Last week I was moved to tears while reading the inspirational story of Larry Sherman who once weighed 538 pounds and lost 353 pounds over a period of two and a half years. Larry lost this weight without surgery or punishing exercise but solely through practicing yoga on a regular basis. The following excerpt from Larry's story inspired me to write this blog:
Larry recounts the pivotal moment that changed his life forever. He went to a yoga class and the teacher encouraged the class to look deep inside themselves and change their lives from within. Then while assisting Larry in a pose his teacher put one hand on his heart and the other on his back. Larry remembers, "This is difficult to explain but that one touch erased 17 years of self-hatred. I felt worthy of unconditional love and compassion." After his dramatic weight loss Sherman has gone on to become a certified yoga instructor who frequently meets with and advises obese patients.
Until now scientists were not convinced that yoga was a path to weight loss. But a recent study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle made them take notice. The study showed a greater weight loss in overweight subjects between 45-55 who practiced yoga once a week over a period of 10 years than those who did not. The reason is not the number of calories yoga burns but the fact that yoga builds mindfulness, which has proven an effective tool for weight loss. A study by Alan Kristal, published in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association in August 2009 concludes that yoga increases mindfulness during eating. Over time independent of the physical practice of yoga this leads to less weight gain. Kristal says, "You need to give yourself enough time to figure out if you're eating because you are hungry or because (the food) looks good." You learn to feel full when you are full, and you begin to not like the feeling of overeating.
Yoga teaches us that we are not our minds or our emotions and that these fluctuating thoughts and feelings are all temporary. We learn to sit still and watch our thoughts and feelings around food. Through meditation, yoga practice and the support of a yoga community many practitioners have learned to deal with their emotions without turning to food. They also become more aware and what and how they eat.
How do we build mindfulness through yoga? In yoga we focus on the breath, meditation and the ability to be in the present moment. What we learn on the mat are tools that we take with us into our daily lives. For example pranayama (yogic breathing practices) can help us reduce stress and maintain focus on a daily basis.
Physically yoga develops core strength, flexibility, and lean muscles as well as detoxifying and strengthening the digestive system. It also relieves constipation, water retention and bloating. Most yoga practitioners experience an improvement in digestion, which is key to all health. If you are not digesting properly your body will trick you into cravings that affect your weight loss. It also improves blood circulation to major endocrine glands that control your appetite, moods and sleep patterns.
Emotionally yoga develops body awareness and teaches us to accept our bodies just the way they are. It teaches us how to create balance by reducing stress, quieting the mind and connecting spiritually. You begin to become aware of stress and anxiety for what they are instead of trying to mask them with food. Yoga can help you make better choices about what you eat without feeling guilty!
Specific steps you can take are to first commit to a regular practice three to six days a week. You can always supplement classes at home with an instructional DVD. Next is cleaning up your diet and making sure you get enough sleep. Most nutritionists recommend a diet of whole unprocessed foods. Meditation is a great way to reduce stress. You can start with a 10-20 minute practice everyday. This can be a guided audio meditation or simply sitting quietly to calm the mind.
Yoga works on many levels. The more you practice the more positive and energetic you will feel. This will begin to have profound effects on you self-image, which will encourage you to continue practicing. You may find that practicing yoga is not just a means to an end but a powerful transformational tool, which will continue to guide you through life's many challenges.
Published On: June 02, 2010