Over the past decade alone, yoga has exploded into a multi-million dollar industry. The latest “Yoga in America” study, released in 2012 by Yoga Journal shows that nearly 21 million Americans actively participate in yoga, with the majority of novice practitioners citing wellness, or “stress management” as their primary motivation for taking up the practice, to the tune of spending over $10 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, and media. Some die-hard yoga devotees argue that as a byproduct of the boom and its growing popularity, many yoga institutions, rather than honoring its roots as a spiritual practice first, capitalize on the public’s demand for weight loss regimes and cater to it, rather than staying true to yoga’s original raison-d’etre. While Yoga was never intended to be a purely physical fitness regimen, and although our western world has cast it in that role, it turns out that yoga consistently asserts the efficacy of its original intent, as well as being a more formidable weight loss contender than you may imagine.

In spite of the fact that in many parts of the world, yoga has been reduced to more of a workout, specifically geared towards weight loss, especially heated vinyasa and Bikram yoga, what I found in my recent quest, was that in spite of humanity’s often single-mindedness, and its tendency, at times, to reduce something as richly- textured as yoga a lowest common denominator that serves their immediate need for instant gratification, because of the very nature of yoga and its inherent principles, people wind up getting a lot more than they bargained for, and exactly what the yoga sages of old intended for us future humans to glean.

Through each downward facing dog and warrior pose, whether practitioners know it or not, the message of yoga’s rich legacy is imparted, touching everyone from the moment they unroll their mat. They soon come to discover that not only can they in fact lose weight doing yoga, but just like the accidental tourist, who winds up finding one of the world’s seven wonders without a guidebook, the accidental yogi, if he or she is fortunate enough to practice with at least a marginally proficient instructor, and demonstrates consistency and dedication, one can actually reap myriad unforseen rewards, and discover the answers to one of life’s most elusive, complex and confounding mysteries– not just how to lose the weight, but how to keep it off.
My forays took me from my backyard in Southern California, all the way to the East Coast, where my own thoughts and instincts after practicing and teaching yoga for over 20 years, were not only confirmed, but corroborated. After interviewing yogis on both coasts, the resounding answer is, that if you really invest yourself, not only can you lose weight doing yoga, but you can get more than you would from almost any other modality that promises weight loss. You can get to the root of your inner burdens and self-sabotage, putting into practice one of yoga’s greatest gifts “letting go of what no longer serves you,” quite literally shedding unwanted pounds the way one would old luggage, and in the process, learn how to adopt a new lifestyle which holds the key to permanent change. Yoga offers something to the practitioner that few other modalities can–a potent combination of ancient science and self-mastery, tools that facilitate the self-reflection required to go to the very heart of the matter, to discover why you gained the weight in the first place and as they say in yoga-speak, how, in fact to literally let it go.

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