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Yoga – Your Path to Enlightenment?
Written by August 17, 2009

Gina Cortese-Shipley, MS

Associate Director of Education
The Cooper Institute

calories burned
mindful eating
physical activity
weight management
Yoga – Your Path to Enlightenment?


The term, “enlightenment,” in the title of this blog is not refering to wisdom but to lower body weight.  A study from a while back1 showed that doing yoga on a regular basis was associated with lower risk of gaining weight over time, especially in overweight people.  A recent study2 has teased out why this may be true.  And it has little to do with the calories burned during yoga practice.  Rather, it seems that it is all in one’s head.

Celia Framson and colleages at the University of Washington – Seattle conducted a study to develop and test a questionnaire that would help researchers assess “mindful eating” or awareness of what, when, where, how, and why one eats what they do.  Mindless eating has been hypothesized as a factor in excessive calorie intake and thus, weight gain and obesity.

The researchers found that people who practiced yoga were more likely to be mindful about their eating.  And people who were mindful about their eating weighed less than those who had lower mindful eating scores.  Other types of moderate and vigorous physical activity were not associated with mindful eating scores.

So it’s not the calories burned during yoga exercise that contributed to lower body weight.  Researchers speculate that the mindfulness training – the ability to maintain difficult physical positions while focusing on breathing and maintaining a calm mind – that is part of yoga is transferred to one’s relationship with food.  Thus, people who do yoga regularly are better able to prevent the intake of excess calories by:

  • eating only until they are full
  • paying attention to and enjoying fully the foods they eat
  • not letting ads or other external cues influence their eating
  • preventing emotions from triggering eating episodes
  • remaining focused while eating.

More research is needed to confirm this hypothesis but in the meantime, it looks like yoga may be good not only for your body and your mind but also for way you relate to food.

If you are a yoga practitioner, do you think your yoga work helps you be more mindful about your eating?

1 Kristal et al.  Yoga practice is associated with attenuated weight gain in healthy, middle-aged men and women.  Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.  2005;11(4):28-33.

2 Framson et al.  Development and validation of the mindful eating questionnaire.  Journal of the American Dietetic Association.  2009;109:1439-1444.

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