Practicing Yoga For Weight Loss

Woman doing yoga, relaxing near lake
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Maybe yoga is not the first kind of physical activity one may think of for weight loss. However, there might be some reasons to recommend your clients practice yoga along with a healthy diet.

Many yoga sessions burn fewer calories than typical exercise (such as biking, briskwalking, etc.), but it’s amazing how yoga can increase mindfulness and the way we relate with our body. Mindfulness — the ability to observe what is happening internally in a non-reactive fashion — is the key word here. I believe this is the most powerful effect that yoga has in helping people to make healthier food choices and ultimately make them lose weight.

A recent article published online before print of the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine identified peer-reviewed studies on yoga, meditation, mindfulness, obesity and overweight. Unfortunately, most of the studies included were small in size, had a short duration or were challenged for lack of control groups, but the findings were intriguing.

The study says that there are four mechanisms that yoga may aid in weight loss:

  • Energy expenditure during yoga sessions. Some postures burn more calories than others. Depending on the intensity, one can burn between 200 and 500 calories per yoga session. Power yoga classes — combing yoga with more active types of exercises — are now very trendy.
  • Allowing for additional exercise outside yoga sessions. By reducing back and joint pain people can engage in other sports or exercises.
  • Reinforcing mindfulness. Improving mood and reducing stress may help yoga practitioners reduce food intake and/or make healthier choices.
  • Allowing individuals to feel more connected to their bodies. This can lead to enhanced awareness of satiety and the discomfort of overeating.

Yoga is also a good activity for beginners. It’s a discipline for everyone and perfect to introduce people to exercise. My mom, who is a yoga instructor in my home country of Argentina, would add a few more benefits, but especially being happier! Yoga can complement nutritional counseling of any kind, and not just for weight loss. It is a great tool for eating disorders, binge eating or any kind of condition, as yoga helps to polish one’s self-awareness, confidence and body image.

I realized that there are many food and nutrition professionals that are integrating yoga teaching into their practice. If you do a Google search of dietitian and yoga teacher, it is amazing how many RDs that are certified yoga teachers come up. Many dietitians combine their work in nutrition with different styles of yoga (see below). Some integrate yoga directly into their interventions, while others do it separately, teaching yoga classes at health clubs, studios or even in the client’s house. Once again, there is an opportunity for food and nutrition professionals to broaden their scope of practice. The chance to reinvent yourself is out there!

Styles of Yoga

Hatha: This is the most traditional and basic yoga. It is gentle and focuses on relaxation and breathing techniques. Good for beginners.
Vinyasa: A variety of hatha, it focuses on the Sun Salutation, a series of 12 poses where movements are matched with breathing. Great to improve flexibility and to increase muscle tone. It is good for beginners as well as for the advanced yogi.
Ashtanga: Metaphorically focuses on eight limbs. It is fast-paced and is a kind of power yoga. It relieves stress while helping maintain stamina and strength. Good for weight loss and to improve one’s spiritual side.
Iyengar: It focuses on bringing the body into alignment while helping to improve balance and strength. Different elements like straps and blocks are used during sessions. Great for beginners and those recovering from injuries or with conditions like arthritis.
Bikram: Practiced in a room with 95-100ºF and also known as hot yoga. Its purpose is to flush out toxins and deeply stretch muscles. Good for beginners who wants to push themselves a little more as well as for advanced yogi.

There are many other kinds of yoga out there. Just find which one is the best for you or your clients!

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Romina Barritta de Defranchi
Romina Barritta, DTR, is a dietitian based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She runs GlobalDietitians.com, a networking site for food and nutrition professionals from around the world. She is Board member of the International Affiliate of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (IAAND). Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.