Losing weight doesn’t have to mean lean diets, endless cardio workouts, and heavy weightlifting. While these strategies can certainly help, we also need to target stress for the best chance at weight loss success. Yoga has become a popular and proven method of supporting both physical and mental wellness. Here, we review the benefits of yoga in fat loss and detoxification, as well as the top yoga poses to help you get started.
Stress can have a major impact on fat storage. When stress levels are high—especially when they’re consistently so—hormone levels get out of whack. The thyroid struggles to maintain balance with high levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, leading to hypothyroidism, or inactivity in the thyroid, and weight gain due to a subsequent drop in metabolism. Additionally, cortisol can trigger cravings and excessive eating or snacking. Following a barrage of stress eating, the body’s metabolism is also off-kilter as a result of those consistently high levels of cortisol and visceral fat begins to accumulate along the stomach, where the concentration of cortisol receptors is higher. Finally, regular stress can disrupt sleep, causing the body to again store additional fat.
For some, working out can help to reduce stress and anxiety, but for those who aren’t comfortable working out at the gym or don’t know where to start, lifting weights and time spent on treadmills won’t help to reduce cortisol levels or boost serotonin post-workout, because they view these as tasks that may be taking time away from a long list of other tasks, leading to lost time and more stress. Instead of ruminating on a long to-do list during sprints and deadlifts, with its focus on breathing, yoga can help to distract the mind while strengthening muscles, increasing heart rate, encouraging circulation, and improving sleep quality based on the poses used. In this sense, yoga can be a great way to cut stress and burn calories both on and off the mat.
Child’s pose is a great way to ease the body into a weight loss and detoxification yoga sequence by minimizing stress from the get-go. Stress tends to put pressure on the adrenal glands and this pose helps to soothe adrenals, cutting stress and stimulating detoxification.
Start on your hands and knees, arms aligned below your shoulders, palms flat on the mat, fingers spread apart, and your back flat (without letting your lower back droop). Touch your big toes together and shift your weight backwards, keeping your hands in the same spot but allowing your bum to rest on your feet. Your arms should then be straight and outstretched as your forehead rests on the floor. Slowly and deeply inhale and exhale, maintaining the pose and sinking deeper as muscles begin to relax. Hold the pose for about 10 breaths before moving to the next one.
Downward dog offers an all-body stretch while encouraging lymphatic drainage and circulation, and building strength. As with any yoga pose, this guide will describe how best to do the pose but it is encouraged that you try a variation that feels comfortable to you.
Starting from child’s pose, bring the hips forward and back up to a tabletop position on your hands and knees, with knees in line with the hips and hands in line with the shoulders. Turn your toes under, exhale, and lift your knees off the floor while lifting your tailbone straight up into the air. Keep the arms straight and your neck in-line with the arms (don’t let your head hang) while pulling your shoulder blades backward toward the tailbone. Knees should gently straighten (not lock) and heels should touch the mat, with the body creating an inverted “V” shape. If you’re unable to place your heels flat on the mat, consider a variation that keeps knees slightly bent and work your way up toward straightening. Keep muscles engaged and hold this pose for one to three minutes, concentrating on controlled breathing throughout before returning to child’s pose. After a short rest, repeat Downward Dog a second time, then move into the next pose.
For a little target training, consider this pose. The dolphin plank pose helps strengthen and tone the abdomen and arms while also fending off stubborn thigh fat. Following Downward Dog with this plank pose helps to push muscles and test resilience while focusing in on your breathing.
Starting in Downward Dog, walk your hands forward and lower your hips and tailbone until your body is aligned with your toes on the mat, heels lifted, back straight, and hands aligned under shoulders. Lower from your hands to your elbows, keeping upper arms aligned with the shoulders, forearms parallel on the floor, and palms against the mat. Keep shoulder blades down and collarbones spread to open up the upper body and shoulders. Keep your core engaged to ensure that the lower back and hips don’t droop. Maintain this position for 30 seconds to one minute before exhaling and allowing knees to touch the floor. Relax and focus in on controlling your breathing. Repeat once more before moving into the next pose.
Chair pose primarily focuses on building strength in the arms and legs but can also help to improve circulation.
To begin, stand straight on your mat, feet placed side-by-side on the mat, soles flat, arms by your sides, shoulder blades back and down, and chest raised. As you inhale, raise arms forward and above the head, palms facing inward or joined. Exhale and bend at the knees, mimicking the action of sitting in a chair. Try to get your thighs as parallel to the floor as you can while maintaining balance and form and keeping feet flat on the mat. Keep shoulder blades back and down (don’t let your shoulders raise) and tailbone aligned with the spine. Maintain this seated position for up to one minute, focusing on controlled breathing and form. After a minute has passed, while inhaling, straighten the legs to lift back up to stand straight with arms above the head. On the exhale, bring arms back down to your sides, palms facing inward to the thighs, before moving on to the final pose.
This pose is ideal to dial down from a workout or before laying down to sleep for the night. While this isn’t a fat-burning pose in itself, its benefits for stress reduction and sleep hygiene can help your body better deal with the next day’s daily stressors while appropriately regulating fat storage for improved weight loss results that last.
To begin, lie down on your back on the mat with your body in a straight line. Place the soles of your feet flat together and pull them upward toward the groin, knees out to the sides. Find a spot that feels comfortable and place blocks or props under the knees for support if they don’t touch the floor. Arms may be outstretched above the head or relaxed along the sides, or hands may rest on the stomach. Focus your thoughts on deep, controlled breathing and the weight of your body relaxing on the mat. You may also place a weighted or wool blanket over you for comfort and warmth. Stay in this pose for as long as it takes to feel relaxed and ready for a good night’s rest.
While yoga can help to reduce stress, burn more fat, and increase muscle mass, it’s just one step in a holistic and effective weight loss plan. Taking steps to reduce stress where possible, eating healthy but delicious foods, and exploring other types of workouts that pique your interest are good ways to help you stick to your weight loss plan.
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