Yoga is a wonderful mind-body exercise that many believe can do everything from toning your body to changing your outlook on life. But can this no-strain, work-at-your-own-level exercise really help you lose weight?

Well, the truth is that most types of yoga don’t have anything near the calorie-burning power of aerobic exercise. For example, a 150 pound person (i.e. 10.5 stone or 68 kgs) will burn 150 calories an hour practicing yoga, compared to just over 300 calories an hour when simply just walking at an easy 3 mph. But it is exercise, after all, and many practitioners believe yoga can indeed help people take off extra pounds.

Is there any proof?

In 2005, medical researcher and practicing yogi Alan Kristal, DPH, MPH, set out to do a medical study on the weight-loss effects of yoga.

With funding from the National Cancer Institute, Alan Kristal and his colleagues at a Cancer Research Centre in Seattle led a trial involving 15,500 healthy, middle-aged men and women. All completed a survey recalling their physical activity (including yoga) and their weight between the ages of 45 and 55. Researchers then analysed the data, teasing out other factors that could influence weight change – such as diet or other forms of exercise. The end result? The data showed that yoga could indeed help people lose weight, or at least keep them from gaining weight.

“Those practicing yoga who were overweight to start with lost about 5 pounds during the same time period those not practicing yoga gained 14 pounds,” says Kristal.

For the study, he says, practicing yoga was defined as at least one 30 minute session per week for four or more years.

Kristal says it’s not clear just how yoga might help people keep off the pounds, at least from a scientific standpoint. His own opinion is that the effects are subtle, and related to yoga’s mind-body aspects.

“The buzzword here is mindfulness – the ability to observe what is happening internally in a non-reactive fashion,” he says. “That is what helps change the relationship of mind to body, and eventually to food and eating.”

Many of the superb yoga teachers on in:spa retreats agree that the beneficial effects of exercise during yoga are just part of the equation. The mental aspects are just as important, in that the sense of ‘connectedness’ experienced during yoga helps participants to focus on what they wish to achieve in life and, if weight loss is an important aspiration, then practicing yoga really helps.

We also know that practicing yoga during a detox programme – either on an in:spa retreat or at home – greatly helps to curb ‘naughtly’ cravings and to keep you focused and on track. Our experience, gained from years of helping clients lose weight on in:spa retreats, that the same is true for weight loss programmes.

We also know from feedback from hundreds of guests on our retreats that, even when they get home, the weight continues to fall off. Here’s what a journalist from Marie Claire magazine said after her retreat: “…I feel fantastic. And a month on, I’m still running, doing yoga and eating less, and a couple more pounds have dropped off. If you aren’t sure how to kick start a new healthy you, don’t stress. Have an in:spa holiday.”