Yoga’s Restorative Benefits Calms Mind, Primes Body for Weight Loss
By Marla R. Miller
When it comes to an exercise regimen, yoga often takes a back seat to more strenuous cardio and strength training sessions.
But research shows a regular yoga practice can do wonders for mental and physical well-being and weight loss efforts. It’s also been found to help stop middle-age spread because it regulates hormones and digestion.
Yoga is considered the sister of Ayurveda and both advocate for the regular practice of breathing and meditation along with the use of herbs, body purification processes, and proper nutrition for total-body health and weight maintenance.
Using the breath to quiet the mind and enhance inner peace, together with moving energy through the body to release stress and stimulate detoxification, is overlooked in most Western medicine and by many fitness experts and personal trainers.
Many current trends emphasize the message: push harder, lift heavier, run faster, jump and kick until you max out. Exercise is often seen as a means to an ends – to lose weight, manage blood pressure or diabetes, or look good in a bikini – rather than a way of life and an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. The focus is solely on working the body and pushing it to extremes, while underestimating the mind-body-spirit connection.
There’s a reason yoga is an ancient practice in Eastern cultures and prescribed as part of Ayurvedic treatment to resolve body imbalances and physical ailments. Yoga represents balanced moderation. Learning to breathe into movements maximizes the benefits and connects mind and body. Other deep breathing techniques, or pranayamas, such as alternate nostril breath, promote cleansing and balance energy in the body.
Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates breathing, digestion and hormones. It helps the body rest and reset, rebalance hormones, heal injuries and optimize digestion — all of which can aid weight loss. It also speeds up the metabolism by stimulating endocrine glands that regulate the metabolic rate.
Excessive heart-pounding sweat sessions are taxing on the body. It responds as it would to stress, triggering a cascade of hormones that can be counterproductive to weight loss. High-impact routines like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Cross Fit, boot camp and long-distance running can increase cortisol levels, often the cause of stubborn belly fat, and water retention due to muscle inflammation.
Studies show yoga lowers levels of stress hormones and increases insulin sensitivity, which signals your body to burn food as fuel rather than store it as fat. How else can yoga support weight loss?
- Increases heart rate to burn calories and raise body’s internal heat, leading to sweat to eliminate toxins, cellular waste and water weight
- Makes you more mindful of your body, cuts down on unconscious eating and poor food choices
- Stretching helps lengthen the body and improve posture, which makes you look longer and leaner
- Weight-bearing poses and isometric contractions build muscle and strength
- Promotes better circulation, digestion and bowel movements by massaging internal organs
- Works muscles from multiple angles to tone arms, legs, back, butt, abs and love handles
- Improves balance, flexibility, coordination and concentration to enhance performance when playing sports, weight training, running or everyday activities