I am often asked if yoga will help with weight loss? It is an interesting question. I do believe that yoga helps me stay at a healthy weight, however the reason has little to do with the calories I burn during asana practice. It is true that yoga helps build strength and will burn calories, but if calorie burn is what you are truly seeking there are much more effective ways to burn calories. Instead yoga helps build awareness of what it is that our body needs from moment to moment. Yoga teaches you how to listen inwardly and be present, which in turn can help to identify your habitual patterns of turning to food when we are not truly hungry.
Eating is something that most of us take somewhat for granted. We grab whatever we can find quickly, put it in our mouth and gobble it down as fast as possible without much thought. It is often viewed as a task that we have to get checked off of our long to-do list. Consuming food is truly one of the most intimate and necessary activities we do aside from breathing and sleeping.
Maybe you have seen that commercial from a couple of years ago that was a play on the old saying, "you are what you eat". In the commercial it showed women eating donuts and when they turned around they literally had donuts on their bums. While you may not have a donut literally stuck on your butt, that donut is now part of you, sugar, oil, white flour and all. If you really are what you eat, this may also cause you to consider the social implications of where your food came from and any suffering that may have been involved. The food that we choose to consume and digest becomes a part of our bodies. Our digestive systems break down the food, absorb the nutrients, and they become building blocks of our cells. Our bodies are literally built out of the food that we consume. Think about that the next time you grab something to eat. Is that really what you want to be made of?
In yoga practice we work to identify habits and patterns. In our asana practice it may be a pattern of holding tension in our jaws. In our pranayama practice it may be the pattern of not using our full lung capacity when breathing. During meditation we may identify patterns of thought such as passing judgement, replaying conversations in our minds, or repetitive thoughts about something from the past. You can bring this practice of identifying habitual patterns to the dinner table as well. During my yoga teacher training we had a mindful meal together which entailed meeting at the park, no talking, and absorbing ourselves in every aspect of eating the meal. This is an exercise that you can do at any time.
Here are some guidelines to practice a mindful meal:
Don't eat until you are truly hungry. Food tastes better when you are hungry.
Turn off the television, close the book/magazine. Just eat and be present.
Chew your food until it is liquid. Chewing is part of the digestion process.
Let your awareness focus on the senses. Look at your food, smell it, taste it, feel it in your mouth.
Wait to take your next bite until you have swallowed the first bite. This may sound silly, but many of us continue to pile food in our mouths before swallowing the previous bite.
Take moments to pause and evaluate if you truly are hungry for another bite.
Stop eating when you are no longer hungry – don't wait until you feel full. Eating until you feel full or stuffed is not necessary and can result in a caloric surplus over the years.
The mindful meal tips above require presence, focus and patience; three traits that yoga practice has helped me get more skillful at. While you may burn calories that can contribute to a healthy weight, the most effective result of my yoga practice has been to increase my awareness of my relationship with food, my body and my mind.