I recently received this question: Can Yin Yoga help me lose weight? Here is my reply:
At the most superficial level, the equation that governs weight loss (or gain) is simply - when calories ingested (eating food) are greater than calories expended (through exercise) then the excess calories are stored (as extra weight). To lose weight either ingest less or exercise more. Simple, right? From this analysis Yin Yoga, which is very passive and does not burn off many calories, would seem to be a poor strategy for losing weight. Well - what this simplistic analysis misses is the complications of individual variations.
Some people burn calories much more slowly than others even given the same amount of exercise and some people ingest more calories than others even give the same amount of food. Why this is so is still something of a mystery: it doesn't negate the equation governing weight loss or gain but it does explain why some people have greater difficulty than others at losing or gaining weight. When it don't come easy, motivation is required to move the needle, and increased motivation is something that Yin Yoga can help with.
I can not think of any Yin Yoga sequences that will help burn more calories directly, but poses that help improve digestion may be useful to help ingest calories properly: the asanas that work the Stomach and Spleen can be emphasized - Caterpillar or Dangling, Sphinx and Seal and any variations of Swan or Dragon that touch the top of the thighs. Metabolizing food, especially fat, is a key task of the Liver, so poses like Straddle, Dragons and Swan may work well. These poses will also assist the Gall Bladder which again helps with digestion of fats. Finally, to help energize the whole body so that calories can be burned effectively and efficiently, working the Kidneys with Shoelace, Straddle and Reclining Twists would be advised.
If you noticed, we basically have just said "All Yin Yoga poses will help because Yin Yoga nourish all the abdominal organs." So, just do Yin Yoga! But, in addition to doing the practice, you can add the mental and emotional elements. Often weight loss is not about food in and exercise out, it is about some psycho-emotional reaction to life's traumas: we eat more to feel better about ourself; to get some joy out of food that we can't get out of our relationships, jobs, or whatever; to exercise some control, even in a negative way, over our life when everything else seems to be going out of control. These are issues we can address during the long periods of stillness we cherish and curse in Yin Yoga. While you marinate in the pose, practice being totally present to what IS happening, not what you would like to be happening. Practice presence: accepting the reality of the moment without running away from it, trying to change it or become upset by it. Just be with it.
Whatever the cause of the weight change is, by practicing mindfulness during Yin Yoga you will be building skills that will help you accommodate changes in your life more skillfully, more consciously, which means that you won't have to unconsciously default to unskillful behaviors such as overeating and you will gain greater motivation to engage in more active endeavours. In effect, Yin Yoga can provide you the motivation and skills to address the simple equation mentioned at the beginning and turn it to your advantage.
I hope this helps. Do let us know how your journey unfolds because I am sure there are many others who would love to learn from you.
ps - for those who are already quite overweight there was a post that may help you with your Yin Yoga practice. Finally, while not addressing Yin Yoga specifically, one contributor offered a couple of articles here and here on using yoga for weight loss.