Many write off yoga as an “easy” workout. After all, chanting and stretching might put you into a meditative mindset, but it’s not exactly going to melt fat away—or is it? The truth may surprise you.
“Yoga is equal parts strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance,” says Mandy Ingber, celebrity yoga instructor, author of Yogalosophy for Inner Strength. She estimates that yoga can torch anywhere from 180 to 600 calories per hour, noting that there’s a large range because there are so many different types.
While you’ll generally burn more calories in a Bikram or power yoga class than you would in a restorative one, the specific yoga poses that you (or your instructor) select matter a lot, too. Looking to torch fat? Make sure these seven poses are a regular part of your practice.
This pose burns mega calories because it requires all your muscles to be engaged while forcing your body to resist gravity. “You can increase the calorie burn further with variations like raising one foot an inch or two off of the mat,” says Ingber. The longer you stay in the pose—anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes—the more calories you burn as well.
To do this move, you have to activate the largest muscles in the body—the glutes—which automatically burns lots of calories, says Kristin Lewis, instructor at Y7 studio in New York City. “Chair pose is safe and easy for all yogis to perform,” she adds.
It’s basically like holding the low part of a pushup, and, when done properly, it requires you to engage most of your major muscle groups. “Your core has to be contracted, your legs engaged, and your arms working to maintain a 90-degree angle in the elbows,” says Lewis. “It’s incredibly challenging and forces even the most advanced practitioners to be mindful and move with control.”
Wheel is an aspirational pose, and one that you need to warm up for. It requires attention to form and alignment, “opens” the heart, and stretches the entire front of the body. “The wheel pose engages the legs, buttocks, shoulders, and arms, as well as the heart and lungs,” says Ingber. “You may get your heart rate up higher if you perform wheel in a heated room after a long warm up.”
Chances are you’ve seen this pose in lots of different workouts besides yoga, since it works the whole body (though it’s especially good for the glutes and quads). “High lunge is also a strengthening pose ,” says Lewis. “It requires a bit of balance as you’re high up on the ball of your back foot, and whenever you add balance to any pose, your body is forced to work harder and thus burn more calories.”
Really a series of 12 poses strung together, sun salutations activate the cardiovascular system while engaging the abs, glutes, calves, shoulders, biceps, shoulders, and triceps. “They energize, strengthen and stretch the muscles, fusing breath with movement,” says Ingber. “Inhales are generally on the expansive pose and the exhales on the contraction. The series oxygenates the blood and strengthens the lungs.”
Dolphin is similar to downward dog, but your forearms are on the mat. “I love dolphin because it is a pose that both strengthens the body—the arms, core, and legs—as well as stretches it, since it opens the shoulders and chest up,” says Lewis. “Plus having your forearms on the mat fully engages your triceps, too.”