If you want to lose weight, yoga can be a safe and pleasant route. This is true even if you’re carrying lots of extra pounds. Contrary to popular belief, the practice doesn’t favor any body type or require bendiness.
Here are five things yoga does help you do:
1. See clearly
At its most basic, yoga helps us pull away the veil of illusion, called maya. If you’re overweight and choose not to acknowledge it, yoga can help you out of denial. If you’re blaming genetics (and even if you are genetically predisposed to being heavy), yoga can help you take responsibility for your body and what you can do about it.
2. Break habits
When you see clearly, it’s easier to notice engrained patterns, called samskaras. Many people who are overweight eat without much thought. As you move through yoga poses, you learn to pay more attention to what you do and why you are doing it. This can help greatly when it comes to chowing down.
Stress leads plenty of folks to find comfort in food. It’s widely acknowledged that yoga is a sure way to bring on the calm and keep cortisol levels down. The practice’s slow and deep breathing in slower sequences soothes the nervous system and relaxes muscles.
4. Burn calories
Your heart-rate rises in challenging poses, and that means your muscles and ticker have to work harder, which burns calories and fat. It also raises your metabolism.
5. Build muscle
Many yoga poses and sequences involve bearing weight or resisting gravity. This builds muscle. Muscles burn more calories than fat. Having more muscle also keeps your metabolism up as your weight drops.
To get going, start gently. This will ease you into your endeavor and cultivate patience. Shedding weight slowly and the patterns you develop along the way are more likely to keep the pounds off and lead to lasting change.
Notice what you resist and what you embrace as you practice, and consider why. Then use those observations to inform other parts of your life that factor into losing weight.
If you want to do yoga in a class
Look for “gentle,” “slow” or “hatha” classes—especially if you want to lose more than 10 percent of your weight. This is important: If you’re considerably overweight, it’s not a good idea to start in a vigorous or very heated class. Not only could you injure yourself or become woozy, you also might feel discouraged if you can’t keep up.
You might accomplish all you want for your bod in gentler classes. But if you stop seeing results, graduate to a more physically demanding class.
If you want to do yoga alone
Start with a range-of-motion sequence to warm your muscles and lubricate your joints.
Then do the moves below, which take about 10 minutes. They will raise your heart-rate slightly and target many muscles. Add more rounds over time, building to 20 minutes.
Remain on your back, and bring your arms to your sides. Bend your knees and place your soles down, ahead of your sitting bones. Inhale as you reach your right arm up and back and your left leg ahead, floating both a few inches off the ground. Exhale as you come back to your starting position. Repeat with your left arm and right leg. Do several rounds.
- Upper- and lower-body strengthening
Stand with feet hip-width apart and face a wall, placing your palms on it ahead of your shoulders. Walk your feet back until your torso and arms are almost parallel to the ground (higher is fine). Inhale as you press your palms into the wall and press back through your heels to feel your belly engage. Exhale as you bend your left knee slightly. Inhale to lift your right leg back and up. Take a few breaths, lowering your leg on an exhale. Switch sides. Do several rounds.
Once you’ve mastered these moves and are stronger, add more vigorous sequences.
End by lying on your back for at least 5 minutes, with a rolled blanket under your knees.
Learn more about journalist Mitra Malek at mitramalek.com.