How does Yoga Help you Lose Weight?

“I can’t do yoga, I need to burn more calories.” I know I’ve thought that it in the past. The only way I thought I’d lose weight was by doing cardio.

When I first became a dance fitness instructor I was doing intense cardio more than once a day seven days a week. For sure I was going to lose weight. It would be my dream come true!

Not quite.

Even with all that exercise, I still struggled with my body and weight.

The fact is, I was working out a ton but my anxiety and cravings were through the roof. Sugar, carbs, junk food, and alcohol were my quick fixes.

I battled with my weight not because I didn’t know how to exercise or eat healthy. I knew perfectly well how to do that all. It was because I didn’t know how to manage my stress. At the first sense of discomfort, I reverted back to old unhealthy habits of mindless eating or binge drinking.

Stress was hijacking my health and overall happiness.

I was stressing my digestion by binging on food and alcohol. I was stressing my mind by being self-critical.

Stress also happens from over exercising. Long sessions of high intensity cardio start to release the stress hormone Cortisol (the hormone that stores fat around the belly). Perhaps it explains why I didn’t lose weight even after hours teaching of cardio.

The problem is that we are not balancing our physical activity and diet nor taking action on stress reduction to restore our body back to homeostasis.

Does this sound familiar?

You push yourself really hard in a workout class, because you over indulged on the weekend. Then you leave class and have to sit in traffic making you feel annoyed and frustrated. Finally, you arrive at home where you’re met with more stress. I forgot to mention we’re still thinking about what happened earlier at work that day and because of the adrenaline from the workout class we can’t turn off to get to bed. More stress. The mind isn’t shutting off and so we grab a pint of ice cream (food that causes digestive stress) and check out with our favorite reality show or Netflix series.

Oh shit! What about the diet? Now we feel guilty about our behavior and the stress amounts even more. Emotional stress. So we push ourselves to workout hard again the next day or week. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Everyday stressors, can be managed with healthy stress management behaviors. However, untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.3  Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity.4  Some studies have even suggested that unhealthy chronic stress management, such as overeating “comfort” foods, has contributed to the growing obesity epidemic.5  Yet, despite its connection to illness, APA’s Stress in America survey revealed that 33 percent of Americans never discuss ways to manage stress with their healthcare provider. 

That’s where Yoga sweeps in and saves the day! I like to think of it as a moving meditation or mindful movement practice. With a consistent practice you learn how to communicate with your body and mind in a way that demonstrates self-care.

Cardio is great exercise. Don’t get me wrong. Like peanut butter, it’s good for you……but too much can be adding more stress and hijacking your body’s detox system.

The truth is, our bodies know how to detox and be at a healthy weight. It’s stress that is inhibiting our choices, performance, and ultimately our results.  

Yoga releases tension in the mind and body as well as restoring a sense of balance.

My journey with yoga wasn’t a clear path. I got into it by accident. I had another leg injury from repetitive high impact exercise and needed to move but couldn’t dance. I was getting depressed and gaining more weight feeding my emotions with junk food.

I tried Yoga before and hated it. With my overactive mind and tight body, it was frustrating to just be with myself in uncomfortable postures. If felt like a waste of time. I didn’t have any patience.

I was willing to be more open-minded because I felt like I didn’t have any other choice.

It took me experimenting with different classes and teachers to learn that Yoga was for Every Body.   I found the classes and teachers I liked and developed a routine. Each class, I left feeling amazing. I had a sustained energy that made me feel strong and calm. It was like all my stress was left on my mat.

I decided to go deeper and did the Yogaworks Teacher Training program because I full heartedly believe that I can help people transform their lives with this movement therapy.

It’s been almost two years of practicing Yoga, pretty religiously. Since my journey started, I achieved a sustainable healthy weight without extreme dieting or crazy cardio. In fact, I’m doing less cardio and the best thing is that I’m not freaking out about it.

Here are some of the ways YOGA can help with weight loss and management:

  1. Breath

When we are under stress, our breath becomes short, rapid, and unconscious. We mostly breath from the chest where we are unable to expand our breath large enough. This restricts the amount of oxygen the mind and body needs to think clearly and work fluidly. Notice how cravings come up at night? The mind and body are severely oxygen depleted and a quick fix through SUGAR can give you an instant boost.

In Yoga we learn how to be conscious of our breathing and how to use it as a tool for energy management. We learn how to breath deeply through our bellies (where our internal organs get nourished with oxygen). This restores the body back into homeostatis and rejuvenation. When the body is relaxed it can release Fat.

  1. Mindfulness

In Yoga, you practice being focused in the present moment. More and more research is showing the benefits of Mindfulness based meditation as an effective form of treating addiction and substance abuse. When you slow down, tune in to the body, you learn how to observe discomfort and then let it pass. A recent student of mine, who’s been practicing 10 minutes a day, recently shared how she had a quarter of a donut and then was completely done with it. She was in shock because she always thought she would eat the whole thing.

  1. Muscle Engagement

Hello Abs! A lot of yoga is about connecting with your muscles and engaging them so you have proper alignment. Movements are very functional and you tone using your own body weight. Yoga will define your booty, legs, abs, back and arms. More muscle means more fat burning.

  1. Mind Body Connection

Notice how you feel when you stand tall with your shoulders back? You feel confident and strong. What about when you’re hunched over with rounded shoulders? Moody? Sad? Our physiology effects our state and vice versa. The mind and body need to work in coherence in order to lose weight. If you’re having thoughts like, “I’m fat and I’ll never lose weight.” Then guess what. That’s exactly what you’ll create. The mind and body must be in partnership or there will be a separation, stress.

  1. Nervous System

An extreme lifestyle puts a ton of stress on our body, mind, and specifically our nervous system. It is through the nervous system that we communicate with the outside and our inside world. The communication happens through our senses. The nervous system is also responsible for our METABOLISM, the big daddy in weight loss and management.

Extreme workouts and diets can trigger a stress response in the body by kicking on the sympathetic nervous system. This puts the body into survival mode in which we gear up for Fight or Flight. When this happens, our body’s metabolism, digestive tract, and immune system shut down. We don’t need to digest a meal if we’re running from a tiger. We don’t have tigers we’re running away from today. The body doesn’t know that though. It just senses stress and danger.

For the body to work optimally we need to be in a state of “rest and digest” activated by our Parasympathetic Nervous system.   This is when we feel calm, clear, at peace, and in control. In this state, blood nourishes the internal organs and ultimately restores our immunity, digestion, metabolism, and even cognitive thinking.

Now I love Yoga and believe that my daily practice keeps me in the best shape for life.

There are a variety of Yoga practices ranging in intensity and skill. If you’re interested in more cardio types of yoga, check out Vinyasa or Power Yoga classes.  I teach in a variety of styles and offer classes at LA Dancefit on Mondays at 5PM and Wednesdays at 8am.  If you’re interested in Yoga for weight loss, then connect with me about my 8 week Yoga Program.  I also offer corporate wellness classes as well.  You can email me at deirdra.g.martinez@gmail.com for more information.

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