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 3 looks at the various health risks from obesity. Part 4 looks at how yoga helps in managing weight. In this blog we are going to take a look at the reasons – physiological and mental – behind abnormal weight gain. So, let’s get started!
Obesity Is Not Normal!
Obesity is excess accumulation of fat, especially in areas of the body which are physiologically important to be kept lean and free of excessive fat. In the last blog we looked at what these body areas are (e.g. abdomen) and why they should remain fat free.
In normal situations, when we follow the rhythm of the body clock and all glands work as per their ideal efficiency, a person should have no problems at all in maintain
ing their normal body weight. This is because the body is an extremely adjustable, agile and intelligent machine which knows when to feel hungry and ask for calories, when to use reserves and when to conserve the energy. The neuro-endocrine system of human body constantly keeps adjusting the degrees of hormonal secretions based on stimulus received from the nervous system so that human body functions normally at all times. This self-regulating process is termed as homeostasis. So then, what really goes wrong all of a sudden for some of us, and why do we end up messing with our body’s intelligence? Following are some of the reasons to consider!
Poor Lifestyle Triggers Obesity
When it comes to yoga and human body, poor lifestyle has nothing to do with one’s ‘financial standard of living’! It clearly implies one’s ‘real standard of living’ – which happens at the subtler ‘cellular’ level, ‘energy’ level and ‘emotional’ level. As physics says, everything in the world is a form of energy, the same is true with our bodies too. The energy equation for our body is pretty simple.
Intake = Utilization + Storage
Now, as long as the intake and utilization are comparable, the storage of energy remains within limits. Energy stored in itself is not a bad thing, it is nature’s way of saving what is not needed currently but could be useful later on! But when storing becomes a ‘tendency’ of the body, then there is literally crowding of the body space with that which is excess and cannot be expelled any other way. There are various lifestyle factors that encourage a physiological ‘tendency’ of storing energy rather than using it.
1. Unnatural Sleeping And Eating Schedule
Human beings are genetically diurnal creatures – meaning active at day time and inactive during night time. Our body clock and body rhythms have been hardwired into our systems for millions of years of evolutionary cycle based on one simple natural phenomenon – sun rise and sun set! In villages, even today, the sun set is respected as a hard stop on the physiological activity of eating and the signal to indulge in relaxing and recreational pursuits. (In this context, you might want to watch this video by us – An Ode To The Sun)
Modern lifestyle in the cities is going quite against this natural phenomenon. Eateries and restaurants are open till wee hours, streets are buzzing with activity beyond midnight, cinema halls run the 10:30 pm shows with servings of cheese pop corns and mayo sandwiches. In all of this, the human system which is quite simple and straightforward gets highly confused. “Should I digest, absorb and release” or “Should I rest, repair and expel?” This error of conflicting stimulus – ‘sun-set yet food intake in large quantities!’ – jumbles the system sooner or later resulting in inefficient metabolic functioning and hence abnormal weight gain.
Yoga being a complete overhaul of one’s way of life, and not a set of asanas to be performed on the mat, emphasizes on ‘achar’ or daily routines with appropriate time devoted to personal duties (dharma), correct food habits (ahar), sufficient work (artha), enough recreation (kama) and dedicated self-study (swadhyaya). These ingredients naturally bring a balance in one’s schedule and thereby in one’s metabolism!
2. Wrong Postural Tendencies
Posture is another of the big factors in obesity and unhealthy distribution of fat. Sitting straight requires muscular effort, and effort utilizes energy, keeping bad fat away not just from our torsos but also from our limbs. Good posture also increases oxygen intake quite naturally, thereby allowing the cells more oxygen for cellular respiration and facilitating greater utilization of the energy absorbed from digested food.
In yoga what we understand as ‘Tamas’ plays a great role physiologically in weight gain. One aspect of it could be seen as the ‘resting metabolic rate’. Put simply, this stands for the alertness, responsiveness and activeness of the body overall, whether one is sitting, standing or sleeping. Beware, active doesn’t mean ‘hyperactive’ or ‘tense’ i.e. no Type A personalities advised here! But sure enough, a ‘bored-with-life’ attitude as against an ‘involved-in-life’ attitude will bring in more weight gain. Remember, you could be very ‘active’ in scrolling through your Facebook feed, and still be enormously bored with life! ‘Active’ here implies awareness, attentiveness and wakefulness.
Today, everywhere we go, there are chairs to sit on, or elevators to move into. Climbing, sitting on the floor or even squatting are cultural nuances we are beginning to discard, with even toilets being inspired by the ‘Englishmen’. Constipation is encourages by bad posture and wrong sitting habits, what with the abdominal muscles becoming distended and unused, thus unable to work effectively towards facilitating proper absorption and expulsion of the food we eat.
Yoga offers a scientific and systematic approach to increasing the degrees of wakefulness in our personality, bringing in postural corrections and helping us relearn proper carriage of our skeleto-muscular structure; thereby helping effectively in weight management.
3. Being Overpowered By Stress
Human evolution has always seen us through stress of one kind or the other – in the stone age it was majorly survival stress, today, we have competitive stress, imagined stress, social media stress, ‘YOLO’ (You Live Only Once) stress, stress from information overload and what not! Stress in itself is not a bad thing. After all, it signals the body to prepare for fight or flight syndrome, diverting important biochemical resources away from metabolism, growth, repair and immunity so that physiologically one is ready to deal with any perceived threat – which could be running away from a tiger or working late night to finish a project on which depends one’s promotion!
The body achieves this through utilizing the deep connection between the nervous system and the endocrine system which together regulate activity of all glands of the body including thyroid, pancreas, adrenaline and so on. However, continued onslaught of stress is not what the human body is designed to handle. When on a continuous basis, important resources get used to ‘handle’ a situation rather than to maintain metabolic and repair functioning, body gives in to various diseases and unhealthy conditions – obesity being just one of these!
Stress also triggers weak links in the genetic make-up, which makes one with family history of obesity even more prone to developing the condition. Women usually fall prey to obesity after menopause, as nature’s natural cushioning against the condition withers away after the fertile years are behind her.
Yoga techniques train the person to consciously activate the parasympathetic nervous system which undoes the damage caused by stress response from the sympathetic nervous system and thereby reinstates balance and normal state in the body and the mind. Various psycho-physical relaxation techniques that we teach in our regular classes are aimed deeply at stress management.
4. The Consumer Culture
Own. Buy. Consume. Try. Have. Take. Grab. These are the terminologies popular in the highly consumeristic culture today. What happens when we do not learn the opposite language – Give. Let Go. Let It Be. Move On. Detach? We are constantly running to increase imagined wealth and happiness – often in the form of calories and sensual comforts. This makes the human body unused to invoking its own strength, unused to utilizing stored energy reserves, as it tends to get everything too easily. The imbalance of intake and utilization manifests itself in the form of toxic fat deposits which act as a slow killing poison.
The various unhealthy chemicals that we intake in pizzas and burgers, cold drinks and canned juices include fat soluble toxins like pesticides, preservatives, food additives etc. which need to be expelled through lungs, sweat and urine.
Yoga offers a holistic physical culture with ingenious stretches and static as well as dynamic postures which act on excessive fat deposits and help in eliminating the same without unnecessarily increasing heart rate or causing muscle fatigue. This scientific and rewarding approach towards health thus helps in maintaining a toxin free body even in today’s modern times.
The Yoga and Weight Management series is focused towards bringing greater awareness among health conscious people about the nature, causes and cures for obesity so that they can take adequate steps to arrest it in time and live a healthier, more fulfilling life. Stay tuned!