Sure, yoga is good for your health. It can alleviate back pain and stress, help you sleep better, increase your flexibility and help you build confidence in yourself. Yoga can even help you learn to accept your body.
Now, research shows that yoga can also help you learn to recognize when enough is enough, thus preventing weight gain and aiding in weight loss.
While some forms of yoga (Bikram or hot yoga and Ashtanga or power yoga) can burn up to 500 calories an hour, most gentle or restorative classes don't get your heart rate up high enough to qualify as cardio (aerobic) exercise. So how does yoga help lead to weight loss?
Certainly any physical activity is beneficial when you're trying to lose weight or stave off weight gain. But the key to yoga's benefit is in the mind, not the body. Yoga teaches us to reconnect with our bodies, inside and out. By slowing down and focusing on our bodies, we have increased body awareness. In turn, this can mean that intuitive or mindful eating becomes more natural.
According to Science Daily:
"The study was prompted by initial findings reported four years ago by Alan Kristal, Dr.P.H., and colleagues, who found that regular yoga practice may help prevent middle-age spread in normal-weight people and may promote weight loss in those who are overweight. At the time, the researchers suspected that the weight-loss effect had more to do with increased body awareness, specifically a sensitivity to hunger and satiety than the physical activity of yoga practice itself.
"The follow-up study, published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, confirms their initial hunch.
"In our earlier study, we found that middle-age people who practice yoga gained less weight over a 10-year period than those who did not. This was independent of physical activity and dietary patterns. We hypothesized that mindfulness – a skill learned either directly or indirectly through yoga – could affect eating behavior," said Kristal, associate head of the Cancer Prevention Program in the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center.
The researchers found that people who ate mindfully – those were aware of why they ate and stopped eating when full – weighed less than those who ate mindlessly, who ate when not hungry or in response to anxiety or depression. The researchers also found a strong association between yoga practice and mindful eating but found no association between other types of physical activity, such as walking or running, and mindful eating."
Yoga teaches us to respect our bodies and practice moderation in life. Stopping when we've had enough food falls in line with that mindset.
It's interesting to note that a similar increase in mindful eating was not noted in people who practiced other forms of physical activity regularly, even though those other forms of activity likely burned far more calories than yoga did.
Does that mean that yoga is the only physical activity that we need in life? Does it mean that a few downward-facing dogs a day are sufficient exercise? For most of us, probably not. I use yoga as a supplement to my other physical activities: primarily Spinning, running, and walking. My practice is a complement to the other exercise I get, and I think of it as a Spinning class for my mind. It just helps me feel focused and happy.
Regardless of what other activity you participate in, adding some yoga (as long as you have clearance from your health-care provider) can help you reconnect your body--your stomach in particular--and your brain.
Something I noticed when I started practicing yoga regularly is that the more often I practice, the less susceptible I am to snacking and late-night eating (two bad habits of mine!). If I know I have a class after work, I choose my afternoon snack more carefully, knowing that too much food make all those folds and twists mighty uncomfortable. And when I get home from class, even though I'm tired and ready for dinner, my appetite isn't as voracious as if I had gone for a run.
Learn more about mindful eating in this article.
Have you experienced this side effect of yoga? Do you try to practice mindful eating? Would you be willing to give yoga a try?
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