Yoga is a known stress buster, but it's also one of the most effective workouts for fighting stubborn fat stores, especially the ones that crop up after age 40. The reason: Studies show that it lowers levels of stress hormones and increases insulin sensitivity—a signal to your body to burn food as fuel rather than store it as fat. The following workout will do just that while firming up your arms, legs, butt, and abs. Start now to see results in as little as 3 weeks.
Workout at a glance
What you need: A yoga mat or carpeted space
How to do it: Follow this routine at least 3 times a week, holding each move 1 time for 3 to 5 deep breaths, unless otherwise noted. Start with the Main Move for each exercise. If it's too difficult, do the Make It Easier variation. If it's not challenging enough, try the Make It Harder option. For faster results: Hold each pose for 5 to 8 breaths and increase repetitions (where noted) by 2 or 3.
MAIN MOVE: Crescent [Firms abs, hips, and thighs]
Stand with feet together, toes forward, and arms at sides. Inhale and raise arms overhead, reaching fingertips toward ceiling. Exhale, and bend forward from hips, bringing hands to floor (it's okay to bend knees). Inhale, and as you exhale, step right leg back into a lunge (left knee bent about 90 degrees, knee over ankle; right leg extended and on ball of foot). Inhale and raise arms overhead; gaze forward. Hold, then return to standing and repeat, stepping left leg back.
Make it Harder: From end position, inhale and arch torso, arms, and head backward, gazing at fingertips.
Make it Easier: Lower right knee to touch floor as you step back into a lunge, and rest hands on left thigh.
MAIN MOVE: Willow [Firms sides of abs]
Stand with feet together, arms at sides. Place sole of left foot on inside of right thigh, knee bent to side. Touch palms in front of chest for 2 breaths. On third inhale, extend arms up, fingertips toward ceiling. Exhale, and on the inhale, bend torso to left. Inhale and straighten. Repeat 3 to 5 times, pressing foot into thigh; switch sides.
Make it Easier: Keep left foot on calf or touch toes to floor for balance.
Make it Harder: Close eyes as you balance and bend.
MAIN MOVE: Rocking Boat [Firms abs and back]
Sit with knees bent, feet on floor, hands on thighs. With torso straight and head in line with body, lean back about 45 degrees, raising feet so calves are parallel to floor, toes pointed. On an inhale, extend arms and legs, keeping legs together. Exhale, and as you inhale, lower torso and legs 3 to 4 inches so body forms a wider V shape. Exhale and raise torso and legs. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
Make it Easier: Hold backs of thighs with hands and keep legs bent. Lower torso only.
Make it Harder: Once in the wider V position, extend arms overhead.
MAIN MOVE: Hover [Firms shoulders, arms, abs, and back]
Begin in push-up position on toes with arms straight, hands below shoulders, and body in line from head to heels. On an exhale, lower chest toward floor, bending elbows back, arms close to body, abs tight. Hold a few inches above floor.
Make it Easier: Begin on hands and knees and walk hands forward until body is in line from head to knees.
Make it Harder: While holding the hover, lift left leg 6 to 12 inches, pause, and lower. Do 3 to 5 times, then switch legs.
MAIN MOVE: Chair [Firms butt and thighs]
Stand with feet together, toes forward, arms at sides. Inhale and raise arms overhead, palms facing each other. Exhale and sit back about 45 degrees, keeping knees behind toes and abs tight to support back; gaze forward.
Make it Easier: Do the move with feet hip-distance apart, hands on thighs, and bend only about 30 degrees.
Make it Harder: After you sit back, lift heels off floor, balancing on balls of feet (knees will be in front of toes); gaze up at fingertips.
Flatten Your Belly Faster
If your midsection is your toughest trouble zone, check out Prevention's new Better Belly Yoga DVD ($15; in stores September 18 or preorder at betterbellyyoga.com). It offers three 10-minute routines that tone your abs from every angle while harnessing yoga's tension-taming power to reduce cortisol, a stress hormone that contributes to belly fat.
The expert Desir?e Bartlett, a California-based yoga instructor with more than 15 years of experience and the creator of Prevention's new Better Belly Yoga DVD, designed this workout. Psst, that's her in the photos!