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In my own weight loss journey, I’ve found that there is nothing more enjoyable than starting my day with a cleansing yoga practice or a long walk under the sun. Yoga is a fantastic form of low impact exercise that leads to mindfulness, reduces injuries, and leaves you with a feeling of peace and restfulness. Walking allows you to be active outside while exploring new areas. But I’ve always wondered, is yoga or walking better for weight loss?
So, is yoga or walking better for weight loss? Overall, yoga is better for weight loss due to the ability to increase its intensity and build lean muscle, which results in more calories burned and more weight loss.
According to a Colorado State University study, while practiced at the same intensity, yoga and walking burn about the same amount of calories. Although when you practice a more intense type of yoga, you burn much more calories as well as build muscle mass. Building lean muscle is the best way to increase your metabolism and promote fat loss. Both yoga and walking or great ways to lose weight, but if you have to choose one, pick yoga.
Although yoga can be more effective in helping you lose weight, you can’t just do any type of yoga and expect to see results. In this article we’re going to explain how to tailor your yoga practice to increase your metabolism and meet your weight loss goals.
What Causes Weight Loss?
1. More Calories Out Than Calories In.
The basic formula to lose weight is to burn more calories than you eat. By building stronger muscles, which need more calories to function, your body burns more calories.
It’s important to keep in mind that calories are the energy that feed muscles so the more you use your muscles, the more calories your body burns, leading to weight loss. Yoga is much more effective in helping you build muscle than walking is due to it’s dynamic movements and pose holds.
2. Staying Stress Free.
The stress hormone Cortisol is infamous for creating a layer of fat around the midsection. This is because when you Cortisol levels are high, your blood sugar level rises as well. This eventually leads to something called gluconeogensis, which is a fancy term for when your body breaks down carbohydrates into fuel, as well as mobilizes your fat storage to your abdominal area. Fun, right?
Although exercise in general, including walking, has been proven to reduce cortisol levels, yoga has been shown to significantly reduce cortisol levels when it is practiced regularly.
3. Having a Healthy Mindset.
Many people underplay the role mindset has in weight loss, but it is one of the most important factors to achieve success. This pertains to choosing veggies over fries, or deciding to exercise when you wake up instead of watching television.
Both yoga and walking, and pretty much any exercise really, can help you get into this mindset to give you motivation and create the momentum of achieving your goals.
4. Going to Sleep on Time.
Sleep effects the amount of weight you lose in a number of ways. If you aren’t getting enough sleep and are always tired, your cortisol levels will tend to be higher, and you will crave foods filled with fat and sugar. This is due to an increase in two hormones called leptin and ghrelin.
Exercising is a great way to regulate your sleep cycle, especially yoga. If you need help winding down at night and calming your tireless mind, try doing a quick 5 minute yoga routine to help you fall asleep.
Does Yoga or Walking Burn More Calories?
A study from Colorado State University found that yoga and walking have similar impacts on weight loss because they burn about the same amount of calories when practiced at the same intensity. In a 90 minute yoga class, women burned 330 calories and men burned 460, which is about the same they would burn on a brisk 90 minute walk.
A 2007 study found that a beginner’s yoga class burns approximately 2.3 to 3.2 calories per minute – again, about the same as a walk around the neighborhood. That said, the way that you work out has a significant impact on your weight loss so an intense yoga class is going to burn more calories than a leisurely walk and vice versa. As you challenge yourself and your heart rate goes up, you burn more calories and lose more weight.
How to Practice Yoga to Lose Weight
Yoga is a combination of stretching and strengthening your muscles and can be practiced in any number of ways with different benefits that contribute to weight loss. The stretching improves your mobility, prevents injury and improves circulation. The strengthening portion comes in when you are challenging your muscles to stay in a pose for more than one or two breaths.
1. Choose a Yoga Practice That Flows
Yoga encompasses breath to movement routines, called “flows” which combines strengthening and stretching into routines that increase your heart rate and aide in weight loss.
If your goal is to lose weight, you’ll want to choose a style of yoga that keeps you moving. This could include styles such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Power Yoga, which move you through poses quickly and fluidly, pairing your breath with your movement and increasing your heart rate.
Below is a video of one of my favorite Power Yoga routines to practice at home to really get my heart pumping.
You can also check out our article on our favorite beginner yoga routines for fat loss on YouTube here.
2. Build Lean Muscle
A lot of people think of yoga as a low intensity workout that can’t be used to gain muscle, but this is so, so wrong.
Your muscles are challenged in yoga when they have to hold you in positions you’re not used to and when move you quickly from one position to another. Challenging yourself to the poses just out of your reach and holding them for just a few breaths longer than last time will help your body build muscle, aiding in weight loss.
You can read more about how yoga can help you build muscle in this article here.
3. Practice Sun Salutations
Practicing Sun Salutations is a great way to incorporate flowing and holding poses to help you burn calories and lose weight. According to Yoga Journal, there are 10 steps to the perfect sun salutation that increase your heart rate, get your blood pumping, and warm up your muscles.
Sun salutations serve the dual purposes of combining the calming, deep-breathing mindfulness we’ve come to love and expect from our yoga practice with the constant movement that challenges our muscles and helps with weight loss. Want to increase the heat in your Sun Salutation? Add a couple of complex moves like a hop to the front of your mat or a knee-to-nose in your downward dog.
