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Let's Clear This Up: Can Yoga Really Help You Lose Weight?

You know yoga can make you feel crazy-flexible when you’re tight, and super-zen on even the crappiest of days. (Yoga and the expression ahhhhh may as well be synonymous…) But can you lose weight doing yoga—or are you better off trying something else?

The good news: Yoga can totally help you shed pounds if that’s your goal. Yoga burns calories (well, depending on the type of yoga—more on that in a sec), and it can help you get in the right mental space to make decisions that will help you lose weight.

“From curbing emotional eating to getting the most out of a workout, the ability to be fully present and enjoy the full strength and capacity of your mind and body working together is the key reason yoga supports weight loss,” says Rebecca Pacheco, yoga instructor and star of Women’s Health’s With Yoga workout DVD.

But which type of yoga is best for weight loss?

If weight loss is the overall goal, then the type of yoga you’re doing is super important.

“A more relaxing type, such as one of the forms of Hatha, may not crank up the internal furnace that much,” says Jonathan Amato, C.S.C.S. “In comparison, Bikram or hot yoga could lead to a great calorie burn over a single class.”

Bikram and hot yoga involve increasingly difficult positions (plus, loads of sun salutations) that cause your heart rate to soar. Add that to the stress of a heated room, and class-goers will burn more calories. In comparison, Hatha yoga—gentle poses and stretching exercises—requires much less physical exertion, making it great for all fitness levels. Hatha is also done in a non-heated room.

You also want to look for a class that incorporates “poses that focus on large muscle groups,” Pacheco says, in order to up the calorie burn. Think: lunge-like poses such as warriors one and two.

Can you get in shape by doing yoga?

Yep! Yoga requires you to use your body weight to execute challenging poses, which can help strengthen and tone muscles.

“If all you’ve done is weight train and cardio, the addition of yoga once or twice a week will pose new challenges for your body to adapt to,” says Amato. “This adaptation is what will get you into better overall shape.”

Of course, “great shape” for one person can mean something entirely different to someone else. Amato swears by three different pillars for his shape test: strength, endurance/cardio, and mobility. “For you, yoga just may be the key to the mobility pillar,” he says. “But some forms touch on all three.”

To hit those other pillars, you might consider mixing up your routine day to day. The U.S. Department of Health recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise for health benefits like increased cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular strength, and decreased depressive symptoms.

Learn how to nail pigeon pose with ‘Yoga Girl’ Rachel Brathen:

Can yoga help you lose belly fat?

Similarly, there are a whole lot of factors that go into how to lose belly fat, including your nutrition, workout intensity, and even stress levels. While yoga can certainly help you lose fat, Harvard research shows that resistance training is ideal for targeting that particular area of your body.

Still, it’s smart to monitor the amount of belly—or visceral—fat you’re dealing with. Not just for the betterment of your physical health, but mental, too. Researchers at Yale University found that women who experienced significant levels of stress, and were otherwise “slim”, were more likely to have belly fat. Calm down with a few asanas and potentially reduce belly fat? Sounds like a win-win.

How much weight can you lose by doing yoga?

This depends on a whole lot of factors, including sleep and lifestyle habits, and of course, what you’re putting into your body.

“When practicing yoga to lose weight, it’s critical to be aware of what you’re eating,” says celebrity nutritionist Nicolette M. Pace, RDN, who stresses the importance of a diet rich in whole, fresh foods. “There’s no cure-all or magic trick to lose weight fast.”

Regardless of the type of exercise you’re doing or the diet you’re following, people who lose weight gradually (about 1 to 2 pounds per week) are more successful at keeping it off, according to the CDC.

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