Yoga helps reduce stress, which may aid weight loss, too. In response to stress, levels of the hormone cortisol rise; for people who continue to worry, those levels can stay high. Elevated cortisol levels not only stimulate eating, they ensure that any additional calories are efficiently converted to fat. Worse, under the influence of cortisol, that fat tends to get deposited in the abdomen, a particularly unhealthy place. Big bellies are linked to insulin resistance—a precursor to Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes—and heart disease. By combating stress, yoga helps normalize cortisol levels.
The regular practice of yoga also boosts your ability to feel what's going on inside your body. This awareness helps you detect not only whether, say, your hamstring is tight but also whether your stomach is already full. Many people with weight problems have little awareness of their hunger and continue indulging long after they're sated. Besides having greater bodily awareness, people who practice yoga learn to examine their emotions—whether it's fear keeping them from doing a handstand or loneliness prompting late-night trips to the fridge. Yoga teaches that you are not your emotions and that you don't always need to act on them.