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Restorative Yoga Helps Weight Loss, New Study Suggests

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This news may confuse and/or disappoint many people searching “yoga for weight loss” or those already enrolled in a sweaty vinyasa-thon to shed a few pounds in the new year. As it turns out, it may be restorative yoga that you really need to lose weight and feel better, according to a new study.

The 48-week study, conducted by Maria G. Araneta, PhD, MPH, of the University of California, San Diego, found that regular restorative yoga was a better means of losing weight and maintaining it than stretching exercises.

The study involved two groups of women, one doing restorative yoga versus a second doing stretching exercises. The yoga group had a mean age of 55 and the stretch group a mean age of 54, and all participants had metabolic syndrome as defined by International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) criteria. The participants started out with semi-weekly classes and then weekly classes during the first 12 weeks. After that it was bi-weekly until the 6-month mark. For the final weeks, almost another whole 6 months, participants were asked to continue their yoga or stretching on their own with classes only once a month.

By the end of the study, both groups had lost weight, but the restorative group lost 2.5 times the amount of subcutaneous fat (the kind found right under the skin that, in excess, is unhealthy) than the stretch group and managed to maintain the loss while the stretch group regained almost half of what it lost by the end of the study.

How can this be? The researchers are still looking for the definitive answer, but a strong theory points to cortisol levels. During restorative yoga, students hold poses for up to 5-10 minutes using multiple props for support and maximum relaxation. When the body is relaxed, stress is reduced and levels of cortisol (the stress hormone known for helping to increase stored abdominal fat) go down. This can also be referred to as the Relaxation Response.

Yoga has already shown promise for people with diabetes helping to steady blood sugar and maybe trim extra weight. Don’t go throwing in your yoga mat towel just yet. This isn’t to say that aerobic exercise isn’t a good way to stay healthy, in fact, the study’s main author stated that rather than a replacement, restorative yoga is a “complementary, ancient practice.” But it can mean that people who were intimidated by yoga based on body size or ability, those who are possibly obese, can have a more accessible way to practice yoga and reap the benefits of the gentle movements when another option might not be practical.



26 comments… add one
  • VQ2

    I hate to disappoint those acro-yogis (no, I actually LOVE to lord it over them–having been formerly obese, thankyouverymuch; and made to feel less than by those acro-snobs), but restorative yoga burns more than half the number of calories per hour than does acro-yoga … so, suckit!!!

  • VQ2

    Visceral fat is the dangerous fat for metabolic syndrome; subcutaneous fat is more easily shed and does not affect the organs (sub= under; cutaneous= referring to skin). I think no kind of yoga practice really addresses visceral fat as well as does aerobic strength and toning–the upright-done kind. possibly with light weights; which uses primarily the large muscles of the body (i.e., legs) and makes you breathe rapidly–whether deeply or shallowly. That is strict cardio: not Ashtanga, not power yoga, not acro-yoga, etc. ….

  • Anne

    Any recommendations for restorative yoga on DVD?

    Thank you!

    • VQ2

      How about Barbara Benagh … ?


      and try to find something associated with Judith Hanson Lassiter (book, class, workshop) if you could.

      Seriously, wisdom abounds. And where I live, restorative is fast gaining traction in the market, as yoga and pilates studios lose students post-backlash–some go hyper-advanced, some embrace restorative … even if it’s only a part of the class …

      • Anne

        I appreciate the prompt suggestion.


        • VQ2

          Anytime … so many kinds of DVDs and podcasts, so little time … she is a very keen instructor

  • You didn’t get many suggestions on what DVDs to get, so I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring–Big Yoga® is an adapted yoga program for anyone challenged by extra weight, stiffness, injury or neglect. the Flex-Ability DVDs is an excellent starting point, then Hatha 1 is more challenging.

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  • PS in NY

    Another suggestion for Ann: any DVD put out by Jillian Pransky, an expert in restorative yoga (and one of my teacher mentors, I’m proud to say). If I’m not mistaken, that’s her in the photo!

  • Sandy

    While I am a huge fan of restorative yoga, real weight loss occurs with cardio vascular training. Restorative yoga specifically helped with metabolic syndrome which is a huge endocrine system issue which is why the reduced cortisol helped with weight loss. If you are like me and eat too many cookies restorative is just not gonna do it.

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  • Brenda

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