Statistics from various bodies, including the World Health Organisation, indicate that obesity is on the rise. Although there may be many different causes, the net outcome is the same; increased risk of disease.Being lean is not just a question of looking good; moreover weight loss is actually building your health.
So you might be wondering; can yoga really help me lose weight?
Well, yes it can! yoga is great for weight loss, in fact both yoga and meditation can invoke powerful biological processes that can help reduce excess body fat and therefore aid in weight loss.
Despite the fact that holistic practices are largely discounted by western science, the metaphysical could be the key to unlocking physical weight loss and realising your goal.
So today you are going to learn how yoga and meditation can help you lose weight.
Let's dive straight in and look at what causes weight gain.
With regard to weight gain, at the most basic level, it is caused by eating surplus to requirements. However we must then address the cause of overeating; was it through lack of knowledge on food and nutrition? Did you actually know what you were eating?
This scenario can be remedied by unlearning and relearning nutritional truths in order to take the correct action to effectively manage your weight.
Of course there are other factors that can cause overeating, for example an emotional trigger. If the cause is metaphysical then a different approach over and above improving nutritional knowledge is required.
Another significant factor in weight management is our hormones. Hormones manage a myriad of things in our bodies including our weight and body fat.
There are certain health conditions that actually cause hormonal obesity; for example Cushing's syndrome typically causes weight gain due to high levels of cortisol.
Although stress can be caused by a multiplicity of things, all scenarios lead to the same outcome; a surge in cortisol. Cortisol is part of a family of hormones known as glucocorticoids (glucose cortex steroid) and is produced by the adrenal glands.
Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that acts on your liver, skeletal muscle tissue and adipose tissue to produce glucose from certain amino acids and fatty acids (1). It appears that cortisol is interwoven into fight or flight scenarios; Cortisol primes the body for physical work by increasing the body's primary energy source - glucose.
The trouble with this is that in our "modern world", most stresses are non-physical, i.e. stresses caused by finances, work, or relationships etc. There is usually no immediate need for an increase in glucose to provide the neccesary energy to flee a hostile situation.
Thus without an increase in physical workload, an increase in blood glucose likely goes unused as energy. Increases in blood glucose stimulate the Pancreas to secrete the energy storage hormone insulin (2). The resultant effect can often be an increase in fat mass.
The above example may only lead to a tiny increase in body fat, if your cortisol levels are consitently elevated over a prolonged period of time, this can lead to hormonal obesity.
Insulin is a peptide hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas and is responsible for lowering blood glucose when it becomes too high. It does this by way of transporting glucose from the blood and delivering it to the liver and skeletal muscle tissue to replenish depleted glycogen stores after intense physical exercise.
As well as replenishing glycogen stores, insulin can also have a significant effect on body fat and is very efficient at transporting glucose into fat cells (3) thereby increasing body fat, especially visceral fat.
As if that’s not enough
Long term psychological stresses can by way of cortisol production, lead to elevated insulin levels. The full implication of this scenario is that body composition can significantly change for the worse. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone and can break down skeletal muscle tissue to increase blood glucose (gluconeogenesis) and therefore spike insulin levels.
Elevated insulin can promote an increase in body fat and thus in accordance with the 1st law of thermodynamics (energy can never be created or destroyed, only displaced) the chemical energy stored in skeletal muscle tissue may be redistributed into fat cells.
Now consider this, muscle is the furnace that burns fat, ergo a reduction in muscle mass decreases your fat burning capability; a very bad scenario altogether for weight loss.
Sleep is one of the most overlooked means of weight loss and fat burning. During deep sleep, over one hundred physiological processes occur, including burning fat. Because fat is so energy dense, it can only be used as energy (oxidised) when:
Running as fast as you can down a 100 meter sprint lane may require a lot of energy, but you can't burn fat quick enough to fuel this kind of exercise. In contrast sleep is a massive window of opportunity for weight loss because your body is at rest and doesn't need "quick energy" and fat is the ideal slow-burning fuel that your body can use when resting.
Furthermore, during a good night's sleep, your blood glucose and insulin levels decrease, while your levels of growth hormone increase.
