Yoga is a spiritual science of self-realization that has countless health benefits ranging from lowering stress levels to lengthening spines, and it’s no wonder that it’s attracting more students than ever before.
In an age when most of us are looking to see smaller numbers on our scales, it doesn’t come as a surprise the fact that people are turning to this ancient discipline to help battle excess weight. Let’s see if Yoga can help with excessive pounds.
Brief History of Yoga
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is recognized as an ancient system of philosophies, practices, and principles derived more than 2500 years ago mainly from the Vedic tradition of India and the Himalayas. The system recognizes a multi-dimensional nature of the human being, and it primarily relates to nature and the mind, based on self-enquiry and experiential practice.
In Yoga, the mind, the breath, and the body are seen as a union of the multidimensional aspects of every human being. The system and its various techniques cultivate the experience of the union which leads to the greatest integration of the being, to internal peacefulness and also to the clarity of the mind. It is designed to cultivate both happiness and physical health, and also a sense of self-awareness and higher consciousness.
Yoga believes in the health and the well-being (emotional, physical, social and mental) achieved through the regular practice of various techniques that include movement and postures, breathing exercises and obviously breath awareness, concentration and relaxation, meditation and self-inquiry.
The approach of life proposed by Yoga involves valuing harmony and balance within ourselves and with each other.
Yoga, From Ancient Hindu Scriptures to the Modern Westernized Practices
Most people are aware of Yoga’s Indian religious and spiritual roots, but unfortunately, they tend to get washed out by the modern manufactured and simplified versions of Yoga.
- 3300-1500 BCE: The historians are not entirely sure when the notion or the practice of Yoga first appeared but the term “Yoga” was found in ancient India’s known scripts known as the Vedas. These date from the Vedic period which began in 1500 BCE and they are the oldest writings of Hinduism and Sanskrit literature.
- 3rd Century BCE: the references to the term became more common in Hindu, Jain and the Buddhist writings and the notion of Yoga that we know today involved at that time eight steps of meditation and it was known as insight or calmness.
- 5th Century CE: around the 5th century Yoga became more of an established idea among Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. The ancient versions of Yoga were mostly spiritual practices, and they revolved around various core values:
- analyzing one’s perception and cognitive state, understanding the roots of suffering and using meditation in order to solve it; the mind was supposed to transcend the physical pain/suffering in order to reach a higher level of being
- uplifting or broadening consciousness
- using Yoga as a path to transcendence
- using Yoga in order to enter other bodies and act supernaturally – this is possibly the strangest and the most mystical practice involving Yoga.
During the medieval era, various schools of Yoga emerged. Bhakti Yoga is a spiritual pathway within Hinduism which appeared in this period and this type focused on love and devotion toward God. Tantra Yoga was a genre that emerged in the 5th century exhibited in ancient Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu traditions and it involved self-deification (the practitioner’s goal is to become the deity that has been another’s object of meditation). Today’s Westerners have associated Tantra Yoga with sexual practices, and they weren’t wrong because some Tantric beliefs involved sexual relations which led to an excellent level of consciousness. Hatha Yoga appeared in the Buddhist texts around the 8th century, and it was a combination of breathing, body postures, and meditation, being possibly the closest to what we associate today with Yoga.
- The 1890s: for millennia, the term Yoga encompassed many things, most of them spiritual and religious. But in the mid 19th century, Yoga came to the attention of the Westerners who seemed intrigued by the Indian culture at that time.
- 20th century: Hatha Yoga practice (the one that we’re most familiar with at present) did not become a standard exercise in the U.S. until the 1930s, and 1940s and it reached a peak in 1960s when Hindu became more popular among the young Americans. In the 1980s its popularity grew even more due to the various health benefits of Yoga that were reported. This was the first time that Yoga began to be seen as a practice with purely physical benefits, a practice that could improve the hearth’s health and also the body’s fitness rather than bringing the practitioner into a state of transcendence.
- 21st century: Plenty of scientific research has found that Yoga comes with a lot of health benefits: reducing high blood pressure, reducing depression, combating chronic pain, and also anxiety, improving cardiac functions, blood circulation, and muscle strength.
Today, in the Western world Yoga is seen mostly as an exercise class to take at the gym, as something that can make the muscles sore for days and that can distress you. But knowing a little bit about Yoga’s ancient spiritual origins which have outlasted thousands of years will allow us to understand this practice better and to cherish it more.
Health Benefits of Yoga
Benefits within and outside the body:
- Optimizing blood pressure: Yoga practice decreases blood pressure due to better circulation of the blood and through a better oxygenation of the body.
