Once in a while, someone will ask me if yoga can help them lose weight. While the answer depends on many factors, if weight loss is your primary goal, then there are more effective ways to do it. However, if your main objective is doing yoga, and weight loss is but a high-priority perk, then specific postures can support this ancillary goal. In this blog post, I’ll give you three powerful fat-burning poses, why they work, how to intensify and alternatives for modifying the foundational pose.
So, if you’re ready to feel the yoga burn, roll out your mat, and we’ll get started!
Current research on the relationship between yoga and weight loss has shown potential for influencing body composition metrics, such as lowering body mass index and supporting smaller waist circumference. Women aged 50 to 80, in particular, favour yoga because it’s a low-impact activity that puts minimal strain on the joints and, with the help of an experienced teacher, can be accessed by people of any age, ability, experience, and fitness level.
1. Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
WHY: Camel Pose promotes weight loss by strengthening your abdominal and back muscles, which helps to sustain optimal posture, which can help to burn calories and melt fat. The challenge of merely getting into this shape is a calorie-feasting accomplishment! We don’t extend our spine very often, instead flexing our spine (rounding forward) for most of our daytime and evening hours. Recruiting the muscles you need to get (and stay) in an unfamiliar position like Ustrasana translates into a high-calorie burn. Additionally, the deep stretch provided by the pose stimulates the abdominal organs and aids digestion, facilitating weight loss by nudging a sluggish metabolism.
HOW: Stand upright on your knees with feet hip-distance apart and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Bring your hands to your sacrum, just below the lower back, with fingers pointing down. Press back through the balls of the feet, down through the shins, and forward with your hips and thighs. Guide your tailbone towards the earth to lengthen the low back. Finally, inhale and lift your sternum towards your chin; exhale as you ease back into Camel Pose. Hold 2 to 8 long and calm breaths before exiting the pose, lifting your head last.
MODIFY: Bring your hands to your heart center or on your hips without leaning back. Focus on lifting your heart ever upwards towards the sky while taking deep breaths.
INTENSIFY: Turn your feet over to press the tops of the feet into the floor and reach back, one hand at a time, to take your heels. If that’s easy enough, reach back with both hands simultaneously and grasp your heels or (even harder) reach below the heels for the soles of your feet.
Holding the pose for longer AND increasing the number of reps is the fastest way to ramp up the intensity.
2. Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
WHY: Chair Pose raises your heart rate, resulting in more calories burned. It strengthens and tones the gluteals and quadriceps, converting these large muscles into high-efficient fat burners. Anywhere you increase muscle tissue results in an overall increase in calories burned, day and night, even when you’re sleeping! In entrepreneurial circles, we call this “passive income,” and it’s the Holy Grail!
HOW: Stand tall with your feet together or hip-distance apart (whichever is more stable and comfortable for your lower back). Exhale and bend your knees, pressing your hips back like you’re about to sit in a deep chair. If you’re new to the pose, rest your hands on your upper thighs or keep a (real) chair nearby for support. Hold for 30 seconds or 3 to 8 long breaths. Next, press through your heels to stand and squeeze your glutes for a beat at the top; repeat 2 to 5 times. As your legs get stronger, increase the time you hold from 30 seconds to a minute or more. Remember to keep tone in the tummy to support your low back.
MODIFY: Don’t bend your knees as deeply or lean against a wall for support.
INTENSIFY: a) Hold Utkatasana with your arms overhead; b) Put all your weight onto one foot for a “single-leg chair pose” and (or) bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
I’'ll share three powerful fat-burning poses, why they work, how to intensify and alternatives for modifying the foundational pose.
3. High to Low Push-Up (Phalankasana to Chaturanga)
WHY: High Plank tones the arms, shoulders, chest, and core (and more). Recall that more muscle tissue = more caloric expenditure = increased calorie burn = weight loss. This is an oversimplification, but it’s pretty accurate, especially when losing weight isn’t your primary goal.
HOW: Start on all four and press into Downward Dog. Shift forward until your shoulders are over your wrists. Lower to the floor in one straight line–SLOWLY. Without moving your hands or feet, squeeze your abdominals (try “fake coughing”), engage your quadriceps (kneecaps off the mat), and press back up to High Plank (Phalankasana). Repeat, resting in Down Dog between repetitions.
MODIFY: a) Move from Dog Pose to High Plank without Chaturanga; or b) do Chaturanga, pressing to Phalankasana, with your knees on the mat.
INTENSIFY: Hold High Plank for 60 seconds before lowering (using a 4- to 6-second count) to Chaturanga and or/ pause for a breath to hover above the floor before pressing back up.
A rule of thumb is the longer you hold a pose, the harder it gets, the more repetitions you do, the more challenging each rep gets, and both holding the pose for longer AND increasing the number of reps is the fastest way to ramp up the intensity. That said, if any of these alternatives sacrifice your form, err on the side of good alignment.
These three yoga poses, Ustrasana, Utkatasana, and Phalankasana to Chaturanga will support your weight-loss intentions by engaging and toning the entire body, burning more calories, and creating a stronger foundation for your continued practice success.
Stay tuned for a future blog post about the relationship between weight loss and yoga, and until then, happy exploring.
See you on the mat!