Standing hamstring stretch
One of the common reasons why people join a yoga class is for weight loss. Of course, many students have doubts as to how yoga, which is relatively a gentler form of exercise, can help you lose weight. Most people tend to identify weight loss with vigorous physical activities in a gym or a fitness center – treadmill, pumping iron etc. So, the natural question is whether and how yoga can help in weight management.
I always start by asking “is there anyone who doesn’t know how to lose weight?” The formula for losing weight is quite simple and known to everyone – EAT LESS, EXERCISE MORE! So how come people are not able to implement this formula? The answer is simple – lack of self-control and discipline. Because people lack self-discipline, they end up joining some “crash weight loss program”. They stay with the program for a short time, maybe lose a few pounds, but don’t have the will-power to stay with the same regimen. As a result, they not only regain the lost pounds, but in many cases add a few additional pounds to their weight. All this, of course, leads to more frustration and more stress.
When you think of the above scenario, it becomes clear that losing weight is not just about losing calories. It is more about developing a strong will-power and a highly disciplined approach. This is where yoga comes in.
How do we develop cravings for certain foods?
Let’s say you decided to try a new type of cake. After the very first bite you are “hooked”. You really enjoy the cake and a memory of this experience gets lodged in the mind. This memory takes the form of a desire which slowly, with the help of ego, takes the shape of a deep craving. Next time you see the cake, your ego will force you to eat the cake, based on past experience, even though you’ve just had a full meal. Unfortunately, we repeat this scenario far too frequently with the obvious result of adding pounds to our weight and inches to the waist-line.
The main culprit in fueling our craving is our ego. It is the ego that clouds and controls our pure intellect and lures us into doing actions that are harmful for us. The ego loves to dwell on past memories and brings up emotions, feelings, desires based on past experience, without any concern for the future outcome of the actions. You may like to read this blog post, “ego vs. intellect”, wherein I have discussed how the ego takes control of day-to-day decision-making over the intellect.
It is the practice of yoga which helps us weaken the link between the ego, memories and the intellect. Through a regular practice of yoga, one begins to sharpen the pure intellect which results in developing discriminatory wisdom and weaken the influence of the ego in decision-making.
In this context, it is important that we understand what we mean by the practice of yoga. Most people tend to associate the word “yoga” only with the practice of asanas (physical postures) which is a very limited aspect of the yoga practice. In its true essence the practice of yoga includes all the eight limbs of yoga as defined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. From a practical point of view, however, the yoga practice must include asana, pranayama and meditation.
The asana practice, when done with full awareness at the body, breath and mind level, makes us more aware of our body’s needs and limitations. That way when we eat, we are more conscious of when to stop eating after we feel full to a certain level. It is also more important to become aware of the type of food we should eat. It is obviously important to avoid foods that are oily, deep-fried or otherwise lack in nutrition. It is helpful if you could practice a slightly more intense and invigorating asana practice that will help drop some calories as well. Please contact me if you would like specific guidelines on what asanas to include in your practice geared for weight management.
The practice of pranayama helps cleanse the nervous system, improve the functioning of the digestive system and also improve glandular functions. A good, healthy digestive system is very important for weight management. The combination of asana and pranayama helps detoxify the system at multiple levels.
To develop control over our cravings, the practice of meditation plays a major role. A regular practice of meditation helps us understand the involvement of ego versus the pure intellect in the choices that we make. Meditation is the “key” and the most important yoga practice that helps us in calming the mind and weakening the cravings and desires. It also helps us manage our stress better. As we all know, stress can result in “binge-eating” which can result in sudden weight gain.
With a regular practice of asana, pranayama and meditation, along with a healthy, balanced and nutrition-rich diet plan, you will not only reduce weight but also bring in a sense of well-being. You will be able to maintain all your vital organs – heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas etc. in optimum health and improve your immune system.
So, if you are interested in managing your weight, make meditation your top priority. The more effective your meditation practice, the more control you will develop over your food cravings. Meditation will help cleanse the mind of all negativity so you will start making better choices in life, including choices in food etc.
I would love to hear from you about your own plans and activities for weight management.