Yoga Doesn’t Work (And Why You Should Do It Anyway)

Yoga Doesn't work Kristi Joy Wilkins Scorpion pose

Yoga doesn’t work for weight loss, unless you have been absolutely sedentary, and in that case any physical activity you do will cause you to lose weight. Most forms of yoga are focused on the static holding of asanas or poses, and simply don’t burn enough calories to jump start weight loss.

(To see the yoga poses you should be doing check out the video at the end of the post.)

Movement practices that WILL help you achieve weight loss (along with proper diet) are high intensity interval training, bodyweight strength training and lifting (heavy) weights.

Yoga doesn’t always work for reducing pain and can even cause injury.

There are lots of really cool things you can do with your body–not all of them are helpful. If you can do them safely then by all means go for it!

I have been in yoga classes where the teacher claimed that, “You cannot possibly hurt yourself doing this pose, just let go and relax into it!” Ahhhh! You CAN hurt yourself doing yoga if you don’t have some understanding of the body, your particular body, and the purpose of each asana or yoga pose (this goes for any movement discipline).

Some specific yoga pitfalls to be careful of:

  • Shoulder Stands (unless you’re experienced). You must be very careful to keep the neck exactly aligned and not even slightly tilted or turned to right or left. And if you have big hair it cannot be in a bun or ponytail behind your head. You dread heads and long-haired ladies know what I’m talking about here! This pose is commonly used with beginners and I have many times hurt my neck doing this. Not worth it, you can get the same benefits with other inversions.
  • Headstands. Some of the same reasons applied to the shoulder stand apply here. Plus in a headstand you have all your weight basically on your head/neck. So, if you are slightly off in alignment, then you load it, on one of the most mobile and vulnerable parts of your body no less, you’re kinda asking for trouble.
  • Excessive and/or extreme forward bending/hamstring stretching. Unfortunately, this is what most beginning yoga students and classes consist of–multiple forms of forward bends. Most of us don’t need to bend forward. We need a really good warm up, and lots of back bending and hip opening. Extreme forward bending promotes hamstring tears and lower back strain.
  • Extreme arching of the lumbar spine in back bends because the thoracic spine is lacking mobility, so the lumbar spine takes over, and low back injury results.

Yoga doesn’t work for weight loss and can potentially cause injury, but it still has many great benefits.

Just because yoga doesn’t work for some goals, DOES NOT mean you should stop doing yoga (or not start doing yoga). I maintained a very steady serious astanga yoga practice for 5 plus years, and I still use many elements of it in my movement practice today.

  • Quiets the mind, helps you achieve one-pointed focus, being in the present moment. Yoga mind can be applied to any movement practice, including weight lifting.
  • Teaches full diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) which has huge benefits for the body.
  • Can improve your flexibility/mobility if you need it.
  • Increases strength if you incorporate arm balances and sun salutations.
  • Improves balance with single leg asanas.
  • PATIENCE. You get to hang out in uncomfortable positions for 5 full breaths.

Yoga has its place. It is not for everybody, and every pose is not for every body. Consider that yoga developed in India, where it is hot. It was also originally developed and practiced by men. Men on the whole, tend to be tighter and stiffer than women, (especially in the hips) and need to improve flexibility.

One more tip to get the most out of your yoga if you are going to be like me and do things in extreme anyway—make sure your are HOT– and I mean sweaty–before you start into the extreme forward bending and back bending poses. And then, it becomes extremely easy to push past your edge, so hold back a little will ya? Or you will regret it when you pull your hamstring or lower back and it takes months to heal.

Really Beneficial Yoga Poses (for demonstration see the video below)

  • Balancing Stick. This pose is a great intro to single leg deadlifts and can be used as an exercise in its own right. Strengthens the back, hips, and stretches the hamstrings.  Deceptively simple, but difficult to do. Belly to the floor. Raised heel to the ceiling. Think of someone pulling both your arms from in front and your foot from behind. Use a chair in front of you for balance if you need it.
  • Spinal Twist. This works on opening up the upper back, and restoring mobility in transverse motion. Make sure you are twisting from the upper spine, NOT the lower spine. Think of rotating around your spine. Keep both hips on the floor. Do not force it.
  • Backbends. A full back bend provides complete opening of the thoracic spine and hips. This is a position that is totally opposite of what we do everyday. Start with a simple roll out on the foam roller. (For a demo see the video on diaphragmatic breathing and t-spine opening.) Then progress to upward dogs, or cobras while lying on your belly. Then, if you want to tackle back bends (which I highly recommend), start them with your hands on a sturdy box or chair to lessen the range of motion for your shoulders. Focus on gaining strength in your arms and shoulders with push ups and pull ups. Gradually, you’ll be able to push up into a full back bend from the floor.
  • Inversions. The simplest semi- inversion is downward dog. Practicing downward dog will stretch the hamstrings, calves, and get the upper back out of that forward rounded posture that so many of us have. For the more advanced, you can kick up into a handstand against a wall (see above for why I don’t recommend headstands) or a free handstand if you’re that good. You can also try the peacock or scorpion if you have quite a bit of strength in your arms and shoulders, good mobility in your t-spine, and good balance. Full inversions invert the normal blood flow of the body, which can be really healthful as long as you don’t have high blood pressure.
  • Sun Salutations (really a collection of poses).  The combination of back ward bending and forward bending along with push ups and hip opening lunges provides a great way to warm up for weight lifting or other exercise.

Okay, here’s the video. Let me know if you want a video of modifications to work up to the poses demonstrated. I will certainly oblige.

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2 thoughts on “Yoga Doesn’t Work (And Why You Should Do It Anyway)

  1. Love this post! Yoga has a special place in my heart, but I have experienced many of the things you mention! I have had chronic shoulder pain and sciatica that everyone (even PTs) seemed to think would be helped by yoga. But yoga often made the pain worse and strength training has been the only thing that helped.

    • So glad our work together has helped you, Daniell! The misconception is that you just need to stretch to feel better. What is often needed instead is manual soft tissue work (massage), and then work on strengthening areas that are not working properly.

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