Many students ask if yoga can help them lose weight. Or they ask what type of yoga will help them lose the most weight. They are driven by the need to fix a very old problem and have heard that yoga is an exercise that promotes weight loss.
Yoga certainly can be an exercise. Vigorous vinyasa-style classes (like Flow or Ashtanga yoga) involve nearly constant, full-body motion or isometric exercise for 45 minutes or more. They build strength and endurance while promoting flexibility and peace of mind.
And yes, the practice can improve discipline. Holding oneself accountable to practice on a regular basis and to do one's best during practice will improve self-control.
But yoga's great strength as a tool for weight loss is not necessarily in burning calories, improving metabolism, or gaining muscle mass. Indeed, even styles which promote themselves as being suited for weight loss (with claims of burning over 1,000 calories in a single class) only burn an average of 300-450 calories per 90-minute class--the equivalent to walking briskly.
Even the sweating that many consider a sure sign of effort and intensity of a hot yoga or other class in high humidity doesn't really correlate with weight loss. Sweating is our body's attempt to stabilize temperature. It does not remove toxins, and it does not promote weight loss. Profuse sweating (to the point of dehydration) might cause one to three pounds of fluid loss, but this is temporary--and not very beneficial to the human body.
That doesn't mean that yoga isn't a successful path toward weight loss--but it does mean that those looking for weight loss don't need the hottest, sweatiest, longest, hardest yoga class to meet weight loss goals quickly. In fact, taking those classes may only be a temporary fix--a band-aid over a deeper issue.
Consider overweight and the habits that cause it a symptom of another problem. Yoga gives us tools to observe our habits, to see their results and honestly determine whether they are beneficial. And, in time, to create better habits.
Yoga teaches us to pause and witness our emotions and reactions, and to begin to see the patterns of our habits and motivations behind them.
For many, habits that lead to weight gain come from a place of hurt, of pain or shame. Knowingly overeating is not only a poor choice of comfort, but also a way to inflict self-harm. Lack of interest in exercise can come from mistrust or dislike of our own selves.
"Don't move the way fear makes you move. Move the way love makes you move. Move the way joy makes you move." ~ Osho
Yoga is a practice of experiencing more fully, of being present to ourselves in a non-harming and truthful way. It doesn't matter how advanced you are in a pose. To some extent, it doesn't even matter what pose you do. Yoga is more concerned with how a thing is done, than what is done.
Yoga is not about reaching for something that isn't here, or about striving to attain something closer to perfection. Yoga is about learning to experience the bliss of simply being, as we are, where we are. Complete.
Once we experience this bliss in ourselves, this capacity for joy, we learn that we are worth loving and treating with kindness and tenderness. Over time, our habit becomes reaching for that which truly does us good in each moment. We begin to crave the foods which nourish our body, the exercises which strengthen our systems, and the activities which purify our mind. We seek to further this joyous relationship with our own being through beneficial activities such as yoga and meditation. We love ourselves, not for our accomplishments or potential, but because we are of God.
There is a difference between moving toward the good in us and moving away from the "bad." Yoga gives us tools to make that distinction and to walk a path toward self-love and healing.
The is the first of a series of posts on yoga for weight loss--be sure to check back for parts two and three which will include a complete yoga practice and meditation for losing weight.