Want to tone your tum and find a balanced relationship with food? It’s time to get on your yoga mat. Words: Eve Boggenpoel

When you’re trying to lose weight, cutting the calories and upping your workouts can go a long way to helping you achieve your goal, but yoga goes one step further. Not only does it help you tone up all over, yoga brings your mind and body back into balance, which can improve your relationship with food.

Firstly, try to identify why you’ve gained weight. Sitting or lying on your mat, take a few deep breaths to quieten your mind and soften unnecessary tension in your body. Next, spend 10 minutes doing a yoga breathing technique, such as full yogic breath or alternate nostril breathing, then reflect on the reasons behind your weight gain. Do you eat when stressed, are you confusing thirst for hunger, or maybe you’ve been missing socialising and eat for comfort? Using these techniques calms and balances your system to help you become more aware of your triggers, enabling you to notice the difference between genuine hunger and emotional eating.

Mindful eating

Research in the journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that yoga practitioners in the study had ‘less stress eating, reduced appetite, fewer cravings and a shift toward healthier, more mindful eating’. Try a few rounds of yogic breathing before eating, when preparing meals or planning the week’s menu – it can be a powerful way to retune established eating patterns and give you the mental space to care for your deeper needs, instead of finding temporary satisfaction with food.

Yoga to suit you

Find a yoga style that meets your needs, personality and weight-loss goals. Do you prefer a high-energy class that leaves you breathless and sweaty, or would you prefer a more relaxing yoga class? Whatever you prefer, yoga can help you tone up and lose weight. Here are three yoga styles to get you started…

Astanga – the muscle builder

A strong yoga practice such as astanga actively contributes towards weight loss by building lean muscle mass. Good news for dieters, as muscle burns more calories than fat– both during and after your workout. Astanga is a challenging style of yoga based on vinyasas (where you flow from one posture to the next without a break) – the most familiar being the upper body and core strengthener plank, to low plank (chattaranga), to upward dog, to downward dog. There are six sets of sequences, known as ‘series’ and you learn them in sequential order.

Hot yoga – the calorie burner

The most famous hot yoga style, Bikram, can burn between 500 to 1000 calories in a 90-minute class, and studies show its higher temperatures (up to 40C) reduces body fat percentage more than yoga at normal temperatures. Bikram classes focus on 26 postures (no downward dog or headstand), but if you want to do more poses and still see the weight-loss benefits of practising in higher temperatures, there are other styles to explore – you can try Hot Power Yoga or Baptiste Power Yoga.

Restorative – the stress buster

Feeling under pressure? Your body shape will tell the tale. Unused cortisol, a by-product of long-term stress with no outlet, is stored as visceral or abdominal fat around your belly. Calming practices, such as restorative yoga – where you deeply relax your nervous system by resting in seated or lying postures supported by bolsters and blocks – can help reduce cortisol levels and weight around your middle. In one study, participants doing restorative yoga lost more than 2.5 times the amount of subcutaneous fat (fat visible just under the skin) compared to a control group.