Yoga For Weight Loss, Health, and Fitness?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from clients about yoga and whether it fits into a Rebooted lifestyle and — in particular — where it would fit in the context of the Total Body Reboot program. The most popular question is, “Is Yoga good for weight loss and can I do it during Reboot?”

Of course, this is a loaded question. When you understand the truth about exercise and body composition, you realize that the question, “is [insert exercise here] good for weight loss” is missing the point.

Nutrition is the key to fat loss. Whether exercise can be an effective part of our lifestyle or not is determined by how well it promotes body composition goals, increases performance, decreases stress and chronic inflammation, and promotes overall health and wellness.

Those are the ideas we’re going to use to grade Yoga and determine whether or not it fits into a program like Total Body Reboot.

Does Yoga Promote Body Composition Goals?

Much of Yoga is based on holding static poses and slowly transitioning from pose to pose. This works muscles both isometrically and isotonically. Isometric exercises (the “plank” or “warrior pose” for instance) do build strength and promote muscle growth, but there’s evidence to show that it’s not the best method of doing so. A recent NASA study on muscle atrophy looked at three types of exercise: muscle shortening, muscle lengthening, and isometric for it’s effect on muscle mass and determined…

After the sessions, the scientists performed tests to see how the rats’ muscles responded. “What we found,” says Baldwin, “was that after 12 sessions, all three types of workout tended to provide about the same amount of muscle growth,” even the isometric exercises that involved no motion.

This was nothing new. Other scientists had come to the same conclusions before. But Baldwin’s group took their analysis a step further:

In addition to measuring overall muscle mass–how “buff” were the rats?–they also measured the amount of contractile proteins within the muscle cells. Contractile proteins are what actually cause a muscle to contract. They are what give a muscle its strength.

To their surprise, Baldwin’s team found that while isometric exercises did prevent leg muscles from withering, they did not stop a decline in the amount of contractile proteins in those muscles. The muscle was actually degrading on the molecular level.

I’m not sure how important this is in the grand scheme of things, especially since Yoga does include isotonic exercise as well (contracting exercises).

Verdict: While Yoga may not be the best solution, it’s still a viable option as a supplement to a healthy exercise program. It’s certainly not going to make you weaker and softer, like cardio exercise will.

Does Yoga Increase Performance?

It’s important to define performance here because I’m not strictly talking about athletic performance. In the context of Rebooting your mind and body, performance is defined as any activity you “perform” throughout the day, whether it’s picking up groceries or playing with your kids.

I mainly think of Yoga in terms of it’s ability to rehabilitate and increase strength, flexibility and mobility.

Back pain is a huge issue for many adults; exercise that can promote healing in this area and get people moving better is a win on my list. In this context, Yoga looks like a great option:

A randomized controlled trial (RCT) involving 101 patients with chronic low-back pain compared a viniyoga practice with conventional back exercise classes and with use of a self-help book. During the 12-week intervention, an instructor taught a weekly 75-minute viniyoga practice for the yoga treatment group, who also received handouts and an audio CD guide for home practice. At the end of the 12 weeks, the yoga group showed more improvement in back function than the two control groups, who either participated in the conventional exercise classes or were given the self-help book (Sherman et al. 2005).

Similar results were found with osteoarthritis:

In one pilot study, 11 deconditioned subjects who had been clinically diagnosed with OA in the knee experienced some relief from symptoms once they started a yoga program. After 8 weeks in a modified Iyengar yoga class that met just once per week, all of the subjects showed a reduction in knee pain stiffness (Kolasinski et al. 2005).

What about strength, flexibility, and mobility — core components of performance?

Another study compared subjects who performed an average of about 21 hours of hatha yoga classes with a sedentary control group (Boehde et al. 2005). At the end of the 8-week study period, the yoga group showed significant improvements in flexibility, balance and muscular endurance compared with the controls (Boehde et al. 2005).

Verdict: Yoga is a great option for increasing performance with very little risk of injury in the process, especially performance related to mobility and flexibility which may often be overlooked.

Does Yoga Decrease Stress and Inflammation and Promote Overall Health and Wellness?

Yoga is marketed as a stress reduction activity. All the pictures of yoga practitioners that you see are the epitome of peace. According to the marketing, if we all did Yoga we’d be stress free and well on our way to ending poverty and world hunger. I don’t care about marketing, I care about what the science says:

Another study, which compared two separate RCTs, investigated the effectiveness of meditation and yoga on patients with diagnosed anxiety disorders (Krisanaprakornkit et al. 2006). After analyzing the results of the two studies, the researchers were unable to draw distinct conclusions about yoga’s effect on anxiety disorders because they did not find any correlation between the activity and any reduction in objective measurements of anxiety. However, the researchers did say that additional well-conducted research was warranted (Krisanaprakornkit et al. 2006).

We’re certainly not any closer to world peace here. But maybe there’s some other areas where it may improve our lives:

In another RCT, researchers compared breast cancer survivors who completed 7 weeks of yoga training with controls who did not take part in the training (Culos-Reed et al. 2006). At the end of the study, the researchers reported positive changes in the yoga subjects’ emotional function, depression and mood disturbance (Culos-Reed et al. 2006).

Another study compared Yoga to walking in terms of improving depression and anxiety:

The 12-week yoga intervention was associated with greater improvements in mood and anxiety than a metabolically matched walking exercise. This is the first study to demonstrate that increased thalamic GABA levels are associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety. It is also the first time that a behavioral intervention (i.e., yoga postures) has been associated with a positive correlation between acute increases in thalamic GABA levels and improvements in mood and anxiety scales.

But I’m not sure what’s really at play here. Maybe it’s the calming atmosphere of practicing Yoga that has this “peaceful effect” rather than the act of Yoga itself. Could we get the same results by playing Yoga-esque music and therapeutic motivational voices in our ipod while we walk? Who knows. I think the research in the area of Yoga as a solution for depression and anxiety needs a lot more attention and research before any definitive claims are made.

It appears that Yoga as an addition to a “normal hectic lifestyle” does have significant benefits on mood:

In a German study published in 2005, 24 women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. Women in a control group maintained their normal activities and were asked not to begin an exercise or stress-reduction program during the study period.

At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.

Verdict: I think many different types of exercise are good interventions for decreasing stress and inflammation and promoting overall health and wellness. While Yoga doesn’t “stand out from the crowd” in this regard, it certainly doesn’t leave us worse off like grinding cardio would. Depending on your personal nature, the calming atmosphere of Yoga alone may be very beneficial to you.

Should Rebooters Do Yoga?

If Yoga sounds like something that would interest you or benefit you, or you enjoy the atmosphere of yoga and find personal benefits in these areas, then I recommend you participate in it with the caveat that it should not be a replacement for any other functional exercise outlined in the program. As a supplement to what you’re already doing, Yoga is a perfect activity.

What are your experiences with Yoga? Do you have a favorite type of Yoga?


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