By Darlene C. Donegan
Obesity is a complex disease for which no single cause or cure exists. You gain weight when you take in more calories than you burn off. But obesity is influenced by many other factors including your family history, the type of work you do, your race, and your environment. People are less active than ever. Some people hate to exercise and others may not have the time, and many of the conveniences we use, such as elevators, cars, and the remote control for the television, cut activity out of our lives. Other things can affect our weight, such as family history or genetics. For example, if one of your parents is obese, you are 3 times as likely to be obese than someone with parents of healthy weight.
Other things influence your weight and whether you are physically active including, Low self-esteem being overweight or obese may lower your self-esteem and lead to eating as a way to comfort yourself; Emotional concerns emotional stress, anxiety, or illnesses such as depression or chronic pain can lead to overeating; and Trauma distressing events, such as childhood, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, loss of a parent during childhood, and marital or family problems can contribute to overeating. Obesity has become a major health concern in the U.S. The technological advances in today’s society have led to less active citizens. This lifestyle carries many consequences.
How obesity affects your health depends on many things, including your age, gender, where you carry your body fat, and how physically active you are. If you are obese, you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, coronary artery disease, stroke, and sleep apnea, among other conditions. If you lose weight, your risk for these conditions is reduced. Where you carry body fat is important. If fat builds up mostly around your stomach (sometimes called apple-shaped), you are at greater risk for type 2 diabetes; high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and coronary artery disease than people who are lean or people with fat around the hips (sometimes called pear-shaped).
Research shows the following health benefits for weight loss: Weight loss may improve survival in those who have an obesity-related disease, especially type 2 diabetes, modest weight loss of 4.4lbs to 9.7lbs resulted in a significant lowering of blood pressure; people with asthma who lost an average of 31.3lb over 1 year showed improved lung function and overall health, and with weight loss, the number of severe asthma episodes were reduced, people with type 2 diabetes who lost weight had lower blood sugar levels and were able to use less medicine to lower their blood sugar levels; sustained weight loss prevented new cases of type 2 diabetes in people who were obese; and people with obstructive sleep apnea who lost as little as 10% of their weight improved their sleep patterns and had less daytime sleepiness.
What helps one person lose weight may not work for someone else. The key is to find the right balance of eating and physical activity that you can keep doing or a program that works with your lifestyle. Being overweight in today’s society is seen as a failure. Advertisers bombard Americans with images of thin females models, actresses and chiseled male models and actors. These images are not only impossible to obtain but it glorifies a unhealthy body image. However, what if people could see being overweight as a message that we are living out of balance?
The important thing to remember is that being overweight is a symptom of a much bigger frustration. A large portion of the population is suffering from the symptoms of being overweight. Our lives are truly out of balance. If we could trip into our true, authentic selves, our unnecessary fat would disappear. Our unwanted fat is the symptom of a deeper disease, that of being disconnected from our true selves. Therefore, the ideal fitness program would work to actively bring all the various parts of ourselves into balance. It is widely accepted that yoga can help to lose weight, improve your figure, strengthen and recondition your entire body, stay relaxed under pressure, remove mental strain & tension, improve circulation & breathing, eliminate many causes of depression, regain agility, develop self empowerment and achieve integration of body, mind and spirit.
What can yoga do physically? This simple but incredibly effective method can: vastly improve flexibility, increase strength and muscle tone, instill superior balance and body control, improves breathing and oxygen intake, improve athletic performance, prevent injuries, speeds up recovery, alleviate back pain, raise energy level, recharge sex life, and improve overall sleep. Best of all, yoga can be done at any age almost anywhere. There is no special clothing or equipment required.
Fear of being fat and getting fatter holds us back from being slim. Yoga will help to make you stronger, in body, mind and spirit, so that fear will not be such a challenge. Fear-based systems such as crash dieting, extreme exercise routines, and endless self sacrifice will produce tension, and even if you painstakingly reach your slimming goals, the tension will catapult you back to being overweight. A yoga program eliminates this tension and promotes an effortless way of losing fat and staying slim.
