July 17, 2012

Yoga for Weight Loss. Why Not?

Yoga and Weight Loss

Recently, some ads posted on Facebook by Udemy, an online course company where one of my yoga-and-healthier eating programs is housed, received a lot of flack from a few yogis.

Admittedly, the ads, which I had no hand in creating, mentioned only the weight loss benefits of the 14-day Yoga and Detox course I created on the site. I believe the words “bikini body” were involved. Not great, I agreed.

So I had them change the ads to something more broad, including the empowerment and detox benefits of the program, and they did.

Simple as that, right?

Not so fat…I mean…fast.

The same people who raised concerns about the “superficiality” of a yoga program only for weight loss (which it isn’t), then seemed not to be able to let the conversation go. They were very upset by the promotion of this side of our yoga practice.

And it’s not the first time.

Which led me to wonder: what is it about the concept of weight loss as a result of our yoga practice that gets some people ready to rumble?

As someone who has lost 40 pounds doing yoga, and also created a style of yoga, Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga that often gives yogis more results—including a lean, toned body—in less time than many styles, I feel qualified, and responsible to examine the conversation.

I get it.

The core point of yoga is to be holistic, not partial, and go deep, not remain superficial.

When the craze to be physically “perfect”—whatever that is—overrides one’s ability to be at peace, satisfied and even happy from day to day, then, Houston, we have a problem.

I advocate that skinnier is not always better. I happen to be built like a telephone pole, but I’ve been 15 pounds lighter than this, and I didn’t look well. I invite students to become fit and strong and toned—and at a healthy weight for their frame. This is always a part of any discussion about yoga as a tool for inner and outer physical fitness.

Yet, some people are still living in the “prison of perfect.” 

There’s an urban myth out there that yoga doesn’t burn calories, build muscles or help students lose weight. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, and thousands of actual yogis who have transformed inside and out are living proof of this.

True, some styles just don’t move that much, or go very deep, so you can’t expect to balance out the scale with, say, a gentle or restorative practice. Yet, many more physically challenging styles, like a stronger vinyasa or power-type yoga, gives weight-loss or maintenance benefits beyond other yoga forms.

In fact, due to yoga’s lifestyle and spiritual teachings, deeper breathing, focus on balancing holistic strength with flexibility, and the addition of detoxifying moves like inversions and twists, yoga, I believe, can give superior benefits to any other type of exercise.

The deep belly work and core breathing technique we use in my classes and videos helps release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the rest-and-digest chemistry of the body, so students process food and toxins better, and don’t gain stress-related weight (or eating habits).

Yoga can be cardio, too. The flowing movements coupled with the Ujjayi breath and valve at the vocal diaphragm creates resistance that tones the heart, lungs, breathing diaphragm and breathing muscles like the intercostals and abdominal wall. I’ve had participants strap a heart and calorie monitor on in my classes, and I have, too. The heart rate stays in the fat-burning and calorie-burning range for 45 minutes of that hour, at least, and we burn an average of 5-600 calories an hour. That’s not to mention the fact that long after class, because we built more lean muscle mass through endurance holds, we are requiring more calories all day (and night) long.

Thanks to yoga’s mindfulness and relaxation benefits, we also sleep better and become more mindful of our food choices, all directly improving how we look and feel on all levels.

The one-pointed focus that serves us well when we direct it toward our ultimate goal of yoga (unity), and love, can also be limiting and turn us into control freaks on a mission to death grip the nectar out of all the goodness and balance that freedom represents.

I’m not a big fan of purely physical practice, in which we show up on the mat to get a better asana, or six-pack, and leave before savasana, or continue to practice the same dysfunctions on and off the mat, realizing nothing deeper than a lower number on the scale.

I am a proponent of a physically based practice that leads students into other life lessons as they move. Maybe it’s my New Yorker coming out, but I prefer that my workout come with flexibility training, for the body, mind, heart and spirit too.

That’s why if you watch my latest Yoga for Weight Loss, or any, video of mine, or sit in a room with me in person, you’ll always hear a full spectrum of benefits you can receive from the time you’ve joined me, from calorie burn and weight loss to weight maintenance and whole body tone, but that’s not all.

Try a 10-minute Yoga for Weight Loss video practice with me that gives you the benefits of 20 minutes of most yoga in just 10!

I also mention that if you need to lose weight, then you can do it with this style. If you don’t, there’s always “weight” to drop on other levels—stress, tension, old constrictive stories, toxins and anything else blocking you from being in your inherent state of healthy vitality and inner balance.

And, by the way, when I began yoga, I came for the workout, and I left before savasana. I wanted my body to look like the yoga body. Period. I would no more have meditated or read the Sutras than the man in the moon.

Of course, as I became more strong in my body, and transformed it, I also became more healthy, happy, confident and calm. I started with a deep concern about my back fat, and progressed into a profound interest in my own well-being and living the other beyond back fat principles of yoga.

And yes, I learned to meditate, and (usually) like it.

The physical gateway got me into yoga. Then yoga seeped in, and here I am today, teaching millions of people about the whole enlightening, empowering, transformative enchilada that a Hatha yoga practice offers them.

So, rest assured, when I offer a Weight Loss practice, or anything else, I am quite aware of what I’m doing.

If you peruse my over 200 free videos on YouTube, you’ll see all sorts of topics, from how to breathe more deeply, to insomnia, quick meditations, power smoothies for energy, the meaning of OM, core strength, and—yep—weight loss.

I hear from virtual viewers all the time that they never thought of trying yoga until they found a video they needed for some issue or ailment, like dropping some unwanted pounds or de-stressing.

I haven’t covered every doorway in, but I full well know that some people are attracted through the body. And—why the hell not?

In my opinion, to try any fitness program, yoga or otherwise, for the sole purpose of losing weight, in a country whose obesity and diet-related illnesses are skyrocketing, is something we should all encourage, not attack.

If you are seeking a powerful weight loss routine that has additional benefits, then yoga can be a perfect fit!

And you know what? Good for you. You’re already practicing yoga.

Just the act of coming to the mat, whatever one’s intention, shows a spark of self-nourishment, a seed of self-esteem and the root of courage that we as teachers have committed to help grow, whatever the surface desire might seem at first.

Not to mention that being sick and depressed, too-overweight and out-of-balance are some of the first obstacles that we as practitioners must aim to improve if we want to be able to optimally focus on the deeper layers of our being. It’s not always possible, but, when it is under one’s control, when one’s habits are causing dukkha, or suffering, anxiety and stress on the system, then it is quite appropriate to target those areas, and shift them into more sukha, or ease in the body, mind, and heart.

As yoga philosophy itself tells us, there is no separation between our levels, and that there are many, many doorways to center.

So to claim that if one approaches the mat for a purely mental reason, or to improve their weight, or to help maintain sanity during a breakup or to relieve low back pain or for any other single reason, that it’s somehow “wrong” or “unyogic”—

 Well, I think you know by now what a crock I think that is.



Editor: Brianna Bemel

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