HOW YOGA CAN HELP YOU WITH LOSING EXCESS WEIGHT (OBESITY)
My name is Miriam and I battled with my body weight since I was a teenager. I don’t think I ever got to the point of technically being obese, but at some point I was 40 pounds heavier than I am today, so you can safely say I know enough about living in a body that doesn’t feel like your own.
It took me a really long time to figure out the combination of food and lifestyle choices that helped me achieve a balanced healthy weight, which I am sure I would have accomplished sooner shall yoga had come into my life at an earlier stage. You see? I have known yoga for quite some time, probably 15 years since the first time I stepped into a class. Or at least, I THOUGHT I knew what yoga was. Very mistakenly, like many other westerners, I always thought that yoga was mostly related to the physical practice (asana) with a little bit of meditation thrown in. When it came to losing weight, I would have chosen any other gym class or activity over yoga as I had the impression that I would burn more calories with any cardio workout than with this spiritual practice that I understood so very little of. And because I wasn’t really motivated to go to the gym either, I didn’t do any of them consistently.
It has only been in very recent times that I began to understand yoga as what it is: a path to enlightenment and a philosophy to help us unite body, mind and spirit. Even though the ultimate goal is actually to detach ourselves from the material aspects of our existence (including our physical body) the truth is that we will not be able to do so if first we don’t learn how to love and care for the vessel that carries our spiritual self. Making sure that our body is healthy, strong and functioning well it is crucial to our success.
Focusing on achieving a healthy weight is one of the first priorities of this journey, as excess weight results on unnecessary strain for the body’s systems and it can lead to several chronic diseases of the body and the mind. Yoga will help you both with the physical and spiritual parts of your weight loss journey, as long as you remain committed and dedicated to your practice. A mix between practice of physical postures (asanas), conscious breathing (pranayama) and different cleansing techniques (shatkarma) will deviate the attention you have put in food to other aspects of your existence that will make you feel more fulfilled than you ever imagined. Food will no longer be your master.
When it comes to the physical practice I recommend to begin with specific asanas that will support your digestive system and several glands from the endocrine system that are associated with obesity issues such as thyroid, adrenal and reproductive glands. Calm, relaxing exercises that are not too draining or challenging for you targeted at these areas of your body should be your main focus. It is easier to stick to an achievable physical practice than to be too unrealistic about our goals. Based on this, I therefore recommend the following asanas:
Padachakrasana (Leg Rotation): As part of the Pawanmuktasana Part 2 series, this asana strengthens the abdominal muscles and massages the organs of the digestive system, without putting too much strain on the body. To perform this asana, you must lie on your back and raise your right leg up about 5cms from the floor keeping your leg straight. Rotate the leg clockwise for 10 times, and another 10 times anticlockwise. Make sure you breath in when you are bringing the left up and breath out when you are bringing the leg down. Repeat with the left leg and then rest both legs on the floor whilst practicing abdominal breathing until your breath returns to normal. Most of the asanas on this particular part of the Pawanmuktasana Series, will support your digestive system and therefore will be beneficial for your weight loss goal.
Vyaghrasana (tiger pose): This asana can be performed following marjari-asana (cat pose) when you are already in what’s called table top position (both hands and knees are on the floor, with your shoulders straight over your wrists, and your hips straight over your ankles, your back must be on a straight line). From here, and once you relax your whole body, inhale, look up and arch your back by sending your right leg up into the sky, and bending it. Try touching your head with your feet if you can and keep this pose for a few seconds. Exhale and bring the right leg down without touching the floor and as you arch your back up and you bring your head down, try touching your nose with your right knee. Repeat this sequence 5 times with each leg. Apart from loosening your back and your sciatica nerves, Vyaghrasana stretches the abdominal muscles, promotes digestion and helps reduce weight from hips and thighs.
Halasana (plough pose): Once you have been practicing consistently for a few days, you will benefit from practicing this asana which will provide you with a massage of your abdominal organs, will activate your digestion and relieve constipation. This asana will also promote the production of insulin in the pancreas, improve liver and kidney functions and regulate the activities of the thyroid gland. This is a very well-rounded asana to practice to support your weight loss goal. To perform this asana, first lie on your back with your feet together and your palms beside your body and relax yourself. Then, raise both your legs to a vertical position keeping them straight and together using only the abdominal muscles. When you are ready, lift the buttocks and roll the back away from the floor, bringing your legs over your head until your toes touch the floor (if this is not possible just yet, use a block or a bolster to help you). Place your arms on your back by bending the elbows to provide spinal support, and try to remain in this pose for as long as you can. To come out of this pose safely, make sure you lower your back very slowly, vertebrae by vertebrae, returning to the initial position.
I also recommend to practice abdominal breathing to prepare you for pranayama at a later stage of your practice. This conscious breathing technique can really help you get centered and improve the health of the organs located in the abdominal area. The practice of certain cleansing techniques (called Shatkarma) can also help you bring vitality back to your organs as well as giving your system a “reboot” by getting rid off excess waste matter accumulated in your body. Cleansing of the nostrils, stomach, colon and other techniques will need to be supervised by an experienced practitioner before you can do them on your own, and although it might not feel very pleasant at first, focus on how incredibly energetic and light you will feel as you perform these techniques regularly. Regular meditation practice, specifically uplifting styles that will help you keep motivated and help you love your body and yourself each day more and more, are strongly recommended. You should try dancing meditations or any other style that brings you joy and unconditional love to your beautiful self. Meditation doesn’t have to be serious, and laugh can be a great ally on this journey you are embarking to bring your physical body to the state it is meant to be.
Last but certainly not least, I have to share with you the number one thing that helped me on my own journey to weight loss: switching from a diet that was very high in animal product to a vegan diet was the beginning of this path of self-love for me. Making conscious choices about my food and lifestyle to ensure I was not harming others (as per the yoga principle of ahimsa) also led me to understand that the one that I have been harming the most all along was me, by feeding my body with the wrong foods, practicing the wrong activities and most importantly, gazing outwards instead of inwards. Once I reversed all these malpractices and I began to align my actions with my cruelty-free beliefs, the extra pounds started to drop off my body, and I was finally set free.
Enjoy your journey, it is worth every minute.
About the Author:
Miriam – from Spain – has experienced excess body weight since young years. Yoga has helped her to reduce weight and live at a healthy and average BMI. She works as a health coach and holds retreats in South America.
She completed her 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training at Gyan Yog Breath in August 2018. Joining an intensive Yoga Teacher Training in India has always been her dream. Through certain circumstances, she was able to travel to India alone and study yoga in-depth.
A Yoga Teacher Training can be an enriching and transformational experience especially if you are looking to live a more healthy and peaceful life.
The Yoga Teacher Training programs at Gyan Yog Breath are designed to enhance your yoga practice and connect your body, mind and soul.