29
Mar

kries-forward-bend3

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.

The True Secret to Lasting Weight Loss: Seeing Beyond the Calorie to What Lies Beneath the Surface

kries-warrior-21

Depending upon the style of yoga you choose and how dedicated you are with your practice, perhaps combining it with higher-octane exercise regimes, along with conscious food choices, yoga can help you to lose weight, but the place where yoga really shines in the weight-loss world, is how it stays true to its origins and why yoga was developed in the first place– as a science that fosters union of all aspects of being, rallying you to discipline, helping you to slow you down mentally, so you can learn to distinguish between the urge to eat and the emotional impulses that sometimes drive us to eat to quell our feelings. Yoga can help us discern what we are truly hungry for, and knowing what makes us tick internally can help us lose weight by making better food choices.

If we’re looking at calorie for calorie, when stacked against higher-fat-burning workouts like running, aerobics, zumba, a competitive tennis match or a long distance swim, yoga on the surface, comes in a close second, unless it is combined with a purely cardiovascular, calorie-burning exercise. However, none of the aforementioned “competitor” exercise regimes can hold a candle to yoga’s long-term benefits and its ability to help someone go beyond pure calorie-burning to what winds up being the most important component in the quest for weight loss–stepping onto the path of real transformation that holds the promise of true longevity, something that other exercise regimes which ultimately “punish” the body with deleterious effects of high impact on the joints and internal organs can’t match. In the race for weight loss, yoga can be the dark horse, the one that goes beyond the “quick fix,” because it goes beneath the surface of the movements themselves and cuts through the obsession with calorie-burning to reveal the essence of the self, inspiring self-acceptance, which has all the makings of a life-long love affair.

“Yoga gave me a place to explore what was hidden, it gave me a place to feel, to ask myself the tough questions, says Jennifer Schelter, a veteran yoga teacher and Founder of Mindful Strategies for Living and Radiant Retreats in Philadelphia. “I finally found myself in a place where I could ask myself, what does frustration feel like, what does guilt feel like? Because the actual asana practice brings these spaces into existence. And instead of being able to default as the escape artist, instead of trying to run away, I found myself looking forward to slowing down, looking forward to the investigation, because for the first time, I could feel my emotions in the body, and I could feel my mind working things out in a way that it wouldn’t be able to do with any other form of movement.”

Yoga can be a very powerful catalyst, and for many who have the good fortune to discover it through an exceptional teacher, it can be the very thing that helps them to start losing weight and then act as their best partner, through the oft daunting process of staving it off. Yoga provides gifts, the tools for real change which are not so obvious at first, and which few other more popular or conventional weight-loss strategies can’t touch: The unique confluence, the powerhouse affiliation of conscious movement and focused breath that creates the opportunity for true introspection and the cultivation of authentic will power and discipline.
Yoga encourages a vibrant, energetic connection to the body, as well as an enhanced awareness of the body. Seeing and feeling the body as you stretch and move from one posture to the next, inspires a more mindful, connected practice, not just on the yoga mat, but in life. Contained within the very essence of yoga itself is “union,” confirmation that there is no separation between the mind, the body and the emotions, and few other vehicles for weight loss provide the same catalytic foundation that facilitates the process of deepening awareness of and conscious communication between all three. Comparatively speaking, with a workout like running, for instance, you are doing exactly that: running. There isn’t much opportunity to be still and contemplate why you are doing what you’re doing.

Unlike other forms of movement and exercise, yoga trains the mind to stay in one place. The longer it stays in one place, the greater the opportunity it has to focus. If the place where it is guided to stay is infused with the healing and illuminating power of prana, or life force, the mind begins to comprehend the true nature of healing and possibility, and one starts to understand how to actually begin to live into one’s true potential. It is then that the natural process of inner healing unfolds, and the mind becomes healthy, strong, clear, and energetic. It becomes filled with courage and enthusiasm, the courage it takes to break old undermining patterns and create new, life-enhancing ones.

Founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, Sujantra McKeever says that yoga gives him the space to tune into what he truly needs. “For me, yoga is an awareness that body, mind, breath and emotions are all intertwined, and it’s my opportunity to bring a synergy to all those systems. I know that if I sit in meditation for 20 minutes, I am going to completely shift my state of consciousness to a more peaceful place, where I have more influence over the choices I make, with food, for instance. Once I understood this, there was no way that I wanted to go out and start my day without that feeling. For me, it would be like starting the day without eating a good breakfast!”

