Can yoga help me lose weight?

before-after picture of woman

Contrary to what most people think, the gentle and controlled movements of yoga help a person lose weight. When we think of exercise we immediately think of it as grunt work. We assume that for exercise to help us lose weight, it has to be “no pain, no gain.” We also think of a cardiovascular workout as something that is continuous and lasts for a long time so that the heart muscles can gain resilience and agility, thereby making the muscles flexible and able to survive with the peaks and lows of one’s blood pressure.

Yoga is totally different. First, the exercises are low intensity – the asanas or postures do not require over-exertion that leaves us panting like a dog. They encourage the use of muscles to gain balance. The asanas flex the muscles, stretch them and make them better able to bear weight. Thus, even with fluid and graceful movements, a person can firm up his or her core muscles (the muscles of the abdomen and back) to make them stronger.

Yoga postures and poses seem almost like a dance but they work up a sweat. The sweating means that the body is heating up; which means muscle “work” is being done despite appearances of the gentle dance-like movements. When the muscles “work” they use up energy from the food which our bodies have stored up as sugar and fat. The reduction in fat and sugar in our bodies will eventually mean bulkier muscle mass. The result is loss of unwanted jiggly fat around the belly, thighs, and hips and toned muscles.

Another way that yoga helps a person lose weight is through meditation. There are varied types of meditation practices. Some people think good thoughts, some people recite poems or verses from the Bible. Other people make a list of things they are thankful for, things they consider blessings. Other people ruminate: they ask themselves what thoughts or emotions are bothering them and they scrutinize those thoughts and emotions in order to make sense of them.

Meditation allows deep relaxation for the mind and the minimization of stress. We often do not realize that when we are stressed, we tend to eat more. We eat on the fly, munching down “fast food” so that we can get the next chore or errand done, meet up with the next appointment and cross out our daily to-do list which keeps getting longer and longer.

Meditation helps people sleep better as there are fewer and fewer distracting thoughts that rob them of energizing sleep. Yoga helps people improve their posture so that they are bothered less with the aches and pains of muscles due to strain and stress. When we do not get enough restful sleep, appetite also increases. We munch on sugary treats like candy bars an hour or two after lunch just so we can keep awake and alert. We also consume a lot of colas and coffee so as to stay alert. The consumption of these substances which contain nicotine and caffeine and sugar puts us in a vicious cycle of further lack of sleep at night, which triggers sleepiness and sluggishness during the working hours, which also prompts us to consume more nicotine, caffeine and sugar.

Yoga promotes restfulness at night; it promotes more sound sleep and more rest for the body. This gives the body vim and vigor so that it can stay alert and awake through the day. Yoga also induces the release of endorphins in the body – these are the so-called “feel good” hormones which give us energy and promote positive attitudes toward work (less complaining, less irritation), toward food (less craving for salty, sugary and fatty food), toward others (more friendly and outgoing) and toward ourselves (caring for oneself).

Another way that yoga promotes weight loss is through deep and controlled breathing. Deep and controlled breathing is taking breath in through the nostrils slowly, holding it in for a while and releasing it slowly. When the breath is controlled, oxygen is distributed more efficiently in the body. It is transmitted to the parts of the body that need it badly. What happens is “oxygenation” – in the muscles oxygenation means using up stored fat and sugar as fuel and food for muscles and other organs. One thing to remember, though, that yoga, unlike other exercises will not make you lose weight overnight – you will have to stick to it for at least four weeks to see positive results.

What can you expect from a yoga class?

west seattle yoga class

Because of the popularity of yoga, and the many types of yoga classes offered, you will probably be able to find a yoga class at a local gym or the local community center in your area. Some churches and high schools even offer evening yoga classes.

What can you expect when you join a Seattle yoga class? You can expect that the yoga teacher is a certified yoga instructor. This means that the yoga teacher has been practicing yoga for some time. Aside from this, the yoga practitioner has taken 200 hours or 500 hours of training. The training includes classes in anatomy, in yoga philosophy, yoga sequencing and alignment. Most yoga studios or organizations that offer yoga classes hire only registered yoga teachers (RYT).

There is a nationwide organization of yoga practitioners and instructors called the Yoga Alliance. When a yoga instructor is a registered yoga teacher, it means that he or she has taken training classes, taken a certification examination and passed it and has been given a license to teach yoga by the Yoga Alliance.

What do you do in yoga class? Well, in yoga class, you are to do the poses barefoot. You will also need a mat. If you’ve seen pictures of people doing yoga in cute tight-fitting outfits, it is not because they want to look cute. The outfits are designed to cling to the body and absorb sweat. Yoga makes people sweat a lot. The outfits are also tight so that when you do poses, your top doesn’t fall down and expose your tummy or other private parts. The teacher will also check your alignment (how you do the poses) so if your clothes are baggy or loose fitting, the teacher will have a difficult time seeing your form.

You can expect people in your yoga class to come early as they often have to “switch off” certain thoughts and feelings. Feelings of aggression or competition, or trying to do the ‘best’ pose in the group, are not appropriate. Rigid expectations from oneself or pressuring oneself to do all the poses ‘right’ is also not encouraged. These kinds of mindsets and attitudes counteract the efficacy of yoga as a means of relieving stress.

If it is your first time to attend a yoga class, and you are scared to death to make a fool of yourself, by all means, read up on yoga. If you know the particular type of yoga that your class will be doing (there are different types), then you can read up on it. You can go to your local library and borrow a book or a video that shows you basic beginner poses so that you will at least be familiar with what you will be doing.

It is also wise to come early to class so that you can talk to the yoga teacher. You can introduce yourself and if you have specific medical conditions for which your doctor has recommended yoga, then you must tell the teacher about it so that he or she is aware of what you can or cannot do as yet.

Why is yoga popular?

Yoga was first made popular because of its Oriental appeal. Yoga came from India and this evoked mysticism and mystery. Yoga also triggered curiosity because the yogis from India were featured in shows like That’s Incredible! These kinds of shows broadcast video clips of yogis contorting their bodies to fit into a glass cube to demonstrate how flexible their bodies are. Shows on the Discovery Channel and the National Geographic Channel also show yogis from India enduring pain by lying on a bed of nails or piercing parts of their body with needles.

In Hollywood in the late 1940s women learned yoga from a German actress who claimed that practicing yoga forestalled the aging process and kept the body healthy. As our society is obsessed with beauty and with youth, the appeal of yoga as a way of life or practice that promotes health, longevity and well-being certainly appeals to people who want to keep themselves young and beautiful.

With people living fast-paced lives, their stress levels skyrocket. Chronic stress in people’s lives leaves them vulnerable to hypertension, coronary artery disease and a host of mental health problems. Autoimmune diseases which have no known cure leave people debilitated with pain or marginalized by immobility and isolation. The rise of cancer and the equal rise in people surviving cancer have left a lot of people living with pain and chronic fatigue as a consequence of the treatment for cancer. Also, obesity and bad eating habits have rendered lifestyle diseases such as coronary artery disease and diabetes prevalent and pervasive. Yoga has been shown by medical research to be effective in assisting people to lose weight, fight stress, endure and cope with pain as well as promote an overall feeling of wellbeing and wellness.

The exercise of yoga is easy enough for beginners to enjoy and yet, challenging enough to intrigue and hook people. The poses or postures in yoga aid in strengthening the core muscles and increasing flexibility so that people are better able to work, engage in sport or other leisure activities.

The meditation and breathing of yoga gives people a sense of tranquility and control over the emotions that often threaten to overwhelm them. Meditation allows people to quiet the turbulent emotions and thoughts that vie for their attention. The breathing relieves the tension people feel as they try to meet demands in their everyday lives.

Yoga is the most popular form of exercise amongst celebrities and even ordinary men and women. It is simple – you only need a quiet space, enough time to practice yoga. You may or may not need exercise equipment or props to do the poses. You may or may not need an instructor to guide you – you can use a video or follow a yoga program on TV. You do not need membership in a gym and you do not need to spend on transportation to do yoga at home. You can do it at lunch break at the office – just pull down the shades and turn off the lights. Yoga is simple, inexpensive, yet effective. It instills mental as well as physical discipline. No wonder it is so popular these days.

How did yoga start in the US?

The practice of yoga was first brought to the United States in the 1890s during a religious conference in Chicago where a famous swami (spiritual yoga teacher) came to give a talk. The religious conference was attended mostly by Christians who were to read their academic papers. The yogi from India gave twelve speeches that enthralled the audience.

In the 1920s, the first yoga self-realization fellowship was opened in Los Angeles where yoga lessons were taught. In 1917, a law was passed prohibiting the immigration of Asians to prevent them from taking jobs away from Americans. For this reason, the further learning of yoga was limited to Americans who went to India to learn there and to bring it to the United States.

In the 1960s, when the immigration ban was lifted by President Lyndon Johnson, America’s fascination with all things spiritual from India made the idea of transcendental meditation intriguing. The iconic groups, the Beatles, who were as famous in the US as they were in their native UK also went to India to learn meditation. In 1965, the yoga o devotion, Bhakti Yoga was introduced in the US and a center was opened to teach this kind of yoga. In the 1970s and 1980s, the practice of Hatha yoga and Iyengar yoga were introduced into the United States.

picture of indra deviA German actress who was trying to break into the Hollywood scene by the name of Indra Devi opened a yoga studio. She learned yoga from the wife of a diplomat. She then advertised that yoga can prevent aging. This advertising resonated with the female population of Hollywood who then flocked to her studio to learn yoga, buy books and attend lectures she used to give on diet, meditation and the yoga poses.

Today, in the US, yoga is an exercise and physical fitness program which is taught in most gyms, community centers and physical education classes. Yoga is taught as a program to relieve stress and as a relaxation technique.

How did yoga start?

a phrase  written in hindi language

Yoga was a way of life embodies in the holy writings of the Indus Valley Civilization called the Vedas. The Vedas are a collection of hymns that people sing or chant during their spiritual and religious rites and they are full of praise to the Divine.

All the three Vedas (groups of writings) describe yoga as the path one has to take in order to achieve unity with the Divine. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yug” which means unity or oneness with the Divine. Thus, the practice and discipline of yoga was for the purpose of worship and communion with the divine.

The Vedas (which mean “knowledge”) also espouse the practice of yoga as the higher path of learning, knowledge and discernment, or wisdom. They believe that one’s thoughts and emotions determine one’s response to life and behavior such that if a person is at peace in himself, he will also be at peace with the world.

The practice of yoga is three-fold: yoga is accomplished through physical exercises that strengthen and conditions the body to endure and be resilient; at the same time, it is also accomplished through contemplation or meditation by which one quiets the mind; and by controlled breathing as the breath is the body’s life force.

The poses or postures (also called asanas) condition and strengthen the body that houses the spirit or inner being. It is their belief that the inner being cannot unite with the Higher Divine being if its home (the physical body) is diseased or weak.

The meditation or contemplation (dyana) quiets the mind as it looks at each thought and examines each emotion without giving in to the thought, reacting or responding to the thought. The breathing allows the person to achieve peace, tranquility and relaxation.

What is yoga?

Yoga is a religious discipline as well as a religious philosophy which is part of the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism. Both Hinduism and Buddhism practice a kind of yoga which comprises physical exercise through postures or poses; mental exercise through meditation; and mental discipline through deep breathing.

The discipline and practice of yoga are described in the holy writings of Hinduism which are called the Vedas. It is believed that yoga is practiced in order to detach oneself from the physical life and all its chaotic concerns and emotional turmoil to a place of enlightenment and peace.

woman doing yoga pose

As centuries went by, several different kinds of yoga were practiced within Buddhism and even within Hinduism. Some strict ascetics and monks believe and teach that in order to attain eternal life and unity with the divine, one must take the path of yoga. By continuously emptying oneself and detaching oneself from one’s surroundings, one can control the body so that it will do what the mind says it can.

The strict adherents of yoga are known to be able to contort their bodies and endure pain or sit in the lotus position for days, even months, on end without eating, drinking or even sweating because their bodies are so finely attuned and compliant with the will of their minds. They believe that even when their bodies are still here in a specific time and place, their minds and spirits are communing with the divine through the deep meditation in yoga.

In Buddhism, yoga is part of the discipline of the martial arts. They believe that yoga disciplines the mind as well as the body against violence and that the human body can be a weapon only to be used to defend oneself.

One thing is certain, in all disciplines and teachings of yoga, the three indispensable component parts are: postures or physical exercises (asanas), meditation (dyana), and controlled breathing (pranayama)