Yoga brings lots of obvious physical benefits for the body like building flexibility, strength and tone.
However what yoga also brings are the more subtle benefits for our body image, such as increased body confidence, body awareness and acceptance of ourselves. All of which can be in short supply if we’re judging ourselves for gaining weight. This body awareness can also allow us to decide more clearly for ourselves if we want to lose weight or if we are reacting to external messages that we “should” lose weight.
Energy intake-expenditure balance
Weight gain is due to a whole range of factors including genetics, diet, physical activity, life events, money and availability of foods, amongst many others. There’s no clear cut answer to why some people seem to gain weight more easily than others and the media always seems to be reporting the latest research which contradicts the last. However, what comes up consistently is that in most cases weight gain is due to an imbalance in the energy intake-expenditure balance. That is, we are taking in more calories than our bodies need, because of the types and amount of the food and drink we consume.
Therefore, although yoga and being physically active in general has many other health benefits, weight loss is unlikely to happen unless we also look at what and how much we are eating as well.
How can we do this?
Keep a food diary for a week or two
What did you eat and drink, when, where and how much? Research shows that this monitoring in itself can help people eat more healthily. Take some time to review your meals, snacks and drinks and see where you might be able to make healthier choices.
Write down not just what you ate but also any thoughts and feelings you had before, during and after. Look for patterns, are you eating more when you are stressed, angry, bored, at work? For example, when I did this myself I noticed that when I am travelling my brain seems to think that food doesn’t count. I eat foods I normally avoid and buy extra snacks I don’t need “just in case”.
Food diaries like this can also be a great way of seeing if certain foods or ingredients are triggers for changes in your mood.
Use the internet for researching healthy foods but don’t get lost in the diet industry world! There are endless websites promoting various eating plans from the boring to the bizarre, many of which have something they would like to sell so I prefer to use non-commercial websites instead (www.nhs.uk or www.nutrition.org.uk for example).
Try to examine your unconscious thoughts around food and eating. If you have a craving can you feel it in certain parts of your body? What happens if you let it be? If you notice it, acknowledge it and then sit and breathe with it?
Yoga poses for weight loss
So while also looking at the types and amounts of foods you’re eating what types of yoga can help to support healthy weight loss? If you are regularly practising dynamic styles of yoga like Ashtanga or Vinyasa Flow you might also notice that it helps you to lose weight or keep your weight stable. Holding strong standing poses or core poses between flows will also build muscle which helps increase metabolism.
EkhartYoga members: Try Esther Ekhart’s Get Fit in 10 Days programme. In this set of classes Esther takes you through a series of sequences and poses which will get you fit and healthy and help you lose weight alongside your healthy eating.
Try a body positive visualisation from Esther
Take a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Feel your body, be with your breath. Feel where you are and how you are.
Then create an image of yourself in your mind of how you would like to be when you lose weight. What would you like to look like? Create an image you believe in, maybe just a few pounds lighter. See yourself fitter, healthier, more radiant and most of all happier.
Picture yourself as clearly and vividly as you can and look at that image for a little while.
Now imagine stepping in and becoming that person now. What would it feel like in your body if you were healthier and more confident? If you were stronger, fitter and anything else you think losing weight would bring you?
Imagine yourself in your daily life having lost weight looking and feeling slimmer – Would you do things differently or the same? Would you eat differently to maintain it?
Next, think about what are the foods that keep you from losing weight? Picture them and then in your mind put a big red cross through them.
Practise the visualisation daily to keep your motivation going and believe in it. Repeat the red cross exercise at least daily and as often as you think about those foods, instead drink a glass of water.
This visualisation can be used for other changes you would like to make in your life. After the exercise you might like to reflect on some of the things you ways life would be different if your body was different. Are there things you could change now?