- Lowering the pulse rate: A slower pulse rate shows that the heart is healthy to pump more blood with fewer beats and practicing Yoga on a regular basis will provide a lower pulse rate.
- Improving blood circulation: By transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, Yoga will improve the overall health of the brain, skin and the internal organs.
- Optimizing respiration: Just like the circulatory system, when you have a lower respiratory rate, this indicates that the lungs are working efficiently. Yoga can decrease the respiratory rate by combining better fitness and breathing exercises.
- Stimulating cardiovascular endurance: Combining a lower heart rate with improved oxygenation of the body will result in higher cardio endurance.
- Maintaining healthy organs: Yoga massages the internal organs, improving the organism’s ability to prevent disease.
- Maintaining healthy gastrointestinal functions: According to research, these are improved by practicing Yoga.
- Stimulating the immune system: Yoga is correlated with a stronger immunity.
- Higher pain tolerance: It has been proven that tolerance to pain is higher among those who practice Yoga; also some instances of chronic pain, such as back pain are eliminated.
- Balancing metabolism: A balanced metabolism will lead to a healthy weight and a better control of hunger. It has been shown that consistent practice of Yoga will help you find this balance and also create an efficient metabolism.
- Combating aging: Yoga stimulates the detoxification of the body, and this process has been proven to delay aging, among many other advantages for the body’s health.
- Maintaining a healthy posture: Yoga teaches you how to hold and control the body in the healthiest position; through regular practice, the posture will improve.
- Strength training: During Yoga, you are using the weight of your body, and this is an excellent method for strength training.
- Providing energy: By practicing regular Yoga, you will feel more energized after the session, instead of feeling tired.
- Losing weight: Practicing Yoga and having a better metabolism will lead to losing excess weight; and more, the stretching of muscles will also reduce the amount of cellulite.
- Inducing sleep: A Yoga routine can provide lots of benefits for both the body and the mind. Therefore it promotes a better sleep routine; also some Yoga position can induce sleep.
- Optimizing balance: Yoga practice involves control and balance, and with constant practicing, the overall balance of the body will improve over time.
- Increasing body awareness: Yoga can increase awareness of your body; during the sessions, you have to make small and subtle movements to improve your alignment, and this will lead to increased levels of comfort for the body and also to improved posture and self-confidence.
- Increasing the core strength: With Yoga, you will achieve a better posture and an overall body strength; a stronger base can help heal and reduce injuries, and this is the reason for which many athletes practice Yoga as cross training.
- Improving sexuality: Better control and relaxation along with increased self-confidence will improve your desire.
- Improving overall mood: Yoga can improve the overall well-being and the combination of creating a healthy body, a strong body-mind connection and focusing inward will lead to an improved mood.
- Reducing stress: Yoga practice requires lots of concentration, and the attention is concentrated on the matter at hand; this will lessen the emphasis on the stress in our lives.
- Reducing anxiety and depression: Yoga can reduce stress through controlled breathing, and some types of Yoga can bring to the surface repressed negative feelings, therefore, releasing the negative energy. Such a release will lead to a reduction of depression in lots of cases.
- Promoting self-acceptance: By focusing inward and realizing that perfection is not our goal, self-acceptance will take over; it is important to remember that Yoga is not about perfectionism.
- Promoting self-control: Yoga teaches us controlled movements and how to translate such control to all aspects of our lives.
- Connecting the body and the mind: As we match our controlled breathing with the movements of the body, we’ll retrain our brains to find calmness and peace.
- Promoting a positive outlook on life: By practicing Yoga we can balance the hormones and also the nervous system, and this brings a more active and stable approach to life.
- Reducing hostility: Most people who practice Yoga have reported a reduction of hostility and an increased capacity to control anger. Such calm effects are likely from the relaxation and the meditation techniques that are incorporated in Yoga practices, and they all lead to more relaxed nervous system. Less hostility also leads to lower blood pressure, lower stress levels and a healthier approach to life.
- Improving concentration, memory, and attention: Research has shown that only eight weeks of practicing Yoga can result in better concentration and an improved motivation. A better blood circulation to the brain, a reduction in stress levels and improved focus will lead to better memory. The attention required in Yoga to maintain the structured breathing will sharpen the ability to stay focused on each task.
- Improving social skills: Yoga teaches us the interconnections of all life’s aspects. Our Yoga practice can evolve from a personal journey to one that involves the community as a whole and that improves social skills.
