How to lose weight and get toned with yoga

Learn how to use your mind and body to achieve your weight loss goals through yoga

A woman leaning back into a yoga pose
(Image credit: Madison Lavern / Unsplash)

Many people think doing yoga will lead to weight loss through movement but this is inaccurate. As with any type of exercise, in order to lose weight there needs to be an aerobic side to it. You need to feel your heart rate increase and burn calories so not all types of yoga achieve this. For example, restorative or Yin yoga are much more sedentary with longer holds in the postures and this won’t help you achieve your weight loss goals from movement alone. However, Ashtanga yoga or flow yoga will help you move frequently and dynamically, increasing your heart rate and helping you burn calories.

Saying this, it’s important to remember that yoga’s main aim isn’t to help you lose weight. The postures themselves help you to release physical and mental tension to reduce your stress levels (with the ultimate aim being a supple body to sit in meditation). It may be that reducing your stress and tension leads to better choices when it comes to diet and this can be where the weight loss is. Of course, any exercise is good to complement a healthy and balanced diet, so yoga is still a good companion for your weight loss journey.

Below, I offer my top tips for using yoga to lose weight and get toned, so grab your best yoga mat and let's get started.

Tip 1: Choose a yoga practice you enjoy

As with all exercise, if you choose something you enjoy doing you’re more likely to do it and yoga is no different. You may opt for a flowing yoga practice but if this isn’t adaptable to your body, you won’t get the benefits you’re after. You want to move your body, and move it often, so don’t put a barrier in place straight away by trying to do a type of yoga that really isn’t good for your body.

If you aren’t able to do an Ashtanga yoga class, for example, due to mobility issues, consider a restorative or Hatha class. Although you won’t be burning as many calories, you will be unwinding and working on your stress levels which ultimately will see you opt for healthier foods and this could be all you need to lose weight. Find something that works for you and your goals.

Tip 2: Don’t be put off if change takes time

Losing weight through yoga takes time, even with a fast flowing practice. The yoga postures themselves may not be the thing that helps you lose weight. Yoga can help shift your mindset and your weight loss journey may be more about building your self-esteem, gaining clarity and building better habits, all coming from noticing how you’re feeling on the mat. This can take time so go with it. Keep practicing, notice the mental changes you’re experiencing and continue to explore what comes up for you on the yoga mat. This will all help you to uncover what you really need in your life to have a healthier lifestyle.

Tip 3: Consider adding ab exercises to your existing yoga routine

Yoga complements lots of other types of exercise so there’s no reason why you can’t add a few ab exercises into your practice such as sit ups, either before your postures or during. Adapting your practice to gain the benefits you want to see will keep you coming back for more.

If you don’t already have a yoga routine for losing weight, try my quick sequence below. I also recommend learning the sun salutations as a warm-up as these are repeated, flowing movements that help to wake up the muscles and increase the heart rate.

5-minute yoga flow for losing weight and getting toned 

Posture 1: Flowing downward dog to plank

Come into a downward dog, keeping your knees bent if needed so you can straighten your spine. Take a few breaths before beginning to move into a plank position. In order to get your stomach muscles to engage to help with toning, start to draw them in and almost round your back and shoulders forward as you roll slowly into a plank position. On the way back into downward dog, engage your stomach muscles and lift from your hips, up and back. Do this dynamic movement up to 10 times really slowly to feel all of the movement before bringing the knees to the floor to rest for a breath or two.

Posture 2: Dolphin pose

Dolphin pose is a strong posture designed to release tension around the neck and shoulders but it’s also a great one to do when you’re wanting to fire up your digestion to help with weight management. You have two options here; either staying still or moving fluidly.

From your knees, bring your elbows and forearms onto the floor in front of you. Your elbow should be shoulder width apart, no wider as this will make it much harder on your shoulders. You can either have your hands flat on the floor or interlace the fingers with the palms together.

Tuck your toes and lift your hips up. You should be in a downward dog shape but with your forearms on the floor. Look forwards or down, depending on how your neck feels. Walk in until you feel a stretch in your shoulders, keeping the knees straight if you can. You can stay here and breathe for 5 deep breaths, or begin moving.

To come into the movement, look forward and on an exhale, move your chest forward over your arms and drop the hips as low as you can. You’re moving towards a forearm plank position. On an inhale, engage your stomach muscles and press into your arms to bring the hips back up. Do this movement three to five times before bringing the knees down to rest.

Posture 3: Supine twist

Supine twist

(Image credit: Kat Bayly / T3)

Come to lie on the floor for a supine twist. Yoga twists are good for aiding the digestion system which can help with weight management. When your diet isn’t so good, our digestion slows down and can cause us to feel unhealthy and bloated. Adding a twist in helps to fire up the digestive system, especially after the previous postures.

Lie on your back and bring the knees into your chest. Extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Your palms can be up or down depending on how it feels for your shoulders. On an exhale, bring your knees down to the right and look over the left shoulder. Stay for a minute and then on an inhale, use your stomach muscles to bring your knees back into the chest. Exhale and take them to the left looking over the right shoulder. Stay here for another minute before bringing the knees into the chest, using your stomach muscles to do so. Exhale and release, bringing the feet to the floor and arms down by your side.

Posture 4: Relaxation

Relaxing yoga pose

(Image credit: Kat Bayly / T3)

This is one that most people want to skip but this is where you can take stock of what the practice has done for you and the changes you feel. This can be where you notice your shoulders are softer, your abdomen is fired up, or your mind is clearer. Taking a few minutes in relaxation after a short yoga flow is a great way of allowing your mind to do its thing and unwind, helping you to figure out what you really need to make better lifestyle choices. This can help with those changes you want to make off the mat to help you live a healthier life.

Kat has 10 years of yoga teaching experience with further training in supporting injured students. She is qualified to teach Yin Yoga, Hormone Yoga Therapy and more traditional forms of Hatha yoga. She also has a certificate as a Yoga Therapy Practitioner.