If you ask any avid yogi why they love yoga so much, weight-loss and calorie burn would probably be pretty far down the list. While you don’t want to take away from the mind/body connection people flock to yoga to experience—admit it—you are a little curious how many calories your favorite yoga class is scorching. And if you are on a weight-loss plan, being informed on just how many calories you are expending can be the key to your success.
There is no way around it. Yoga is as an amazing full-body workout— but the intensity can vary based on which class you take, from gentle and relaxing Hatha yoga to sweat-dripping-off-your-nose hot Bikram. So which classes burn the most (and the least) amount of calories? The answers may surprise you.
“If the method to test caloric expenditure was only based on heart rate, then Bikram and other hot yoga classes might top the charts as the styles of yoga that burn the most calories,” explains Jill Lawson, founder of Jill Lawson Yoga. “But while a higher heart rate does correlate with a higher calorie burn, other factors can play a role in increased heart rate without the corresponding caloric expenditure.”
Calories Burned in Yoga: Class by Class
Gasp! Bikram is not the be all, end all of fat-melting, slipping in puddles of expended calories in yoga class? Of course, active yoga styles such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow and Power Yoga burn more calories than passive styles such as Restorative or Hatha yoga, but let’s really see how each form stacks up.
Caloric expenditure in yoga is said be anywhere from approximately 100 to 450 calories per hour, depending on the person, and the practice. According to HealthStatus.com, one hour of the following varieties of yoga performed by a 150-pound person will reap the following rewards:
Hatha Yoga: 189 calories. Hatha yoga is an umbrella term for what Westerners consider yoga. In truth, Hatha yoga is the actual physical practice of yoga postures, plain and simple. This is the basic, run-of-the-mill yoga class you may find at your gym or local studio if not noted otherwise. While part of the class may contain constant movement, a lot of it is also holding balance poses. Hatha classes are perfect for those who want to dip their toes in the yoga pool and get a great, relaxing flexibility workout.
Ashtanga Yoga (or Power Yoga): 351 calories. Ashtanga yoga is often referred to as Power Yoga because of its dynamic system that combines breathing and movement into a series of postures. It is both cardiovascular and meditative, and relies on the strength of your own muscles to perform the movements. Unlike many styles of yoga where the classes are choreographed differently, in Ashtanga Yoga classes, the postures performed are always the same and are done in a specific order. Ashtanga yoga is meant to purify the body by cultivating an “internal heat,” which burns off toxins. It also builds strength, flexibility and reduces stress.
Bikram or Hot Yoga: 477 calories. Hot yoga, which is preformed in a room heated to around 105 degrees and usually lasts around 90 minutes, is probably the most misunderstood form of yoga. “When the body is working hard to cool itself, as in a hot yoga class, heart rate does increase, but that does not necessarily mean there is a higher physical demand on the working muscles,” explains Lawson. “We might expect to lose anywhere from 1 to 3 pounds of water weight in a hot yoga class, but that is likely to be replaced when we rehydrate.”
Bikram yoga involves a sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises performed in the same order, no matter where you take your class. Hot yoga can involve any type of postures but is still performed in a heated classroom. You will sweat profusely, thereby ridding the body of toxins and the intense heat enhances flexibility in your muscles.
Vinyasa Yoga (Flow Yoga): 594 calories. Vinyasa yoga, often referred to as Flow because of the smooth way the poses run together, tops the list of calorie burners because of the constant movement. If you choose a Flow class, expect lots of burning muscles, not just stretching. Many love Vinyasa because of its diversity. There is no single sequence that teachers follow, so every class will be different, but intense.
Why the Calories Burned in Yoga Don’t Tell the Whole Story
If one of your favorite classes isn’t a top burner, Lawson has a few tips to get more bang for your buck.
“We will burn more calories when we engage the larger muscles of the body, so deepening our warrior poses, yoga squats and chair poses will increase the demand on our large muscles, therefore burning more calories.”
However, if calorie-burning is your main goal, she does not recommend yoga as your sole means of exercise. “Other types of activities such as cycling, running or vigorous dancing burn a lot more calories per hour as compared with yoga.”
Yoga does have its unique weight-loss abilities though. Yoga teaches us to listen to our bodies, take care better care of ourselves and naturally avoid unhealthy behaviors. The more we practice, the more connected we become with our bodies.
“Calorie-counting is one way to be more conscious of our diet and exercise balance,” says Lawson, “However, obsessing about it definitely takes away from the joy we gain from the time we spend on the yoga mat.”
Do you take yoga for the calorie burn? Or for other less tangible reasons? Tell us! —Kelly Turner