If you've dismissed yoga as a chill workout that's just a bunch of stretching and deep breathing, consider this:
A growing pile of research backs its many physical and psychological benefits. Want to slim down and reshape your body—and feel really freakin' good? Read on.
Secret Slimming Powers
Yoga calms your mind, but it can't possibly help you lose weight, right? Wrong. For starters, you'll sweat, blast calories, and tone and shape your entire body, especially if you practice a more physically active style of yoga, such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, or Bikram (hot yoga). In fact, you can torch 400 calories in one Bikram class, roughly the same amount you'd burn by running for 40 minutes at a moderate pace—but with a lot less stress on your body.
That said, calorie burning is not where the bulk of yoga's weight-loss power lies. An added benefit of yoga, even from gentle styles, is that it helps you get a handle on what your body needs to be healthy. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found a strong link between yoga practice and weight maintenance, and researchers attribute it to "mindful" eating. Down-dog devotees, they say, learn to stay calm in the face of discomfort, and this tendency spills over into other parts of their lives—for instance, making it easier to turn down not-so-good-for-you foods, no matter how tempting they are. The study found no such link between mindful eating and other types of physical activity, such as walking or running.
Mindfulness is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to weight. In studies on what causes obesity, researchers have found that overweight people tend to underestimate how much they eat while overestimating their activity. In one study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists tracked the diet and exercise habits of people who claimed they couldn't lose weight even though they cut calories. The upshot was that the volunteers had dramatically underreported their calories by 47 percent and overreported their activity by 51 percent. And their failed "diets" had nothing to do with sluggish metabolisms. When the researchers compared the participants' ability to burn calories with that of a control group, there was no difference.
Once you learn mindfulness, you'll be better able to figure out what makes your body and mind healthy. For example, maybe you'll start to notice how great your food tastes, and then you'll slow down so you can savor every delicious bite—which is a good thing, because studies have found that when you take your time at the table, you eat less.
Scientists at the University of Rhode Island had 30 volunteers eat two identical meals in a lab. During one, they were basically told to shovel the food down with a soup spoon. At the other, they were instructed to eat with a teaspoon, pause between bites, and chew each mouthful 20 to 30 times. The volunteers practically inhaled the first meal in a zippy nine minutes, on average. But when they lingered over their food, the meal stretched to nearly 30 minutes. And here's the kicker: They ate 10 percent less.
Researchers believe that when you eat more slowly, your body has more time to register fullness and satisfaction, so you stop feeling hungry before you dive into a second—or third—helping.