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Does Yoga Burn Calories?

Learn whether yoga is good for weight loss and how yoga affects fitness.

By
Ben Greenfield
September 20, 2011
Episode #021

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no yogi master. But I’ve done my fair share of power yoga, Hatha Yoga, Bikram Yoga, and even accidental, freestyle yoga when attempting to simultaneously change the diapers of my twin baby boys. Most folks know that yoga will certainly stretch muscles, increase flexibility, and help you to relax. But is yoga good for weight loss? You’ll find the answer in this article.

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What Is Yoga?

I could easily write an entire article or book on the nitty-gritty details of yoga, but the basic overview is as follows: more than simple stretches, yoga is focused on creating balance, strength, flexibility and relaxation in the body through a series of poses, postures, movements and breathing patterns. Different types of yoga require differing amounts of balance, strength, power or focus--but the concept of focused breathing while moving from one posture to the next is fairly constant. And I do realize that by summarizing yoga in two sentences I have probably risked offending passionate yoga practitioners, but hey, space is limited.

Calorie Burn of Popular Exercises

As you know, the number of calories that you burn is a major determinant of weight loss, and calorie burn is highly variable. For example, heavy people burn more calories because they have to carry more body weight. People with a genetically high metabolism also burn more calories, as do people with a higher percentage of lean muscle fibers. But to put yoga in a proper weight loss context, let’s examine the average calorie burn of basic familiar activity modes.

  • Resting: At rest, you’ll burn 1 to 1.5 calories per minute (depending on your body weight) or 45 to 68 calories in 45 minutes.

  • Wakling slowly: Walking at a leisurely 2 miles per hour pace, you’ll burn 2 to 5 calories per minute, or 90 to 225 calories in 45 minutes.

  • Walk briskly: Walking at a more brisk 4 miles per hour pace, you’ll burn 4.6 to 10 calories per minute, or 207 to 450 calories in 45 minutes.

  • Running: Running at 6.7 miles per hour, you’ll burn 9 to 19 calories per minute, or 405 to 855 calories per hour. 

Does Yoga Burn Calories?

If you go to a gym, the average yoga class will last around 45 minutes. To burn at least 800 calories during that class, it would need to be as strenuous as running at 6.7 miles per hour during the entire class. If you’ve been in a yoga class before, I doubt that you’ve left feeling the same cardiovascular fatigue as you’d feel if you had been charging down a treadmill the entire time--and considering that much of your time in that class is spent sitting and breathing, holding still without moving a muscle, or lying on your back and breathing, there is literally zero chance that you’re burning the unbelievable 1000 calories per hour that some yoga enthusiasts claim yoga actually burns. 

But rather than hypothesize on how many calories yoga burns, let’s look at the research...

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