- Inducing calmness: The intense concentration required by Yoga can bring a state of peace. Through Yoga, we also learn meditation techniques such as disengagement from our thoughts and watching how we breathe, and this calms the mind.
Benefits for the body’s chemistry:
- Optimizing cholesterol levels: Yoga can lower cholesterol through an increased blood circulation and a better metabolism, and it’s also a great tool to fight against high bad cholesterol levels.
- Maintaining a healthy lymphatic system: Our lymphatic system boosts immunity, and it reduces the toxins from our body. Movement helps us to keep it flowing well, and the specific postures in Yoga are well-suited for promoting a healthy lymphatic system.
- Lowering glucose levels: research has shown that Yoga lowers blood glucose levels.
- Reducing sodium levels: As all exercise programs, Yoga can reduce the sodium levels in our bodies and today’s world filled with processed foods full of sodium this is crucial.
- Optimizing endocrine functions: Yoga helps to regulate and to control hormone secretion, and an improved endocrine system will keep hormones balanced and will also promote a better physical and emotional health.
- Optimizing the levels of triglycerides: These are the chemical substances that form fat in the blood, and higher levels can cause heart disease and also high blood pressure. Studies have shown that Yoga can lower triglycerides’ levels.
- Increasing the levels of red blood cells: Yoga can increase the levels of red blood cells which are responsible for carrying oxygen through the blood. Lower levels of red blood cells result in anemia and also in low energy.
- Promoting the production of vitamin C: Vitamin C helps boost the imune system, produce collagen and it’s also a great antioxidant; practicing Yoga leads to increased vitamin C production in the body.
- Low risk of injury: Due to the controlled aspect of the motions, there is a very low risk of injury during the Yoga session, compared to other forms of exercise.
- Better muscle tone: Practicing Yoga leads to better muscle tone.
- Working with the subcortex: Subcortical regions of the brain are associated with well-being and Yoga dominates the subcortex, compared to most exercise that dominates the cortex.
- Lower oxygen consumption: Yoga consumes less oxygen than other exercise routines, and it allows the body to work in a more efficient way.
- Controlled Breathing: Yoga helps us breathe more naturally and more controlled during exercises. Such type of breathing providing more oxygen-rich air for the body and also more energy.
- Balanced workout: In Yoga, balance is the key. And if a group of muscles is worked in one direction, it will also be worked in the opposite direction to maintain balance. Such balance results in a better overall workout.
- Joint range of motion: A study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has shown that joint range of motion is improved after practicing Yoga.
- Eye-hand coordination and dexterity: In time, our eye-hand coordination diminishes and Yoga helps to maintain and to improve it. Also, the strong mind-body connection and the flexibility will result in skill and grace.
- Reaction time: Some research which was done in India shows that response time can be improved with specific breathing exercises and with an established Yoga practice. These improvements were attributed to the faster rate of processing and better concentration.
- Improved endurance: By working the entire body, Yoga improves endurance, and this is the reason for which athletes use it as a supplement to their training.
- The depth of perception: Becoming aware of our bodies and how they move we can also increase our depth perception.
Benefits for preventing disease:
- Heart affections: Yoga can help in the following matters: it reduces stress, it keeps off weight, it lowers blood pressure, it improves cardiovascular health.
- Preventing osteoporosis: weight bearing exercises can strengthen bones and can help to avoid osteoporosis; Yoga reduces the cortisol levels, and it keeps calcium in the bones.
- Alzheimer: Studies have indicated that Yoga can help elevate GABA levels which are associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Type II diabetes: Yoga encourages the production of insulin in the pancreas, therefore, it can serve as an excellent preventative for diabetes.
Benefits for reducing various symptoms in case of some health issues:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Patients with carpal tunnel syndrome who practice Yoga showed improvements in the symptoms and also reduction of pain.
- Arthritis: Yoga poses provide excellent exercise to relieve arthritis symptoms; stress relief that is associated with Yoga loosens muscles.
- Asthma: There is some evidence showing that Yoga can reduce the symptoms of asthma.
- Multiple Sclerosis: Yoga is a great for multiple sclerosis management, and for this reason, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is funding clinical trials for multiple sclerosis treatments.https://nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/multiplesclerosis
- Muscular dystrophy: By practicing Yoga in the early stages of muscular dystrophy, you improve some of the physical functions.
- Cancer: Patients who are fighting cancer can also benefit from Yoga, and they can gain strength, experience less nausea during chemotherapy and also have a better overall well-being.
- Migraines: Yoga has been shown to reduce migraines in chronic migraine patients.
