When many people think of yoga, the last thing that comes to mind is losing weight. How can a practice that appears to be so gentle, low-impact and non-cardiovascular help to lower that number on the scale?
Most of us who are avid yoga practitioners or even for those of us who know very little about this ancient practice, are aware of the stress-reducing benefits that come from engaging in a simple routine of breath work and asanas, the Sanskrit name for yoga postures. But what many don’t know is how yoga can become a formidable tool for weight loss. Here are a few of the reasons why:
1) Yoga is tough. Depending upon the style of yoga that you do, you can get in a real workout, one that will make you sweat and use muscles in your body that you didn’t even know you had. If you’re an avid gym goer and need the cardiovascular high of a workout, your best yoga bet is Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga may go by its original name or yoga schools may offer Ashtanga-hybrid classes under the names of Power Yoga or Vinyassa yoga. Bikram yoga is also another sure-bet calorie burner.
An average 130-pound person taking a 60-minute high intensity yoga class can burn up to 375 calories!
Other styles of yoga that have a lower intensity level can burn anywhere from 150 calories to 200 calories in a one-hour class.
2) Yoga Teaches Mindfulness. Regardless if your yoga of choice is a sweaty kind or a low-intensity style, yoga cultivates both body and mind awareness. By using the breath as a way to focus the mind, an inner stillness ensues. It is in this state, that you are able to watch yourself, even if it is as you are telling yourself that you can’t hold Warrior I posture for an additional second, you still observe how your physical body affects your mind and vice versa. As you become more accepting of the abilities of your body and more mindful of how what you do affects how you feel, your dietary choices are gradually influenced as well.
One of the great misnomers of yoga is that you have to be vegetarian in order to practice yoga. That is completely false. But what is true is that the more you practice yoga consistently, the more aware you become that your relationship to food is more psychological than it is biological. In this sense, a gradual spotlight is shined on our eating habits whether we engage in eating on the run, eating for emotional reasons, or eating out of boredom. Eating for any reason but pure hunger is mindless eating.
Over time, this awareness of what we are doing starts to shift our relationship to food. Many people who have started to practice yoga see their weight drop effortlessly because of the body and mind awareness that this ancient spiritual practice so magically develops. They catch themselves in their tracks as they reach for a bag of cookies when they’re really not hungry or they pause before they reach for a second serving of mashed potatoes. As this food mindfulness increases, the amount of food and the kinds of food we typically eat start to shift. This awareness often translates to a reduction in weight because we realize how frequently what we eat is dictated by our mind and not by our physical body’s need for energy.
3.) Keep active in each posture. Even though you may hold a given yoga posture for five breaths or more, you shouldn’t just hang out in the posture. As you stand or sit positioned in a stationary posture, there are many things you can be working on that help your body and burn calories. For instance, keep lengthening your muscles by “growing” or stretching in each posture. Every breath should be an opportunity for you to elongate and strengthen your muscles more. This kind of action burns extra calories as well as improving your flexibility, strength and balance.
Whether you choose to practice yoga for relaxation reasons, weight reasons or for social reasons, you are destined to reap the many benefits of this ancient spiritual mind-body practice.
September 21st, 2008