Monday, April 29, 2013

The Yoga Weight Loss Program

I get a lot of questions teaching yoga. One question I've fielded repeatedly over the years goes something like this, "Most yoga practitioners that I meet are thin. If I practice yoga will I be thin?" Sometimes the question is, "Why are all yoga instructors fit?" I've shrugged off this question over the years, never really offering a direct response. Rather, a simple smile with encouragement towards continuing practice is about the best I've come up with. But I've thought about this question for a long, long time. And today I have an answer: Yes.  Before you run to your mat for a sweaty session, read on.

I assume this question is most often - if not exclusively - directed towards asana practice, which has become synonymous with "workout" in some instances. I do not deny that asana can be quite rigorous, often surprising the practitioner as sweat drips into puddles on the mat (slippery!). Vinyasa after vinyasa can tone the shoulders, strengthen the core and electrify the legs. Certain types of yoga, such as Ashtanga and Power Yoga, offer a level of cardiovascular work through a constantly flowing sequence. This vigorous asana practice can help in achieving weight loss goals. But, in my opinion, is not the reason for the "look" of the stereotypical yoga instructor. I see my "yes" as two-pronged.

Asana is physical and has a direct impact on physique. We get stronger and more flexible through our practice. Asana lends itself to physical exploration. As we endeavor to touch our toes or to place our foot behind our head, we become more aware of our bodies and how we feel in them. We begin noticing how different foods can affect what we do on our mats. Does that cup of coffee before practice make me lose my balance in tree pose? We develop an ear attuned to the subtle tellings of our bodies. We listen more closely. Then, we begin noticing how food choices affect us off of our mats. Do root vegetables make me feel more grounded? How does too much sugar affect my attitude? We become aware of the role food plays in our lives, taking to heart that, truly, "we are what we eat." We shift towards healthier eating habits and develop our bodies as fit vessels for our Self. This is one prong.

Some people come to their mats with a high level of fitness and a healthy eating lifestyle. When I began my personal practice I was an accomplished athlete with an understanding of healthy food choices. I was fit, strong and flexible in my physical body by anybody's account...except for my own. I'd struggled with food issues from a young age, successfully overcoming a 14 year battle with an eating disorder. However, my mental and emotional struggles were not with food, but rather with my Self.  

We house our emotional and mental issues in our physical body.  By becoming aware of these issue on our mats, we begin to honestly assess our Self, navigating through life based on what we discover. My personal discovery was a distorted view of my body, my abilities and my capacity to accept love. Physically, a very healthy specifmen. Emotionally and mentally, a junk-food junky.

Through steady practice, "never fit enough" was gradually replaced with a clearer understanding of my potential in combination with my intentions. I am capable. Of anything. "Strict regimens" were replaced with choices. My choices. Self-deprecation was replaced with acceptance and love. Of my Self. Then, of others. I began to see who I am physically, emotionally and mentally. This vision may fit the stereotypical image of a yoga instructor. More importantly, it is my personal expression of health, wholeness and love.

Study your Self inwardly to find your beauty and your truth. Shine out your beauty and your truth to all around you. This is the second prong.

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