Weight loss as we have come to perceive it, goes against much of what yoga teaches us. In the Western world we have become overly judgemental towards ourselves and overly dependent on what the world has to say about us, especially with the popularisation of ‘selfies’ and social network. This would be bad news for any regular yoga practitioner who has learnt how to stop the process of self-sabotage and rather practice mindfulness & self-love. However, with that being said one cannot deny that yoga does have a profound effect on the physical body inspiring and assisting the body on its path to a lighter, leaner, healthier physique. Furthermore, the mindfulness that is brought about in yoga helps to ensure that the weight you lose stays off and you continue your healthier way of life.
So is there any science behind this you may ask:
“In 2005, medical researcher and practicing Yogi Alan Kristal, DPH, MPH, set out to do a medical study on the weight-loss effects of yoga.
With funding from the National Cancer Institute, Kristal and colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle led a trial involving 15,500 healthy, middle-aged men and women. All completed a survey recalling their physical activity (including yoga) and their weight between the ages of 45 and 55. Researchers then analyzed the data, teasing out other factors that could influence weight change – such as diet or other forms of exercise.
The end result: They found yoga could indeed help people shed pounds, or at least keep them from gaining weight.
“Those practicing yoga who were overweight to start with lost about 5 pounds during the same time period those not practicing yoga gained 14 pounds,” says Kristal.”
When we count calories, yoga may appear disappointing next to running, cycling or swimming which often burn over 400 calories per hour. Even powerful yoga styles such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa don’t elevate the heart high enough to really shed the pounds. So although yoga may not be pumping the heart as high as one would like, it has other tools in the toolbox to stimulate weight loss:
1) Learning to breath:
Recent studies have shown that the practice of stretching and expanding the muscles – as we do in yoga by focusing so heavily on breathing – helps to extract and utilise oxygen more efficiently which means we increase our endurance, as well as build muscle strength. These all result in greater fitness levels.
2) Bringing everything back into equilibrium
A fact that is often ignored when we begin to question weight loss is that something is out of balance. When our body is out of balance, it is likely that our organs are not working optimally. For example, if the liver is out of balance our body can no longer detoxify the body sufficiently. A toxic body is going to hold on to excess weight.
3) Stop Stressing:
It is truly remarkable how our minds affect our body. If we have a stressful day, our body unfortunately takes a beating for it. As a result of stress our adrenal glands secrete fight or flight hormones which encourage over-eating and fat storage. When we practice yoga we are forcing ourselves to slow the breath down, slow the mind down and slow the body down. Our body responds by releasing “feel-good” chemicals which calm the central nervous system, lowers the blood pressure and encourages increased blood flow across the body. We allow our parasympathetic nervous system to slow down, which allows the body to take rest. When we give the body this opportunity it automatically begins to balance our hormones, repair our injuries, and aid our digestive system.
Studies have shown that when we’re stressed out, angry or upset we tend to engage in “food-seeking behaviour”, and most of us don’t make the most sensible food choices in those situations, reaching for the chips instead of an apple. By taking on a regular yoga practice you unify the physical, energetic, emotional and mental bodies, allowing yourself to look inward at the way your body is acting and responding. You learn how to say no to that which no longer serves you, and you learn to love what is good for you. You learn how to sit and examine instead of reacting to your emotions by emotional eating for example. This practice can transform not only your eating habits but your life as a whole, which assist you in adopting a healthier, happier lifestyle free from self-sabotaging habits.
In a yoga class designed for weight loss you can expect to work on postures that stimulate the liver which detoxifies and cleanses the body, disposes bad fats, and uses good fats correctly, stores glucose, and makes the Q10 enzyme which powers muscles. You will activate the thyroid gland which helps regulate metabolic functioning in the body, as well as assist our immune system. You will help reduce the acidity within the body. A body struggling to balance its ph levels will be at risk of heart attacks. You will activate the body’s internal heat which burns up and purifies visceral (deep) fat and subcutaneous (superficial) fat. You will be burning the body’s fat stores by doing strength bearing postures such as arm balances which use almost every muscle in the body. You will cleanse the colon, helping to release any unnecessary baggage in the gut which will lead to bloating and belly fat. Finally you will balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems bringing your body and mind into a state of rest so that you can receive all the benefits of your yoga practice.
So I hope you can agree with me that yoga has a strong impact on weight and will certainly assist you on your journey to the improved you. Namaste happy people!