Yoga may encourage people to make lifestyle changes that support weight loss, especially if it reduces pain or improves mobility. While it is unlikely to burn enough calories to lose significant weight, it can be a useful part of a weight loss plan.

Cardiovascular exercise makes the heart and muscles work harder, burning more calories and supporting weight loss. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cardio, such as running or swimming, to help a person lose weight.

Exercise, though, is just one component of weight loss. To exercise, a person has to have sufficient strength and stamina. They may also need to reduce their muscle pain, which yoga may help with. Yoga may also encourage mindfulness or help a person cultivate a healthier overall lifestyle.

This article explains whether yoga can aid weight loss, how it changes the body, and overall tips for effective weight loss.

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Yoga’s primary benefit is as a type of strength training or stretching. Stretching does burn some calories, but it does not burn as many calories as intense cardiovascular exercise. So while a daily yoga session may help a person burn slightly more calories, it is unlikely to play a major role in weight loss.

Instead, yoga may support weight loss in other ways, such as by reducing pain, improving mobility, or encouraging a person to cultivate a healthier lifestyle.

What is yoga?

Yoga began in ancient Indian philosophy as a spiritual and wellness practice. It involves a series of poses and stretches, along with mindfulness and meditative breathing practices. Different yoga schools practice different styles.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), research suggests yoga may aid weight loss, improve stress and mental health, reduce chronic pain, and help people manage chronic diseases.

Learn more about yoga.

A handful of studies have looked at yoga as a weight loss tool. But most have explored yoga as part of a comprehensive lifestyle intervention rather than a stand-alone weight loss strategy.

A 2016 study that included 11 people medically classified as overweight and 9 people of standard weight found that yoga supported healthy lifestyle changes that led to weight loss.

Yoga practitioners reported:

  • less “stress eating”
  • more mindful eating
  • fewer food cravings
  • an increase in self-esteem
  • better muscle tone
  • an increase in the interest in healthy living

A 2022 study of 60 middle-aged women with obesity or overweight engaged in a structured weight loss program followed by either 12 weeks of yoga or a structurally similar cooking and nutrition program.

The groups did not differ significantly in weight loss. However, among participants who initially lost more than 5% of their body weight, yoga improved long-term weight loss.

A 2019 study followed 150 women with obesity and hypothyroidism. One group practiced yoga along with other lifestyle and diet interventions. The yoga group lost more weight and also saw a reduction in thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. Higher TSH means more severe hypothyroidism.

Learn more about the research-backed benefits of yoga.

Yoga is a type of strength training. Like other forms of strength training, it can improve muscle strength, protect the bones, and improve mobility over time.

The NCCIH reports on several research-backed benefits of yoga, including:

  • better sleep
  • support to quitting smoking
  • a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression
  • help to manage chronic illnesses

Addressing these issues may indirectly support weight loss. For example, better sleep may help a person feel more energized so they can exercise.

Learn more about how yoga affects the body.

There are no official guidelines for the frequency of yoga. The CDC recommends at least 2 days per week of strength training to promote optimal health, but more frequent training could offer additional benefits.

The 2019 study of women with hypothyroidism who practiced yoga explored the benefits of daily yoga for 45–60 minutes, suggesting frequent yoga may offer more benefits.

People who want to lose weight should consult with a doctor first. This can help guide their food and exercise decisions, as well as identify any chronic medical conditions that could affect weight loss.

A person can use the following strategies to help aid weight loss:

  • Create a caloric deficit by moving more and eating less.
  • Integrate more movement into daily life. Try walking to nearby stores, getting up from a desk more frequently, or taking breaks to walk a dog.
  • Find ways to reduce daily calories. For example, sauces and dressings often add significant calories. Soda and sweetened coffee can cause weight gain.
  • Set realistic goals. Weight loss can be slow. Sometimes it is more helpful to focus on specific health goals, such as lowering fasting glucose.
  • Get emotional support. Body image issues, depression, and feeling overwhelmed can all make weight loss more difficult and affect a person’s ability to stick with a weight loss program.
  • Know that even small changes can make a difference. Some exercise is better than none at all, and a person can steadily build on small victories.

Learn more about effective weight loss.

Losing weight is about more than calories and exercise. Weight loss requires significant commitment and often means overcoming body image issues, time constraints, chronic pain, and mobility issues.

Yoga can help people surmount many obstacles to weight loss. It may also encourage a person to focus on leading a healthier lifestyle, whether or not they lose weight.

Before beginning any new fitness regimen, a person should consult a doctor.