When you get right down to it, there are countless ways that yoga may enhance weight loss or weight management beyond calorie burn or metabolic changes; in its powerfully synergistic effects. For one, it’s a generally low-impact way to move that is safer for people with limitations or issues due to their weight, making it a great introduction to future exercise that people can feel good about.  It creates body awareness that can help when it comes to emotional eating, discerning true hunger and fullness from being in the moment. It induces a deep calm that neutralizes stress and therefore the stress hormones that can affect appetite, as well as the body’s tendency to store excess body fat.

But in order to even think about having the staying power to keep the weight off, you need to understand what lies beneath the surface, beneath the extra weight itself, which somehow is the very barrier we construct to keep ourselves from burrowing beneath to the emotions, the negative story, often from childhood, that has started the insidious cycle in the first place. Yoga is the mirror that reflects the truth of what is inside back to you; it reveals what was previously hidden and brings it to light, making it clear (and forgive the pun), somehow more palatable.

Self-Acceptance=Weight Loss
Yoga, Emotions & Food: Cultivating the Power of Choice

jennifer-15-of-24

Yoga can offer untold psychological benefits. Weight gain often brings with it harsh self-judgment. Yoga, helps to counteract it by creating a safe, positive environment where we can reconnect with our bodies and quiet the counterproductive messages that arise in our minds, so that we can go deeper to unleash stored emotions that can negatively impact our food choices. Engaging in the asana practice also fosters a renewed sense of control over our lives, which can diminish during the challenging process of losing weight and moving towards inhabiting a slimmer self.

Sujantra McKeever of Pilgrimage revealed, “My ideal weight is 195 and the heaviest I ever got was 225, when my Mom had cancer. During that time I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, and I was eating unconsciously, trying to fill a void. Yoga helped me to slow down and reflect on why I was eating. You know how they say before you get angry, take three deep breaths? Well, when I was about to eat a muffin, I could ask myself, am I really hungry? And if I’m not, then why am I eating it?”

With yoga, people become more attuned and cultivate a greater appreciation of their bodies. The asana practice instills a new body awareness, and with that, comes greater awareness of self. You start to cultivate respect and love for yourself and for the first time, you want to treat yourself well, which then translates into eating better. As a result, our self-esteem, our perception of what our bodies are, and what they can do starts to become more reflective of our truer nature and that affects what we decide to put into our bodies. It is this awareness that lays the foundation, the way to discover who we are apart from our bodies and minds, to grow closer to our physical bodies as we learn to transcend them and connect to our essential aliveness and not get caught up in “the story” of our past. No other exercise regimes, aside from Pilates can come close to what yoga does in this all-encompassing regard.

“Yoga helps you to burn through the insanity in our own minds so that we can really start to tap into our true power, our own ability to take on the inner critic witch in our minds,” says Schelter,“ so that rather than running away from her, or trying to silence her, we can actually invite her into the conversation, have her as a guest at our table, but not pay much attention to her.”

For so many, yoga becomes the outward manifestation of these inner victories that will power and determination yield–when people turn their focus inward to initiate the unveiling, the deconstructing of negative patterns and behavior that sabotages them in their lives. Yoga serves to liberate their inherent freedom and essential aliveness, giving people permission to feel joyful and radiant, literally more at home in their own skin, as they experience a greater awareness and expanded sense of freedom when they see and feel their body move from one posture to the next, inspiring a more mindful, connection to themselves. It is the actual asana practice in yoga, while perhaps not as obviously rigorous as other higher-calorie burning exercises, which can help to foster significant change and yield real results when it comes to having the ability to make better choices with food and in life.

Schelter confided, “Yoga was the first time I got out of my own way, I was so connected to my life force that I realized how much more powerful I was than any nasty recording in my own head that led me to make choices that weren’t healthy. I only needed to connect to my breath in that moment, in that pose, for me to be with the truth of who I was, and for the first time, I was given access to my original fountain of creativity, to spirit, to my authentic self, without the interference from my past. That was the ultimate freedom for me, and from that freedom, grew the ability to prevail over the negative dialogue that we all fall prey to at one time or another.”

As life force energy, or prana flows through the body, released by the poses in the asana practice, yoga trains the mind to let go of what it doesn’t need, placing this kind of surrender in the forefront of our consciousness. And as this healing and nurturing power of prana awakens in the body, the senses lose their cravings. People literally begin to “taste” a greater sense of fulfillment and joy that arises from the satisfaction of performing the poses with skill and determination, and thus find no reason to run after what winds up being ephemeral satisfaction from external stimuli, like food.

