Yoga provides a great calming stretch to begin your day or to wind down at the end of it. Daily asanas tone and condition your body and consume calories. But what about fat and fitness? Will your yoga practice continue to trim away pounds and inches once you are off the mat? The answer is -- maybe. It all depends on the type of yoga you choose.
Muscles and Metabolism
Low-intensity exercise like walking uses the highest percentage of fat as fuel. High-intensity exercise like sprinting uses proportionately more glycogen from muscles but overall burns significantly more calories, including fat. Hard exercise keeps metabolism elevated for some time after a workout. The American Council on Exercise points out that muscle tissue burns calories even at rest, so the more you build muscles, the higher your resting metabolic rate. Challenge muscles with weight-bearing yoga poses and the muscle fiber breaks down and reforms over 48 hours to be denser and stronger -- and consumes more calories. A daily yoga practice boosts post-workout metabolism and your resting metabolic rate, a double-dip calorie burn.
The Skinny on Sun Salutations
Sun Salutations give you a good cardio workout and provide significant resistance training. The standard sequence of yoga poses used to open many yoga classes and to connect poses in Ashtanga yoga builds endurance and muscle strength as it improves body composition, according to results of a study published in the “Asian Journal of Sports Medicine.” Sun Salutations decreased weight and body fat in the women in the study while working thoracic, abdominal, leg and thigh, shoulder, arm, chest and back muscles. The stress the moves placed on the cardiorespiratory system equaled vigorous aerobic exercise. The study concluded that performing Sun Salutations provides a complete exercise that involves and strengthens every part of your body to deliver optimum fitness.
Asanas and Afterburn
Vigorous exercise continues to burn calories for 14 hours or more after a workout. Studies testing the calories used during moderate and high-intensity exercise show no caloric afterburn from moderate workouts. But intense exercise burns up to 37 percent more calories in the hours following the activity. As “The New York Times” reports, vigorous and extremely vigorous exercise for 45 minutes or longer creates the afterburn effect. Demanding Ashtanga, power yoga or hot yoga sessions, many lasting for 90 minutes, challenge the cardiovascular system and stress muscles sufficiently to burn calories for hours after yoga class ends.
Every 3,500 calories you burn represents a pound. Every yoga class you take represents the opportunity to get stronger, more supple and slimmer. But your gentle Hatha morning sequence won’t max out your metabolism as it helps you to relax. You need to control the burn, during and after class, for weight control. That means opting for tough yoga. Ashtanga is aerobic with multiple series of gradually intensifying poses practiced nonstop. The Westernized version of Ashtanga is power yoga. Both systems connect asana sequences with repeated Sun Salutations in classes that often exceed an hour. Hot yoga is practiced in a heated studio – the temperature is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The stress of coping with the heat adds to the calorie burn in 90-minute classes and beyond. Demanding forms of yoga are your best option to burn calories after your workout, but be sure you are fit enough to handle them. Check with your health care provider before signing up.
- Yoga Journal: The Science of Strengthening
- The New York Times: For an Exercise Afterburn, Intensity May Be the Key
- Yoga Journal: Is Yoga Enough to Keep You Fit?
- American Council on Exercise: Trimming Off the Fat
- PubMed: How Effective Is Sun Salutation in Improving Muscle Strength, General Body Endurance and Body Composition?
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .