Do you own several pairs of yoga pants but have never actually worn them to a yoga class? I have been that person. Yoga pants offered an opportunity to look athletic while I really just leisured around my home or picked up some groceries from the nearby supermarket. It’s time to put those yoga pants to good use, my friend! If you thought yoga class was just a place to chill, you’ve been missing out on its benefits: Having a tighter booty and waistline.
The list of mind and body benefits from yoga is a long one. Yoga is anything but a new exercise fad. In fact, it’s an ancient tradition for treating all types of ailments and embracing the connection between mind and body. It’s no wonder that the mindful, holistic character of yoga lends itself to weight loss.
What is Yoga?
Yoga means uniting individual consciousness with the supreme consciousness. It’s goal is to connect how we feel inside with the world around us to reach a more calm state of self-realization and one-ness with the world we live in. While it may seem that yoga is just a flow of postures, yoga actually has eight limbs that define it:
This all may sound a bit hippy dippy, but it is a spiritual practice backed by science with proven results. Yoga has been studied for its ability to combat stress, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, to name a few. It was introduced to the western world in the 19th century ad quickly became the subject of therapeutic research.
Yoga and the External World
We will never be able to avoid external stressors in life, so rather than even trying to figure out how to avoid then, it’s best to figure out how to deal with them. So much of weight management hinges on stress management and how we respond to the world around us. The first limb, yama, is further broken down into five codes of self-regulation that involves our relationship with the external world. These include nonviolence, honesty, non-stealing, awareness, and non-greed.
Stress is an underlying cause of many conditions. It can lead to emotional eating and throw your hormonal regulation systems off balance. These changes can manifest in weight gain, especially around the midsection. Recent studies have shown a strong connection between unregulated stress and abdominal fat distribution. One possible mechanism for this phenomenon is the cortisol that is secreted during times of stress.1 Yoga has been shown to decrease anxiety, stress, and cortisol levels, effectively reducing stress and stress-related diseases and weight gain.2
The yoga community is also a unique group of individual focused both externally and internally. Anyone who has been to a group yoga class has noticed the sense of community. Many yoga classes start with a brief reflection on where each participant is that particular day and how the practice can help them in their daily struggles. Many yoga instructors find themselves at a crossroads between exercise instructor and therapist. This group-centered community is a wonderful support group for people looking to lose weight. There are endless options for real life and internet-based weight loss groups centered around the practice of yoga. Studies have shown that being a part of a community promotes weight loss goals.3
Yoga and the Internal World
The second limb of yoga, Niyama, also can be further classified into 5 practices that deal with the world inside of us. These practices include purity of body and mind, contentment, training of the senses, self-reflection, and surrender.4 This focus on self-training and mindfulness allows us to connect with the inner thoughts and feelings we so often push aside.
Because yoga is a mind-body exercise, it exercises both our bodies and our characters. By teaching us how to be more aware of our actions, thoughts, and feelings, yoga can further help us control the way we react to stress. It also teaches us how to be mindful in all moments of life. This translates to a practice of mindfulness while eating. The practice of mindful eating has been shown to result in reduced food cravings, body mass index and body weight. It has also translated to increased portion control.4
Obesity, Hypertension and Yoga
Obesity is a precursor to many life-threatening diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Studies have shown that a regular yoga practice can lead to a decrease in body weight, body mass index (BMI, and waist to hip ratio.4 Researchers have shown that regular yoga practice can also have an antihypertensive effect, leading to lower blood pressure in study subjects. Even just 5 minutes of yogic breathing, called pranayama, has been associated with a drop in heart rate and blood pressure in hypertensive patients.2
Lipid Profiles and Yoga
Heart disease is promoted by elevated total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and triglycerides. On the other hand, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) protect against heart disease. Finding an optimal balance between these heart markers is essential for optimal heart health. All these markers have proven to be positively impacted by a regular yoga practice.2
Yoga and Weight Loss
Now that we have a better view of what yoga is and how it affects us physiologically, let’s get back to the question — can yoga help with weight loss? If you guessed yes, then you guessed correctly. Yoga practices have been shown to improve body mass index (BMI), body weight, body fat, and waist circumference through physical activity, stress reduction, and increased focus on mindfulness. Studies have shown that yoga can offer a unique solution to weight loss through behavioral training, physical exertion, and psychosocial effects.5
There are several flow types of yoga. Traditionally, yoga practices burn fewer calories than traditional exercises such as jogging or swimming. If your goal is to lose weight, choose one of the more vigorous flow types such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, or Power yoga, which will burn more calories, tone and stretch your muscles, and provide weight bearing exercises.
Yoga also indirectly helps people lose weight. Through yoga practice, people become more aware of what they are eating and how it affects their bodies, which leads them into making better food choices and paying more attention to portion sizes.
If you’re skeptical about beginning a yoga practice on your journey to weight loss, I’m here to tell you that you have nothing to lose but the weight. Yoga offers a myriad of benefits, all of which contribute to weight loss goals in one way or another. Rather than a diet-focused approach, yoga offers a holistic view of the world internally and externally. Following these practices will result in more mindful food choices, less stress, and a greater ability to improve your health and lose weight.
Love and Health,
1. Moyer, A.E., Rodin, J., Grilo, C.M., Cummings, N., Larson, L.M., & Rebuffe-Scrive, M. (1994). Stress-induced cortisol response and fat distribution. Obesity Research, 2(3), 255-262.
2. Taneja, D.K. (2014). Yoga and health. Indian Journal of Community Medicine, 39(2), 68-72.
3. Hwang, K.O., Ottenbacher, A.J., Green, A.P., Cannon-Diehl, M.R., Richardson, O., Bernstam, E.V., & Thomas, E.J. (2010). Social support in an internet weight loss community. International Journal of Medical Information, 79(1), 5-13.
4. Dunn, C., Haubenreiser, M., Johnson, M., Nordby, K., Aggarwal, S., Myer, S., & Thomas, C. (2018). Mindfulness approaches to weight loss, weight maintenance, and weight regain. Current Obesity Reports, 7(1), 37-49.
5. Ross, A., Brooke, A., Touchton-Leonard, K., & Wallen, G. (2016). A different weight loss experience: A qualitative study exploring the behavioral, physical, and psychosocial changes associated with yoga that promote weight loss. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, 1-11.
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