Ashton August from YogiApproved created a great video where she explains the correct alignment of each pose in Sun Salutation and goes throw the traditional flow.
Yoga Poses for Weight Loss
Yoga has an endless number of poses and flows that have all sorts of different benefits to our bodies and our minds. There are certain poses that are definitely more effective than others in building muscle, toning, and increasing your heart rate for weight loss. Here are some of our favorite poses:
1. Chair pose
The great thing about chair pose is the simplicity of getting into the pose, but anyone who has held Chair Pose longer than a few breaths knows it is anything but simple.
- Start in mountain pose (a standing position with arms above your head) and your feet together.
- Squat down and back – and hold. Yes, hold. For as many breaths as you can
2. Knee to Nose
Strengthening your core is vital to any good quality weight loss workout. After all, our core is what allows us to walk upright, protects our back and vital organs, and gives us the physical strength to participate in all of the activities that allow us to live happy, active lives. Knee-to-nose is exactly what it sounds like:
- While in downward dog, arch your back and draw your stomach towards your spine
- Bring your knee to your nose and then return to your downward dog
- Repeat with the other leg
3. Boat pose
Boat pose fires up your core and deeply strengthens the abdominal muscles. Holding this pose for just a few breaths even can begin to make you sweat.
- Start by laying on your back and bringing your knees to a 90 degree angle off your mat
- Use your core to lift your head, neck, lower back, and shoulders off the ground as well so that you are almost in a v shape
- With your hands held out to the side, hold the pose
- For even more of a workout, lower both your top and bottom body towards your mat briefly before returning to your boat, using your core to control the motion
4. Balancing Poses
Balancing poses such as Airplane Pose, Tree Pose, and Four Limbed Staff Pose require both mind and muscles concentration. Forcing one leg to work on its own in Tree Pose fires muscles we rarely use, creating new opportunities to burn calories and lose weight while also requiring complete and total focus, achieving the mind-body connection.
We recommend you start with Tree Pose:
- Start in a standing position with both feet on the ground
- Lift the bottom of one foot to the inside of the other leg (avoiding the knee joint). It’s ok to use your hands to get your foot into position.
- If this is uncomfortable, rest your foot on the inside of you other ankle – the goal is to balance on one leg. Listen to your body and do what is right for you.
- Your hands can be at your heart center, above your head or to your side depending on what is comfortable for you
- Take deep breaths and practice your balance
- Repeat on the other side
How Long Do You Need to Do Yoga to Lose Weight?
To lose one pound of body fat per week, you need to burn 500 calories more than you eat each day. To achieve this, you can reduce your calorie intake by about 250 calories per day and practice 60-90 minutes of yoga 5-6 times per week. Keep in mind though the more muscle you build, the more calories your body will naturally burn each day. I recommend finding out what your Total Daily Energy Expenditure with an online TDEE calculator and going back to update it as you lose weight or increase your activity.
Can I walk and do yoga?
Pairing walking with yoga is a great way to stay active and lose weight. To make sure you don’t overwork your body, you can alternate the days you walk based on intensity of your yoga practice, and vice versa. For example, if you did a sweaty 45 minute power yoga class, you might want to skip your walk, or make it a short and relaxing one instead of pushing yourself.
Is yoga or running better for weight loss?
Technically, running burns more calories per hour so weight loss can be achieved quicker with running compared to yoga. A 150 pound person burns over 700 calories in one hour of running compared to 240 calories in one hour of yoga.
Keep in mind, these facts are based off of a traditional low intensity yoga class. The higher the intensity, the more calories you burn.
Running has many benefits but can be hard on your body. It has also been shown to actually increase cortisol levels due to the amount of stress it puts on your body. Yoga is popular among runners because it helps prevent injuries and strengthens muscle imbalances caused by the repetitive motion of running.
How effective is yoga for weight loss?
It all comes down to balancing how consistently you practice and the level of intensity you do. Practicing yoga that challenges your muscles and increases your heart rate is an effective way to both lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
In addition to the calorie burning benefits, yoga also teaches mindfulness which can be applied to your eating habits, an important part of weight loss. Mindfulness can help you understand how the foods that you are eating impact your weight and your energy level.
Does yoga help you lose belly fat?
Regardless of the rumors, you can’t “spot treat” where you want to lose weight. Yoga is a full body workout that burns fat and builds muscle from head to toe. As much as we would like to believe it, our bodies don’t allow us to burn fat in only one area. Boat Pose and other abdominal- based poses will strengthen your core, but they won’t make you thinner only in that one spot. Fat burning is distributed across our entire bodies so any type of workout that boosts your heart rate will lead to fat loss all over. However, practicing poses that target your abdominals will increase lean muscle mass, causing your stomach to look more tones and lean.
You can learn more about which yoga poses are best for your core here.
Remember: what really matters for a healthy, happy life is that you are moving your body, working your muscles, and getting your blood pumping. Put these ideas to the test and take a walk at your local park with your favorite yoga mat in hand. Practice yoga outside under the sun, and walk back mindful of the beautiful day and the care you’ve shown your body.
Check out our Free Resource Library filled with free yoga workout cards to help your lose weight, tone, and achieve your weight loss goals.
Alicia is a communications consultant who specializes in content strategy for mission-driven organizations. She is training for her first Boston Marathon and practices yoga weekly as part of her training.