There has been much hype about some recent marketing attempts by higher profile yoga teachers lately with respect to the use of ‘Yoga for Weight Loss’ as a branding tool or theme. I thought I would pipe into this conversation briefly with a little perspective on both sides of the debate.
Coming originally from the fitness industry and a kinesiology background, I can appreciate how some yogis wish to promote ‘weight loss’ as a benefit of yoga. Yoga helps normalize blood sugar and hormones. Yoga reduces stress. Yoga does expend calories. Yoga can increase lean muscle tissue. All of these factors can work together to, yes, reduce adipose tissue (aka fat). Therefore, in a generalized perspective, there should be nothing wrong with amplifying this benefit of yoga especially if it brings more people into the practice. However, a valid argument can be presented given the manipulation of the ‘diet’ industry and issues surrounding eating disorders and healthy body image.
The term ‘weight loss’ often emphasizes a negative connotation and stimulates the ego to self-judge. From a yogic perspective, ‘like attracts like’. Focussing on ‘weight loss’ can readily attract more negative attention on aspects that one is struggling with. Instead of putting labels and attention on ‘weight loss’, would we as teachers better serve our students with labels and themes that attract something more immediately positive? For example, how about approaching this theme as ‘Yoga for Healthy Body Composition’? We can easily put the emphasis on increasing more of the positive than trying to get rid of the negative.
The usual Yoga Journal cover model/teacher is not your typical body type in society. They may be visually inspiring, but what really is ‘inspiration’? Striving to achieve a body type that is inherently not feasible for one’s predisposition? Our bodies will adapt and calibrate with progressive practicing to achieve it’s own natural holistic state of healthy weight, metabolism, and composition. We can indeed manipulate our physiques with various exercise modalities and nutritional planning, but we must put this all into ‘check’ when the ego is over-riding holistic progression with unhealthy, unrealistic lifestyle patterns. For many, in order to acquire the Yoga Journal ‘physique’, extreme levels of exercise and calorie restriction are needed – a lifestyle far from being grounded and whole.
The remaining point I would like to leave is whether you are doing traditional exercise or yoga, remain aware and truthful towards your intentions. All forms of exercise should first and foremost take us towards a place of therapeutic renewal and support holistic longevity. If our practices begin to foster unrealistic expectations with extreme goal setting and lifestyle patterns, some reflection on reality and perspective may need to be taken. As yoga teachers, we should remain fully mindful in how we deliver our teachings and promote the ‘benefits’ of the practice to masses with particular appreciation to the sensitivities of those struggling with self image.