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Yoga, an age-old practice, is a combination of different postures, meditation, breathing patterns, and relaxation techniques. Yoga asanas are proven to be beneficial to your health, helping improve your physical, mental, and emotional status. (1)
Yoga is often thought to only be a passive practice that helps create a balance between the body and mind. However, practicing yoga can be highly useful also for burning calories, thus aiding weight management. (2)
This article talks about the top calorie-burning yoga poses that you can perform to lose weight.
1. Sun Salutations
The yoga poses that burn the most calories are sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) A and B. These yoga sequences are also highly useful in maintaining optimum body fitness. (3)
Sun salutations combine a series of postures in a flowing movement, called vinyasa, and are fueled by deep ujjayi breathing. Sun salutations A and B are quite similar, the difference being an addition of some extra poses and a change of sequence in sun salutation B.
Ujjayi breathing for sun salutations
Before performing sun salutations, you should be familiar with ujjayi breathing, a deep breathing technique that involves the following steps:
- Inhale slowly through the nose and the throat with the lips sealed, squeezing the sides of the throat to produce a “HAH” sound in the back of the throat. Do this for 3–5 counts.
- Exhale slowly with the lips sealed, continuing to squeeze the sides of the throat making the “HAH” sound again for 3–5 counts. Match the length of your inhale to your exhale.
The “HAH” sound quiets the mind chatter, calms the nervous system, and helps the practitioner to withdraw the senses inwards, known as pratyahara.
Sun salutation A
Sun salutation A consists of the following 10 movements to be performed in the given sequence:
- Mountain Pose (Tadasana): This yoga stance is generally the starting basis for different standing poses. Stand straight with your feet pressed to the ground so that your legs are slightly apart and parallel to each other. Straighten and stretch your arms on the sides of your torso, turning your palms toward the front, and release your shoulders.
- Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana): From the tadasana, take a deep breath and swing your arms from the sides, over to your head, forming wide arcs. Join your palms and tilt back your head, fixing your gaze on your thumbs.
- Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana): Exhale, and in a swan dive movement, slowly bend forward, from the hip, trying to keep your legs straight. Line up your fingertips with your toe tips, or to shins to modify. If you feel pressure on the lower back, bend your knees. Relax your neck, allowing your head to hang from the root of the neck.
- Half-Standing Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana): Inhale and come up on your fingertips, making your elbows straight. Slowly lift your torso away from your legs. Try to keep your spine aligned as you lengthen the front of your torso. Lift your head slightly and look forward.
- Plank Pose: Exhale and step or jump into a push-up position, so that your shoulders stack above the wrists. Avoid collapsing the upper back between the shoulder blades by pressing the outer arms toward each other while spreading the shoulder blades, against the resistance. Press your thighs upward and pull the tailbone toward the floor. Look out to the horizon.
- Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana): Continue to exhale and bend your elbows, so they graze the sides of your ribs, and lower halfway down with straight strong legs, or bent knees, if needed. Look to the horizon. Avoid performing the four-limbed staff pose if you are pregnant or have carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana): Inhale, rest your toes and front of the foot on the floor, sweeping your chest up and torso forward, while straightening your arms. Look to the tip of the nose and pull the shoulders away from the ears.
- Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Exhale and move back to the downward-facing dog with your feet hip-width apart. Gaze towards the navel with strong legs and arm bones turning down towards each other. Hold five deep breaths and step or hop to the top of the mat, bringing your feet together.
- Half Standing Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana): Inhale and move halfway up, on to your fingertips.
- Forward Bend (Uttanasana): Exhale and put your palms to the floor, lined up with toe tips.
- Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana): Inhale and sweep your arms overhead, palms touching, and gaze towards the thumbs.
- Mountain Pose (Tadasana): Exhale, and bring your hands to your sides, completing the cycle.
Caution: Avoid performing the downward-facing dog if you are pregnant or have carpal tunnel syndrome, ear or eye infection, or severe shoulder injury.
Sun salutation B
Sun Salutation B consists of 19 movements and adds in chair and warrior I to the Sun Salutation A sequence.
It is performed in the following steps:
- Stand in the standing mountain pose (Tadasana).
- Inhale, bend your knees and lower hips, moving into a position that looks like you are sitting in a chair. Stretch your arms overhead and press palms together, extending your fingertips toward the ceiling. This is known as the chair pose (Utkatasana).
- Exhale, swan dive forward into standing forward fold (Uttanasana).
- Inhale half-way up from standing forward fold (Ardha Uttanasana).
- Exhale, step, or jump into plank, and lower into four-limbed staff pose (Chaturanga Dandasana).
- Inhale, and perform the upward-facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).
- Exhale into the downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
- Inhale, step your right foot forward in between your hands and keep the knee bent, while shifting the left heel to the ground and straightening the back leg. Sweep your hands over your head, touch palms, and look upward. This is known as the warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), right foot.
- Exhale into four-limbed staff pose (Chaturanga Dandasana).
- Inhale and repeat the upward-facing dog.
- Exhale and move to the downward-facing dog position.
- Inhale, repeat warrior I, now with your left foot.
- Exhale and move into the four-limbed staff pose.
- Inhale to the upward-facing dog.
