As an instructor or maybe even as a dedicated yoga class attendee, how many times have you been asked “will I burn calories or lose weight doing yoga?” I typically get asked at least a month and it is usually by someone who is new to yoga or have never tried it. Here is my answer and I have good news!
First of all if you approach me with this question, I am going to encourage you to give yoga a try and to find out for yourself. I can be very persuasive and I’ll tell you that yoga is way more than a fitness class; however, if that is what will get you to try it then I’m fine with that because that is how I got started.
Yes, you will burn calories doing yoga and yes you can lose weight and/or drop clothing size(s) doing yoga as well! I know that is what you wanted to hear, right! Of course, one’s weight lose journey will only be successful with consistent practice over time. I often tell people that they should regularly add yoga to their existing cardio exercise program (spinning, running, walking, aerobics, swimming…). Here is the more… But it is way more than burning calories. Yoga has lots of benefits: Muscle Toning/Strength Increases, Increased Flexibility, Core Stability Improvements, Weight Loss, and Stress Reduction. Can’t argue with that as these are wonderful benefits!
This is not an inclusive list of all the types of yoga that are out there. I only listed “physical” yoga classes that I’ve had the opportunity to experience or learn about and estimations of caloric burn that happen to be mentioned on the internet for hour length classes. (Gentler versions of yoga are likely to burn less calories). Also it is important to note that “caloric burn” is highly variable and is influenced by factors such as gender, weight, body make up (percentage of lean muscle), metabolic rate, temperature, and exertion.
Hatha Yoga – This is a physical yoga class that emphasizes breath control and flowing poses. You can expect to burn at least 175 calories per hour, or the same amount of calories you might burn by walking 2 miles in 1 hour.
Ashtanga Yoga – This is a physical yoga class that tends to be more intense than that of a Hatha yoga class. Emphasis is still on breath control and flowing poses. The flow tends to progressively increase in difficulty and as such caloric burn is more than Hatha with at least 300 calories in 1 hour, or the same as walking 4 miles in 1 hour.
Power Yoga – This is a Westernized form of Ashtanga yoga. Flows move “quickly” between poses to increase your heart rate. Caloric burn is at least 300 calories in 45 minutes. So obviously in an hour, you’ll burn even more.
Vinyasa Yoga – This a physical yoga class that emphasizes on flowing from one pose to the next, especially during the sun salutation. Caloric burn is at least 445 calories per hour, or the same amount as jogging at a slow pace for 60 minutes. (This is what I teach and I always work up a sweat).
Bikram Yoga – This is a “trademark” named class that is performed in a room heated to 105 degrees and with a humidity of 40%. A series of 26 poses are pursued in a class and you’ll do them twice. Caloric burn is at least 630 calories per hour, or the same as swimming the butterfly stroke for an hour. The increased caloric burn is due to the heat. Definitely drink up lots of water because you’ll sweat profusely in class!
Hot Yoga – These types of yoga classes are inspired by Bikram Yoga but they aren’t Bikram Yoga as that is a trademark name. Heat temperatures can range from 75˚F – 95˚F and the flow of poses are not set. Like Bikram, caloric burn will be influenced by the room’s temperature but it will be at least 445 calories.
Do know there are more yoga styles out there. I only mention ones I’m personally familiar with. Regardless of what type of yoga class you attend, you’ll have an “after-burn,” or a period of higher energy expenditure for hours after your workout! Also know that lower heart rate types of activities burn “fat” more so than those that hit closer to your maximum heart rates. Ask your personal trainer about that one!
Here is a formula for your Fat Burning Heart Rate Range that I had been given by my personal trainer.
Find your Maximum Heart Rate: 220 – age = MHR
My MHR = 178 (42yo)
Fat Burning Range (60-70%) of MHR
178 x .60 = 106.8
178 x .70 = 124.6
So to burn fat, I need to keep my heart rate in the range of 106.8 to 124.6 for at least 20 minutes and I will burn fat vs. glycogen. Now, I’ve never strapped on a heart rate monitor while I’ve done yoga. My watch beeps and would probably annoy my mat neighbors. But I do know what my exertion feels like when I keep my heart rate in that range.
It’s Not Just About the Calories…
Also, the stress reducing benefits are worth mentioning when it comes to weight loss. Regardless of whether you go to a Vinyasa Yoga class or some other type; after class, yoga participants regularly claim that they feel better and less stressed afterwards. And this is important because as you probably know, stress is linked to weight gain. When we are stressed, our bodies release Adrenalin, Corticotrophin Releasing Hormone (CRH), and Cortisol. Cortisol; in particular, can remain elevated in our bodies which increases a person’s appetite and as such causing people to eat more (generally unhealthy choices too). Also some studies have shown that stress and elevated Cortisol tend to cause fat deposition in the abdominal area which is a bad place to deposit fat because it is strongly correlated with the development of cardiovascular disease. You may have heard that being “apple” shaped is bad. Good new though! Studies have shown that yoga lowers these stress hormones and increases insulin sensitivity which causes your body to burn food vs. store it as fat. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to store extra pounds around your middle.
So If you Want to Increase Your Burn Potential…
While you can’t change things like your gender or age, you can up your exertion and what you choose to pursue is totally up to you.
- Build up to the “more” intense poses or variations, hold them
- Keep moving (flow)/ Add Sun Salutations Half Series throughout practice
- Try Explosive Movements (like jumping from Downward Facing Dog to Forward Fold)
- Crank up the heat (both internally and externally)
Hopefully, the next time you get asked this question you can talk about it in depth with your mat buddies!