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.