habits build on one another in a negative way.”
I couldn’t agree more. My good habit of yoga spawned several new, good habits in relation to eating, sleeping and even my overall activity level. For example, I started walking more—not in a step-counting, regimented way, though. I just began choosing to walk to nearby destinations when, before, I might have taken my car.
I also changed my eating habits simply to make sure that I was fueled well (and not too full) for class. That meant shifting my diet from frozen pizza and takeout to healthier alternatives and tracking calories to curb my tendency to overeat—behaviors I was only able to commit to because I was in a positive, upward spiral fueled by my eagerness to get yoga-fied.
But, the really cool part of my new, healthier routine was
2 – A Craving for Real Nourishment
As a runner, I loved the meditative quality of matching my steps to the rhythm of my breath. It allowed me to, almost instantly, drop right into myself. I can still feel it.
In yoga, it’s the same. Movement and breath are tied. Inhale to reach, exhale to release. Tuning in to the breath this way is wonderfully calming, and it teaches you to tune in to your entire body. That connection translates to improved body awareness, on and off the yoga mat. Can you see where I’m going here? It’s a buzz word that starts with an “M” and ends with an “
If you’re rolling your eyes, give me a sec. Mindful living (and eating) might sound like a painfully slow way to go about losing weight, but it’s seriously effective. In fact, mindfulness might be the best tool out there for shedding extra pounds in a healthy way that won’t send you into a fit of shame and anxiety. Why? Because it comes from a place of
Staying mindful also makes you more likely to notice when you’re full, or if a food doesn’t agree with you. And all of that extra data puts you in control to choose foods that work better for your body. You’d be surprised at how much different (and healthier) your food choices are when you ask yourself, “Does my body want this, really?”
… and, that pause to check in? S
It works because, you know, love conquers all. Or, more specifically, because self love nudges you to fill your time, not your stomach, with things that truly bring you happiness. It’s how I lost Pounds 21-40, no food tracking required. Think about it, it’s way easier to practice your favorite yoga pose (like finally sticking that handstand) when your belly feels happy and you’re not groggy from sugar. Go ahead, tell me that’s not more rewarding than a brownie. Exactly.
3 – Stress Relief
Speaking of happiness, when we’re lacking it, many of us stress-eat to console ourselves. We numb with garbage food or have a drink to take the edge off. I’ve done it, and I’m sure you’ve been there, too. You might be stress-eating RIGHT NOW. (No judgment.)
Well, guess what? Yoga crushes at taking the edge off. It’s meditation in motion. Just grab your mat, lose yourself in the movement and life’s worries melt away, at least for a few hours. Plus, when you exercise, your body produces endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters. The net result? You’ll be far less likely to consult with cookies or tequila for help in the mood department.
I’ve also noticed that, just like my daily runs used to help me sleep like a baby, so does yoga. When bedtime rolls around my mind is quiet, not anxious, and I’m ready for sleep. (And, sleep, by the way, is another excellent tool for weight loss.)
4 – A Physical Challenge
Finally, the part you’ve been waiting for, right? IS yoga actually a workout?
The truth is, it depends. Asana, the physical practice of yoga, is whatever you make of it! There are a ton of styles and teachers to choose from, but that’s the beauty of the practice. There’s something for everyone and every mood.
If you’re looking to sweat, build strength and really get your heart pumping, try Ashtanga or vinyasa yoga. You’ll be surprised at how challenging it is to support your own body weight, regulate your breath and keep up with the flow. (And, if you need more intensity, there’s always a variation to take things up a notch.)
If you’re inclined, wear a fitness tracker to monitor your heart rate or guesstimate your calorie burn, but I’ve always found that my body already knows, on any given day, what I need to get results over the long-term. The important thing is to simply show up.
So, roll out your mat consistently, and give it your best. For me, that meant about four days per week, at first, building up to five+ days when I’m most consistent. Take a Child’s Pose if you need a break, and then get back at it. You’ll be rewarded for your effort with the most blissed-out Savasanas of your life and a healthier, happier bod.
Enjoy Life & the Fat Loss Will Come
I wish I’d given myself permission to “waste” time on my yoga mat much, much sooner. I lost those 40 pounds, which is great, but I gained something much more valuable—a better relationship with myself, with food and with life. All because I allowed myself to just do what I love. Plus, I’ve bonded with so many wonderful yogis I’ve met along the way.
Am I done losing weight? No, but I feel like myself, again, and I know my body will continue losing fat as a side effect of the healthier life I enjoy, today. And, of course, I’ll continue eating a mostly healthy diet and practicing yoga.
If you feel stuck with some extra weight that’s not serving you, my best advice is this:
- Take things one step, one habit (one yoga date?), at a time—and make changes that you can live with. Think consistent and sustainable, not dramatic.
- Consider building in some accountability, at least in the beginning as you’re upgrading your habits (e.g., track your food or mark the days you do yoga on your calendar).
- Appreciate the tiny wins because they’ll add up. This includes how you feel, not just how many pounds you lose.
- Find some like-minded friends to share the journey with.
- And, don’t rush it!
Most importantly …No matter where you're at in relation to your goals, enjoy right now. You'll never get to redo today so make the most of it. You deserve it. Remember, feeling miserable won't solve your problems, but finding joy could. It did for me. Share on Twitter
A Final Note
Fitness goals can be tricky. Sometimes, they’re your biggest champions, nudging you towards a healthier, stronger version of yourself. But, sometimes they’re bullies, picking at your insecurities and punishing you for “imperfections.”
If you’re struggling with body image or eating, please know that there’s help.