Human growth hormone is highly lipolytic and is a potent fat burner (4) . If you ever find yourself eating extra calories from sugar and carbohydrates late at night, be warned! This will kill growth hormone production increase insulin and significantly reduce fat burning and weight loss.
Simply put, cortisol increases alertness and decreases the need for sleep. However the same is true in the opposite; interrupted sleep patterns disrupt physiological processes that aid in weight loss, additionally poor sleep patterns have also been linked to weight gain.
While controlling stress may be easier said than done, doing so is repeatedly proven to promote good health and promote weight loss. Stress leads to an increase in cortisol, which in turn can increase insulin. Insulin can also stimulate your appetite which often increases bing-eating and drinking; it's one big vicious cycle.
You may be wondering; how meditation can help you lose weight? After all meditation doesn’t burn calories like working out does.
Meditation is the practise of focusing one’s mind in silence, disconnecting from all sensory and environmental inputs that are used by the brain and consciousness as we experience our lives in this particular reality. During meditation mental focus is directed from the outside to the inside, to the inner self, the very essence of your being.
This is of course something that has to be learned and not taught; only by experience can this be achieved. It is this process of reversing the ordinary outward flow of energy, consciousness and awareness that can set you on the path to achieving other levels of awareness; self realisation and truth.
People who successfully achieve higher states of consciousness through meditation and who are able to disconnect from the outside energies generally experience improved well being and peacefulness.
It is this state of mind that positively affects the physical body; the metaphysical governs the physical. As the late Albert Einstein said; "The field is the sole governing agency of the particle". Ergo the mind is the governing agency of the body.
Because stress is a state of mind, when the mind is in turmoil and is without balance or harmony, the physical body can also experience turbulence and can suffer in agony.
Needless to say stress is one of the main culprits and stimuli for elevated cortisol levels, and increased cortisol can indirectly lead to weight gain. Therefore reducing elevated cortisol to that of a normal level, can in turn stimulate weight loss.
Think of the exact step-by-step process as this:
Trigger or stimulus -> emotional response -> physical response (stress hormone production)-> weight gain
If you believe stress is affecting your hormones and causing you to gain weight as opposed to simply over eating, then yoga could be the tool of choice to arm yourself with when fighting your weight loss battle.
Yoga isn't just some new-age mythology, it has been around for a long time, at least 1000 years, and modern day scientific research highlights the effectiveness of yoga for lowering cortisol levels and reducing stress (5, 6).
There is no set definitive guide on how often/long you should meditate, but I’d suggest meditating 3 times a week, preferably upon waking so that you can start you day with the right mindset.
You can find a great guide on how get started with meditation at Zen Habits.
Yoga is an ancient hindu spiritual practice whereby various different stretches, positions, deep controlled breathing, mantras and chants may be performed. The word yoga is derived from Sanskrit and literally means “union”.
It is particularly the breathing practices of yoga that are important for weight loss. Yoga breathing (Pranayama) is the practise of controlled and deep breathing and is the source to prana (life force) which forms the foundation of yoga practices.
Modern science now understands the exact functions of oxygen within the human body and how it is oxygen that energises the body on a cellular level. Cellular respiration is the process by which cells generate ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate) from oxygen. ATP is essentially the energy source for the whole human body and without it we could not exist.
If the body lacks enough oxygen, the energy process takes a different pathway and conversion of glucose to lactic acid takes place. To summise; this results in reduced energy output and fatigue.
What does this mean for you?
One of the most important factors for fat loss is the amount of oxygen you can breathe in. This is because fat needs oxygen to burn and without enough oxygen it cannot be “burnt off” as energy. Basic chemistry teaches us that fat is mainly made from carbon and hydrogen with a little oxygen (C55H104O6), thus given enough oxygen, fat can be ‘oxidised’ into carbon dioxide and water.
The type of deep breathing practices performed in yoga improves breathing efficiency and can significantly increase your lung function and habitual breathing volume.
The type of deep breathing practices performed in yoga improves breathing efficiency and can significantly increase your lung function and habitual breathing volume (7).
An increase in your habitual breathing volume will help you to get the necessary oxygen required to oxidise excess body fat (8) . Furthermore performing yoga deep breathing can also help improve the efficiency of gas exchange performed in the alveoli of the lungs .