- Chronic bronchitis: Exercise that doesn’t elevate respiration but it increases oxygen levels in the body is ideal for treating bronchitis and Yoga can do this, and it can also aerate the lungs.
- Sciatica: Yoga can alleviate symptoms that are associated with sciatica.
- Epilepsy: Yoga can prevent epileptic seizures focusing on stress reduction, breathing and restoring the overall balance in the body.
- OCD: Yoga can reduce the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and this results in less medication.
- Allergies: Certain types of breathing used in Yoga can help clear the nasal passages and also clear the sinuses.
- Constipation: Yoga helps the digestive systems, and it eliminates constipation.
- Back Pain: Yoga reduces spinal compression, and it helps overall body alignment to reduce back pain.
- Menopause: Yoga practice can help control the side effects associated with menopause.
Yoga and Weight Loss
Most excess weight is not only a matter of too many calories taken for the calories spent. Most weight gain is just symptomatic of some serious underlying causes therefore when each of these health areas listed below becomes imbalanced; then they’ll turn into major cases of excess weight. If the right yoga postures are practiced then the causes of excessive weight will be eliminated, and the benefits for your body will start to show. The weight gain will be quickly shed, and the overall healthy will be restored long-term.
11 Ways in Which Yoga Promotes Weight Loss
- Stimulating the vital force of your liver
Our liver has many essential functions which include the fact that it is a very powerful detoxifier and cleanser, it purifies the blood, it processes fats and so on. If it is healthy and active, then it will be able to dispose of bad fats and also to put the right fats to work. The liver gives us energy by storing the glucose and by stimulating the making of coenzyme Q10 which powers our muscles. With the help of certain Yoga postures, you can strengthen the vital force of the liver’s functions in the most profound ways.
The most appropriate postures for the liver’s health are backbends:
- Chakrasana (wheel pose)
- Matsyendrasana (spinal twist)
- Bhujangasana (cobra pose)
- Dhanurasana (bow pose)
- Activating the thyroid gland
The thyroid secretes hormones that regulate our metabolism are one of the essential factors that define whether we have an accelerated metabolism that burns lots of fats or a slow metabolism is the thyroid and its activity. Most people who suffer from weight gain have hypothyroidism which means that the gland has a low production of hormones.
Here are some postures to correct this health issue:
- Sarvangasana (shoulder stand)
- Matsyasana (fish pose)
- Creating the right pH balance by alkalizing the body
If the body has a low pH, this means that it is too acidic and it will attempt to protect itself from the acid by storing fat and also by using it as a buffer. This can be very dangerous because the visceral fat (the fat inside the organs) will accumulate within the arteries and the veins and will cause the narrowing of the passage available for the blood. This will cause the gradual obstruction of the blood vessels’ activity. As a result, the heart will be forced to overwork to maintain the blood circulation. This can lead to the heart’s exhaustion and heart attacks – arteriosclerosis. So, we can see that the body’s pH is critical and the ideal one is around 7.35. People struggling with overweight have a very acidic pH.
The best postures which can increase alkalinity are:
- Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
- Janushirasana (head to knee pose)
- Finding the proper balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system
Most overweight people’s bodies are under lots of stress. Their nervous system is under a lot of pressure due to their lifestyle choices. They usually sit at a desk out of the sun and under neon lighting, and they breathe air-conditioned air, instead of fresh, oxygen-rich and clean air. Instead of being in nature, they stare at a computer all day long (unfortunately, most of us do the same) and they often feel rushed to meet their deadlines. If the nervous system is lots of stress, this will cause several chain reactions also for the rest of the body. Our bodies need to be relaxed and soothed, and this requires an optimal balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
The best Yoga postures, in this case, are the following:
- Savasana (corpse pose)
- Viparita Karani (legs up the wall)
- Activating the internal heat of the nervous system
Lots of people have the wrong impression that by attending a hot Yoga class, they are going to lose weight but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The warmth of the body must be created through generating internal heat by creating nerve length/tension, and this will cause the body to feel warmer. Such a thing can be achieved by drawing the chin towards the chest in forwarding bends this way lengthening the femoral nerve and also the spinal nerves. The heat will burn up, and it will also purify visceral fat and subcutaneous or superficial fat.
Here are the best Yoga postures to achieve this:
- Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
- Anjaneyasana (Lunge)
- Reducing stress.
Yoga has proven to be an effective method of treating anxiety and of lowering stress levels, and this has a tremendous impact on the ability to shed pounds. If the cortisol levels are too high because you are stressed, it won’t matter how much you deprive yourself of food because you are not going to lose weight.
