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Can You Do Yoga If You Are Overweight?

Can You Do Yoga If You Are Overweight?

Yoga is a practice for all ages, shapes, colors, and sizes.

The inclusivity of yoga brings together individuals from various backgrounds and mindsets yet the image of a typical yogi in most commonly presented in marketing and media often doesn’t capture this diversity.

When most people think of yoga a certain body type may come to mind, so what do you do if you don’t match that image and have a larger frame?

Can you still practice?

Is yoga still for you?

Of course!

Can You Do Yoga If You Are Overweight?

Yoga is for everyone.  The eight limbs of yoga, as described by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, establish a path to enlightenment through a mental, physical, and spiritual commitment to the practice.

While yoga has become synonymous with asanas or poses in the West, a full yoga practice includes breathwork, meditation, moral observances and more. 

If the potential physical challenge of yoga poses has kept you off the mat consider trying it out and also investigating the other limbs. There is more to yoga than just a workout and it is a practice intended to be received by all.

The physical asanas are often what initially pulls people to yoga, so to address this form of the practice, future mentions of “yoga” are referring to a yoga asana practice.

The yoga asanas present hundreds of body positions to execute that further connect us with our bodies.

Except in the case of injury or other health concerns, these asanas are intended to be practiced by all. Depending on your strength, flexibility, and other factors, the extent of expression may vary.

Beginners who are overweight or obese can and should begin a yoga practice, just be sure to check with your doctor about the intended exercise program first.

While practicing if overweight doesn’t present any immediate complications, many health concerns that are linked to weight and obesity may present complications.

If you have diabetes or heart disease it is particularly important to keep your doctor informed of any changes in your exercise routine.

What Are the Benefits of Yoga for Overweight People?

Before you begin your journey, let’s look at the potential benefits yoga can provide especially if you’re overweight.

As a physical movement, practicing yoga can have a powerful impact on our physicality but it also impacts our mental and emotional presence as well.

From a slower Hatha home practice or a faster paced heated studio class, the sixty to ninety minutes of physical movement, static stretching, and dynamic stretching yoga provide have an impact on our bodies.

This is especially true for individuals with lower baseline activity levels.

If you are not accustomed to thirty minutes of daily exercise and embark upon a yoga practice a few days per week, you may begin to notice changes in your body within a few weeks.

The practice of holding yoga poses either through a guided class or your own practice targets and strengthens numerous muscle groups as well as increased mobility.

This can help alleviate joint pain.

Yoga improves the body’s alignment helping it redistribute strain on the body’s frame extra weight may bring. Specific poses, such as the Tree Pose or Vrksasana, also help to develop your balance. This can help you feel more grounded and minimize the potential for injury.

Yoga can be a challenging mental practice.

In our ever-connected world, it can be challenging to disconnect, quiet your mind and connect with your body, especially if physical activity isn’t a consistent part of your day.

Once you begin a consistent yoga practice you may find additional mental clarity and positive mood shifts.

Current research suggests there is a correlation between yoga and the ability to regulate stress and other symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Studies have also shown there are higher rates of obesity in people with depression.

As there appear to be links between obesity and depression, yoga’s ability to positively impact stress responses that perpetuate depression symptoms is particularly promising. A consistent yoga practice aids with holistic wellness.

Can Yoga Help You Lose Weight?

The simplified formula to lose weight is to burn more calories than you intake. Based on this understanding, yoga alone usually burns between 200 and 550 calories. So, yes you can lose weight with yoga as long as you burn more calories overall than you consume.

For maximum weight loss, pair yoga with the proper diet and additional activity that efficiently burns calories, such as cycling or running.

Compared to some other low impact physical activities such as jogging, walking or climbing stairs, some yoga styles actually burn fewer calories per hour.

Considering the additional benefits yoga provides it is still an effective activity for increasing activity levels, building and toning muscles, and losing weight.

What Is the Best Kind of Yoga for Weight Loss?

Following the simplified formula, the best yoga for weight loss would be the style that burns the most calories. If weight loss is your goal, check out a vinyasa style yoga class.

Coming in at about 550 calories burned per hour of class, vinyasa yoga consists of a flowing sequence of poses linked together with the breath. As poses are only held for a few breaths there is more movement in a vinyasa class than other yoga styles.

Hot yoga is the next most effective calorie burning yoga style. This practice is performed in a room heated from 80-108ºF (27-42°C). While you may lose one to three pounds of water weight during class, rehydrating will quickly put those pounds back on. The approximately 450 calories burned are where the actual weight loss comes from.

If you’re a beginner and these styles seem a bit too intense to start, don’t worry.

Hatha yoga, which is great for new yogis, has a lot of movement but as poses are held for longer it doesn’t move as fast as vinyasa or hot yoga variants.

Due to this fewer calories are burned but for an hour-long class, you can still expect to burn 200 calories. As an added benefit, holder poses for longer also aids in building strength.

For each of these styles, the exact calories burned depend on a number of factors such poses performed in class, your weight, and activity level but a way to maximize calories burned across the board is to deepen expression of poses.

Going deeper in poses such Utkatasana or chair pose, engages larger muscles more actively, burning more calories.

While yoga isn’t the most efficient activity to burn calories, it does provide enough physical activity to create the caloric deficit necessary to lose weight.

How to Start a Yoga Practice for Overweight Beginners

Starting a yoga practice can be challenging for any beginner but the anxiety of attending class can be even greater for full-figured beginners.

Concerns about the pace of the class, your ability to perform the poses, or feeling ostracized by being surrounded by people seemingly half your size can all discourage participation.

It may take more time to transition between poses so there may be concerns about keeping up with the cadence of the rest of the class. 

Physical limitations of larger forms also make certain poses more challenging without the appropriate modifications. Don’t let these potential concerns discourage you.

If you want to practice yoga you can!

If attending a studio class, arrive early and speak to the instructor before class. By expressing your concerns and limitations prior to the start of class, the instructor can know to make modifications.

They can even suggest alternatives to common poses ahead of time rather than during class. This is particularly great if you are concerned about unwanted extra attention or feeling singled out.

If you try one class and aren’t in love try another. Not every class, studio, style, or teacher are the same.

Shop around to see if there is a practice that you enjoy. You can also do your research.

Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutations are a sequence used in many different styles of yoga so in most classes you will see some or all of these poses.

Looking into and practicing modifications of poses in this sequence can help when taking a class. Not only do you now know the modification without waiting for the instructor’s cues, you also gain confidence and a feeling of independence from knowing your personal expression of the pose.

The exact modification for each pose depends on what you find most comfortable and are capable of but below are a few examples of how some poses in Surya Namaskar can be adjusted for full-figured yogis:

  • Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend): for individuals whose hands don’t touch the floor you can bring your hands to blocks. Bringing your feet farther apart to have a wider stance can also provide increased stability. While in this pose it may also feel comfortable to bend your knees. Women with larger breasts may also be concerned with them shifting while inverted. A strap can be used, wrapped around the back, for added support.
  • Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge): Blocks provide additional support again in this pose. While in your lunge bring your hands to blocks on either side of the front leg.
  • Plank: Individuals can come to modified plank, lowering to the knees while still keeping a long line from the crown of the head to the tailbone.
  • Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose): Lower to your knees, chest and then chin for a modified method of lowering to the ground.
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog): If strength is a concern there is the option to move up to hands and knees rather than pushing straight up like a push-up. If this pose ever becomes too intense, lower your knees and draw your butt to your heels, coming into a wide-legged child’s pose.

As the popularity of yoga increases as does the number of resources for the growing base of people practicing.

Studios specifically dedicated to or offering tailored classes for clients with larger body types are appearing rapidly. A quick Google search for terms such as curvy or full-figured and yoga studio can help you finding offerings in your area.

Many sites also support the growing community of men and women with larger frames practicing yoga.

Sites such as Curvy Yoga seek to connect yogis with instructors in their area that understand how to provide the appropriate modifications and attention for their body type.

If you still aren’t feeling up to trying a class in studio consider additional online resources.

From the sites like the Yoga and Body Image Coalition to instructive YouTube channels like Body Positive Yoga, there is a wealth of information promoting body positivity in the yoga space and encouraging people of all sizes to find a practice that works for them.

Increasing representation can also be seen in public figures and instructors like Jessamyn Stanley. As a full figured yogi of color Stanley teaches and speaks out about diversity and body positivity in yoga. Individuals such as Stanley continue to broaden the understanding of what a yogi looks like.

Should I Use Props When I Practice Yoga?

Props, particularly blocks and chairs, are great resources for curvy yogis. Using blocks is helpful for beginner and experienced yogis alike so don’t feel that using your blocks diminishes your practice.

Blocks aid in reaching the best alignment for you which ultimately leads to better form and joint benefits.

For those whose weight makes mobility increasingly challenging, chair yoga provides another option to have a practice. As the name suggests, chair yoga takes place primarily seated in a chair.

Practicing chair yoga provides a number of health benefits such as improved flexibility and strength and can be a great entry point for less mobile beginners.

What Do I Wear When Practicing Yoga?

Be sure to wear clothes you feel comfortable in when practicing yoga. If you’re distracted by how you feel in your clothing you won’t be able to focus as much on your poses and internal practice.

If you don’t feel comfortable in tight-fitting yoga pants and tops opt instead for a looser cut. It is important to note clothing should not be too loose as this may make poses more challenging and lead to undesired exposure.

A top that is too loose runs the risk of sliding over your head in inverted poses. Look for breathable fabric to help heat and sweat escape.

Hopefully, the information shared helps to show that yoga is a universal practice for people of all sizes. Yoga is for anybody and everybody.