Yoga and Metabolism

If you are interested in finding more about “yoga metabolism”, type these words into the Google search box and you will see many links to web pages about asanas that help boost your metabolism. Of course, energy-consuming, muscle-strengthening asanas, or active Sun Salutations, can do it. However, these are short-term effects, while in the longer term yoga decreases metabolism, and this is one of science-backed effects of yoga.

You may know that metabolism is a set of biochemical reactions in a living body, indispensable to life. In layman’s terms, metabolism ensures transformation of what we eat and drink into vital power. Researchers tend to measure metabolism using the Basal Metabolic Rate, i.e. the minimal rate of energy expenditure per unit of time that a person needs to keep the body functioning at rest.

Metabolic Metro Map By Chakazul (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Metabolic Metro Map
By Chakazul (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In 2006 and 2008, studies conducted by Indian scientists1 have shown yoga to have a metabolism-slowing effect. One hundred and four healthy adult volunteers (39 women and 65 men) participated in the first study. Half of them practiced yoga for six months (Hatha yoga asanas, pranayama and meditations) while the others led normal lives. Both groups were following the same diet and were engaged in approximately the same activities. The results of the study showed that Basal Metabolic Rate in the “yoga group” decreased by an average of 13%. Eighty-eight healthy adult volunteers (39 women and 49 men) participated in the second study. These participants were also split into approximately equal groups. Both experiments had the same duration and the same conditions; however, measurements in the second study were taken twice a day. The Basal Metabolic Rate of the “yoga group” decreased by an average of 16% in the morning and by an average of 12% in the evening. Researchers deduced that metabolism slowed down because of the so-called parasympathetic dominance, i.e. decreased activity in the sympathetic nervous system and stabilization of the organism in general.

As regards yoga and meditation-based practices, there are widely known experiments involving deep meditation sessions aimed at being hypometabolic, i. e. decreasing the main energy indices of the body such as heart rate, arterial tension, body temperature, etc. In 1936, Krishnamacharya, an eminent yogi, successfully demonstrated complete cardiac standstill for over two minutes.

Low metabolic rate, though much feared by people wanting to slenderize, does not necessarily mean piling on pounds. Actually, metabolism becomes more efficient and energy is spent in a more sensible way. We eat less, just better quality. We select low-calorie foods with better nutritional characteristics. We feel better and gain greater self-control, and develop a more responsible attitude towards our bodies. By reducing stress and improving quality of life, we naturally become happier.

1 Swami Vivekananda Yoga University and Institute of Population Health and Clinical Research. Bangalore, India

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