"Can yoga help in loosing weight?' 7 ways in which yoga practice contributes towards maintenance of a healthy weight.
In this short article I will explore the answer to many of my student's question: “Can I loose weight practicing yoga?”
The ancient text of Hatha Yoga Pradipika states “It is said that asana (yoga postures) is primary, due to its being the first limb of hatha yoga. One should practice that asana which is a state of steadiness, freedom from sickness, and lightness of the body.” Yoga practice has a profound impact on the physical and ultimately mental and spiritual well-being. It is clear that the unhealthy body leads to physical discomfort and ultimately illness. Those ailments not only inhibit our physical yoga practice from advancing, but also prevent us from focusing our mind onto anything beyond the physical sphere, including the path to spiritual realization. Maintaining a healthy body is a very important and relevant subject to our modern society. As our lives become more sedentary and reliant on sitting in front of a computer for long hours to earn a living, obesity rates continue to increase, and so are the serious health problems link to inactivity and obesity. Therefore I believe providing help for people to shred some pounds and keep themselves healthy should be a primary concern of the yoga teaching community. Achieving a healthy and balanced diet and body weight ultimately free our minds from disruptions and take us closer to happiness and enables exploration of the subsequent limbs of the yoga.
Based on my practical experience, and supported by the yoga master's texts and recent scientific studies, I have created a list describing how yoga practice can help in weight management. In conjunction with a healthful diet, a regular yoga practice can assist in attaining your ideal body weight and keeping yourself healthy.
1. Yoga postures aid the processes of assimilation, digestion and elimination helping reduce the total body weight.
Here are just a few example group postures and their impact on the body:
Standing Postures stimulate downward movement of the digestive fire toward the elimination. Postures such as Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), Uttitha Trikonasana (Triangle) and Uttitha Parsvakonasana (Extended Side-angle pose) reduce fat around the waist and hips bringing the body into shape.
Twists and side bends squeeze the inner organs inside the abdominal cavity stimulating their blood supply. This aids digestion and elimination as well as detoxifies the body from the accumulated toxins. A result visible for the eye is often a beautifully toned waist!
Forward bends such as Prasarita Padotanasana (Wide-leg forward bend) increase digestion power that is enhanced by the action of drawing the belly in while performing these asanas. (Which happens automatically to some degree). According to the Ashtanga master Sri Pattabhi Jois if we practice Prasarita Paddotanasana “…the bad fat in the lower abdomen will dissolve, the waist will become thin and strong, and the body will become light and beautiful. This asana also cures constipation…” Other forward bends such as Padangustanasa and Padahastasana (Standing forward bends) will tone the abdominal organs increasing digestive juices and activating the liver and spleen.
Core strengtheners such as Navasana purify lower abdominal and strengthen the waist. According to Sri Pattabhi Jois it also “cures gastric trouble resulting from food not digesting completely..”
Inversions reverse the pull of gravity, toning the inner organs, stimulating blood circulation and consequently aiding the processes of digestion and elimination. Another Yoga master Mr. Iyengar points, “The change in bodily gravity also affects the abdominal organs so that the bowels move freely and constipation vanishes”
Moon and Sun Salutations involve moving from one pose to another with the rhythm of the breath. They increase the heart rate stimulating blood circulation and oxygenation toning entire body and promoting weight loss. Research says that getting the heart rate up for a very short burst and then dropping it right down is far more effective in an attempt to losing weigh then getting it up and then dropping it down. This can certainly be achieved by an intelligent yoga practice that involves sequencing the dynamic moves with regular resting poses to allow the heart and the breath to return to a neutral level.
Restorative poses are those that stretch the muscles passively using the force of gravity as in Supta Badha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle pose) or Balasana (Child pose). Donna Farhi, a wonderful yoga teacher that has greatly inspired my own practice gives an insightful explanation of the profound effects of those deeply relaxing yoga poses in her book: “ When we are in a stressful condition the body redirects blood flow away from the internal organs to the peripheral musculature, preparing the body to "fight or take flight." When this sympathetic response become chronic and habituated it can affect digestion, assimilation and elimination as well as all of the organic processes that cleanse, purify and balance the blood. Deep relaxation helps to reverse this process, allowing the muscles to recuperate and release while simultaneously increasing blood flow to the purveyors of all our internal functions.”
2. Yoga asana practice has a moderate aerobic properties and its degree is dependent on the practitioner’s fitness level and the intensity of the class. An aerobic type of activity is defined by its moderation in intensity and high in oxygen consumption, which can be experienced particularly during Ashtanga and other dynamic forms of yoga. Meeting these two criteria the body will pull significantly more energy from its fat stores than from the carbohydrate stores as the oxygen will be used to convert fat into energy. Having said that what counts in the process of loosing weight is the total calories expenditure both from fat and carbohydrates. Therefore someone who does 15 minutes of yoga irregularly and sits for most of his day won’t likely loose much weight. However the chances are high that even with a short 15-minute daily yoga practice combined with other aero activities such as walking or jogging will decrease the overall body weight. This is because the total energy expenditure will add up and increase significantly.
3. Practice of weight bearing yoga postures tones your muscles and stretching lengthens them making them look slimmer and slender!. It is the fact! Lengthening of the muscles translates into leaner muscles and leaner muscles consist of less fat making your body looked beautifully shaped!
4. Yoga has a calming and restorative effect on the nervous system and unreleased stress often causes people to overeat and gain weight. Yoga teaches us how to release stress and tensions in the body. Through regular practice we gain more control over the sympathetic nervous system responses such as a “fight or flight” response. Being calm and in control of our habitual reactions to stressful situations brings in feeling of contentment. When we are happy and relaxed the need to consume the mood - boosting foods such as those reach in sugars and fats (and excess of calories!) decreases.
5. With regular yoga practice the likelihood of maintaining a healthy weight increases significantly! Unlike the quick fix diets that promise fast rewards and delivers a yo yo effect instead the regular practice of yoga over time will help keeping your weight stable. With the regular daily yoga routine it is likely that the bodily functions of digestion and elimination will get more regular too and your weight will stay on a healthy level. This proved to be true for me for many years!
6. Deep controlled breathing during yoga asana (postures) practice can contribute to the weight loss through the increased blood oxidation that helps in burning fat cells. There are also some specific yogic breathing techniques or pranayamas such as Kapalbhati and Bhastrika practiced separately from the asanas. They massage the abdomen helping burn fat faster around the mid-region. These techniques however are best to learn under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.
7. Through regular practice of yoga the mind-body connection heightens which in turn translates to better choices in your everyday life. With increased awareness of your body and emotions you will make better choices and consume foods that promote health and well being. Many regular practitioners will gradually move towards plant based diets and many of them will chose to consume vegetarian or vegan diets. Vegetarian diets—naturally low in saturated fat, high in fiber and cancer preventing phytochemicals and vitamins contain fewer calories than the meat diets and help to ease digestion.
Yoga is a life enhancing tool that, when practiced regularly will restore our physical and emotional balance. It can be practiced anywhere and every day as long as we have a will to make a positive change, a yoga mat and 2 square meters of space! A good way to start is to practice a few rounds of Sun or Moon Salutations every morning or evening to feel a fresh wave of energy and lightness in the body. It only takes few minutes (or more if you wish!) off our busy lives and about 4 weeks to establish a new healthy habit. Because yoga is so accessible and can be practiced without having to leave the house the reasons to procrastinate it are limited too. Once the practice settles into a daily routine the chances are high that the body will follow and the weight will settle into a healthy level too.