Our body should be seen as an investment. That means putting into your body only food and drink that enhances your performance, gives you vitality and richness of life and supports your need and desire to succeed. This can be done by going back to the traditional wisdom of yoga. You are what you eat. If you eat highly processed foods, your digestion will be less efficient, and this will result in your being lethargic, dull, and fat. Yogis divide food into 3 main groups: Tamastic food these foods should be avoided. Foods that fall into this group are meat, battered fish, eggs, alcohol, overcooked foods, reheated leftovers, fried or barbecued foods, baked goods with white flour, ice cream, candy, white bread, refined, processed and prepackaged foods, canned foods, stale or tasteless food, anything containing preservatives or additives. Tamastic foods produce a feeling of heaviness, dullness, and lack of energy. For optimum health and well being, students of yoga are encouraged to avoid these foods. Rajastic food these foods should be limited in ones diet.
Foods that fall into this category are coffee, tea, heavily spiced and salted products, flavored potato chips & peanuts, chocolate and carbonated drinks. Rajastic foods make a person feel hyper and jumpy, so that you become stressed and more prone to circulatory and nervous disorders. Sattvic foods these foods are to always be eaten to ensure superior overall health benefits. Foods that fall into this category are organic and non-genetically modified foods, fresh and dried fruits, freshly squeezed juices, raw or lightly cooked vegetables, salads, fresh fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, sprouted seeds, whole wheat breads, honey, fresh herbs, herbal teas and organic dairy products. These foods will calm the mind and body, make you vital and happy, and help to promote a long, healthy life. If you want to feel clear headed, full of energy, and slim, choose foods from the sattvic group.
Furthermore, yoga is an all around fitness program that gradually (and safely) tones and shapes the body. Though it won’t take off inches as fast as more vigorous exercises, yoga asana will improve posture, increase willpower, and help you feel better about yourself as you follow a weight loss program. Yoga exercise and meditation releases muscle tension in the autonomic nervous system. Deep abdominal breathing (as practiced in yoga) can relieve insomnia by relaxing the body and reducing the activity of the mind.
Yoga not only relaxes the mind but also builds strength. Yoga strength is a tensile strength, born of holding sustained poses and using your own body weight as a dynamic, living resistance.
When remaining in a challenging yoga pose for 10 breaths (or 30 seconds), you are stressing those muscles for a longer time than it takes to curl a dumbbell or perform some other kind of repetition. Weight lifting is a ballistic motion. Yoga is about sustained strength training. While weight lifting builds bulk, it also shortens and tightens the muscles. Yoga lengthens them and generates strength through the entire range of motion.
Yoga and pumping iron actually work really well together. Rather than isolating muscles (as in weight training), yoga moves various muscles groups from all over the body. Everyone needs functional strength, which is what yoga gives you.
Yoga teaches people how to use their strength more effectively. In a yoga training program you’re maintaining your balance, noticing and correcting tiny movements, compensating, making adjustments, and regulating your breathing. This makes yoga strength training much more complex and more demanding.
Yoga and weight training are two very different exercises that complement each other very well. The drawback to lifting weights alone is that there is a risk of injury and getting stiff but yoga’s benefits counter those exact problems. Weight lifting tends to develop the big exterior muscles (pecs, biceps, etc), but yoga hits all the secondary muscles (including stabilizers in the core). By doing both workouts, you’re covering the entire body. Weight training actually tears muscles, creating scar tissue. Yoga can’t repair all the damage but putting flexibility back into the muscle creates better blood flow and circulation, bringing in oxygen that helps those muscles heal. After lifting weights, the stress creates a caustic by-product, lactic acid. Yoga’s deep stretches wring the lactic acid and other inflammatory chemicals out of the muscle. Yoga can be done in conjunction with many other forms of exercise, including cardio vascular exercise, internal training, walking, running, dancing and sports.
The physical aspects of yoga are many, but the yoga breath work has tremendous benefits for the body. Yogic breathing increases oxygen intake, improves oxygen exchange, deepens your body awareness through focusing on the breath, and trains & improve your focus and power of concentration. The body needs oxygen in every cell; the muscles and the brain work better with more oxygen. When you breathe better, you think clear. The body works better and so do the muscles, digestive system and the brain. Yogic breathing focus on deeper breathing is definitely a factor in reducing tension.
