People have practiced yoga for more than 5,000 years for its health and wellness benefits. Yoga is a comprehensive mind and body fitness program that involves breath work, meditation and the practice of asanas, or physical postures, to increase strength, tone your body, improve your flexibility and help you manage stress. Yoga may also provide benefits for weight loss and weight management.
Yoga may be a helpful addition to your existing weight loss or weight management programs. According to a clinical review published in the December 2007 issue of the journal "Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine," several intervention studies have found that yoga may result in significant weight loss, but there are no long-term studies to confirm this effect. Yoga may help you develop healthier lifestyle habits by promoting mindfulness. Mindfulness can help you avoid the temptation to overeat or choose unhealthy foods. Additionally, certain yoga poses, such as the chair pose, involve holding a pose for an extended period of time to help build heat and increase calorie burn. But you should not rely on yoga alone to lose weight. To obtain optimal results, incorporate yoga into a lifestyle plan that includes cardiovascular exercise and a healthy diet, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Yoga is a weight-bearing exercise, meaning that you use your muscles to resist the pull of gravity on your weight. This may promote increased strength, to a point. In an interview with Gaiam Life, Dr. Nicholas DiNubile says that "yoga can be just as effective as weights when it comes to building a stronger, more impressive physique." However, yoga's benefits for strength depend on your specific goals. Yoga won't help you achieve ripped muscles like a bodybuilder, but it can help tone your body and give your muscles a more elongated, firm look. Certain poses that require you to hold a specific position, such as lunges or arm balances, are more beneficial for building strength than other poses that focus solely on relaxation or flexibility.
Improving physical flexibility is one of yoga's most frequently touted benefits. Yoga helps stretch and lengthen your muscles, ligaments and tendons, resulting in a more limber, supple body. By practicing yoga on a regular basis, you can increase your overall level of flexibility and reduce the pain associated with tight, bunched-up or shortened muscles. Certain poses, such as forward bends and backbends, encourage your body to open and release to the natural pull of gravity. In addition, yoga promotes mental flexibility by encouraging an attitude of mindfulness and acceptance, according to Yoga Journal.
Consult your doctor before beginning a yoga program if you have any medical issues that may affect your ability to practice yoga. Additionally, you may need to modify your yoga practice if you are menstruating, pregnant or nursing. If you are new to yoga, consult a qualified yoga instructor to learn the basics, including proper postural alignment, meditation and yogic breathing techniques.
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.