- Exhale to downward-facing dog and hold for 5 breaths. Step or jump to the top of the mat, feet together.
- Inhale into a half-standing forward fold.
- Exhale to standing forward fold.
- Inhale back to the chair pose.
- Exhale and move the hands to sides (Tadasana).
Expert’s suggestions for sun salutations
When you do several sun salutations in a row, combined with deep ujjayi breathing, while engaging the energy locks (bandhas), you begin to stoke your internal fire, which helps to increase your metabolic activity. You begin to internally combust and prepare the mind and body for the standing and seated poses, so you aren’t doing them cold.
I suggest doing them first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, so you’re tapping into your calorie reserves from the night before.
It also feels better to practice on an empty stomach, so you don’t have food and beverage regurgitation issues. I recommend starting with 3 sun salutations As and 3 sun salutations Bs and increasing to 5 As and 5 Bs for a total of 10 sun salutations, which will take around 15–20 minutes.
2. Arm Balances
Apart from sun salutations, different arm balances can help in burning a high amount of calories, especially when performed as a flow of sequences.
These dynamic postures combine a balance of upper and lower body strength, along with core strength. When they are practiced with deep ujjayi breathing, you will burn even more calories.
Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
- Place your hands 6 inches away from a wall, and move into a downward-facing dog.
- Move your feet toward your hands so that your shoulders stand above your wrists. Try to bring your hips over the shoulder too.
- Bend at your right knee, onto the ball of the foot. Lift your left foot off the floor and straighten it. Push and jump off from the right leg, bringing your flexed left leg vertically over you.
- Keep your head between your arms and try bringing the heels to the wall.
- Try taking the heels off the wall and balance your body on your head and hands. Make sure to keep your legs flexed to engage them.
- Stretch your heels upward.
- If possible, look at the floor.
- Maintain the position for a few seconds, and then bring the legs down one after another.
- Rest, and repeat the maneuver with the other leg for balance.
Forearm balance (Pincha Mayurasana)
- Start in an all-fours position, placing your elbows directly below your shoulders. Ensure that your hands are shoulder-width apart, with the palms pressed flat against the floor.
- Press down on your fingertips, engaging the forearms, and slightly hollow out your palms (hasta bandha).
- Engage your toes and lift your hips toward the ceiling, moving into a downward-facing dog.
- Push the ground through your forearms, keeping your shoulder blades firm, bringing them downward.
- Rotate your upper arms outside, keeping your forearms still, so that you are drawing the palms and wrists toward each other.
- Bend one knee and take the foot one step closer to your arms.
- While exhaling, push the foot of the bent leg and lift the other leg.
- Take small hops so that you can feel the weight of your body on your arms and upper torso.
- Once comfortable with the weight, press on the bent leg foot with more force to fully lift your other leg.
- Practice this movement after switching legs as well, until you can kick both the legs up straight.
- Press into the palms and forearms with your legs up. Focus on your core, stretch your tailbone, pull in your navel, and knit your front ribs in.
- Rotate your inner thighs, stretch your heels, and point your toes to maintain energy in the legs.
- Slowly lower one foot and then the other, coming into the dolphin pose.
- Bend your knees and rest in the child’s pose to relax.
Upward rooster (Urdhva Kukkutasana)
- Sit down with your legs in lotus, or modify with half lotus or crossed legs.
- Place your palms flat on the floor to the sides of the knees, like scale pose (Tolasana), and try to lift your upper torso, putting the body weight on the palms.
- Spread the fingers, pointing them forward.
- Place the palms wide apart from each other.
- Take a deep breath and try to raise your whole body, lifting your body with the palms.
- Once you achieve this, with practice, swing the knees up, one at a time or together, placing them against the upper arms.
- Try pulling your knees to your armpits.
- Breathe normally and maintain the posture for 5 breaths.
- Exhale, and jump back to chaturanga or sit down.
3. Boat Pose
The boat pose (Navasana) is a solid posture to build core and low back strength. It also helps tone the abdominals and burn belly fat.
- Start in a seated position. Bend the legs at your knees and place the feet flat on the floor.
- Keep your knees bent, and lift the feet off the floor, bringing the shins parallel to the floor. This is known as the half-boat pose.
- Allow your torso to slightly fall back, but keep the spine straight and heart to the sky.
- Straighten your legs, keeping the upper body straight, making a V-shape with your body.
- Roll back your shoulders and bring your arms to the front parallel to the floor.
- Turn your palms toward each other.
- Balance on your hip bones, and lift your chest for a better balance.
- Maintain the pose for at least 5 breaths.
- Exhale and release your legs. Repeat or rest.
- Take a breath and sit up.
To eliminate excess weight in the abdominal region and everywhere on your body, keep your poses flowing from one pose to the next, using your breath and bandhas (lower belly and perineum contractions) as much as possible throughout the practice. This will make a big difference when it comes to burning calories and ridding the body of excess fat.
Yoga is all about the breath, so make it your number one priority! If you’re new to yoga, start by flowing from pose to pose consistently for 30 minutes and then work your way up to 60 minutes and eventually to 90 minutes, when time permits.
Practice with yoga classes online or take a vinyasa or ashtanga class in your community to learn the proper alignment of the poses. Yoga is a life long practice. Enjoy the journey and be kind to yourself along the way!