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Yoga for Weight Loss and Management

by Meggan Brummer(more info)

listed in yoga, originally published in issue 131 - January 2007

Picture this – the pavement is full of roly-poly people walking down a busy city street. Their clothes are so tight that the material could tear or the buttons could pop off at any moment. A chubby little boy and his obese mother are standing on the other side of the road, waiting to cross. Then a woman appears; she has long slender legs, an elegant frame and strides gracefully by. The little boy tugs on his mother’s dress, points and exclaims, “Mummy, look at that thin lady!” This is a description of a cartoon that was published in The New Yorker sometime time back, and although not as applicable in the UK, things may be heading that way if we don’t change our current direction.

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, with the World Health Organization (WHO) confirming over one billion adults as being overweight – and at least 300 million of them clinically obese.[1]

A new survey has found that half of the British population are beyond their ideal weight. The survey, which questioned 2,000 people, found that 75% of males over 45 were overweight.[2]

Often the first step towards making any positive lifestyle change lies in the initial acknowledgement of the problem. This stage should then be followed by an acceptance of it, (because what you resist persists) and finally, embarking upon a course of action that addresses the problem. Missing out on either of the two preceding stages undoubtedly diminishes the chances of success.

So Why Are We Increasing in Weight?


Having spent some time pondering the reasons for our ever-increasing body size, and perusing a few official facts and figures, one thing that jumps out is the way we have reduced our options for what was ‘everyday’ exercise. The modern reliance we have developed on personal transportation makes, for some, the walk from the house to the car the nearest they get to cardiovascular exercise. Then there is the easy availability of everyday labour-saving (or exercise saving) devices, and an increase in leisure activities which involve little, if any, physical activity at all.

So whilst exercise is certainly a significant factor in any weight loss programme, perhaps the most important factor is ‘attitude.’ No one can be forced to exercise; we need some of the ‘medicine of the Gods’ – commitment, inspiration and discipline. Without these, the power of general habitual living will simply use your good intentions to pave the way you know where!

But do not despair – its not all bad news. There is a beautiful set of yoga asanas (postures) which I have set out in this article, and which will support you more than you probably imagine possible.

Exercising for Weight Loss


Many of us, when exercising to lose weight, tend to exercise in strenuous sporadic bursts. According to Ayurveda, (the ancient Indian science of healthy living) the most energy-giving and effective exercise is regular (daily), low-intensity (working hard enough to sweat but without over exerting) and of moderate-duration (between 30 and 40 minutes).

Choosing an Exercise

When exercising to lose weight, it is important that we choose an activity we enjoy. Exercise should be something we look forward to, making us feel strong, stable and energized. Afterwards we should have that slightly smug glow of someone who knows they have just done a good thing! If your exercise routine does not have you feeling tangibly better, then change it.

Our Attitude

As mentioned, attitude is everything, and cultivating an attitude of awareness will enhance the benefits of an exercise programme. Whilst the trend in modern fitness centres, for instance, is to workout to loud, Eurobeat music, or with music blaring into our ears through an ipod, exercising in silence brings a certain awareness and consciousness to the process.

The awareness of what is happening within, to our breath, posture, muscles, joints, as well as with our thoughts and emotions, will bring specific benefits. How so? Well, I once heard a very wise yogi suggest a strong connection between having a mind that spends a lot of time in the past, and being overweight – we literally create a larger physical body to carry all that extra mental baggage! So this awareness whilst exercising brings the mental benefits of anchoring our mind in the present moment, together with the associated physical benefits.

Yoga for Weight Management


There is a common misconception that yoga is for those people who are already healthy, thin and flexible. However, yoga can be practised, each to their own level, by just about anyone, and its holistic approach can play an important role in any weight-loss and management programme.

Asanas not only tone sagging muscles, but work the internal organs and systems of the body, strengthening and toning from the inside out. Weight reduction is not the aim of yoga, yet yoga has earned itself a reputation for being an effective tool in weight management. Medical research has shown that asanas have a reducing impact on cholesterol and liquid fats in the blood.[3]
 

Re-sensitizing the Body through Yoga


Through the practice of yoga, our body awareness, and our sensitivity towards understanding and intuitively knowing our dietary needs, become more acute. We become more sensitive to knowing:
 
•    when to eat;
•    when to stop eating;
•    what to eat;
•    how much to eat;
•    when to rest;
•    when to exercise more.

When we lose sensitivity to these inner communications we become literally body-deaf. In this state we are prone to eating as a response to almost any discomfort that arises, whether it is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Yoga, the Sanskrit word for ‘union,’ brings the body and mind into harmony and enables us to hear clearly the needs of our bodies and respond appropriately.

