Losing weight with yoga
Losing weight can be a real hassle. There are many promising methods but the lost kilos tend to return once the diet is complete. You have to know that for people who practice yoga, it is different. Many of them testify to a loss of weight inherent in their practice. I have observed some amazing cases myself.
For the past few years, researchers have been beginning to understand this phenomenon. Yoga helps to better feel the real needs of the body and improves self-control. Physiological changes are observable, yoga and meditation help simply to keep the line without even thinking about it.
An ordinary way to lose weight
To lose weight it is necessary to use more energy than we consume. For this purpose it is recommended to reduce caloric intake and increase physical activity. That is to say eat less and do more sport.
Nutritionists and sports medicine experts agree that a vigorous and dynamic practice of yoga postures, in the order of 1h30, a few times a week, can provide enough cardiovascular work to increase metabolism.
On the other hand, the practice of calm postures, as taught at our school, should not lose weight. And yet the testimonies supported by scientific studies claim that even gentle postural practice leads to weight loss.
Eat more consciously
Alain Kristal, senior researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Seattle, USA) explains in Prevention Magazine that the weight loss induced by the practice of a calm yoga does not follow the same logic as the classic weight loss.
In a study conducted by his team, more than 15 000 obese adults aged about 50 years, and practicing yoga at least once a week for at least four years, had lost on average more than two kilos. The control group had taken more than six kilos. In addition, those who initially had normal weight were more likely to keep their weight than those who did not do yoga.
Dr. Kristal’s hypothesis is that it is the increase in the awareness of needs that is at the origin of these results. According to this researcher, a person practicing yoga is more attentive to his body and knows better to avoid using food to relieve his depression or to stifle his emotions. The practice of yoga allows to develop a control of oneself, of its impulses.
Another study published in 2016, entitled “A different weight loss experience”, confirms Dr. Kristal’s hypothesis. The study also evokes the social dimension of the yoga community that promotes healthy eating.
Lowering the cortisol protects against the storage of abdominal fat
Practicing yoga postures can not only help us consume fewer calories but also helps to change the way the body stores fats. Dr. Sara Gottefried, a yoga teacher and a graduate doctor from Harvard Medical School, describes the principles of this operation on his blog.
Typically the fat is stored in the belly, this is especially true in people with high cortisol levels.
Cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands, is emitted in a stressful situation or when the blood sugar level is too low. Its function is to relieve inflammation and increase the blood glucose level. The high level of glucose caused by permanent overproduction of cortisol causes fat to be stored at the abdomen.
The practice of yoga and meditation is known to lower the cortisol level and thus protect us from the negative effects of its overproduction. This aspect was confirmed by the study “A different weight loss experiment” where half of the subjects found a decrease in body fat, especially in the abdominal region.
But that does not end there.
Weight loss through breathing
Breathing exercises, pranayamas, are an important element in traditional yoga. I suspected them of playing a role in weight loss. I have observed this effect in myself but also in other people.
According to Dr. Ravinder Jerath, principal author of the Physiology of long pranayamic breathing, the various pranayamas influence the nervous system in a distinct way. Techniques characterized by a brief retention result in a significant increase in oxygen consumption and increased metabolism. Techniques characterized by slow respiration and long retention decreases oxygen consumption and metabolism.
Ujjayi Pranayama is a technique that includes brief retention, between 5 and 10 and a calm and fluid respiration. We use this technique a lot in our teaching. I think it is possible that it contributes to the weight loss that I have been able to observe many times.
For example, the case of one of our particularly motivated students who started practicing on a daily basis. Among other techniques, she practiced 30 minutes a day, the Source of energy, a meditation that implements Ujjayi Pranayama. After a few months, she had lost 14 kilos.
Weight loss with unilateral respiration
Breathing through one nostril at a time, alternates the functions of the nervous system. In another article on this blog, I have already narrated the conclusion of a study demonstrating how unilateral respiration allows to increase the gripping force.
The effects of unilateral respiration on metabolism were presented in an article published in 1994 in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology.
In this clinical trial, three groups practiced a specific unilateral respiration technique: the right nostril, the left nostril, or alternately by both nostrils. 48 subjects were randomly assigned to each of the groups. Subjects practiced unilateral respiration during 27 respiratory cycles, four times a day for a month.
The group breathing through the right nostril showed an increase in oxygen consumption of 37% and the group using the left nostril by 24%. People breathing alternately through both nostrils were allowed to observe an increase of 18%.
Conclusion: Multiple reasons
We find that a multiplicity of effects interact to produce this weight loss associated with the practice of yoga. Increased attention and reduced stress seem to be more important than physical postures by themselves. It also seems that breathing could play a role in it.
For those who wish to lose weight, the exact explanation is probably not very important. However, the results are significant: it is possible to approach its ideal weight by simply practicing yoga and meditation.