How even the most gentle yoga can help everyone lose weight ...
Some people do yoga for peace of mind, some for stress reduction, some for exercise, and some for transcendent bliss. Some yogis are healthy, some are looking to be healthier, and some people seek yoga in order to better manage the symptoms and challenges of chronic or acute conditions.
And some people do yoga for all of the above.
One of the reasons I love yoga is because of its uncanny ability to make everything in life a little easier. My favourite time to practice yoga is first thing in the morning. I find the benefits of Morning Yoga continue to improve my overall well-being long after I leave the mat. It helps me to approach the day with a calmer mind, carry less tension in my body, and to be more patient and focused when dealing with unexpected challenges.
And yes, yoga can also help with weight loss. But it’s less about burning calories and working up a sweat than you might think. In fact, even the shortest and gentlest of practices can help reduce calories.
Aw come on, I hear you object, melt fat without breaking a sweat? … No way.
It may sound like hype, but I assure you, it's a real thing.
So how does it work?
Well, even if you are new to yoga, you have probably already worked out that it basically comes down to relaxing the body and mind through gentle movement and deep breathing. What you might not know is that each time we practice yoga it increases our focus by altering the structure of the brain.
Through conscious breathing, the oxygen intake throughout the body is increased, allowing all inner workings of the body to function better. Through stretching, we begin to relax our muscles and release tension from the inside out. And with the mind and body relaxed and tension free, the stress-regulating hippocampus in our brain becomes enlarged, as well as the superior parietal cortex, which governs our focus.
Put in a simpler way ... Have you ever dived into a tub of Ben & Jerry's after a bad day? Well, that could very well have something to do with a stressful or emotional situation you encountered during the day, which in turn reduced your focus and led you to make a poor decision about food that you otherwise may not have made.
Through a regular yoga practice, even a short 15 minute practice, we can improve how the brain controls our reaction to stress, which in turn leads to improved focus and better decision making i.e. healthier food choices and easier weight loss, to name but one.
Being more focused and tuned into our body also improves our intuition and helps us to pick up on the more subtle messages that our brains are sending us. Like, allowing ourselves the time to pause when we wander into the kitchen and ask, am I here because I’m hungry or bored?
Self-compassion is another ‘tool’ that we learn through a regular practice of yoga.
Learning to take a minute or two at the beginning or at the end of your practice to be silently nice to yourself can help foster a compassion that flows into every aspect of your life. Self-compassion can be as simple as taking a minute to be grateful for what you have in life rather than wishing for more, to love those thighs rather than hate them, or to forgive yourself for eating that tub of ice cream last night rather than beat yourself up about it.
In fact, research has shown that people who are nice to themselves with their ‘inner voice’ are more focused, happier in their bodies, and are far more likely to go back to healthy eating after a dietary ‘slip-up’
Improved levels of focus and self-compassion can not only lead to an intake of fewer calories, but to top it all off, yoga can also change where the calories end up. Normally, fat collects where we want it least - the stomach. This is in part due to a rise in the so-called stress hormone, cortisol. And yip… you guessed it, yoga has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, making it easier to shed the dreaded belly fat.
In fact, in a recent study of more than 15,000 adults in their 50s, overweight people who did yoga at least once a week for 4 or more years lost an average of 5 pounds, while those who didn't practice packed on an average of 13.5 - that's a difference of nearly 20 pounds from only one class per week! Additionally, yogis who started at a healthy weight were more likely to maintain their weight than those who never unrolled a mat.
As one of my wise teachers once said, “Yoga won’t change your life, but it will make you pay attention and think differently.”
For a short practice to help curb emotional eating and encourage focus, try consciously breathing while holding the following poses (for 3-5 breaths each):
Downward facing dog
(With bent knees or straight legs depending on ability)
Have yourself a great day,