Needless to say gas exchange is an important part of the fat loss process. Consider this, for every 1 kilogram of body fat you lose, you breathe out 840 grams of co2 (9).
Can you lose weight with yoga alone?
This is a question I am often asked, of which there is no simple answer. How long is a piece of string? It really depends on you. Attitude is everything, if you are looking for a quick fix weight loss solution, and only intend on doing a few token yoga breathing classes per week while eating whatever you want – you probably won't lose any weight.
However if you are serious about long term and sustained weight loss and intend to pay attention to your diet and lifetsyle, then yoga for weight loss is something i'd recommend prescribing to.
Although there are many different yoga pranayamas, each with their own subtle benefits, one pranayama in particular stands out for its weight loss benefits; the bhastrika.
The meaning of bhastrika in ancient sanskrit literally means bellows, which is particularly fitting as the actual bhastrika breathing practise has been said to mimic the bellowing action of a blacksmith's bellows.
During the bhastrika the abdomen powerfully pumps air out of the lungs in a "bellow" type action, throughout this process inhalations are rapidly performed in succession. One round of bhastrika is completed once full inhalation and exhalation have been performed.
This process of yoga bhastrika pranayama may be practised for many rounds at a time, the final round is followed by a deep inhalation and retention of the breath for as long as possible, the final breath is then slowly released in a deep exhalation.
The bhastrika pranayama is considered by many yogi's as one of the most important and beneficial yogic breathing techniques and has many associated benefits. It is said that regular practise of the bhastrika pranayama also increases metabolism and improves digestion.
Although seasoned yogi's may practise every day, yoga weight loss for beginners can be performed less often. I'd suggest performing two yoga breathing sessions weekly, starting off with the bhastrika pranayama which can then be followed bay various other yoga breathing exercises such as the Kapalabhati or Anulom Vilom Pranayama.
These types of yoga breathing, focusing on breathing deep into the tummy, will raise habitual breathing volume. If you are consistent and succeed to practice yoga pranayama's every week, you can increase your habitual breathing volume by as much as six times.
This will leave you feeling energised and will play a key role in achieving successful fat loss.
For detailed guidance on yoga poses, pranayama's and how to practise them, visit the yoga journal.
It is not uncommon to develop emotional triggers that lead to over eating or binging as a means of coping with various stresses that you may experience at different times in your life. After all food does increase satiety and can also improve your mood.
It is a well established fact that eating can release endomorphins which are associated with an improvement in well-being and in some cases, feelings of euphoria. Not surprisingly food can become an addiction and in times of stress many may reach for the refrigerator door to find their resolve.
In these instances it is primarily the emotional and cognitive states that need addressing rather than looking to diet and exercise regimes as a means to remedy.
Here I believe that meditation and yoga can play a key role in weight loss by helping to remove the need for these “triggers “. This I believe is achieved through clearing the mind of turbulence and restoring balance and inner peace.
In contrast to points 1 & 2, point 3 has no scientific understanding of the exact mechanism that these holistic practices can improve mood and well being. It seems that today’s science hasn’t quite gotten to understand consciousness yet.
Nevertheless I believe that every successful pupil of meditation and yoga will tell that their lives have changed for the better.
If you feel that you are using food as a means to cope with stress, I’d highly recommend that you practise both meditation and yoga on a weekly basis.
Yoga deep breathing is a powerful tool to increase habitual breathing which improves oyxgen blood saturation. The better your oxygen levels, the better you oxidative capacity (fat burning)
Meditation, when done correctly is great for reducing high levels of stress and anxiety. A reduction in stress leads to a reduction in stress related hormone production and improved blood glucose control. This physical response is proven to support a reduction in body fat.
When both yoga and meditation are used together, under the right circumstances, the synergy of the two is a potent combination for weight loss. Patience and consistency are the keys to successful weight loss through yoga and meditation, mastering either will not happen over night, rather as the old adage says; practise make perfect.
So now it’s your turn, please leave a comment and tell me how meditation or yoga has helped you? What obstacles did you find the hardest during your weight loss journey? Feel free to share your yoga weight loss stories with me.
Article by Paul Jenkins CEO and founder of DNA Lean®
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