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Yoga and Weight Loss

Project History and Description

More than 60 percent of Americans are overweight and nearly $46 billion are spent on diet products each year. Many mainstream commercial and behavioral weight loss treatments have been shown to have limited or weak efficacy, after long-term follow-ups suggesting most weight lost is regained after five years. A number of pilot and preliminary studies suggest that yoga may be effective as a weight-loss intervention and to attenuate weight gain. The IEL has developed a 10-week outpatient weight loss program that will synthesize various elements of Kripalu Yoga and Ayurveda. This pilot study will measure the effects of yoga on subjective health, psychological well-being, and objective biomarkers in overweight and obese women.

Project Summary

The time for sustainable, holistic, evidence-based methods supporting long-term weight loss and lasting lifestyle changes has long since arrived. Based on preliminary evidence and years of overwhelmingly positive anecdotes, we believe Kripalu Yoga is uniquely positioned to heal the mind-body schism experienced by many with weight concerns.

The IEL’s Yoga for Weight Loss study will explore how yogic practices such as asana, pranayama, and mindfulness may help individuals lose weight and improve physical and psychological well-being. This three-year pilot study considers the effects of regular yoga practice on weight loss and associated parameters of physical and psychological well-being. The scientific evaluation of this work is being done in collaboration with researchers at the Osher Institute, Harvard Medical School.

Research Highlights

A number of pilot and preliminary studies suggest that yoga may be effective as a weight-loss intervention and to attenuate weight gain.

Weight Gain Prevention Yoga has been found to attenuate weight gain in long-term practitioners vs. non-yoga practitioners. Overweight yoga practitioners who had been practicing yoga for more than four years were shown to gain 18.5 fewer pounds than were overweight non-yoga practitioners over the same time period. (Kristal et al, 2005)

Yoga and Mindful Eating Yoga (but not other forms of physical exercise) has been found to increase scores on a mindful eating scale, with an association between the higher the mindful eating score, the lower the body mass index (BMI) and overall weight. (Framson et al., 2009)

Yoga and Mindfulness Yoga has been found to increase mindfulness, and we may thus generalize from some studies of mindfulness to the benefits of yoga. A number of mindfulness- and acceptance-based interventions have shown significant weight loss and/or reductions in BMI for obese and overweight subjects. (Singh et al., 2008; Lillis et al., 2008; Tapper et al., 2009; Forman et al., 2009)

Weight Loss in Residential Yoga Settings Several residential studies documenting yoga with and without a vegetarian diet have shown significant weight loss and BMI reduction. (Telles et al., 2010; Bera et al., 2003).

Future Goals

The IEL plans to offer multiple iterations of the program and explore changes in participants’ mental and physical health. Some administrations will target one of the most vulnerable populations: individuals of lower socioeconomic status. Not only do individuals in this population have a higher prevalence of being overweight, they are also less likely to practice yoga. Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health is dedicated to promoting the art and science of yoga to produce thriving and health in individuals and society. This study offers us the opportunity to align with our mission and help those most in need.

In addition to measuring subjective well-being, we will be studying objective biological measures such as cortisol, cholesterol, BMI, inflammation, and other measures of physical health. With these measurements we can not only better track the effectiveness of the program, we can also help to explain how yoga works and how positive health states are achieved and maintained.

Personal Stories and Testimonials

The Kripalu program welcomes and embraces the experience of eating as a positive, self-nurturing activity that, with mindfulness, becomes satisfying in moderation.
—Roberta, Yoga and Weight Loss participant

Meet the Researcher

Lisa ConboyLisa Conboy, MA, MS, ScD, is a social epidemiologist affiliated with the Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center and codirector of research and faculty at the New England School of Acupuncture. She is currently involved in a number of studies investigating Ayurveda, yoga, and traditional Chinese medicine, including one entitled “Ayurveda and Panchakarma: Measuring the Effects of a Holistic Health Intervention,” which is under peer review.

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