For many people, yoga becomes one of the most powerful tools they can use to access and release stuck emotions that can often masquerade as food cravings. Carolina Moreira, an instructor from Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego told me that yoga not only initiated a lifestyle change, as in “no more partying,” but it inspired healthy eating overall and went to the heart of why she ate what she did. “Yoga helped me with cravings. It helped me to cultivate self-respect and self-acceptance for the first time, and once I started respecting myself, I cared about what I put in my body, and how it made me feel.”

Schelter continued, “Yoga helps you to become a witness to an energetic feeling, to our life force that flows through us, the voice of the conditioned self. We live most of our lives unconsciously, and yoga helps us to become aware. With weight loss, yoga literally can help us to sit in the chair of the witness, where we can observe the sequence of events that led to our self-imprisonment in the first place. Yoga gives you the key to unlock the prison door, it teaches you how to “let go of what no longer serves” and then literally let go of the weight.

Pilgrimage of the Heart’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Megan Scollay-Casillas echoes Schelter’s sentiments, “For me, yoga is about being present. Weight loss happens in yoga because it makes you more aware of yourself, inspires self-esteem, leading to greater attention to what you eat. I could feel the changes and feel myself getting stronger, I could see a difference in the way I was responding to thing outside in life, and even though I wasn’t losing a lot of weight right away, I stopped caring about it, which was a blessing in and of itself. Yoga has given me the freedom to recognize where I am and be thankful for what I accomplish, and how much better I feel inside. That’s what’s kept me consistent, and that’s where real change and ultimately lasting weight loss can happen.”

Burn Baby Burn
Tapas, Calorie burning & Detoxification

images

We know that weight loss occurs when a person’s calorie intake, food and drink consumed is less than their caloric expenditure. So aside from actual calorie-burning, what is the real fire behind weight loss success in yoga? It’s called “tapas” and according to Yoga Journal’s Founder, Judith Lasater, “Tapas is one of the most powerful concepts in the Yoga Sutra. The word “tapas” comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn.” The traditional interpretation of tapas is “fiery discipline,” the fiercely focused, constant, intense commitment necessary to burn off the impediments that keep us from being in the true state of yoga.”
Tapas is the deep and all-pervasive internal heat that is generated during the practice, from the first focused inhalation one draws in when moving into the first pose. Like an internal sauna, or steam bath, the heat created by tapas is one of the most powerful ways to detoxify the body. As the body’s cooling system is triggered by tapas, through diaphoresis, or total-body perspiration, and through twisting asanas and poses that engage the deep abdominals, the internal organs release toxins that find their way out of the body through the skin, which accounts for the phenomenal radiant glow associated with consistent yoga practice.

In the yoga practice, the mind and the body, while usually at odds, join forces through this flow of poses that demands the practitioner endure challenging moments and see them through. It’s freedom through adversity, finding the will to triumph over obstacles. When the mind says no, for example, reconnecting with the breath helps you to say, “Yes! I can do this.” It’s only through adversity that we can begin to “tap” into our true power–what we are truly made of. The magic of yoga lies in the cultivation of tapas this powerful “inner fire” that burns through the noise of the mind, as it burns through toxic build-up in the body; it is the heat that is generated through the asana practice itself, when we find ourselves on the battle ground of the mind that brings us to the next level of awareness and acknowledgment of our ability to vanquish and literally still its vicissitudes.

Here’s how it works: Take the moment when you move into Warrior II, for example. You start to feel your front quad fatiguing, then you feel your arms aching, which then becomes more of a burn. And then, you are immediately seized by the strong desire to free yourself from this jail where the walls are closing in. Then, a complete 180, where you seek higher ground and are able to sustain it for approximately 15 seconds, during which brief time, you are distracted by the wrestling match between you and your mind, where you are working to perfect the pose, and refine your alignment since, afterall, you are making the effort to be there in the first place … and then the roller coaster takes the dive once again, and again, you are suffering, quickly sliding down the slippery slope, and even considering caving and taking child’s pose instead, when out of nowhere, the voice of your faithful guide, your teacher comes sailing over the fracas, as if rising out of a pyre of flame, above the bloody battle taking place on your mat between you and your ego, and you hear very clearly, “connect to the breath.” And suddenly, unbelievably, you find yourself doing just that– connecting to the breath, which is your life-raft, your life force, and you appreciate your breath, and your ability to breathe, your ability to be in the pose and then your ability to be with whatever comes up and to then flow out of that moment into the next, and you see and feel your body, and you have a new-found satisfaction, pride, almost that you have “made it” that you lasted as long as you were meant to hold the pose. And then the real reward is confirmed when the teacher cues you to move out of the pose and into downward facing dog, and so it goes … the process is born where you cultivate the seeds of real change. Through hard work, discipline, determination and courage, you start to build the qualities that then spill into your life after you walk out of the yoga studio. And because you have just spent the last hour or hour and a half generating appreciation for this miraculous machine that is your body, you have reason to pause before eating automatically, unconsciously. You find yourself asking the question, “ do I really want to eat that, put that processed, or fried food into my body, this body that just cooperated and worked so hard at my urging, worked so hard to wrestle the leviathan of my mind to the ground, breathing, balancing, stretching, striving to inhabit a pose, to hold a pose with every ounce of my will and being.

