Monday, June 24, 2013

What yoga can do for weight management

In my experience, yoga is the best medicine for weight management. How many of us have struggled with our weight at some point or another? Well, yoga has always shown us a way to integrate mind with body and here’s how that can help keep the balance from tipping.

Life in the modern world is stressful. That’s pretty plain to see. Stress has a way of taking a toll on the body and, incidentally, makes a yo-yo out of body weight. So the first thing to do is reduce stress. Yoga is one of those stress-relieving practices, so remarkable in it’s effect, one cant help but sit up and take note. Anyone who has practiced any yoga at all will testify to that.

So how does yoga do it? And what happens when we get stressed?

The body, in response to stress, produces (in direct proportion to stress) a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol has the dubious distinction of stimulating our appetite – aka over eating due to stress. It also stands out because it efficiently converts all additional calories (those we don't burn) into fat. That’s not the worst of it. This converted fat gets stored in the abdomen, paving the way for diseases such as diabetes type II and heart disease. Adrenalin  also floods the blood stream during times of stress.  This shuts down  the creative thinking and problem solving abilities of the brain,   slows down digestions, induces salt retention and adds to  weight gain . Scientists also say that the pre-frontal cortex , the part of the brain that handles emotions, is linked to the primitive brain, the amygdala. Hence, when under emotional stress, the amygdala gets excited and stimulates the wrong types of behaviours such as excessive eating. Stress also reduces the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food and reduces immune function.

Yoga is the perfect antidote to stress. It  encourages the release of serotonin – the happiness hormone of the brain because it relaxes the body to that extent. Seratonin is a neurotransmitter found in the pineal gland, gut, CNS and blood platelets. It plays an important role in regulating the functioning of these systems and organs in the body. Seratonin therefore, is all important in the regulation of sleep, mood, learning, and now there is scientific evidence to show that it might also be useful in the  management of anxiety and migraine headaches, and importantly,  our appetite as well.

So. Yoga beats stress beats cortisol and adrenalin explosion in the blood stream and gives the body a boost of serotonin instead. Burning calories on the mat is obviously just a small part of it, although that can be useful too.

Another thing I have found with yoga is that if practiced consciously, it makes me more aware of my body and it’s processes. I eat with more awareness (well, mostly anyway!) and because of that, I eat a bit less than I would otherwise. The digestive system sends a signal saying “enough” and it’s best we listen to it. I also become more aware of what I put into my gut  - foods that make me feel bloated, for example, I will steer clear of. This information will only ever come to me if I remain attentive to and aware of my body. An invaluable skill that a regular, consistent and mindful practice of yoga will bestow on us.

Of course, excess body weight may have nothing to do with what or how much we eat. Issues with body weight have often been linked to our emotional baggage. What drives us? Getting to the bottom of why we do what we do could be a useful clue to understanding why we eat the way we do, or even why we keep the weight no matter what we do.. Yoga brings us in close touch with that elusive thing called emotion and shows us that it is safe to let go.

And finally, diets. They are a big no-no according to research and information on weight management. They mislead us into a sense of false hope, putting us into a loop of expectations, disappointments and eating binges. A healthy plan of action, a balanced approach to food (eat to live, don't live to eat kind of thing) and a commitment to exercise could help immensely. After all, it is important that we enjoy our food, but It is also important that we stay connected to the body and thereby, to ourselves if we are to enjoy good health over the long run.

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