Ask a Yogi: Can Power Yoga Help Me Lose Weight?

KC Whitsett
Ask a Yogi: Can Power Yoga Help Me Lose Weight?

Yoga practice cultivates a relationship between mind, body, and soul. Each piece is equally important, but the body often gets a lot of attention because it takes up physical space and is the medium through which the mind and soul operate. Every day we have to dress our bodies, move our bodies to places we need to go, and put our bodies in rooms with others to interact.

This is why it's essential to feel comfortable and confident in our bodies so that we can walk through life with a sturdy foundation. While yoga practice teaches us to let go of attachments to end results, yoga can assist in weight loss and help you to have a more harmonious relationship with your body.

That said, many of you have asked, "can power yoga help me lose weight?" Here's my answer, but first...

What is Power Yoga and how is it different from other popular styles of yoga?

You should come to a Power Yoga class expecting not just to move, but to move quick. Power Yoga combines strength, flexibility, and cardio through quick transitions between poses which increase your heart rate and gets you sweating.

The original Power Yoga was founded by Beryl Bender Birch and was a variation of Ashtanga yoga that moved to a quicker pace. However, now, the term Power Yoga is used to describe any vigorous Vinyasa class.

Power Yoga teachers design their own sequences, so there can be much variation in your experience depending on the instructor. Some classes will add in calisthenic exercises in between postures or vinyasas, such as mountain climbers, crunches, or push-ups.

How does yoga help you lose weight?

Yoga, in general, can support weight loss in many different ways. Many twisting and bending yoga postures can be a form of “self massage” by rubbing limbs together or on the floor. This type of pressure can stimulate the internal organs, which in turn helps them to do their jobs better. A better-working digestive system, for example, can aid in weight loss.

Some researchers theorize that yoga stimulates vagal activity (of the nervous system). This impacts the hypothalamus—the part of the brain that influences cortisol secretion. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and can cause inflammation in the body. When this happens, your body tends to hold onto excess weight. Practicing yoga can help to maintain cortisol levels and aid in maintaining a healthy weight.

On top of influencing physiological processes in the body, yoga can also influence our behaviors and cause us to live more intentionally. Yoga cultivates a deep connection between mind, body, and spirit, and when all of these pieces are aligned, we move through life with more intentionality and purpose. We are better able to tune into our bodies and understand what's going on with ourselves.

How does this affect weight loss? Some studies have shown that mindfulness fostered in a yoga class can translate into mindful eating habits. Some yogis are able to recognize when they want to eat out of boredom, habit, or stress, and are able to say no to that.

So yoga in general can support a healthy body composition. But...

How does Power Yoga specifically assist weight loss?

Weight loss comes down to a simple equation: calories out must be greater than calories in. You need to be expending more calories (via your basal metabolic rate and physical activity) than you are taking in (what you are fueling your body with).

Let’s look at the first part of this equation - calories out. In the simplest form, there are two processes to expend calories: 1) physical activity and 2) your Basal Metabolic Rate.

1) Power Yoga can burn more calories than a traditional yoga class. Why? Quicker movements, faster heart beat, more energy needed, more calories burned. In addition to these cardiovascular benefits, Power Yoga also includes muscle-strengthening exercises which can help to tone your muscles.

2) Did you know that just by being a living, breathing human being, your body is already burning calories? Your Basal Metabolic Rate is the rate of calories that you would burn if you just sat still all day. It’s the amount of calories it takes to keep you alive—pump your blood, inhale and exhale, and for your cells to do their daily duties.

Yes, slower-paced yoga styles can help too.

Although you won’t be torching calories in much slower-paced classes of gentle or Restorative yoga, they can also aid in weight loss and should not be forgotten for their benefits and supporting role in weight loss.

How? Gentle or Restorative Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The PNS is responsible for our bodies’ "rest and digest" physical responses including digestion, muscle and injury repair, hormone activity, and breathing (as opposed to “fight or flight” activation and impulse responses of the sympathetic nervous system which gets your body into reaction mode).

Hustle and bustle throughout the day can lead to a high-stress life and constant activation of fight or flight responses. Slowing down allows the PNS to step in and do its job, which can aid in weight loss.

Enjoy the journey!

Yoga asanas encourage internal gazing. I encourage you to focus on how you are feeling right now, in each present moment during a pose. Let go of what that posture might do for the shape of your body. Notice feelings like your heart opening, your energy levels increasing, and mindfulness.

These are things that you can carry with you off your mat and into the world, no matter what the number on the scale labels you as. Positive changes fostered on your mat will seep into your daily life, and one positive change will create another positive change. Let go of the attachments to the end results and learn to simply enjoy the journey.

Image Credit: Andrea TaylorAlisia Gonzales