We are living though a fascinating age of engineered food and high-jacked tastebuds, food porn and body shaming, yo-yo celebrity fad diets and extreme workout trends. The whole system is set up for failure and shame.
So, I think we can agree that, in this environment, we are at high risk of having a completely disordered relationship with body image and how we nourish ourselves.
But there is another way. A kinder, gentler way! In my own personal experience, the quieter aspects of Yoga allowed me to go from a size 16-18 down to a size 8-10. And not one hot sweaty killer workout was involved!
Frequent classes in a regular-temperature environment in the Iyengar tradition of Yoga, and following Ayurvedic nutrition principles resulted in my weight-loss / health gain experience in 2002. These practices have been very easy to maintain over time, and have been a key part of keeping that weight off.
How Yoga Helps
80% of what is wrong with us is stress related. When we are stressed, it becomes easy to look for comfort through food. Through messages found everywhere, we are constantly encouraged to do just that. The quieter practices like restorative poses and breath work turn on the rest and digest aspect of the nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system.
With Yoga, our minds become much more clear and peaceful, and the horizon of options for healthy choices expands so we can make wiser decisions for ourselves around eating and self care.
Yoga asana (poses and movements) are definitely an important part of any weight loss effort, but the real value and promise of Yoga is in the way that we can bring control over our minds and thoughts, and through that, we control our health. We use the breath to bring awareness to our movement habits and nourishment habits, and we discover very interesting insights about them. We open our minds to new ways of looking at how we can make changes, and we can experience these changes with an open heart and with joy!
Watch the Healing Yoga webisode for Weight Loss below:
Hot or Not?
Although I’ve enjoyed some Hot Yoga practices, I never lost weight as a result of Hot Yoga. In fact, over the years I have seen many women coming to Hot Yoga because they thought it would help lose weight. For so many, they were disappointed, and sadly, they were never encouraged to explore other styles and traditions to see if they could yield the results they were looking for! Be curious and try different temperatures and traditions so you can find a style you enjoy and a teacher you love, so it never becomes a “workout”.
Standing poses with longer holds are very grounding and help with balance. The poses created more strength and stability in my lower body, allowing me to build more muscle mass and burn more fat.
Working the core, belly organs and the digestive system, and the 3rd Chakra by taking the body through various compressions, twists, and openings, will definitely result in an improvement of the body’s ability to digest and assimilate nutrients. These poses bring fresh blood and lymph to the mid-section and all of the body’s organs are nourished and bathed in fresh prana, lifeforce and vitality.
Inversions that provide compression of the base of the throat, such as bridge pose and shoulder stand with lots of blankets are very helpful. They stimulate the base of the throat and bring fresh blood and prana to the thyroid and parathyroid. This is very important for metabolism.
Pranayama breath practices like Bellows Breath (Bhastrika) and Shining Scull Breath (Kapala Bhati) are excellent breaths that bring clarity to the mind and help get the fires of digestion in the 3rd Chakra going.
But relaxing is KEY!
We’re told that we need to really get things going in our practice to rev up fat burning. If sweating it out in a hot room is something that excites you, go for it! A fairly vigorous practice in a regular temperature room, that warms the body so you feel a glow coming on, is also good! But anytime you take a challenging practice, take AT LEAST 15 minutes of Savasana at the end of your class.
If you are going to a studio that doesn’t offer the time to allow you to enjoy the health the benefits of nice long Savasana, then take that Savasana when you get home or before you go to bed. This is the best way to help the body balance the nervous system and completely recharge.
When we relax, we optimize our ability to digest and assimilate nutrients. Everything and all the systems of the body work better when we are relaxed. The hormones that tell the body to store fat are diminished, and we start metabolizing and assimilating nutrients more effectively.
It’s the most “delicious” part of the practice, so you don’t want to miss it!
Weight Loss and The 1st Rule of Yoga: Ahimsa – Loving Kindness, Compassion
While there are so many aspects of Yoga Philosophy we can apply to our weight-loss journey, the most important concept is Ahimsa. There is a lot of judgment and negativity around being heavier, and it takes a lot of inner strength to overcome that negativity because it comes from outer as well as inner sources.
Ahimsa is the practice of watching the negative thoughts arise, and making an inquiry into them to see if what we are thinking is actually true (usually not!). Then we replace those thoughts with thoughts of loving kindness and compassion towards ourselves. How? We look in the mirror into our own eyes and say, “I am taking care of me NOW, because choosing health and feeling great is a gift I give myself!” Then we take positive action immediately! Then we replace soda with green tea. We step away from the computer and roll out the mat for a few Sun Breaths and cow-cat variations.
It’s when we are at peace within ourselves that we experience a sense of wholeness and integration, which is the true definition of yoga. This is when we being to take self-love and self-care seriously, and we start to see major changes on the outside, and making good choices becomes almost effortless!
Relapse is an opportunity to work with Ahimsa again, to forgive ourselves, to let the episode go completely, and just begin again. That is why we call it a practice, after all!
“Do The Practice, All Is Coming…”
A famous yoga master quieted many of his students’ questions with this response, “Do The Practice, All Is Coming…”He also said “Yoga is 99% practice, and 1% theory”. Of course we all want results NOW, but while we’re going through the process of regaining our health, just do the practice, and allow the results show up in their own way. Let’s celebrate each step of the journey, and enjoy achieving key milestones, but let the milestones become byproducts of our desired behaviours, and not goals in and of themselves.
This is a key concept in yoga – Practice & Dispassion (Abhyasa & Vairgara). We see things unfold and eliminate any conditions or obstacles for happiness. This is how we let go of the outcome, and allow the great things to unfold in their own divine timing and order!
I resisted all temptations to be weighing myself or taking my measurements, and came into the present moment in order to keep my attention off of the goal, and on the process. This is at the heart of mindfulness in our practice!
Bhagavad Gita also tells us, “Make your best effort and leave the results to God” (2.47).
– Deborah Devine
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