If only there was a quick fix for weight loss problems! Our modern life style with so many delicious food options and a sedentary lifestyle is unfortunately contrary to the achievement of the iconic beach ready body.
I was a teenager in the 1980’s. Eating disorders abounded, fuelled by the sight of Jane Fonda in a skinny tank-leotard doing crazy aerobics. If you couldn’t get into size 8 jeans your life was meaningless. And many of us punished ourselves for being “fat” through starvation, bingeing and purging, and a load of other really unhealthy food-related issues. I know a lot of women in their 40’s and 50’s who really dislike their bodies. I used to be one of those, and I totally get where they are coming from.
I am a recovered binge eater, and I fully understand the implications and effects of binge eating on the heart, body and mind.
So let’s face it: We don’t have the choice of the genes we inherit. Some bodies are naturally thin and not prone to carry extra weight. Other bodies need a bit of padding to be normal. And yet other bodies have lots of muscle that can become soft without the right type of exercise. And even other bodies were meant to be slim or muscular, but have been poorly treated through lifestyle and food choices so they end up being overweight.
And being fat is not a crime. But a healthy body houses a healthy mind. And if we want to live in our bodies with ease into old age, then managing our weight is good for the joints and the self-image, as well as the body’s normal functioning and processes.
As a yoga teacher, I am oftened asked: “Will yoga help me lose weight?”
Some alternative and more constructive questions to ask before (or maybe instead of) this would be:
- Why do you want to lose weight in the first place?
- How long did it take for you to reach the weight you are now?
- Why do you think you need to lose weight?
- If you do reach your goal weight, do you think you will feel any different?
Maybe I should simply just try top answer answer the original question!
Yes, it is possible to lose weight if you start a regular yoga practice. It is a form of exercise, exercise burns calories and if you burn more than what you consume, then you will most probably lose weight.
Notice the “most probably”! Weight loss depends on a wide range of factors, most of which we do not concern ourselves with in yoga. I lost 2 stone in weight over 2 years without severe dieting (I like good food!) through my regular yoga practice, so I guess it can be done.
The most important thing to remember is that yoga is a journey, not a destination.
But if your destination is to get slimmer as you get healthier, then yoga certainly is the thing for you!
A regular yoga practice will tone your muscles and build long, lean muscle mass. It is also kind to your joints. Yoga also improves posture, with a rapid impact on your appearance. Standing tall, with the tailbone tucked under, shoulders down, chest out and head poised naturally makes anyone look slimmer. More inportantly, it makes you feel better by standing taller and staring life squarely in the eyes.
A normal Hatha yoga class doesn’t burn as many calories as, for example, running or dancing. Other forms of yoga, like Vinyasa, Bikram or Ashtanga, burn substantially more calories but are also substantially more challenging. Choose the style that is going to suit your personality, rather than your body type. A beginner’s class may be good at the start, simply to get moving and see how you feel before you make any bigger decisions.
I found that the biggest impact yoga has on weight loss is through it’s effects on mindset, body awareness and attitude. There is no such thing as an ideal body for yoga, and no one really cares about how you look in a yoga class. It’s all about how you feel. For most people with weight problems who has felt judged and also judged themselves very harshly in the past, the notion that IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER is hugely liberating!
Yoga teaches self-compassion and self-care through the philosophical principal of “Ahimsa” – harmlessness. This guides the practitioner to being more conscious of the quality and quantity of the food consumed. It is good practice not to eat at least 2 hours before a yoga class, for avoiding digestive challenges when doing some of the postures. This makes the yogi more aware of how often he eats. As the practice becomes more challenging, more energy is required and the yogi becomes aware that certain foods impact the ready availability of energy in the body, so the eating patterns change. All of this, overall, has an eventual impact on weight loss.
But the most important element of impact through yoga remains on the mind. It encourages self-acceptance and non-judgement. It releases the practitioner from the superficial need to look good. It encourages one to treat the body with respect and dignity. So the self-image becomes more positive. Self-confidence grows as the physical ability to access the postures increases.
And, as soon as the yogi lets go of all the mind-stuff that is so entwined with our weight, our body image and how we define ourselves, the weight seems to lose itself. Yoga removes the body’s need to hold on to the layering and self-defence mechanisms associated with being overweight.
With the change in mindset, the natural shift to more suitable eating patterns and lifestyle choices, and the increased exercise, weight loss is almost inevitable. But it is never, ever the purpose. Losing weight through yoga is an added benefit of living healthfully and compassionately in our bodies.
The best thing you can do for your body is to join a yoga class, regardless of your weight, size or shape. Every journey starts with the first step. Take it!
In 2018, I am looking for 5 clinically obese or heavily overweight people to join me on a journey to wellbeing, health and a slimmer body. I will post more about my own journey over the coming weeks. If you want to know more about dealing with the effects of emotional over-eating, please email me here.