The obesity statistics are alarming: One-third of all Americans are obese and two-thirds are overweight. For individuals who are so overweight, losing weight is more involved than simply counting calories and exercise. It also has to do with how their relationship to food and exercise enables weight gain and the continuous cycle of over indulgence and a sedentary lifestyle.
The ancient system of yoga, which was developed in India thousands of years ago, has shown promising help for those who are feeling imprisoned by an unhealthy relationship to food. Not only is yoga exercise, which is an indispensable component to any healthy lifestyle program, but it makes us more aware of our thoughts and emotions and it engenders compassion and non-reaction when uncomfortable situations arise.
For those who struggle with their weight, turning to food for comfort following a stressful or anxiety-provoking event is often a knee-jerk reaction that enables overeating and binge-eating. What follows are feelings of remorse, guilt and shame. Yoga can help identify the feelings that trigger these situations and consequently help to create some space in our minds to contemplate our actions before we do something we will later regret.
Yoga deals with all aspects of the body: the physical self, mind and the spirit. Its comprehensive practice helps the practitioner become more in control of their entire body so that urges to eat can be observed and quelled without the dependence on food.
One simple yoga asana that anyone can do is a Sun Salutation. Sun Salutations are a complete practice by themselves. They raise your heart rate, improve muscle strength and definition, and quiet the mind.
Here is how to perform a basic Sun Salutation:
1). Start in a standing position with your heels together, arms at your side. Deepen your inhales and exhales as you breathe slowly in and out of your nose.
2) As you inhale, raise your arms up over your head bringing your palms together.
3) As you exhale, open your arms to your sides and fold forward, bending your knees if you need to. Let your arms come down towards your legs with your fingertips or palms touching or trying to touch the floor.
4). As you inhale, lift your heart and head up, halfway and look out beyond the tip of your nose.
5). On your next exhale, press your palms into the floor and step your right foot back and then your left foot back and lower yourself down onto your belly or keep your belly lifted off the floor. Your elbows should be bent, palms flat on the floor adjacent to your breast bone.
6). As you inhale, slide on to the tops of your feet, pulling your lower belly through. Gaze up towards the ceiling and allow your shoulders to drop away from your ears.
7) As you exhale, curl your toes under you, raise your hips and extend back into downward dog as your heels reach towards the floor. Resist the urge to bring your feet flat to the floor by walking your hands towards your feet or vice versa. Instead, keep your legs where they are and breathe here for at least 5 complete breaths.
8). At the end of your exhale, walk your feet to your hands and lift your head and heart up halfway with your fingertips still on the ground.
9) As you exhale, fold in towards your legs.
10). As you inhale, lift your torso up, taking your arms out to your sides and finishing with them over your head, palms together.
11.) As you exhale, lower your arms to your side finishing just like how you began.
If you are new to yoga, start out gradually by just performing a few Sun Salutations and then increasing the amount that you do as become more able. Try to do Sun Salutations every day, even if just for 10 minutes. Stay focused on your breath and notice how the stillness yet invigorating energy you develop stays with you after your yoga practice is complete.
November 23rd, 2008