Stress Reduction=Weight Reduction: The Science Behind the Magic

What is the science behind yoga that makes it so effective in winning this losing battle? Like the yin and yang of styles I’ll soon feature, it is both beautifully complex and simple at the same time. The physical postures in yoga help to bring everything back to a place of equilibrium. And as the mind and body come together, a magical alchemy takes place– what comes shining, rocketing through the body and to the surface of our consciousness is life force energy, that when permitted to flow freely sets the magical alchemical transformation in motion: The feel-good chemicals are released, calming the central nervous system, lowering blood pressure, encouraging increased blood flow to the digestive organs, and the natural sedation of the fight or flight response, which can trigger the production of cortisol, which leads to fat retention. The cultivation of life force energy trumps everything, all of the noise of the mind, the internal protests, and what is left is pure clarity–the space and will power to not only make better choices, but to honor them.

As you race through the day in high gear, your body can often secrete fight or flight hormones that can stress your organ systems and wreak havoc on your bodily functions. In yoga, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows things down, then permitting your body’s systems take a rest: Hormones rebalance, injuries begin repairing, and digestion proceeds optimally, all of which can aid weight loss. This is particularly relevant with the endocrine system, the glands that control many of body’s most important functions. The squeeze and release effect the postures have on these glands yoga can help regulate metabolism, and can actually suppress appetite, which then affects our food choices and eating styles.

It only goes to follow that if you start to feel good in mind, body and spirit because of the actual yoga practice, you will not only choose more wisely, but how much you will consume, the next time you’re hungry. When the appetite is suppressed, combined with feeling so good, the chemicals that are released, the new-found appreciation for what your body can do, and the powerful flow of life-force energy– it all translates into conscious food choices and weight loss. Yoga and meditation reliably produce a cascade of positive physiological effects, including decreased oxygen consumption, slowed breathing, increased blood flow to the limbs, and changes in patterns of brain activity associated with attention, effects which account for the feelings of deep calm and well being reported by practitioners that then allow them to turn their focus inside and make changes that last.

Varieties of Yoga Delights: A Tasting Menu for Weight Loss

kries-utthita-hasta-padangustasana

Losing weight with yoga boasts a two-prong approach: One with higher calorie-burning, more rigorous, athletic, heating “yang” practices, and two, with softer, more restorative, cooling “yin” styles that help to recharge your batteries. It is important to note that with yoga, it is this perfect balance of yin and yang that optimizes your chances for creating real balance in your life off of the mat, where more permanent weight loss can happen.

If you think that yoga is merely a moderate calorie contender, think again, and if you haven’t heard of Kundalini yoga, you may be in for a surprise. With its challenging, rapid, full-belly breathing style, kapalabhati as its heartbeat, combined with intensely challenging, envelope-pushing, rhythmic and dynamic asanas that are done in more of a staccato style, Kundalini yoga, both increases the cardiovascular component and builds strength and stamina, as it enhances flexibility of the body and the mind. By taking the practitioner past a place of what the mind thinks is tolerable and even possible, Kundalini yoga has a way of pushing past mental barriers, proving to the yogi that they are more powerful than they knew before they started the practice. Combined with the actual unleashing of “Kundalini Shakti,” or the coiled snake of awareness and energy that occurs during the practice, if you’re talking calories, Kundalini, also historically known as the “Raj” of yoga, or the “king,” certainly asserts its rightly-earned royal lineage in this arena; It can help you to burn a whopping 600 calories an hour.

