You probably think of yoga as a zen-inducing stretching routine rather than a fat-burning go-to for weight loss. You’d be wrong. Ample research shows that doing yoga can help burn body fat. One study found that over a 10-year period, those who regularly did yoga lost about 5 pounds compared to those who skipped the yogi practice and gained 14.
And you don’t need to commit to seriously intense versions like 100-degree studios to see results. A University of California, San Diego study found that people who did gentle yoga twice a week for six months lost an average of 31 cubic centimeters of subcutaneous fat — the type that can really mess up your health along with your pants size. The muscle-building power of yoga may be one reason: Many poses activate multiple muscle groups with one movement, and the more muscle you have, the quicker your body will burn fat. Researchers believe the de-stressing properties of the practice may be another explanation for its fat-torching power, since yoga helps lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone linked to an increase in abdominal fat.
To make the most out of a 20-minute yoga session, you want strength-building moves that activate the greatest number of muscles in one pose. Check out the moves here, modified to give you the biggest bang for your buck.
High Lunge Twist
Start standing, feet hip-width apart. Step your right foot forward, bending your right knee and keeping left (back) leg straight. Reach toward the floor with your left hand, until you can rest your palm on the ground. Keeping left hand on the ground, turn your right shoulder and chest toward the ceiling, reaching to the sky with your right arm. Hold as you breathe in and out for 10 counts. Return to the start position. Repeat on the opposite side, then repeat the entire sequence one more time.
This is the yoga version of a squat. Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your arms straight overhead, palms facing in. Keeping your back straight, exhale and bend your knees into a squat, knees over toes, thighs parallel to the floor. Hold this position as long as you can, working your way up to one minute. Return to standing. Repeat three times.
Kumbhakasana (Plank Pose)
Start on all fours, then extend your legs behind you, as if you are getting ready to do a push-up. Keep your back straight, creating a long line from your shoulders to your feet. Hold as you breathe deeply in and out for one minute. Rest. Repeat.
Pay no attention to the name — gods and mere mortals can get a great glutes and quads workout from this move as well. Start standing with your legs really wide (about 4 feet apart), feet slightly turned out. Bend your knees and drop your seat toward the floor as if you are performing a squat. Squeeze your butt muscles and keep your back straight. Pulse up and down for a minute. Rest 30 seconds, then go again.
Downward Dog to Plank Pose
This total body move works major muscles while also improving flexibility. Start on all fours, hands below shoulders, knees below hips, back flat. Inhale, then as you exhale raise your hips toward the ceiling, straightening your legs and pushing back into your heels, so that your body forms an inverted V-shape. Hold as you inhale and exhale. Inhale again, and as you exhale shift your weight forward onto your arms and lower yourself into an extended plank pose (arms and legs remain straight as if you are preparing to do a push-up). Hold for five counts. Bend knees and return to all fours. Repeat the sequence 10 times.
Get ready to feel the burn with this move. Start sitting with your legs in front of you, knees bent. Placing your hands on the floor on either side of your hips for balance, lean your body back ever-so-slightly and raise your feet off the floor a few inches. Once you’ve found a balancing point, lift your hands off the floor and place them on either side of your elevated legs. From here, try to straighten your legs, so that your body creates a V-shape. Hold for 30 seconds (or as long as you can) as you breathe in and out deeply. Relax. Repeat two more times.
Downward Dog Split/Half Crowlift
Start on all fours. Straighten your legs and hike your hips toward the ceiling, keeping your hands on the floor, to create inverted V-shape. Raise right leg straight behind you and into the air as high as it will go. Hold. Release your right leg and bend your right knee. Shift your weight forward and lower your hips as you stretch your body out into an extended push-ups position. As you lower yourself, swing your bent right leg to your front right side so that the knee reaches outside of your right arm. Straighten leg and return to start position. Return to start. Do five times, then repeat on the opposite side.
Sort of like a low push-up, start this move in an extended plank position, arms and legs straight. Shift your body forward so that your hands are below your chest rather than shoulders. Bend your elbows straight back (not out to the sides), and lower into a low push-up position, chest just barely skimming the floor (deeper than you would for a Western-style push-up). Raise back up into an extended plank pose. Repeat 10 times.
Lie on your back, hands by your side, knees bent, feet as close to your butt as they’ll go. Push through your heels, engage your glutes, and raise your hips off the ground as high as you can without placing strain on your neck. Hold this position, breathing deeply, for one minute. Roll through your spine as you relax and return to your start position. Do three times.