By Jennifer Dixon MBA ERYT 500
As a Health and Wellness professional, I am often asked questions about weight loss, muscle strength, etc. Of course, I can only give my opinions, views, and answers–all of which are biased by my own personal experience and insights. The reality is, that’s all anyone can do because there are mountains of data and innumerable opinions.
I have to say this: of all the different forms of exercise out there, I believe yoga is the BEST, hands down. This post will tell you why.
I totally get that there are some super high calorie burning workouts out there. I’ve done them! I used to be all about the high-intensity workouts like CrossFit or Bootcamps or long-distance running. The big mantra today is to “confuse the muscles” as a way to improve overall health. I love pushing myself and getting stronger. I love the feeling of complete exhaustion that comes after a 12-mile run or after a particularly hard lifting session. The High-Intensity stuff is just that–INTENSE. It’s great for building lung capacity and testing your edge, but it’s also very hard on the body. I don’t want to downplay how awesome all those exercises are, but I also want to highlight how you don’t HAVE to have all that jumping around or throwing things in order to achieve better health.
Yoga, if done regularly, under the supervision of a knowledgeable and watchful teacher, can burn the same calories and build the same muscles. However, yoga doesn’t just stop there. It also calms the mind, creates flexibility, and builds body/mind awareness and connection (today’s focus)…. This practice means you can get something like the combination of the “runner’s high” with a Thai massage, and a lot of body weight exercises (talk about muscle confusion right there!) all with a deeper self-understanding.
In later articles, we will take a dive into diet, calories in vs calories out, optimal health through nutrition, and much more, but today I’d like to talk a little bit about the body/mind connection that is built into a regular yoga practice, and how that connection can be the single greatest tool in your sustainable health and weight loss journey.
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely HATE being told “no.“ Like my children, the thing I’m kept away from becomes the object of my obsession. It’s terrible. Whether it’s staying away from some scary looking edge or ripping the tag off a mattress, the moment the warning is displayed some alarm goes off inside my mind and says, “JUST DO IT!”
Surely I’m not alone here, am I?
That’s why dieting has never worked for me. I’ve tried lots of things in my quest against my body’s natural tendencies. Like most women, my body has been the object of many battles since I first realized I was shaped differently than what I perceived to be average. I have not ever, nor will I ever be a wraith. I think the politically correct term here is Ectomorph. I’m solidly in the Mesomorph camp, which took me until I was about 31-32 yrs old to FINALLY be ok with.
SIDE NOTE! All you girls out there looking in the mirror and comparing yourself to the magazine, the tv, your best friend, whomever, just stop. Period. You were made miraculously and wonderfully, and beautifully.
Here’s the thing, right around the same time I started being ok with the way I was shaped and just trying to work on being the best that I could possibly be, I was also really getting into yoga. I found yoga when I was 30. I hurt my back trying to keep up with a much younger version of myself and yoga kept me fit but didn’t hurt. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
Yoga is Balance. It is, by definition, marriage or unity. When you commit to a regular yoga practice, you commit to yourself; body and mind. You commit to show up on the mat, to move with intention and breath, to connect inwardly with the outer parts, and to just see what happens. It is by this very regular practice that a true connection is made inwardly that impacts outwardly.
When you start a regular yoga practice, things change. You change. When you commit to yourself day in and day out, you start to actually hear, see and feel things that are going on inwardly, and that leads to actions outwardly; these actions may be holding your temper in check, it may mean actions like slowing down when you feel too overwhelmed, it also means listening to what your body wants. Here’s where the sustainability comes in.
When you first start to practice yoga, all you know is that body parts that you didn’t even know existed start talking! Sometimes rather loudly and persistently (can I get an amen all you tight hamstring people!) Sometimes it’s much much more subtle. When you have been practicing for a while, you start to notice other things changing….like your taste buds. No kidding. Or your cravings. (I’m serious!)
I’m not saying a regular yoga practice will make you never crave another candy bar in your life. However, I am saying that when you show up to that mat day in and day out and you push yourself to just be present, something happens. You suddenly find that you want to eat something that will make you feel better. You realize that when you eat something that is super “XYZ” (enter whatever it is that bothers you,) you can tell a difference the next day on your mat. You know it doesn’t feel as good as it did the day before you ate that XYZ item and so suddenly, that XYZ item moves further and further down your list of desired foods.
This has long-term, lasting, sustainable effects. This is the “magic pill” of sustainable body awareness, weight, acceptance, love, and growth. When you have your daily, regular, physical yoga practice, you create an internal environment that wants to be unified in health and wellbeing, so overindulging simply doesn’t continue to happen because it will impact your practice the next day. I’m not saying special events don’t happen. I am saying that those special events become really special because you like the way your body feels when you don’t over indulge and you love the way your body moves when you consume what makes you feel better.
Will you lose 50 lbs in 3 days and never be hungry, and have glowing skin and beautiful hair? No. That’s a pipe dream (or a scalpel and a wig.)
Will you feel better immediately after practice? Yes. Will your body change over time? OH YES. Will you lose weight? More than likely. Definitely, if you need to. The key here is a dedicated daily practice that incorporates movement with breath and work. Yoga is work, but you are worth it, and you deserve it.
I have personally used yoga to help me lose the weight from two babies. (collectively around 115lbs). I have used yoga to help me strengthen my body and bring stability to the places that changed during and after childbirth. I have used a regular, strong yoga practice to help me calm down the squirrels in my head and start to pay attention to what it is my body wants. Did I do this overnight? No. Do I still want to lose a little more weight? Sure! Am I starving myself or in other way feeling deprived? A very resounding NO. Yoga isn’t about extremes, it’s about gradual growth. You may end up in a position that you once thought extreme (leg behind your head anyone?) but you certainly don’t start there. You start exactly where you are today, practice every single day (whether it’s 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or 2 hours,) and you just keep coming back. In time, you will change. Your body will change. It will be gradual, but it will be sustainable.
I invite you to join me, whether in studio located right in the suburbs of Chattanooga, Tn, or from the comfort of your home through our completely free resources like this blog or our YouTube Channel. When you’re ready for more, check out my Mommy Bounce Back Program. We will strengthen, stretch, grow together, in so many ways, and in no time at all, you will see for yourself how sustainable a life spent on the mat can be –for your weight, your body, your mind– everything. I can’t wait to see you on the mat soon!