Yoga for Healthy Body Composition and Weight Management

An important part of a balanced health and wellness program is managing your body composition and understanding what is a healthy body weight for your body type.  A consistent Yoga practice, a clean Yoga diet, and observance of Yoga principles and lifestyle habits can help you find this balance in managing your body weight.

Obesity is correlated to numerous health problems and diseases like heart disease, diabetes, musculo-skeletal disorders, digestive disorders, and high blood pressure. Obesity often shortens one’s life span. Excess body weight physically drains the body of vitality and energy.

How Can Yoga Decrease Body Fat and Manage Body Weight?  

1) Yoga Poses Burn Calories: Hatha Yoga and other physical practices of Yoga utilize large muscles to perform Yoga poses. Performing Yoga poses, like any physical activity, burns calories. Important note, though, is that calories are first consumed directly from the muscle, then the blood stream, then the liver, and finally the fat stores in fat cells. In order to tap into the calories in fat cells, Yoga and other physical activities need to be performed for longer durations. The advantage of doing Yoga is it should always be done on an empty stomach meaning the sugar levels in the blood are typically lower allowing you to quickly move from the calories in the muscles to the calories in the fat cells more readily. Many Yoga poses also increase muscle tissue. Increasing muscle tissue increases the overall mass of calorie-burning tissues in the body.  

2) Tapas – Discipline with Nutritional Intake: One of the niyamas, Tapas, refers to keeping the body in good condition. Tapas is practiced through disciplining the body, speech and mind like eating only via a planned meal/snack schedule and maintaining a good posture. Often we eat just for sake of entertaining the senses. By practicing tapas, we set a proper eating schedule, eat only until we are 80% full, eat with smaller dishes to reduce overeating, and eat at the proper times of the day. Many people have become accustomed to eating small to medium sized meals during the day and eating a large dinner at night. By filling the digestive system later in the day, the body does not have as many opportunities to burn these calories with activities and has no choice, but to store these calories as fat while we sleep. Therefore, eat your larger meals in the mid day and reduce your food quantities as the day progresses into night.

3) Yoga Creates Mindful Nutrition Choices: The more we practice Yoga and create healthy flow, the more we become sensitive to negative energy entering the body. As well, the body can quickly become sensitive to poor food choices when practicing Yoga. Poor nutrition habits can be reflected in many forms including low energy, digestive disorders, poor sleep, negative mood swings, poor work and activity performance, and lack of focus and awareness. With a regular Yoga practice, we become highly in tune with the body’s systems. Rather than feeling like we are forcing ourselves to choose proper nutrition habits, the body begins to crave healthy, clean foods and the body sets into an energetic rhythm. The body floats into predictable timing of telling us when to eat, when to go to the washroom, and when to sleep.  

4) Yoga Reduces Stress Leading to Better Hormone Management: When we undergo constant levels of stress, the body stays in a modified state of “fight or flight”. Besides placing stress on organs and tissues, this negative elevated state is accompanied with the production of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Studies have shown that with the production of cortisol is a reciprocal production of insulin from the pancreas. The adrenal glands and pancreas become worn down and the constant production of insulin can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. In terms of weight gain, this steady release of insulin tells the fat cells to take in food energy circulating in the blood stream and store it as fat. By practicing Yoga and meditation, we can reduce or eliminate stress thus stopping this hormonal chain reaction that causes weight gain. Just as Yoga helps us become aware of negative food choices and increase our sensitivity, Yoga and Meditation also help us become aware of the energy from our environment and actions. We more readily recognize when stress is affecting the body and mind, and we see more clearly how we can make a choice to move away from this burdening state.  

Can Yoga Alone Maintain Healthy Body Weight? Depending on your body type and overall metabolism, you may find that you can sustain a health body weight just with regular Yoga practices and focused nutritional habits. For many, though, additional activities (like cardiovascular exercises) need to be added to one’s regular program to increase daily caloric expenditures. Whatever the additional activities are, what is most important is that you enjoy these activities. These activities should bring joy and fulfillment just like your Yoga practice. These extra activities should enhance your Yoga practice by doing them with mindfulness and awareness.

Enjoy the benefits of Yoga, physical activities, and healthy eating as they enhance your life. Engage in these lifestyle habits as a means of moving towards greater vitality and not for means of fueling the Ego. Overall, love and appreciate yourself – this body – as you are now.

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