I often receive questions regarding yoga asana and if it is really possible to use this as a method in supporting and maintaining weight loss.
There are various studies that have been conducted by medical experts in the recent years investigating this claim and many people have tried going down this path. Although results vary from no difference to significant shedding of excess weight, I believe that partaking consistently in yoga asana classes does help to support individuals on their way towards a healthy way of living.
There are 2 key benefits that any person attending their first yoga class can typically feel at the end of their yoga session:
1. Lowered stress
Stress, in our modern day and age is as common as spotting a 7-Eleven store at every corner of the street. While some level of stress can be argued as healthy and necessary (such as the case of learning something new), it can also be particularly harmful to the body if it remains a prolonged and constant state of stress.
Feeling ‘stressed out’ usually indicates someone in a heightened sense of anxiety. Stress stimulates the production of a hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol, in our ancestral times helps our cavemen and cavewomen ensure survival by creating the ‘fight or flight’ response. When the hunter sees a huge sabre tooth tiger coming its way, the brain does a quick calculation and decide whether it is better to fight or to turn around and flee as quickly as the body is able to run.
These days, a boss chasing you for your deadline typically induces stress, or your son that got himself in trouble at school because he thought it was cool to punch his friend in the face. The cortisol hormone is responsible for a host of responses within your body, such as suppression of immune system and more undesirably, the laying down of body fat around the stomach area, more endearingly known as “love handles”.
Decreased levels of stress has a direct impact in lowering amounts of cortisol in the body, decreasing anxiety and increasing insulin sensitivity thus signals your body to burn calories as fuel instead of laying it down as fat.
2. Increased mindfulness
Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the present moment, without forming any judgment about your present state.
All those breathing cues you receive while in a yoga class, when the teacher in front tells you to ‘inhale’ as you open up your chest or ‘exhale’ as you fold forward, does eventually lead to higher body awareness.
Sometimes in a brief state of discomfort, when you feel the tight hamstrings in your legs groaning in protest from being stretched more than it is used to, the only thing that prevents you from stepping off your mat and out of the class is bringing all your attention into your breath and the present moment.
You begin to notice how linking your breath while moving or holding a pose can actually help you to maintain energy and remain steady throughout the class.
Some yoga classes may incorporate a portion of the session to breathing exercises and meditation. Both of which has been shown to be beneficial in helping to lower blood pressure, induce a sense of calmness and increase mindfulness.
When you are calm and relaxed, you naturally become more ‘in-tune’ with your own body’s needs. You are then more likely to make better food choices as well as better decisions on when to consume it.
This in turn will create a chain of positive effects to your body including better digestion and optimum nutrient absorption (provided your choices are healthy!), thus supporting you further in your pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.
If the idea of mindfulness remains elusive to you even after your tenth class, the increased oxygen intake you get as a result of proper breathing is already enough to make your body thank you for attending all those yoga classes.
By enabling stress reduction and increased mindfulness through participating in a yoga class, it creates the ideal condition to support and maintain a healthy weight. This is largely made possible by the chain-effect that follows through experiencing the two key benefits of yoga.
While there are many studies which shows positive benefits of yoga on the maintenance of a healthy weight and lifestyle, weight loss through yoga alone is dependent on two main factors: the intensity of your yoga class (that is how fast and challenging the movements may be) and the frequency you practise yoga (e.g. weekly, twice weekly or every day).
Below is a simple diagram which I have created as a guide should you happen to approach your first yoga class as a means to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
For more details of the definition and types of yoga classes most commonly available in the Klang Valley, check out my previous article: Your Guide to 5 Most Common Types of Yoga in Malaysia (and Which Suits You Best).
How has yoga helped you with weight loss? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page and we’ll get right back at ya!