Yoga offers a myriad of health benefits. It can also help exercise novices improve mobility and reduce pain. For many, yoga can be an excellent introduction to physical fitness.

People with obesity sometimes have comorbidities that make it difficult to exercise and attain a healthy lifestyle. Excess weight can cause joint pain and undermine mobility. If a yoga beginner has been sedentary for a prolonged period, they may have trouble exercising or worry about the risks of exercise.

Yoga offers a gentle introduction to exercise that can help build strength and stamina. Yoga for those with obesity focuses on building strength and confidence.

This article explains the benefits of yoga for people with obesity. It also explains tips for starting — including listening to the body, finding instructors, and online communities.

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Yoga is a type of strength training. This means that it can promote healthy muscles and bones, build flexibility, and improve coordination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get at least 2 days per week of strength training or more for greater benefits.

Yoga, like other forms of stretching, also burns some calories. It is unlikely to produce significant weight loss on its own, but it can help a person slightly increase the number of calories they burn per day.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Health (NCCIH), research suggests that yoga may:

These benefits may help ease some of the complications that can occur with obesity.

Learn more about the benefits of yoga here.

Some people with obesity are yoga practitioners with years of experience. But novices may experience some challenges, particularly if they have been sedentary for a long time. Some issues a person might face include:

  • joint pain
  • difficulty getting into some yoga poses
  • decrease in mobility, or taking longer to get into yoga poses
  • fatigue if a person has been sedentary for a long time

The Obesity Medicine Association recommends that people steadily work up to exercises that put a strain on joints, especially if they have been sedentary for a long time.

Some tips for getting started include:

  • Understand that body weight is not an absolute contraindication to exercise. As long as a person feels comfortable, they can begin an exercise routine.
  • Start slowly, especially if there is joint pain.

Pain is not a sign that a person is gaining strength, and exercise does not have to be unpleasant or painful. Rather than setting arbitrary fitness goals or applying fitness guidelines to a situation they might not fit, it is important for a person to listen to their body.

Try these practical solutions:

  • If a position is painful, try modifying it. If this does not work, avoid the position entirely.
  • Ask the instructor about supportive devices. For example, a foam brick under the knees may ease joint pain.
  • Take breaks if necessary.
  • If a person feels the class may not be right for them, consider trying a different class, a shorter class, or more frequent breaks.
  • Choose a class that complements a person’s goals and that makes a person feel good, not judged or shamed.

No recent research has compared different types of yoga for people with obesity. So, a person should choose an accessible class that is convenient and comfortable.

A person who is sedentary with poor physical fitness may wish to avoid hot yoga, which tends to require more cardiovascular fitness.

Some factors to look at when choosing a yoga class include:

  • skill and experience of the instructor
  • diversity of body types and sizes in the class
  • whether the class tailors to the person’s experience and fitness level
  • time and location of the class, both of which can influence how easy it is for a person to stick with the class

A wide variety of instructors teach yoga, including some people who medically qualify as obese. For some people, online communities or instructors are a great alternative that can reduce anxiety and make yoga more convenient.

When choosing an instructor or class, some questions to ask include:

  • Is this class likely to make me feel good about myself?
  • Do I like this instructor?
  • Do I feel like I need in-person help?
  • Would an online class be more convenient?
  • What are my goals for my yoga practice?

Yoga can be a great beginner exercise routine for novices, including people with obesity who may not have been active in a while. No single exercise works for everyone, though, so it is important to choose a class, a routine, and a pace that feels comfortable.

People beginning a new exercise routine after a long period of being sedentary should consider consulting a doctor before starting.