Equally vigorous vinyasa styles like Ashtanga yoga with its rigorous and demanding, poses, chaturangas, arm balances, intense sun salutations and standing practices, can burn up to 400-500 calories an hour. Then of course, heated yoga and hot yoga, the popular Bikram style, where the room is heated to a nearly intolerable 105 degrees, is guaranteed to help you lose water weight undoubtedly, but as far as actual weight loss, Bikram yoga does not offer any distinct advantages over other forms of yoga. The excessive temperature and 40 percent humidity cause the body to release a copious amount of sweat, and it is the water loss that leads many Bikram fans to misinterpret water loss as weight loss, but as soon as the water is replaced in the body, the weight usually returns.

Of course an even more potent calorie-burning formula is the obvious– the sure-fire combination of yoga along with a purely targeted cardiovascular workout such as cycling, running, swimming will undoubtedly turbo-charge your weight loss.

Getting Hot by Keeping Your Cool: Yin Yoga

yin-pose

While Kundalini and vigorous vinyasa classes can be powerful vehicles for calorie burning and total body-toning, it doesn’t have to be a rigorous class that’s going to help kick off the beneficial sequence of events that leads to weight loss. Gentle yoga is also a good way to start your yoga journey, if you’re new to yoga, which is crucial if you want to avoid injuries that could significantly delay your hopes for weight loss at least for a while, instead, easing your way into the yoga world, introducing your muscles and fasciae to gradual opening and stretching, an exceptional preparation for more advanced, faster-paced practices.
Ironically, gentle and restorative practices, like a Yin yoga can take the meditative, healing aspects of yoga that assist in the weight loss battle, even further. Whereas the yoga most people are familiar with appropriates the muscles or yang tissues of the body, yin yoga targets the more interior supportive structures—the “fasciae,” literally down to the bone marrow. Yin is every bit as vital as a heating or “yang vinyasa” yoga practice—the “power yoga” where one flows from pose to pose, energetically pushing the envelope, concentrating on building muscular strength and stamina. Yin yoga, on the other hand, is a cool, calming, restorative practice that literally helps you to recharge your batteries. This profound practice of long-held, deep stretching poses that stimulate and open the body’s meridian system comprised of subtle energy pathways that run under the muscle, through the body’s fasciae, can help with weight loss, by super-activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which we’ve said regulates breathing, digestion and hormones. Yin yoga’s meditative pace draws the practitioner deep inside to an internal landscape, where one can dialogue with repressed emotions and release them, opening blockages that can otherwise lead to unproductive habits. Yin yoga’s quiet and gentle character provides a much-needed antidote to the stresses of today’s over-scheduled, overly “yang,” fast-paced world. It provides the time and space for the practitioner to truly “listen” to what’s going on deep inside, and engage in an unhurried inner examination of their emotional life that usually remains hidden and inaccessible, allowing them to get to the root of why they are more apt to engage in unproductive behavior. This, in turn leads to reduced stress, activation of an optimal metabolic chain of events, establishing better balance in the body’s total systems, resulting in a greater ability to cultivate freedom and the desire and will to live a better life.

“Once I really began to practice more consistently, I started to see that there was this huge disconnect between my racing intellect, what I will call the ‘egoic vacuum,’ and this whole other realm, where I was strong and clear, capable and connected,” Jennifer Schelter concluded. “The more I practiced, the more I actually lived into this new realm of wholeness, and merged with it. Yoga gave me a place where my mind could be free for the first time, where there was no guilt, no shame, no judgement, just appreciation for what my body could do, and who I truly am. Yoga helped me to understand for the first time that weight gain is the byproduct of my negative thinking. The incredible message you receive with yoga, is that it’s not about achieving, or losing weight in the end, although most people do. It’s about being– being yoga, which is really just accepting yourself just as you are.”

3 Responses to “Winning a Losing Battle: The Truth About Yoga and Weight Loss”

Never have we met yet you influence me and teach me and inspire me! Dare I say God I LOVE YOU when we have never met? I do. You are truly amazing inspirational and eye opening. I like ot make jokes.. you are beautiful on the outside where it counts! Truly you Mrs. Jennifer Kries are a beautiful woman - outside and in. Thank you for being you and inspiring me to find the light inside to one day help someone else! For now there are still chuckles in the back of the class as I lose my balance. :)
Sincerely

James
April 3rd, 2014

Wow! What a wonderful post shared by you. Thank you for this sharing. And yes yoga is the best way to achieve a sound body with a sound mind

August 18th, 2015

Awesome! Great article. I’m looking forward to see more information like this. As for me I have good results using this proven system. I stay fit, lose pounds and get my sexy body back again as well with this amazing yoga program. Am doing it myself for 30 days now and my skinny jeans fits way better than before. http://bit.ly/2bAmFyx

August 19th, 2016