Archive | impermanence RSS feed for this section

Lose Weight with Yoga: 7 Brilliant Ways to Help You Do It.

8 Aug

Weight loss huh? Bet that title grabbed your attention. Google the phrase “weight loss” and you’ll see about 275 million results. We live in a country where one out of three people are obese, yet we are more concerned with weight loss and dieting than we have ever been before. There’s a disconnection present, a preoccupation people have with what they should look like over a holistic approach to health. This, I believe, is where yoga comes in. The literal translation of the word yoga is “to yolk,” or to unite, and refers to the uniting of mind, body and spirit. What makes yoga different from any other form of diet and exercise is that it’s not JUST about calories or JUST about exercise, it’s about looking at the self as a whole, and achieving vibrant and lasting health from there.

I’ll admit it, I have been dieting since I was eleven years old. I’ve seen the scale go up and down more times than the stock market, sometimes as dramatically as 40lbs in one year. But every time that scale has crept up, I can honestly say that weight gain was not a result of simple mathematics. It wasn’t that I was eating fast food every night and playing video games all day; something in my life was very out of balance and for me, weight gain was the result. Now, it’s not that I have cracked the code to a life of model-skinny weight and Madonna’s biceps, but I have found that my yoga practice has led me to a place of a healthy weight and a kind of radical self acceptance that crash dieting, starvation or excessive exercise never could have.

How, do you ask? Here are seven ways that yoga can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight:

1. Mindfulness. Yoga promotes it. A yoga practice of asana (poses), pranayama (breath work) and meditation encourages a mindful relationship with the present moment, and helps to create a bit of space between the obsessive thoughts in our minds that often lead to overeating or choosing less wholesome foods. And let’s be honest: you are what you eat. Do you want to be a Ho-Ho or piece of fresh fruit? The mindfulness you cultivate in your yoga practice allows you to make wiser food choices, which in the long run promote weight loss. And  like my friend and Personal Trainer Breanne Curran always says, “you can’t out-train a crappy diet.”

2. Inward Reflection. The more you practice yoga, the more inward your focus becomes and the more self-awareness you develop. You will never lose weight and keep it off long term if you don’t acknowledge what led you to gain in the first place. Most people want a quick fix, to see the numbers drop without any real introspection and work. But as I have found for myself and many others stuggling with weight is that we gained the weight for a reason that goes beyond eating too much and not exercising enough, and if we don’t get to the root of why, we’ll be prisoners of the cycle forever.

3. Self-Acceptance. The biggest killer of any weight loss attempt is self-loathing, criticism and neglect. One of the most prominent messages in yoga is compassion, and as anyone with a spiritual practice knows, you cannot extend compassion to others if you don’t first extend it to yourself. With compassion comes forgiveness, and in order to lose weight you have to be able to forgive yourself for your mistakes in order to move on. If you expect your weight loss journey to go off without a hitch, perfectly according to plan you will set yourself up for disaster. But if you are able to view a setback or slip up with compassion and self-acceptance, you are much more likely to keep going and succeed.

4. Body Awareness. For many years, my body was just a vehicle to transport my head around, I had very little awareness of it otherwise and if I did, I was aware that I didn’t like how it looked. But with yoga I have been able to get quiet, tune into my breath and feel and experience the amazing organism that is my body and as a result, have learned to appreciate it much more. Now I know what hunger really feels like and am able to discern whether I am hungry for food or (insert love, entertainment, a xanax, etc). And the other amazing thing about this newfound awareness is that I am able to discern how I feel after eating certain foods, so I choose foods that help me feel energized, light and alive.

5. Impermanence. One of the biggest obstacles in my own journey has been lamenting and attaching to the “skinny” Meghan. If only I could fit into my skinny jeans or look as good in a bikini as I used to, then I would be content. Um, flashback to 21 year-old Meghan…I wasn’t content! I thought I was fat! Hello! Trying to return to an old version of yourself is the most counter-productive thing on earth, and you will never, ever be satisfied. In yoga we talk about impermanence often, how life is like a river, always moving and changing  and not staying the same for long. If we cling to ideas of returning to an old weight or freak out if the scale hasn’t budged in a few weeks, we have to just face one of the most basic and fundamental truths of our existence: nothing lasts, everything changes and life keeps moving whether we want it to or not. So rather than giving up if you aren’t the weight you once were or things are happening fast enough, remember that change is inevitable and positive change is always in your hands.

6. Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the sister-science of yoga and has been around just as long (like, 3,000 years). I’m not going to wax expert on Ayurveda at all, but I will tell you that we are all made up of the same stuff the Universe is made of, and the Universe does a pretty darn good job at balancing itself out without us mucking it up. And when we do muck it up, we have an over-abundance of some stuff we don’t want (aka excessive natural disasters=excessive junk in the trunk). So in Ayurveda we each have a specific constitution or dosha, and the philosophy is that when our dosha is imbalanced, one of the results is weight gain. You can take a quiz here to discover your dosha and get suggestions on how to balance it out. I’m usually very Kapha dominant, and when I eat according to my dosha, I feel pretty darn good.

7. Increased Metabolism. Okay, exercise does help you lose weight and since the physical portion of yoga IS exercise, it can most definitely help you slim down. What I found for myself is that a yoga practice just challenging enough to make me sweat and push my edge is what I need to see results, especially when I combine yoga with other physical activities like running, cycling and hiking. Now, my edge may be different from your edge, and that is why yoga is so great–one size doesn’t have to fit all. But I do recommend sweating. You will stoke your internal fire (tapas) and in turn up the calorie burning potential of your metabolism. Add that to mindful eating, self inquiry, compassion and food and lifestyle changes tailored to your specific constitution, you will be on the road to long term weight loss success!