Yoga helps regulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system stirs up the body to confront danger or outside stresses by raising the heart rate and releasing energy and adrenaline (classic fight-or-flight response). The parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite. It sends neurotransmitters to slow your heart rate, calming the body down. This network is believed to promote healing, sleep, and maintain a healthy reproductive system and digestion. Stress hormones secreted by the sympathetic system have a long term corrosive or degenerative effect. Therefore, regular yoga practice decreases the negative affect of the sympathetic nervous system.
Women as a group suffer from digestive problems which contribute to excessive weight. One reason is hormonal changes that occur in premenopausal and menopausal women. In premenopausal women, the gastrointestinal tract slows down because the body produces less estrogen (a natural gastrointestinal stimulant). The liver (the building block for breaking down food) is too busy recycling unused hormones. Once a woman is premenopausal, the pituitary gland sends large quantities of follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone into the system to try to jump start ovarian production of estrogen. In menopausal women, digestive problems continue for other reasons.
During the reproductive years, women are blessed with a built in cleansing system, the monthly menstrual cycle. With the monthly period the body has an opportunity to rid itself of stored up undigested food particles, toxins, and other impurities along with the endometrial lining. Women no longer have this luxury when they reach menopause. What can be done about it? Poor digestion is an inevitable part of aging. If you enter this stage of life with healthy eating and sleep habits and a consistent, preventative yoga practice, you stand a better chance of staying healthy and slim. Exercise is a key component. Yoga not only helps stimulate gastrointestinal function but also helps balance your thyroid gland, calm your nervous system, and soften & bring healing breath to your abdominal region.
Yoga poses that help digestive disorders are many. Backbends lift the diaphragm to take pressure off your stomach and get fresh blood circulating in the abdomen. Forward bends help if you are constipated, bloated, or gassy. Besides the calming affect on the nervous system, the gentle pressure forward bends exerted on the abdomen helps release trapped gas.
Both standing and sitting forward bends pacify the adrenals and kidneys while getting the digestive juices flowing. Standing poses can improve digestion and elimination. These poses can cool the digestive system and increase circulation in the abdominal organs. Inversion, by reversing gravity, gives the abdominal organs a break. This relieves congestion and increases blood flow to the abdomen. This is a great way to improve eliminations and soothe a gassy stomach. They balance the endocrine system, particularly the hypothalamus (controls digestive function), thyroid and parathyroid which govern metabolism, and the central nervous system.
Yoga is the key to successfully gaining the ideal body and doing away with excess weight. As few as three yoga exercises a day, done regularly and correctly, along with daily meditation can help bring all the body’s systems into balance. What happens is that all the abilities and insights you’ve gained in private yoga practice go with you as you move your body and mind outward to perform in the public world. The abilities and insights are still there in you, but you no longer need to focus your conscious attention on them; you just know that the body’s skills and the mind’s judgment can prevail no matter what the demand.
Yoga strengthens the will. People who lack decisiveness will benefit from practicing yoga on a regular basis. While you are putting your body into all these new postures, you have to concentrate and be very conscious of exactly what your body parts are doing at each given moment. All these things give you greater body awareness. Greater awareness allows a person to make better choices regarding what foods to eat and activities to engage in daily. Yoga brings an entire lifestyle change, if the participant is willing to fully embrace it.
In review, it has been clearly demonstrated how the practice of yoga can lead to permanent weight loss. The physical body is strengthened through consistent practice of yoga. Asanas were invented to keep practitioners completely healthy in a very small space. Whether you’re a novice or a lifetime practitioner, yoga moves can be modified, adjusted and increased in intensity to meet every person’s needs. The nervous and digestive systems are stimulated so that they operate smoothly and effectively. Through deep breathing, the lungs are expanded allowing more oxygen into the blood stream, muscles, and brain. Meditation, a key component to yoga practice, stills the mind. This allows each individual to get in touch with a higher source, allows the mind to be clear and the body relaxed. The ultimate experience in yoga is the union of all parts of you to become a powerful, intensely strong person. Yoga practice needs to be approached as a friendly interplay between body and mind that helps one become healthy and strong, rather than as a harsh, forceful discipline. The choice is yours to practice yoga to once and for all win the battle of the bulge!
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Darlene C. Donegan is a certified Yoga teacher. She teaches Yoga classes in St. Louis, Missouri.