Celebrity trainer shares his top tips on how to incorporate basic yoga moves into your workout

By Harley Pasternak
Updated September 18, 2013 05:00 PM
Credit: Courtesy Harley Pasternak

I don’t do yoga.

There, I said it.

I’ve tried yoga. I admire yoga. My wife occasionally does yoga. I even like to include a few yoga movements in some of my clients’ workouts. But for some reason, I never became a yogi.

I do admire the increased flexibility, the stress release and the amazing balance people get from doing yoga regularly.

Some of you are yoga fanatics and swear by its benefits. But some of you may be offended when I tell you that yoga, by itself, is largely ineffective at helping you lose fat.

In 2005 and 2007, two separate studies measured the metabolic rate of people taking a beginner yoga class and found a calorie burn of 2.3-3.2 calories per minute, about the same calorie burn as strolling through the mall at a very leisurely pace.

This would equate to 104-144 calories burned during a 45-minute yoga class. At this rate, to burn 1 pound (or 3,500 calories) of fat, you’d have to perform over 28 hours of yoga.

Now, what if you are more advanced and do a very challenging yoga class? Another study, completed in 2006, asked that question and measured the heart rate of participants performing a more vigorous yoga exercise called Ashtanga. Researchers compared Ashtanga to the same types of beginner yoga routines from the other studies and found a slight increase in calorie burn. Emphasis on the word slight. At this rate, it would require 24 hours of Ashtanga yoga to burn one pound of body fat.

Not Hot for Bikram

For those of you who’ve tried hot yoga (often called Bikram), all I can say is: Why?

Why choose to go into a dark, smelly (there have been several reports of mold in Bikram studios), ridiculously hot (105º) room to exercise? You may feel more exhausted, have a higher heart rate and sweat far more than in regular yoga, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing your body good.

When any room is excessively heated, your heart rate may increase and you may sweat (i.e. sitting on a couch and watching TV in a hot room). But does that mean you’re improving your body? When your body temperature rises, your heart has to work extra hard to pump blood to your extremities to cool you down.

So the increase in heart rate is mostly from being in a hot room, not from exercising one’s muscles and burning more calories. Any weight you may lose in a hot yoga class is likely from water, not fat.

Now here’s the bit of information that may get me attacked the next time I walk by a yoga studio: Yoga may actually slow down your metabolism.

A 2006 study reportedly found that the metabolism rate of regular yoga practitioners was 15 percent lower than that of respondents from a non-yoga group. It concluded that the practice of yoga, over time, may in fact inhibit metabolism.

To put this in context, it means that if you normally burn 2,000 calories at rest, you might lower that calorie burn to 1,700 calories at rest if you take up yoga.

Yoga’s Benefits

In fact, yoga’s demonstrated benefits – stress release, more efficient breathing, reduced blood pressure, mental calm – may actually make us burn fewer calories. As a result, yoga has not proven to be a fat-burning activity on its own.

For those of you who love yoga, please understand that I’m the first to admit that yoga can be great. Yoga has many benefits, from improved strength and flexibility to better mental health. Incorporating some yoga into your regular routine is beneficial as the practice offers a mentality that extends beyond just the mat – practicing yoga may make you more conscious of your body, what you eat and what you drink.

This awareness plays a huge role in changing the bodies of yogis. Remember, it’s what you do the other 23 hours of the day – out of the gym or yoga studio – that truly determines your physique.

That said, I do use a few simple modified yoga moves with my clients to challenge their strength and flexibility.

Warrior 1

Stand with your legs three-and-a-half to four feet apart, facing the front of the mat (right leg in front). Turn your left heel in, press into your feet and lift your torso up. Place your hands on your hips and direct your right hip back and your left hip forward so they’re parallel with the front edge of the mat. Lift your arms up and press your palms together while pulling your shoulder blades down toward your hips and gaze up toward your hands. While lifting your chest and keeping your back straight, bend your front knee into a lunge. Try to keep as much of your weight toward the center of the pose as possible. (Don’t keep all your weight on your front knee.) Hold as long as you can, and repeat on the other side.


Begin by lying on your stomach on the floor with legs pressed together and feet pointed. Place hands next to your rib cage, under your shoulders, and squeeze your elbows against the body. Firmly press the tops of your feet, legs and hips to the floor.

On an inhalation, use your triceps and back muscles to lift your chest off the floor, keeping the neck relaxed and shoulders down and back. Then, straightening the arms, continue to lift the chest as the face begins to look up. Hold the pose while breathing the entire time, then release and repeat.

Upward-Facing Dog

A sibling of the Cobra pose, this is very similar except that the goal is to straighten your arms and lift your whole upper body (and even hips) off the ground. Most important, keep your hands directly below your shoulders and keep your arms engaged and strong. Do not let the brunt of the work fall on your lower back.


Sit on the floor with straight legs in front of you. Inhale and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor. Place your hands on the side of your thighs just below your hips.

Exhale and lean back at your hips, lifting your legs with bent knees until your calves are parallel to the floor. Make sure you keep your back straight, with your shoulder blades squeezing together and your chest lifted.

Slowly straighten your legs. From the side, your body should look like a “V.” If you cannot straighten your legs, you may remain in a modified bent-leg pose, keeping your calves parallel to the floor. Hold the pose for as long as you can with good form.