As you delve deeper into your yoga practice, probably the most important things you will learn are being present in the moment, focusing on your breath, and going farther while finding comfort in each asana (pose). Calorie-counting may be the last thing on your mind. But if you practice yoga as part of a health plan to help you lose weight, how much does each yoga session contribute to your efforts?
Yoga Makes the Calorie Burning Go Round
Yoga has been around for thousands of years; calories and calorie counting for mere decades. Yoga is widely regarded as much more than an exercise and is a mind-body, moving meditation system that cannot be quantified simply by the calories burned in a given session. But, according to Dr. Timothy McCall, in his article, “Relax and Unload,” in Yoga Journal (YogaJournal.com), “Studies show that a complete yoga program—asana, breathing techniques, and meditation—can peel off the pounds.”
Not only can you peel off pounds with yoga, but if you practice assertively over time, you will improve your cardiovascular and muscular fitness, increase your flexibility, and improve your body composition (muscle mass to body fat ratio). All of these also feed back into increased calories burned during yoga sessions and in life.
Different Yoga Strokes for Different Folks
You can find yoga calorie calculators online. Most ask your weight and the length of the yoga session. Better calculators also ask which type of yoga you will be doing, such as the one at EverydayFitness.com (see Resources). But here is a rough guide, broken down by yoga type. Assume an average total class length of one hour and that all numbers are approximations: Bikram/Hot Yoga—600 to 700 calories; Vinyasa Flow Yoga—400 calories; Ashtanga and Power Yoga—300 calories; and Hatha Yoga—200 calories.
Burn, Yogi, Burn
You can increase calories burned during yoga still more by: 1) Increasing your muscle mass. The more muscular you are, the more calories you will burn, both during yoga and while resting. Each pound of muscle burns from 35 to 50 calories per day; 2) Increasing your lung capacity, or VO2Max (which increases steadily with yogic training); 3) Practicing strengthening your core (abdominal muscles) during asanas; and 4) Continuing to move, straighten, and strengthen during asanas (“growing” the pose).
Go to Yoga. Go Directly to Yoga. Do Not Get Hung Up on Calories.
Yoga weight loss is usually gradual and involves more than just the time spent doing asanas, which is immeasurable. The exception to that, of course, is for avid practitioners of the more high-calorie burning types of yoga, such as Bikram, Vinyasa Flow, Power yoga, or like Madonna, Ashtanga. But, the trick is, you have to already be in respectably good shape to practice the more intense calorie-burning yoga workouts effectively.
Still, yoga over time can change your life and your attitude about your body and about food. If you have ever eaten because you are anxious or worried, yoga can help. A calm, yogic person will not indulge in anxiety-bingeing and will choose a more moderate intake of calories to begin with. Yoga also teaches you mindfulness and being in touch with your body, thus reconnecting you to how you eat and what your body needs, calorie-wise.
If short-term weight loss is your goal, yoga may not be your fastest or most direct route to get there, although it can certainly help you along. But a steady practice over time will have many healthy benefits, including weight loss. According to Alisa Bauman, in her article, “Is Yoga Enough to Keep You Fit?” from Yoga Journal (see Resources), “Beyond fitness, yoga also offers many other gifts. It improves your health, reduces stress, improves sleep, and often acts like a powerful therapy to help heal relationships, improve your career, and boost your overall outlook on life.” All of these are much more than you could surmise from simply counting calories.