I was recently contacted by a PR rep for a yoga company looking to put a yoga video series on the Yogi Bishopee site. I agreed to have them film a video because I’m always on the lookout for content to put on the site. Not only is it a good way to get new content for the site, but it’s also a great way to get new readers to the site. It’s not too often that I get the chance to work with a yoga company though, so I’ve been trying to think of cool questions to ask them in the video. One of my favorites is, “Can yoga increase your metabolism?”
In this blog post we’ll look at the link between yoga and metabolism, and work out whether it’s real or not. We’ll look at the evidence for yoga’s effect on metabolism, and work out what evidence there is in favor of – and against – yoga’s effects on metabolism.
The question of whether or not Yoga can increase your metabolism has been debated for years. It goes without saying that there are many conflicting opinions. However, one thing is for certain – Yoga increases your flexibility of your muscles, and can help facilitate a healthy weight loss. Short answer? Yes. Maybe more by the indirect means discussed here, but yes.
The cellular process in the human body responsible for maintaining basic functions (and also for maintaining life) is our increasingly complex metabolism. Normally we think of weight loss through manipulation, but the metabolism exists to build up and break down body parts.
Like a well-fed engine, fuel/food goes in and energy comes out. Our basal metabolic rate, the rate at which we consume energy (in this case, burn calories) at rest, controls 60-80% of our total energy expenditure. By comparison, only 10-20% of the energy we use comes from voluntary physical activity like yoga.
This is because resting energy consumption burns a higher percentage of calories over time than physical activity. What about yoga?
Direct effect of yoga asanas on metabolism
Before discussing the indirect effects of yoga on metabolism, it should be noted that the physical component of yoga can also have a direct impact on metabolism in the body. Obviously, the body burns more calories during a motor activity like yoga. However, it is difficult to measure the degree of metabolic change affected by exercise because it varies greatly from person to person.
Moreover, studies have shown that aerobic activity hardly increases metabolic rate in the long run. However, anaerobic activities, such as strength training, can increase basal metabolic rate by increasing muscle mass.
If you want to use asana to boost your metabolism, opt for high-intensity strength workouts that use bodyweight resistance, such as Power Vinyasa Yoga.
Indirect influence of yoga on metabolism
Yoga triggers other functional processes that also correlate with metabolic changes.
When we are stressed, our bodies release an influx of cortisol (the stress hormone). Chronic stress can lead to an accumulation of cortisol, which is associated with a slowdown in metabolism. The good news is that yoga, and meditation in particular, has been shown to reduce stress and resulting cortisol levels by regulating the nervous system.
So while yoga may not directly increase metabolism in this scenario, the practice can at least bring your metabolism back to a healthy, normalized state.
The involuntary act of breathing requires a considerable amount of energy – energy which we know is a by-product of the metabolic process. Breathing increases oxygen levels, blood circulation and strengthens respiratory muscles.
Studies on pranayama (controlled breathing techniques), practiced with deep breaths, long breaths and deeper exhalations (e.g. Visamavrti Pranayama) have shown that it increases calorie output and boosts metabolism.
In the world of healthy living, we are well aware of the many problems that come from thyroid problems. And, not surprisingly, metabolic problems can also be related to the thyroid. This butterfly-shaped gland in the neck regulates metabolism by producing thyroid hormones.
Yoga is associated with increased activity of the thyroid gland, which in turn can increase or restore metabolism. Some postures that face the neck and are practiced to stimulate the release of thyroid hormones are the camel, cat/cow, cobra and bridge postures.
Sleep plays a big role in metabolism, and insufficient sleep can disrupt the body’s natural processes, whether we know it or not. Sleep deprivation is associated with altered secretion of metabolic hormones and decreased metabolism, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Promising research, however, shows that yoga improves sleep quality, which in turn creates metabolic homeostasis.
If you want to speed up your metabolism, it’s important to ask yourself why. If you’re looking for a way to lose weight, you may have been misled by the fitness moguls of the 1990s who forced metabolic acceleration programs on you to burn fat and lose weight fast.
Body composition and exercise are important factors in metabolic rate and calorie consumption, but they are not the only factors. We have no control over most other factors such as gender, genetics and age. To speed up your metabolism, use the mindfulness techniques you learned in yoga to create a regular, healthy eating plan and build muscle mass.
It’s no secret that Yoga is a great tool to relieve stress and help you to feel better. But how can you make it more effective? Should you do it more often? What are the right poses for burning fat?