Yoga is chock-full of fitness perks, and can complement your weight-loss plan to help you trim down faster. However, there's one thing that yoga cannot do -- spot reduce. No activity whittles fat directly from your legs or anywhere else. But don't ditch the yoga mat just yet; by helping you burn fat all over, yoga moves can still lead to sleeker legs. Targeted moves also tone your leg muscles, leading to shapelier gams.
The word "yoga" stems from an ancient Sanskrit word meaning "to yoke." The practice aims to join the mind and body for a holistic approach to wellness. There are eight branches of traditional yoga, all designed to enlighten and heal. Most modern yoga classes only focus on three branches -- asanas (poses), pranayama (breathing) and dhyani (meditation), with a heavy focus on poses. Yoga goes a long way in building a healthier you by strengthening muscles, improving range of motion and fighting stress.
Even though yoga doesn't touch your leg fat, it does build up muscles for contour. The best toning moves are those that go beyond mere stretching to contract your calves, hamstrings and quads. For a killer leg workout, try Chair pose, Revolved Triangle pose, Staff pose and Revolved Side Angle pose. If a class is more your style, choose an active type such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa, which will work your legs more than a gentle style like Integral yoga.
When it comes to fat loss, yoga offers a multipronged attack; the exercise burns calories, and the stress relief helps guard against fat storage. Burning about 300 calories per hour, yoga can accelerate results from a low-calorie diet plan. Perhaps even more importantly, yoga's anti-anxiety power can help prevent your body from releasing a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol may contribute to excess visceral belly fat, which lines internal organs and increases risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and dementia.
Yoga is generally safe, but don't jump headlong into a routine without learning proper technique. In addition, some poses aren't safe if you're pregnant, have a cardiovascular condition or have glaucoma. For that matter, see your doctor first if you have any health condition at all. Start out with a less demanding yoga style, and work your way up to the hard stuff once you gain flexibility and strength. It's easy to pull a muscle if you overextend yourself, so stick with poses that don't hurt your body.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.