Yoga has many well-known benefits, including increased flexibility, muscle strength, and reduced stress. But can it help with weight loss?
You need to burn calories and increase your heart rate to lose weight. To do this, you need aerobic exercise. The word "aerobic" means "in the presence of oxygen." Thus, any activity that increases your body's oxygen capacity will enhance your ability to burn calories and lose weight.
Many types of yoga provide a small amount of aerobic intensity, but nothing near the level of cardio one gets from running or swimming. However, some styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga, combine yogic breath work (pranayama) with more active movement. These styles build heat in the body and can burn more calories than slower-paced Hatha Yoga or Restorative Yoga classes. Many people on weight-reducing diets add a yoga practice to other calorie-burning activities like running, biking, and swimming for added weight loss and health benefits.
Make sure you start with a beginner’s class if you haven't done yoga before or are trying out a new style. Jumping right into a fast-paced Vinyasa or Power Yoga class without the experience, strength, or knowledge of the postures can cause more harm than good.
The benefits of yoga extend way beyond merely torching calories. Below are some health benefits of yoga, plus how it can support your weight loss goals.
“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophies.”
When stressed out, your body produces certain hormones that shift your nervous system's equilibrium, causing weight gain. Studies have shown that regular yoga practice can lower the levels of stress hormones present in your body, restoring balance. This benefit comes from stretching and loosening muscles that may be tight due to tension and stress. Bringing awareness to your breath and doing simple meditations can help to calm your mind and support your mental health. Also, deep breathing can relax and oxygenate the body, releasing tension.
A Body in Balance
Yoga can help strengthen weak muscles due to a lack of physical activity. Yoga is a full-body workout that helps increase the range of motion in your joints and ligaments. Practicing yoga regularly improves digestion and elimination, reducing water retention and bloating. It also improves muscle tone and circulation, which helps regulate the endocrine glands’ activity. These include the thyroid and the adrenals, which govern your appetite, moods, and sleep.
Yoga asanas (poses) increase the flow of prana, or vital life energy, throughout the body. When prana gets blocked or doesn't flow freely, you can feel sluggish, tired, and emotionally off-kilter. As you practice yoga and get the life force flowing again, you can more easily release old emotions and thought patterns that keep you stuck. When you let go of these old and worn-out thought patterns, your self-image will improve, allowing you to continue taking care of yourself. Finding balance in your body through yoga helps you find balance in other areas of your life.
Enhanced Mind-Body Awareness
Yoga seeks to unify mind, body, and spirit. As you become more aware of your internal self, you may question your body's needs. You might learn to take breaks or go deeper during your yoga flow on your mat, while off your mat, you might choose the grilled salmon over the fish and chips.
Yoga enhances body awareness and encourages focus, commitment, and discipline resulting in the ability to be in touch with your body and aware of your choices. You may become more conscious of your food choices. Many yogis become drawn to whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, instead of processed and fast food.
Integrating mind, body, and spirit can result in a greater understanding of food as nourishment instead of punishment. Under-eating can be as harmful as overeating. Yoga can help instill a desire to treat your body with what's essential, healthy, and vital.
Focus on the means, not the end! Yoga is an integrated system of movement, breath, and behavior that can transform your life on deep levels. Try not to approach yoga simply as a means to decrease your body weight. Yoga poses are a physical aspect of the practice, and while the physical benefits feel wonderful, yoga can offer so much more to your experience and life. Keep an open mind; you might see the pounds melt away without realizing it!
Yoga Principles for Healthy Body Image
Ancient yoga texts like the sage Patanjali's Yoga Sutras offer guidance through specific ways of living. The restraints (yamas) and observances (niyamas) discussed in the Sutras are yogic principles that guide our choices throughout everyday life.
The principle of Satya is often translated as "truth." However, it also refers to living with integrity and refraining from dishonesty in thought, word, and deed. Being honest with yourself might mean facing the emotions behind overeating. It can mean confronting your fears about losing weight and what it might mean for you. Satya can also mean seeing yourself as you truly are and being able to accept reality, not an image or fantasy you've made up in your mind.
The principle of santosha, meaning "contentment," teaches you to find joy in your life, not coveting what you don't have. The more time you spend thinking about what you don't have, the less time you'll have to appreciate what you do have. Trying to make peace with your extra weight might be frustrating, but striving to attain unrealistic standards can be even more disheartening. It's not worth it to beat yourself up because you don't look like your idealized self. Maybe you have beautiful eyes, or your hands are strong and flexible. Focus on what is good in your own life right now.
Yoga can help bring awareness to your body the way nothing else can. Becoming attentive to your true needs and desires can unify the connection between your mind, body, and spirit. Yoga helps you regain control over your thoughts and actions and can ultimately bring meaning to the previously unenlightened areas of your life, making your weight-loss journey easier and healthier.