Yoga does provide favourable conditions for weight loss, however it is not the silver bullet that the marketing world has made it out to be.
There needs to be a variety of elements at play before healthy and sustainable weight loss is experienced. Additional factors like nutrition, stress reduction, good quality sleep and other lifestyle factors also greatly influence people’s ability to lose weight effectively.
The following information comes out of my own experience being a yoga student of 10+ years and a “hot yoga teacher” (2 – 7 classes a week) for a good 5 years. During this time I was witness to 100’s of students, myself included, and observed how the body tends to respond to yoga (in particular “Hot Yoga”) in relation to weight loss. During this time I also experimented with heart rate monitors during classes to help measure calories burnt and the results I discovered were eye opening, yet also supported my suspicions.
While yoga isn’t the ideal exercise or approach to support weight loss (especially on its own), it does however offer a lot of support to the cause.
One of the main benefits that yoga offers is in the support of the detoxification process via the lymphatic system.
As the lymphatic system does not have its own pumping system to move lymphatic waste through the body for elimination, it therefore requires physical movement, namely stretching, in order to flush itself properly.
If we repeat similar movement patterns and don’t stretch the tissues in the body, lymph waste and fluids easily stagnate.
This doesn’t support weight loss and the waste fluid tends to turn into a phlegmy-type substance which clogs up the energy system of the body. Therefore, we need to move the body in a variety of ways in order to support the lymphatic system.
Yoga also promotes tonification of muscle tissue and enhances flexibility, but the one thing it doesn’t get into deeply, is the cardiovascular system.
Generally the heart rate needs to be slightly elevated for at least 20 minutes for the cardio system to really get a good workout and most yoga practices don’t provide this. I see many people practicing yoga regularly yet they don’t tend to lose much weight.
Often this is because they are not including cardio exercise in their weight loss program, which I think is the missing piece of the puzzle. The most common forms of cardio are swimming, running, fast walking and cycling, and are therefore encouraged to be included in any weight loss program. The best book I have ever come across regarding working with cardio-based exercise is the book is called Slow Burn: Burn Fat Faster By Exercising Slower by Stu Mittleman. Stu Mittleman explains how exercising slowly, steadily and with more mindfulness enhances results and adds joy to our practice.
Yoga asanas and yogic breathing adds more digestive fire!
This is great news because many people tend to have a lack of, or weakened digestive fire, which we often translate as a sluggish or slow metabolism. Yoga and any exercise that generates more heat and circulation in the body will support digestion and speed up metabolism.
Other things to generally avoid in regards to diet are ice-cold drinks and phlegmy producing foods such as cheese, dairy and saturated fats.
These foods tends to extinguish the inner digestive fire which makes it harder for our digestive system to function optimally. Many people who are overweight have weak digestive fire. Thus the focus should be on re-igniting the fire using slightly spicy foods, warm foods and warm drinks.
I would generally suggest for most people that raw foods (especially in excessive amounts, meaning 2 meals a day as raw ongoing) are generally a no-no for those wanting to loose weight because they weaken the digestive fire!
If after eating any meal feels like its sitting heavy in your belly – its a sign that there is a lack of digestive fire. A small cup of hot tea or a shot of coffee can often help with that after a meal.
Interestingly, Ayurveda (the mother medicine of which yoga branches out from) does not support raw food. Ayerveda strongly suggests warming, easy to digest, well cooked foods such as kitchari (image) and dhal for losing weight and for healing. How we connected raw food with yoga I don’t really know.
Another important factor found in yoga and Ayurveda is that the yogi never eats to over 80% full.
To do so damages and stretches the tissues in the gut, further inhibiting one’s ability to digest foods efficiently.
So, while yoga does support the body in the weight loss process, it alone is not enough to lose wiehgt. It offers support to the lymphatics and adds fire to the digestion but thats about it.
With a few extra adjustments in lifestyle alongside yoga practice, weight loss can be a successful, healthy, sustainable and enjoyable journey.
IN SUMMERY, THE 4 KEY LESSONS ARE:
1. Move the body in various and dynamic ways to support the lymphatic system in flushing waste materials out of the body.
2. Add some form of cardio-type exercise alongside the yoga practice.
Aim for a slight elevation in heart rate for 20 minutes at a time. Avoid overexerting yourself, as this tends to drain internal energy excessively.
3. Avoid ice-cold drinks, dairy and foods that are generally cold and phlegmy in nature.
Focus on stimulating and re-igniting the digestive fire with slightly spicy foods and warm drinks.
4. Avoid eating to more than 80% full.
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