It's no secret that yoga offers potential health benefits galore: stronger muscles, more flexibility, better mood, less joint pain—even a revved-up sex life. No wonder more than 36 million Americans are rolling out their yoga mats, up from 20 million in 2012. But what about weight loss? Can you Downward Dog your way to a slimmer you?
"It depends on what kind of yoga you mean," says Caroline West Passerrello, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a dedicated yogi for more than 15 years.
"Not everyone does yoga the same, so it can be challenging to compare results," Passerrello explains. That's for sure: with at least eight main types of yoga being taught in the U.S. today—not to mention many hybrids—trying to sift through the studies and nail down the facts can be tough.
Don't Miss: 3 Health Benefits of Yoga
Still, ample evidence suggests that, when combined with a smart diet and other exercise, regular yoga practice may help you shed pounds. Here's how it can help—and why you may want to add "om" to your weight-loss plan.
A relaxing hour of restorative poses won't torch a lot of calories, but an hour of power yoga can work up a real sweat—and a calorie burn to match.
"Someone who weighs 160 pounds could expect to burn about 180 calories in a meditative yoga session," Passerrello says. Compare that to a brisk one-hour Vinyasa class with fast-paced flow sequences, and the same person could burn up to 300 calories, according to her estimates.
And there's another important benefit: Regular yoga practice makes muscle, which burns more calories than fat. "Strength-training improves weight loss, and many forms of yoga, particularly where you hold the poses longer, do that," Passerrello says. So at the same time as you're toning those shapely yoga shoulders, stronger thighs and firmer core, you're amping up your calorie-burning potential.
Keep Reading: 10 Ways to Reduce Inflammation
Featured Recipe: Soothing Ginger-Lemon Tea
With its emphasis on the present moment, yoga can make you more mindful both on and off the mat. In fact, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that yoga improves mindfulness—and particularly mindful eating—in a way that wasn't associated with walking, running or other types of exercise.
Multiple studies show how eating mindfully can help you lose weight: You're more aware of what you're eating, and less likely to eat because you're bored, depressed or bingeing out on Netflix. Perhaps most importantly, mindfulness helps you notice when you feel full—and stop eating.
Keep Reading: 4 Ways to Ditch the Diet Mentality and Eat Healthier
Studies show yoga is a proven stress buster—it tames the body's natural responses to stress by lowering blood pressure, slowing your heart rate and calming your breath. But the benefits go beyond yoga class. Once you have healthier ways to cope, you're less likely to head for the Ben & Jerry's when you're under a tight deadline, or dive into the nachos when you've just had a fight with your sweetie.
Yoga helps with other eating issues, too: In one 2016 study, participants who practiced yoga reported fewer cravings for alcohol, sugar, caffeine and other foods—all good news when you're trying to lose weight.
Don't Miss: 7 Foods for Stress Relief
Yoga offers a sense of community and positive role modeling that can help with weight loss, especially if you're struggling to reach your goals, some researchers say.
"It's one of the more surprising benefits I've found with yoga, but it makes complete sense," Passerrello says. She recommends sharing your weight-loss plan with your yoga instructor, so you can make sure the class is right for you. Some yoga centers offer classes specifically for those who might be extra body-conscious or have a lot of weight to lose, Passerrello adds. See what's available near you.
Don't expect yoga to melt off the pounds. But it can make a difference when you're trying to lose weight—both physically and mentally. Plus it's good for your mind and your body in many other ways.
"Once you're diving into yoga and taking some of its practices off the mat, and looking at your whole lifestyle, then definitely yes, it does impact your diet and attitudes," Passerrello says.