Yoga and Metabolism


Metabolism is a key factor in weight loss and management. An appropriate yoga practice can help redress the effects of a particularly sluggish metabolism. Such a practice would initially include a more dynamic, fast moving set of asanas. Later on, the duration of the yoga practice can be reduced to allow more time for pranayama, (breathing techniques), especially bhastrika and nadi shodhana, which are best taught under the guidance of a yoga instructor.

Permanent weight loss will likely require an overhaul of the pranic (life-force) energy structure of the body and mind. Yoga asanas build up vitality slowly but surely, rebalancing the nervous and endocrine pathways. Whilst medical experts recommend exercising for 30 minutes a day, replacing just ten of those minutes with ten minutes of yoga asanas a day will have a significant and noticeable impact on the levels of prana processing through your body. Don’t take my word for it – give it a go!

Yoga Practice Guidelines


•    Practising yoga before you eat, on an empty stomach is preferable;
•    Practise yoga in a quiet spot, where there is fresh air and, if inside, cross ventilation;
•    Practise yoga, when possible, either at sunrise or sunset;
•    Practise yoga without any possible distractions. e.g. turn off your phone(s);
•    Practise yoga at your own level, not the teacher’s, or other participants’ if in a class. e.g. do not stretch more than is comfortable. You may need to modify some of the poses, and if so, it is advisable to do so under the guidance of a qualified yoga instructor.

Yoga Poses for Weight Management.


Konasana 1 – Standing Sideways Bend

Stand with your feet together and arms by the side of your body. Breathe in as you raise your right arm. As you exhale, slide your left hand down the side of your left leg, as far as it will go and then look up towards your right hand. Hold the pose for three to five slow, deep breaths. Then, as you inhale, come back to a neutral standing position, and exhale as you bring your right arm down. Do the same on the other side. Repeat five to ten rounds.
Benefits: Konasana 1 stretches the sides of the body and the spine, toning the arms, legs, waist and abdominal organs.

Kati Chkrasana – Waist Rotating Pose

Stand with your feet half a metre apart, arms by the side of your body. Breathe in as you raise both arms to shoulder level and then breathe out as you twist your body to the left, placing your right hand on your left shoulder and your left hand against the right side of your waist. Look back over your left shoulder, as far as you can and then hold this position for three slow, deep breaths. Inhale as you return to the starting position and then do the same on the other side. Repeat five to ten rounds. Alternatively, this asana may be performed in a more dynamic way by swinging rhythmically with the arms, not synchronizing the movement with the breath.
Benefits: Kati Chkrasana tones the waist, back and hips.

Jhulan Lurhakanasana – Rocking and Rolling

Sit in a squatting position with your fingers interlocked and hands holding onto the shins. Rock the whole body back and forward along the spine, breathing normally. If possible, come up into squatting position each time you rock forward. Practise five to ten rounds. Note: Do not practise this asana if you have serious back conditions.
Benefits: Jhulan Lurhakanasana massages the back, buttocks and hips.

Shavasana

Lie on your back in a neutral position, body in a straight line, feet slightly apart, palms of the hands facing the sky and eyes closed. Stay here for a few breaths before continuing.

Pada Sanchalasana – Cycling

Lie on your back with your legs and feet together, knees close to your chest. As you roll gently backwards, lift your buttocks off the floor and place your hands (fingers pointing towards the spine) on the top of the hips. Begin to straighten your legs but do not shift the weight of your body onto your neck, keep it predominately on your arms and shoulders. Keep your elbows as close together as you can. Relax your feet. Your body should be at a 45 degree angle to the floor, legs vertical. Now move your legs as though you are cycling on a bicycle. If it is too challenging for you to come into this position, then remain lying on your back as you cycle. Repeat ten rounds in a forward direction and then ten rounds in reverse. If you wish, you can go for longer, increasing the speed, and then relax completely, lying completely still for about ten seconds. Rest in shavasana for a few breaths.

Naukasana – Boat

Lie on your back with your arms by your sides. Take a deep breath in, and then, as you breathe out, lift your legs, arms, shoulders, upper back and head off the ground and look at your feet. Keep your arms parallel to the ground, palms facing each other. Hold for up to five slow, deep breaths and then relax completely as you exhale. Practise three to five rounds. Rest in shavasana for a few breaths.
Benefits: Naukasana stimulates the muscular, digestive, circulatory, nervous and hormonal systems, tones all the organs and removes lethargy.

Vipareeta karani asana – Half Shoulder Stand

As it is considered to be an intermediate to advanced pose, it is not advisable to practise this pose without sufficient prior experience or without the supervision of an experienced instructor.

