I get asked a lot of questions about Yoga - especially as it pertains to the physical body. Since asana (the physical postures) is directly related to the physical body one of the top questions I get asked is...."How many calories will I burn???"
The traditional yoga teacher would shake their heads and tell you that yoga should not be reduced to exercise and probably make you feel guilty for daring to ask such a superficial question of such a spiritual and ancient practice. Well, I'm not one of those teachers....so here's the real answer!
1) Calorie burn varies greatly from person to person. What you burn in one class will be very different than what the person next to you burns based on a few variables - age, weight, gender, level of physical fitness (how hard your heart has to work) and current ability to effort (e.g., I often burn more calories when my body is tired, not a good thing!). Your body will also burn calories at a different rate for cardiovascular heavy activities (such as running) vs. resistance and strength style activities (such as body weight or lifting workouts) - both have great benefits! Using a heart rate monitor helps you determine your specific calorie burn for exercise. So all those Instagram pics of people's calorie burn in different types of exercise classes - doesn't mean anything as it pertains to you.
2) The more efficient your body becomes at a certain type of exercise, the fewer calories it will burn doing that type of exercise. This is a good thing! Your body responds to the healthy stress of exercise and gets stronger!
3) A lot of times, we want to know our calorie burn because of weight management. It's not always best to have huge calorie burns (again, this varies on the person) - let me explain! Your body needs a certain number of calories to function each day - to respirate, digest, pump your blood, basically to survive. Let's say this number is 1300 calories a day. That means you need to eat 1300 calories a day. Let's say you burn 700 calories doing specific exercise. If you are trying to lose weight, you'll need to eat back at least a portion of these calories so your body can perform the functions it needs to perform. However, if you burn 700 calories, your body will signal to you that you just did some major work and you need to eat! Runners call this the "rungries." So, if your goal is weight management, it's can be more helpful to burn a smaller amount of calories and focus more on proper nutrition and the right calorie INtake for your body.
Weight management is more than just calories in and calories out. The level of stress, your ability to cope with stress, quality of sleep and quality of nutrition has a big hand in a person's health and yoga has been found to help with many of these things! But I will leave you with this - your health is so much more than your weight. You are so much more than your weight. Weight has only a small slice of the health picture, and it will not be your lasting legacy. Your tombstone will not read, "Here lies Jane. She finally got rid of those extra pounds."