Welcome to The Yoga Mile’s special weight management blog series!
Part 1 of our Yoga and weight management series, explores ‘what is an ideal body weight’. That blog will the readers in arriving at a much better understanding of their current body composition and body fat distribution. Part 2 looks at the reasons – physiological and mental – behind abnormal weight gain. Part 3 looks at the various health risks from obesity. This blog (part 4 and the last in this series) looks at the ways yoga helps in effective weight management.
Yoga being a holistic science of self-growth and self-excellence, works in a 360-degree manner on the physiology and bio-chemistry of our bodies to bring about an all-round correction and improvement in the state of things. Let’s look at how one can incorporate the various yoga principles in one’s life to manage body weight!
Success in weight management – be it weight gain or weight loss – essentially requires a ‘persistent disciplining’ of our behaviors – related to diet, posture, sleeping and waking time, cultivating certain healthy lifestyle habits and so on. The four pillars of a disciplined lifestyle mentioned below are particularly important for a sustainable and healthy weight management program.
- Ahara (Food we consume): A teacher told us at the institute I studied, that 70% of the weight issues are because of unhealthy eating habits. She must be damn right! Because in the equation of input and output, this is probably the single most critical item that contributes to the excesses in the energy gathered. In India, as urbanites are moving towards less physically intensive and more mentally stressful work routines (think office desks), without a comparable reduction or modification of the food we intake culturally, there is bound to be a jump in prevalence of obesity – notwithstanding the huge temptation of junk foods that we are surrounded with 24×7. For weight management, it is important to eat food at regular intervals, in specific quantities and of types that activate metabolism rather than making it sluggish. Examples would be lots of fibrous greens like lady’s finger, aubergine, and fibrous fruits like oranges.
- Vihar (Joy of enjoying): Paint, shake the body, laugh, crawl, skip, hop, look at the flowers, take up planting some greens, or just play with kids. Anything that we do simply to feel more lively and joyful comes under the category of Vihar. These are activities we must ‘indulge’ in for weight management. These act as self-hugs to the body and mind. In other words, these are jaadu-ki-jhappis which make our life worth living. These are important because these make all weight management efforts fructify much better and what’s more, these make life joyful!
- Achar (Following the routines): Something from the sun, the earth, the moon or at least our pet dog! They all are pretty good at sticking to their routines and are well in tune with other elements of the nature, without really getting hurried up or anything. Once, Dr. Sahab (as D. Jayadeva, son of the founder of the institute I studied at is fondly called) is known to have said often, that if a person can successfully follow even the most trivial (brushing., say) routine and continually do it at the exact same time of the day for at least a year, that person can achieve anything he or she wishes to in the world (let alone weight management). I think it is simply a consequence of mastery over mind via behaviour and routines. 😊
- Vichar (Mind management): Thought is the single most powerful element of our lives and also the single most unrestrained one. It is funny how stress, negative emotions, depressive feelings and helplessness make their way into our minds without our permission! Stress is deeply linked to obesity as food habits, consumerism and wanting-it-all traits creep into our personality as an unhealthy coping mechanism towards unbearable levels of stress. What is needed instead is a systematic immunization of the chitta towards stress triggers and a strengthening of the self to deal with the world better.
Say no to junk food. Use ginger, herbal leaves. Eat early at night. Keep a gap of 4 hours between meals and 1-2 hours between last meal of the day and sleep. Have an early breakfast. Follow the routines religiously. Have more faith in life and self to avoid stress. And take up a light and non-fatiguing hobby.
No other discipline – spiritual or scientific – that I know of, has gone so deep into understanding and mastering the life-making processes that operate at the cellular level. Prana is that which flows in the body and keeps it ‘alive’. It is one thing that differentiates a non-living organism from a living organism. Yoga has laid great importance on ‘ayama’ of prana i.e. control or regulation of the bio-energy. It is almost like optimizing the power-house of the body. We all have the access to the control room, but we do not know how to ‘operate’ the mechanics of energy optimization, maximization and conservation. That is where pranayama comes into the picture. My favourite is Anulom Vilom. For weight loss, Shunyak works wonders too.
Let’s look at how pranayama helps.
- Correction in Cellular Metabolism: Pranayama is a boon that balances the metabolic activity in the body and gives a never before kick of stamina and lightness. For a weight management regimen, yogic breathing techniques like these are much better than usual deep breathing because they help maintain oxygen surplus in the body. And well, like any other thing, fat too needs oxygen to burn! Thus, when in any weight-management routine, or even otherwise, pranayama is a must-do. However, it important to first prepare the body for pranayamas and to learn it from a trained person!
- Improved Mental Strength: An increase in will-power is very important for bringing about changes in one’s lifestyle to manage one’s weight effectively. This is greatly facilitated by Pranayama, as breath-mind control which results from its practice helps in improving self-awareness in the whole chitta or the personality complex.
Practice Bhastrika, Anulom Vilom, Shunyak, Kumbhak. Learn from a reliable teacher. Be aware of the limitations and contraindications for each of these techniques as these play directly with the ‘life-force’ and thus one should be very careful when practicing these.
The obvious item on the list, you would think. But that’s precisely why I mention this in the end most. Yogasanas are not just for the body, mind you! All the postures recommended in classical yoga have a deep psychological impact on the whole personality – as deep as the emotional and spiritual levels. The trick lies in practicing the same in a certain manner, which takes one through the body, beyond it! And that’s what we at The Yoga Mile emphasize upon too. We start with the body, letting the beginners get comfortable with their physique and raise their awareness many times fold in the first few months and then we gradually take them deeper, by adding suspensions and retentions of the breath, attitudinal auto-suggestions and internalizations which make the person positively introverted. When this is done, no wonder, the hormonal imbalances are corrected and the weight gaining tendency of body is checked in place.
Yogasanas are isometric exercises – those that are performed in a static manner with the body fixed in a given posture; whereas isotonic are the ones that involve lot of muscular movements like aerobics and jogging. Below are some of the reasons why yogasanas are far superior to other forms of exercises when it comes to weight management.:
- Non-Heart Straining: They work without straining the heart and circulatory system (I have heard of people getting heart attacks because they cycled and didn’t realize they were going beyond capacity!)
- Non-Injury Giving: They minimize injuries and skeleto-muscular friction
- Normal Muscle Tone: They help retain healthy muscular tone without the unnatural and temporary bulking up that gymming brings
- Endurance and Flexibility: They stretch the body for longer periods at one go, which builds endurance capacity and makes the toxic fat melt faster without leading to any sort of fatigue for the practitioners
- Cellular Respiration: They bring about innovative and healthy variations in the breathing pattern in different postures and enhance cellular respiration for various critical organs inside the body thereby expelling excess fat through a big and healthy booster to the metabolism
All yogasanas all helpful. Obese people will find the following easier done: Parvatasana, Konasana, Bhujangasana, Vakrasana, Paschimottanasana (Dynamic variation), Yashtikasana