Using yoga techniques for weight loss
Within yoga’s ability to create well-being lies its ability to reduce excess weight through burning calories, boosting metabolism, and encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Yoga is not a quick fix, but can be an excellent long-term holistic approach to losing excess weight and keeping it off. Not only that, but yoga creates many other positive changes; it improves self-esteem, increases mental focus, reduces stress, promotes flexibility, and increases strength and balance.
The causes of weight gain are many, and the best method to reducing excess weight with yoga requires an individualistic approach using a blend of appropriate techniques. The classic weight loss formula of reducing intake and increasing output is important, but it often does not address the deeper disharmonies or root of the cause, especially if weight gain has been a long-term issue. A general yoga practice will help lose excess weight, but a routine of yogic practices based upon and individual’s specific disharmony will be more effective. Yoga poses, breathing exercises, and meditations can be used basis upon their ability to adjust and balance hormones, emotions, and/or metabolism.
Metabolism consists of the chemical processes that create energy in the body that are regulated by the endocrine system, especially the thyroid. Yoga has a powerful stimulating and strengthening effect on the endocrine organs and thus can boost metabolism to burn more calories. The twisting and compressing of the yoga postures massage the endocrine and abdominal organs, regulating their function, improving local circulation and cleansing them of old stagnant toxins. Standing poses, especially the warrior and lunging poses, increase metabolism and also strengthen and tone the muscles, build endurance, and warm the body. Practicing the Sun Salutations will be especially helpful in boosting the body’s metabolism as will moving quickly (vinyasa) between any series of poses. Use Kapalabhati Pranayama (breath of fire) and Ujjayi Pranayama (ocean sounding breath) to help warm and energize the body and further boost metabolism. Practice Kapalabhati before of after your yoga practice, and use Ujjayi while moving between and holding yoga poses.
Twisting poses, back bends, forward bends and inversions are used to stimulate the endocrine system. If the weight gain is due to a hormonal imbalance, postures that affect the thyroid in the neck will be helpful: camel, shoulder stand, rabbit, plow, and bridge. Use Dirga Pranayama (the three part breath) to massage, tone and regulate the endocrine organs and to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which adjusts hormonal imbalances. Emotional eating is the practice of consuming food in response to feelings instead of hunger. Yoga’s effect on harmonizing, balancing and calming the mind and emotions can neutralize overpowering emotions before they result in overeating or bingeing. Yoga poses, pranayamas and meditations all bring the awareness to see emotional eating as an unhealthy habit and provide the skills to effectively process and resolve our emotional distress. Yoga has an arsenal of calming and nurturing poses to use, such as child, yoga mudra, bound angle, seated head to knee, and seated angle. Nadi Sodhana pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) is especially potent to calm the mind and reduce stress, anxiety and worry. Simple meditation practices that focus on the breath and body sensations improve self-awareness and self-reflection, reduce stress and promote equanimity.
Incorporating a yogic diet and lifestyle will create a holistic weight loss program and positive long-term change. A yogic diet is high in fiber, whole grains, legumes and vegetables; and low in fat, animal protein and processed foods. A yogic lifestyle encourages awareness and consciousness, compassion, self-knowledge, and the practice of the principles of right conduct and lifestyle of the yamas and niyamas. Yama, respect for others, includes nonviolence, truth, honesty, moderation, and noncovetousness. Niyama, positive self-action, includes purity, contentment, discipline, self-study, and devotion. Yoga is a journey and should be approached as such. Focus on slowly increasing your commitment to the yogic practices outlined above and enjoy the gradual changes that appear. Do not attempt a fast paced vinyasa until you have achieved a basic understanding of the poses. Being overweight may cause difficulty in forward folding poses and inversions, you may want to avoid or minimize these at first. Most importantly, enjoy all of the positive benefits practicing yoga will bring into your whole life–body, mind and sprit.
Twisting Squat (Parivritta Utkatasana)
This pose is an invigorating and energizing pose that strongly strengthens the lower body, massages the endoctrine and abdominal organs and boosts metabolism.
1. Stand with the feet together and inhale the palms together in front of the heart in namaste position.
2. Exhale and bend the knees, squatting down. Reach the hips down back as if you were going to sit on the edge of a chair, bringing your weight to the heels of the feet. Do not bring the hips lower than the level of the knees.
3. Keeping the palms together, bring the left elbow to the right knee and look over the right shoulder at the back corner of the ceiling. Use the arms to roll the left shoulder up and back to feel a deep twist in the upper back.
4. Breathe and hold for 3-6 breaths.
To release: inhale and press down into the feet straightening the legs and inhale the arms up toward the ceiling.
Pranayama (Yogic Breathwork) Resources
Light on Pranayama the Yogic Art of Breathing, by B. K. S. Iyengar, Yehudi Menuhin
The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama, by Richard Rosen
Pranayama: The Yoga of Breathing, by Andre Van Lysebeth
Yogic Pranayama: Breathing for Long Long Life, by K. Joshi
Pranayama: a Conscious Way of Breathing, by Ranjit Sen Gupta [Resources provided by New Life Journal]
Timothy Burgin is a certified Kripalu Yoga instructor, licensed acupuncturist, and founder and executive director of YogaBasics.com. Timothy is the creator of Acu-Yoga Therapy, a holistic approach to wellness combining the eastern healing practices of acupuncture, massage, meditation and yoga. For more information visit www.AcuYogaTherapy.com or email email@example.com.
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