- Moving the body with strength
Any position in Yoga which requires you to be active as you lengthen or shorten your muscles will help you with your weight loss. This is because our muscles are active tissue which consumes fat as fuel. If we build strong muscles, they will end up eating our fat stores even when we are resting. This is the reason for which strength work is very beneficial for weight loss.
Arm balancing postures are great for this because they engage all muscles not just the shoulders or the arms but also the legs and the abdominals. Here are some appropriate postures:
- Tolasana (scale pose)
- Chaturanga (plank)
- Bakasana (crane)
- Pincha Mayurasana (feathered peacock)
- Getting your heart rate up
Most of us think that getting the heart’s rate up by doing jogging is the best possible way to lose excess weight but research has shown that this is a misconception and not a great way to lose weight at all. This could make a stressed, nervous system even more exhausted, and it could lead to adrenal fatigue (a term applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive issues). The best thing you can do to lose weight is getting the heart rate up for a short burst and then dropping it back down and so on. This can be achieved through an appropriate yoga practice.
Starting in a standing position at the front of your mat, you should do two slow rounds of sun salutations (Surya Namaskar), and then you should come back to the standing position and connect your heart with your palms together and your eyes closed. You should repeat this again at a faster pace and continue a few rounds. This way, you’ll have your heart at an optimum level without getting tired as you do from doing jogging.
- Cleansing the colon
Sometimes we have food matter blocked up into our colons, and this makes them very bloated, and severe bloating can appear as overweight or even as obesity. If this condition is left untreated, it can lead to blood poisoning and then to various diseases.
You might have heard the saying that “disease begins in the gut”. This is true and, for instance, some people who consume lots of meat or individuals who suffer from constipation shouldn’t do any inversions because the bad blood will rush to higher organs and it will also disturb the mind. Instead, such cases might need colonic irrigation. Drinking clean water free of chemicals is vital because it will help flush the waste away and it will maintain the intestinal flora healthy.
- Encouraging sound sleep
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can affect the production of leptin a hormone that tells our brain when we feel hungry or not, and it slows the metabolism accordingly. It can put us very fast on the track to obesity. The meditative qualities of Yoga can help create a quieter mind, and this is the foundation for a good night’s rest. You should try a few restorative poses before going to bed for a restful slumber.
- Teaching us discipline
A few months of practicing Yoga will make us notice the mental aspects including focus, calmness, clarity and restraint and these will come to define our common mental state. Such sense of discipline and mindfulness are essential for a successful weight loss, especially when it comes to our eating habits. As our mind and bodies will become more in tune with one another, we’ll notice a lack of interest in unhealthy foods and this is crucial if we want to lose excess kilos.
Advice for Eating Like a Yoga Expert
- Eat nothing or very little before a Yoga class, because it’s best to arrive on an empty stomach, according to Yoga teachers. Otherwise, you will feel heavy, and your body will be very busy digesting the food and therefore less able to support you during the poses.
- Eating in moderation is also a critical part of the Yoga practice, and Yoga texts suggest that we should eat until our stomach feels three-quarters full to leave a space to aid digestive processes.
- Eat the same foods as yogis; their diets involve eating fresh foods because they’re the most nutritious ones: fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and grains. These are full of nutrients and vitamins which are critical for the brain and body health, also providing fiber and releasing energy slowly to keep us feeling full for longer periods of time.
- The yogic diet is based on vegetarian and alkaline foods, so you should avoid acidic drinks and foods such as coffee and sugar pop. You should instead drink lots of water especially on Yoga class day to avoid
- Yoga classes have the ability to stimulate your digestive fire or the appetite, and after class, it is recommended to have a high-protein, low-carb meal such as a warm salad with nuts and chickpeas or lentil soup. This will satisfy the appetite and will also help repair the muscle without leading to the loss of that post-class lightness.
- You should keep your diet varied because each food has its unique vitamin and mineral profile.
- Try eating at an optimal time for the body to digest food. Find out what time of day your hunger is at its peak and have your main meal then. This will encourage mindful eating and will also help you to pay attention to your body’s needs. It is not recommended to have a meal close to bedtime because this can disturb sleep.
All the Yoga postures that we’ve suggested should only be practiced under the guidance of a good Yoga teacher. When they are used consistently and regularly and also combined with healthy eating habits, they will help balance the body and the mind, quickly restoring the practitioner’s health.
When you’re thinking about losing excess weight, you should think big picture and consider not only your physical body but also the mind and spirit. Yoga teaches us self-awareness which is vital for long-term changes.