How can yoga help me lose weight if it is slow and calming?
by Charlotte Watts
Weight loss is not simply about punishing exercise to burn calories. Our state of health is determined by what we put into our bodies and how much we move around, but also how in balance and efficient our body systems are able to be by how we treat them. Our whole beings need both activity and rest, stimulation and recharging – appetite, food choices, energy and sleep patterns can all be affected by poor posture, high stress and disordered breathing patterns; states that can get forgotten as underlying causes to the digestive, detoxification, blood sugar imbalance and addictive patterns that can all contribute to ill-health and weight gain.
But yoga is not simply a physical practice – emphasising the breath and reconnecting with our bodies opens up the way to finding the integral sense of self that leads to positive change in your relationship with your body. A practice needs to be steady and regular to see the benefits – little and often can have better effects than one intense class a week.
Physical and postural integrity:
- Slow release of muscles allows loosening in those that have been tightened by stress, tension and either inactivity or stressful activity – this makes your body respond to physical activity in a more positive way. You’ll feel more fluid and simply want to move around more.
- This practise helps to correct any postural problems that may have resulted from weight gain, whilst encouraging the flexibility and joint movement that allow movement and the building up of strength.
- Yoga works the whole body, lengthening muscles to make them longer and leaner rather than shorter and bulkier; leaner muscle is more efficient.
Supporting all body system function with regular practice:
- A calming practice helps you to take in more oxygen to support energy production and all body systems.
- Yoga helps bring sluggish glands into balance supporting weight management by helping normalise thyroid, liver and adrenal function and therefore blood sugar balance. A practice that includes forward bends, back arches, twists and inversions stimulates the whole endocrine (hormonal) system and massages your internal organs to increase their circulation and function.
- A regular yoga practice helps improve digestion function through both the physical aspects and bringing the nervous system out of a state of ‘constant alert’. This helps improve elimination of toxins, tendency to bloating and how we efficiently assimilate energy from the food we eat, so reducing the need to take on more than we need.
The importance of breath:
- We live in a society where we are continually faced with stimulus that keeps us in a state of constant alert, exciting our nervous system and tending us towards more shallow breathing than our bodies can handle. Adapting to this is hard work for the body and means we take in less oxygen than we mean to function optimally.
- Our breathing also naturally becomes shallower in the face of pollution and as we grow older so it is vital to employ techniques and stay conscious of breathing deeply and fully – regular yoga practice with an emphasis on the breath helps to instil this capacity.
- Regulating breathing increases the flow of oxygen into the body, making the metabolism more efficient and chemical reactions can happen faster – all meaning that you burn fuel as calories at a higher rate.
- More oxygen in the blood means that the pancreas needs to produce less insulin to get sugar efficiently into cells. As insulin can make us store fat calmer breathing both helps blood sugar balance and our tendency to gain weight in the long run.
- Full breathing is required to move the body’s lymphatic system and allow full detoxification. Holding on to toxins can contribute to bloating, cravings and constipation.
Calming and the overall freedom this brings:
- A calming, meditative type practice helps to bring down stress hormones, especially that which we release in respond to long-term stress, cortisol – of which high levels tend to make us lay down fat around the waist. High cortisol levels also affect sleep and disrupted sleep patterns have shown to affect weight often by leading to raised appetite in an attempt to take on more fuel to make up for the tiredness.
- Much overeating and cravings come from stress and tension so a calming practice helps to reduce excess food intake and the worry that this causes in turn.
- Calming your nervous system and bringing your body into balance helps you become more connected and intuitive with your body. Quick-fixes like sugar and stimulants can begin to seem less appealing and more like the energy drainers that they are.
- Studies have shown that those who do yoga don’t necessarily lose weight because of a calorie burning effect, but rather that as a group they accumulate less weight over the years because the discipline and becoming accustomed to the strong sensations it brings up make them better at resisting cravings!
The yogic aspect:
- In yoga it is believed that prana, the life-force that we take in through the breath (and healthy food and sunlight) is energising and supports all body systems, meaning that the body becomes more efficient and you feel less sluggish and able to be more active.
- Although there are some calorie-burning aspects to a yoga practise, the emphasis is not on the physical aspects of asanas (postures) but rather the philosophical. Asanas are a small part of the yogic system and are used as a way to connect mind and body – yoga means union and it is a way of bringing us down out of our heads, reconnecting with our bodies. This awareness can help improve our sense of self and become more kind and compassionate towards our bodies and ourselves.