A study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) titled “A Different Weight Loss Experience” reported that “Yoga interventions improve obesity-related outcomes including body mass index (BMI), body fat, and waist circumference.” The authors noted a clear “shift toward healthy eating, impact from the yoga community and culture, physical changes, psychological changes, and the belief that the yoga weight loss experience was different than past weight loss experiences.”
Another study, from 2012, found that frequency of yoga practice is a direct predictor of health: more yoga, more health. Even more encouraging, the researchers wrote that “home practice of yoga predicted health better than years of practice or class frequency.” This means that regularly hitting the mat on the living room floor has a more predictable improved health outcome than haunting yoga studios and taking multiple classes per day.
While it may not be “new” news, it’s big news for those with histories of losing and regaining weight (often more than originally lost) or struggling to build long-term, consistent exercise habits. Those wrestling with their weight likely know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result — but the question lies in how to shift approach and method to actually achieve sustainable results. Yoga may be a way off of diet and exercise hamster wheels.
When we let our bodies do what they’re designed to do — move — we engage in active self-care.
We look like what we do. Think about yoga. What image come to mind? A taut, lean yoga body? Those svelte yogis and yoginis look like what they do. And while those images were designed to motivate us to attend yoga classes or join a studio, the conclusion for those interested in weight loss is “I can’t POSSIBLY go to yoga class until I lose some weight.”
It’s the perfect Catch-22 — we want use yoga for weight loss but the picture in our heads about yoga is so intimidating we think we have to lose weight before we walk in the door. This unproductive conundrum can be hacked.
Steps for Starting Yoga Practice for Weight Loss
- Start right — check with your health provider about your fitness level. As one yoga teacher said, “I would like people to check with their doctors about safety of cardiovascular exercise/strain, and physical stability/risk factors, especially surrounding past injuries. I can work with weak and wobbly. I cannot work with an injury your doctor finds prohibitive.”
- Explore yoga videos — let yourself watch and take in what’s happening. There’s an organic thing that happens when we do this — our nervous system and subconscious begin to imagine doing what we’re watching. Barriers and resistance fall away. When you’re ready, begin to follow the teacher on your own mat. Start with short, 15 minute practices.
- Research yoga instructors. This is about finding a coach rather than signing up for classes. Interview them and tell them what you want. Ask whether their preferred level of instruction is a match with your goals, i.e. beginner level focused on weight loss. Do they have:
- Experience with beginners?
- Knowledge of the weight loss process?
- Capacity for positive encouragement without being patronizing?
This is not about signing up for weekly classes — it’s about working with a teacher to help you design your practice. It’s also about building a relationship with someone qualified to give periodic feedback. You need to know when it’s time to change up your routine. Other benefits are learning when you’re ready for new challenges and whether your form is correct.
Integrating yoga into your life will support your health and wellbeing in countless ways, from stress reduction (lower cortisol = easier weight control) to self-acceptance (even self-compassion!). When we let our bodies do what they’re designed to do — move — we engage in active self-care.