If I had a dollar every time I heard or read about the “No pain, no gain” rule for losing weight, I would be one rich yogi. Frankly, I am a bit tired of articles and fitness gurus preaching about the need to endure pain and “feel the burn” if I needed to lose weight. While there are multiple, legitimate and healthy ways one can lose weight, my basic premise is that you DO NOT need to endure pain to lose weight.
A popular misconception is that while yoga may be great for managing stress or to increase flexibility, you need to hit the gym or the streets, push yourselves, and sweat like crazy if you want to lose weight. After all, yoga does not burn as much calories as an hour at the gym or running in the park does. Nor will it build muscle quickly which ensures you burn more calories when your body is at rest.
It is time to bust that myth.
First things first. I am not talking about power yoga or doing yoga inside a sauna or all that crazy fads that have surfaced about yoga (including drinking beer and doing doga (with your pet)). This blog talks about your everyday practice of yoga – for an hour which includes some warm-up exercises, 10 rounds of Surya Namaskar, followed by 8-12 asanas (held for as long as you comfortably can) and ending with pranayama (deep cleansing and breathing exercises).
So will this simple routine help me lose weight? Yes. In fact, yoga is a longer-term, for-life solution for weight loss.
YOGA BUILDS ALERTNESS:
Yoga addresses (and attacks) the weight problem at every level in your physical and spiritual body, thus involving the breath, the body, the mind, the intelligence and the soul. In no other physical exercise regimen do you have the ability to still your body, and pay attention to what the body is trying to tell you. The stillness creates an awareness of how you are breathing (shallow or deep and cleansing), how you are holding your muscles (clenched or relaxed), and how your senses are working (focused or distracted). As you continue to practice regularly, you are building up a detailed awareness of every part of your body.
Here is how this awareness can help you lose weight, and keep it off.
80% of your weight loss is determined by what you put into your mouth. Read that again. 80%. The balance 20% is based on the calories that you burn during the day, which includes the exercise you do, the calories needed by the body to maintain it, and to support the activities of the day (walking up and down while talking on the phone, house work, climbing stairs, cleaning out the cupboard etc.). This means your weight loss is largely (80%) determined by what you put into your mouth.
When we practice yoga, the primary skill we learn is to become aware of our breath and our body. We usually eat/over eat when we are hungry, stressed, or bored. When we are stressed, our breath becomes shallower, our mind is screaming for fatty/rich/sugary food (since we equate it with feeling happy) and our body is finding ways to get back to a less stressed stage. While starving is something no doctor in the world would recommend, eating whenever we feel (or think we feel) hungry or stressed is a NO-NO too. The key then is to be alert to what our body is telling us, and to act accordingly. If it is truly 2-3 hours since you had a major meal, and drinking a cup of water is not helping, then go eat. However, if you just ate, then take a few deep breaths, focus on the now, distract your mind by taking a walk, or talking to your colleague, and then get back to the task at hand.
Yoga helps finetune this alertness by becoming intimate with the way our body acts and reacts to external stimuli.
Alertness helps you figure out if what you are feeling is truly pangs of hunger or stress/boredom, and then act accordingly
YOGA BUILDS DISCIPLINE: Motivation gets you going, but discipline keeps you growing – John C. Maxwell
There is a reason that most New Year resolutions to lose weight breaks down by the time we get into the second week of the year! We need oodles of discipline to stop, think, and then eat with awareness.
The very act of doing an asana builds discipline since it involves training the mind more than the body. It is about telling the mind that for the next 30 seconds you have to help the body stay in this asana. And when we do it consistently, we train our mind to listen to, and to help with, what the body truly wants – in this case, a healthier meal, or to say no to dessert.
I know that if I need to practice yoga well the next day morning, I cannot eat a heavy dinner. I also know that my days starts off great, filled with immense capabilities and energy, if I can meditate and do yoga and go for my walk. I know that I need to wake up earlier to achieve all these before the real day starts. This means I need to work backwards, plan my day and night better to make it happen. The discipline that yoga brings to your mind will reflect in your every choice about food.
So will I not build discipline when I hit the gym? Or go for a run? Yes you will. Practicing any form of physical activity regularly, consistently and consciously will bring about discipline. However, since yoga is a more gentle, relaxing and relatively stress-free form of activity, you tend to stick to it longer, and more consistently. Hence a slow but sure build-up of your self-discipline.
YOGA BUILDS FLEXIBILITY: Does this mean that I never binge eat or hide a slab of orange-flavored chocolate in the fridge? There will be days when I simply cannot resist, but that is where yoga helps. Along with that self-discipline, yoga also brings flexibility. Sounds self-contradictory, but a disciplined mind automatically implies flexibility; not necessarily flexibility of the body, but that of the mind. Did not wake up in time to exercise? Instead of feeling bad or dismissing it as no big deal or stress eating, your mind will search for alternatives – can we go to class in the evening? Can I come home sooner and practice for 30 minutes instead? Can I go for a couple of 10-minute walks during breaks? Can I just do 10 rounds of surya namaskar before dinner? Can I skip going out for lunch with my friends and have a healthier snack instead?
The disciplined mind will search for alternatives to preserve the same level of energy and seratonin levels because it knows that when the levels dip in the body, the search for that doughnut becomes pronounced!! So it will look for other ways to keep it up – chat with friends, watch a 5-minute standup clip, breathe deeply, meditate.
The flexible mind will search for an amazing number of ways to make up for the breach in discipline.
YOGA BUILDS PURPOSE: The purpose of life is a life of purpose – Robert Byrne
What is our purpose in life? The older we get, we realize that our body can only do so much and that it is slowly breaking down, cell by cell, second by second. If looking good or being size zero were to guarantee happiness, super models and rock stars and movie actors would be the happiest people on earth. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Depending on the body to provide us happiness and fulfillment is a plan that is doomed from start. This is why we need to build a sharper intellect and a more disciplined mind so that looking good or having a BMI less than 21 no longer becomes a priority. The real purpose then becomes about feeling good, doing good and leading a purposeful life. A true practitioner of yoga knows that after a point it is no longer about holding a headstand for 3 minutes or meditating on the Om mantra for 30 minutes. It is about using that energy within to create a life of purpose. It is about feeding the soul to ensure that even if the body is stressed, the unwavering and disciplined mind will ensure that it will not keep abusing the body with more food, or the wrong type of food.
There is a reason that true yogis and gurus hardly need food to keep them going. They get their nourishment from the soul within.
So yoga can help me lose weight? Yes.
If you have not read this about yoga elsewhere, then please read this here – Yoga is not a fitness fad, a flashy lose-weight-quick exercise, or a gimmick to get money off you. It is a lifestyle aid that will help you get more out of life. And if done correctly and consistently, it guarantees a lifetime of healthy YOU.
All gain, and no pain. That’s yoga.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gwendalcentrifugue/6000234560