Move into the same starting position as Pada Sanchalasana (see above), but this time keep your legs straight and together and close your eyes whilst you stay here for up to five breaths. To move out of the pose, lower your legs over your head and towards the ground, bending your knees slightly if you need to, and then gently and slowly roll your body down to the ground and relax in shavasana for a few breaths.

Note: Do not practise Vipareeta karani asana if you have any of the following: diarrhoea, headache, high blood pressure, menstruation, neck injury or pregnancy. (If you are experienced with this pose, you can continue to practise it late into pregnancy. However, don’t take up the practice of it after you become pregnant.)
Benefits: Vipareeta karani asana balances the circulatory, digestive, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems and enriches blood flow to the brain, relieving mental and emotional stress and reduces excess body weight.

Druta halasana – Dynamic Plough Pose

Once you are in Vipareeta karani asana, bring your feet down to the ground, and if possible, touch your toes to the floor and straighten your arms out behind you. If you can, interlock your fingers and straighten your arms. Hold the position for a few seconds and then roll your body back up, coming into a sitting position. Now lift your arms above your head. From here, bend your body forward into paschimottanasana (back stretching pose), keeping the legs straight and moving your forehead towards your knees as you reach for, or even past, your toes. Practise keeping this whole series of movements smooth, flowing and even. This is one round. Practise up to ten rounds and then relax in shavasana for a few breaths. Note: Do not practise this sequence if you have sciatica, back or neck ailments or high blood pressure.
Benefits: This sequence facilities the breakdown of fats by exercising the liver and gall bladder.

Matsyasana – Fish Pose

Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, feet on the floor. As you inhale, lift your pelvis slightly off the floor and slide your hands, palms down, under your buttocks. Rest your buttocks on the backs of your hands and tuck your forearms and elbows close to the sides of your torso. Inhale as you press your forearms and elbows firmly into the floor, lifting your upper torso and head away and releasing your head back onto the floor. You can keep your knees bent or straighten your legs out onto the floor. If you do the latter, keep your thighs active, and press out through the heels. Stay here for 15 to 30 seconds, breathing smoothly and slowly. To  come out of the pose, push your elbows into the ground to lift your head and torso away from the ground and then exhale and lower your torso and head to the floor. Then draw your thighs up into your belly and squeeze, lifting your head to your knees.

Note: Do not practise matsyasana if you have high or low blood pressure, migraine, insomnia or serious lower-back or neck injury. Beginners sometimes strain their neck in this pose. If you feel any discomfort in your neck or throat, either lower your chest slightly toward the floor, or put a thickly folded blanket under the back of your head.
Benefits: Matsyasana stretches and stimulates the muscles and organs in the abdominal region.

Final Relaxation

Proper relaxation at the end of the yoga asanas is an essential part of your programme. Lie on your back in a neutral position, body in a straight line, feet slightly apart, palms of the hands facing the sky and eyes
closed. Stay in this pose for five minutes for every 30 minutes of practice. To exit, first roll gently with an exhalation onto your right side, and after resting here for a few minutes, come up to a comfortable sitting position.

In addition, to the above yoga asanas, six to 12 rounds of Salute to the Sun (Surya Namaskara) is an excellent practice for weight loss.

Shatkarmas

For more effective weight loss, yoga asanas can be supplemented with a proper schedule of kunjal kriya (the practice of vomiting water) in alternation with shankhaprakshalana, (a practice which washes intestines), both of which must be performed under the guidance of an appropriately qualified yoga instructor. Shatkaramas tone the sluggish metabolism and help the body to eliminate toxins so that excess weight can be lost more effectively.

References


1.    World Health Organization. Obesity and overweight. www.annecollins.com/weight_health/
overweight-stats-uk.htm
2.    National Health Survey. Catalogue No 4364.0; www.abs.gov.au/ausstats. 2001.
3.    Swami Muktananda. Nawa Yogini Tantra. pg 154. Yoga Publications Trust. India. ISBN 81-85787-42-5. 2003

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About Meggan Brummer

Meggan Brummer (BA Hons) is a health writer, Hatha Yoga and Meditation Teacher, teacher of The Art of Living courses for the International Art of Living Foundation ( www.artofliving.org), singer and traveller. Having taught yoga in Africa and Asia, Meggan now lives and teaches in Sydney, Australia. Although she specializes in Yoga and Ayurveda, Meggan is dedicated to exploring and sharing the myriad of alternative ways in which we can live happier and healthier lives through her writing. She can be contacted on meggan.brummer@gmail.com

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