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Yoga has been known in the United States since the late 1800s when Vivekananda first came to this country, and steadily gained in popularity over the years. It has been lauded as a cure for everything from stress to obesity to cancer. However, many of these claims have been backed by little or no research. Weight loss claims have mixed support. Connections between gyms and losing weight are clearly established, but yoga's effect on weight loss is less straightforward, according to the "Yoga Journal."
Losing Weight at the Gym
The basic secret to weight loss isn't so secret: Burn more calories than you take in. At the gym, this is done in two main ways. Aerobic activity, such as walking on the treadmill or elliptical or taking classes like Spinning or dance fitness, burn up calories. Resistance training builds muscle mass. This muscle mass requires more calories to maintain than your stored fat does.
Yoga and Weight Loss
Yoga moves much more slowly than many other types of exercise. In most cases, it doesn't raise the heart rate enough to qualify as cardiovascular exercise. According to the Mayo Clnic, a 150-pound person burns about 240 calories an hour while doing yoga, while the same person would burn 360 calories during an hour of aerobic exercise. But the more subtle aspects of yoga might help with weight control. Yoga teacher Baxter Bell, writing in the "Yoga Journal," touts yoga's psychological benefits of teaching people to reconnect with their bodies and quiet some of the mean messages which sometimes materialize in people's minds. Self-awareness and being kinder to and more conscious of your body may help you eat less. Yoga poses that develop strength, such as Plank or Handstand, will also help build up your muscle mass.
Some types of yoga are more aerobic than others. Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Power Yoga all involve Sun Salutations and other poses that require more effort and thus are more likely to raise your heart rate. According to Baxter Bell, this more intensive yoga practice may increase body heat and potentially burn more calories.
A Combination Approach
The most sensible approach for overall well-being is to integrate both gym activities and yoga into your life. Aerobic exercise will keep your heart strong and burn calories. Resistance workouts will preserve your muscle strength for your activities of daily living. And yoga can stretch you out; improve your balance, endurance and strength; and reduce your stress level. And with decreased stress, you'll be a little less likely to reach for a box of doughnuts when things don't go your way. To keep your costs down, pick a gym that also has yoga classes. Gym yoga is a good entry point if you're new and want to see if you like it before committing to studio prices.