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Yoga and Weight Loss
by Tobye Hillier

Yes, it's one of those constant debates surrounding yoga: Can yoga help you lose weight?

It depends on lots of different factors really, but in the long run, I definitely know that the answer is yes!

Here are a few of the factors that I can personally attest to...

First, yoga isn't just a physical exercise. Those of you who already practice yoga will be aware of this. Overweight people generally feel that they need to lose weight to be really happy, but in my mind, it's the other way around completely. We need to be happy to really lose weight. (Ok, I'm aware that people can be overweight and happy, but I'm talking generally.) A regular yoga practice helps people become happier. They begin becoming aware of their bodies, learn how to deal with stress and start looking after themselves better.

Stress is a big issue with unhealthy weight, not just because when we feel blue we reach for the cookie jar; but also because one of the physical ramifications of stress is high cortisol levels in the body. High cortisol levels cause unhealthy abdominal fat (junk in the trunk is actually reasonably healthy ladies and many guys like it... yoga can also give you nice, round, cellulite free gluts!). High cortisol is caused by internalizing our fight or flight response - those times when we don't run away or start kicking and punching. The body then makes cholesterol to get rid of the high cortisol, however the body then needs lots and lots of vitamin C eliminate the high cholesterol (which is why Vitamin C gets rid of abdominal fat and also why smoking causes abdominal fat... because smoking diminishes vitamin C!)

So you can see, any good strenuous exercise (30 minutes a day is just enough) is going to help because it emulates the fight or flight response... so jogging and kick boxing are great!

But yoga is like your own personal self help support, because breathing techniques and meditation help you to stop stress from happening in the first place. (Ok, maybe that's not completely correct... we do need a certain amount of stress, but yoga helps you let go of it when you don't need it). A good yoga class will have exercises from stretching (this helps squeeze out toxins and lets all the bodies natural de-tox abilities work at optimum levels), exercises to build heat (this burns out and sweats away the toxins), a few twists ( like squeezing the water out of your swimming costume!), and breathing exercises and meditation that help you become one with yourself - more intuitive to your own needs and more aware of the wants and needs of others.

As people start to get serious with yoga, they also start to get serious about what they're eating. There's no point in getting rid of all those nasty toxins if you're only going to stick them back in again! One thing you might notice as you start eating healthier, is an increase in appetite. It may sound strange, but when you think about it, if your system is clogged and backed up it's going to take time to move through... but once those toxins are out of the system and your metabolism is working like a furnace, you're going to need more fuel!

The idea of men needing 2500 calories per day and women needing 2000 is just silly! If you're heavy and you're exercising more, you'll need a lot more calories than a thin person who sits in front of their PC all day. There is a formula to work out your calorific needs to maintain your weight. If you wish to lose weight, drop the intake by 500 to 750 calories per day. Any more than that and your body will think there's a famine and it will start storing stuff and you'll gain weight!

Here's the formula:

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

66 + (6.3 x weight in pounds) + (12.9 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

Please note that this formula applies only to adults.

Calculate Activity

Step two: In order to incorporate activity into your daily caloric needs, do the following calculation:

*If you are sedentary: BMR x 20 percent

*If you are lightly active: BMR x 30 percent

*If you are moderately active (you exercise most days a week): BMR x 40 percent

*If you are very active (you exercise intensely on a daily basis or for prolonged periods): BMR x 50 percent

*If you are extra active (you do hard labor or are in athletic training): BMR x 60 percent

Add this number to your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). The result is the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight, and like I said earlier, if you want to lose weight, drop your intake by no more than 750 calories.

As you start to lose weight, you'll have to keep re-calculating. If you don't you'll hit a plateaux because your body will think there's a famine... which is why with fad diets, you lose a certain amount of weight and then stop losing weight. The only way to lose weight properly is to make sure you're eating enough.

As a yoga teacher, I'm aware of how my exercise affects my weight. I'm also incredibly aware of how my mind affects my weight. The last couple of years were quite stressful for me and I gained some weight. I injured my foot playing soccer and couldn't do any strenuous standing poses (actually my flexibility got loads better because I was practicing lots of yin style yoga). It's taken me about six months to get my head back in the right place (and my foot!) so that I can really start to push myself again. Yay! that I'm starting to get back to my good old self! But I had to fight my blues and get out and walk when I didn't really want to. Then I started to look around when I was walking and I began enjoying what I saw. I talked with people and they gave me inspiration. I started feeling happy in myself and with my lot, and then I naturally started wanting to do more... waking up in the morning, hoping it would be a nice day so I could go for a walk by the beach or in the woods. Then my yoga practice, which was reasonably regular, started to pick up. I started getting up earlier to do a morning practice. Last week I started swimming and going for a sauna. (I can't wait for the sea to heat up - it's about 40 degrees at the moment!)

What I'm trying to say is... it takes little steps and intention. Yoga will help you to lose weight and it'll help you to be happier, but you have to set the intention and take that first step - or as one of my teachers says "stand on the front of your mat and experience resistance!" Sometimes I don't want to get up and do yoga, or I don't want to go for a swim or a walk, but those are the days when I have to look at myself and ask if there's a real reason or if I'm just making excuses! Most of the time it's just excuses... but yoga makes me kick myself in the butt. (That's the flexibility for ya... it also helps me to pat myself on the back when I've done a good job!!)


Formula taken from


Visit me at yogitobye.com and the omniintelligencer.com.



About the Author


Tobye Hillier has spent the last few years living in a small seaside town about 15 miles south of Ireland’s capital, Dublin.


Tobye is a qualified Karuna yoga teacher having studied at the Ruth White yoga center in England and is registered RYT 500 with yoga alliance.


As well as resident yoga writer for theomniintelligencer.com, Tobye has also recently started blogging for the online yoga and Buddhism publication Elephantjournal.com.


A keen photographer, Tobye is also an accomplished musician and can quite often be found playing music in a not so quiet Dublin pub!


Follow Tobye on Twitter.

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