I recently watched a programme on television about people over the age of 100. One of the participants was 103 and she was amazing: active, sprightly and driving around in a Mini Cooper.
What was her secret? Well one of them (she had many) was her regular yoga classes. What she could do in a yoga class would put someone 60 years younger to shame.
This lady had a wonderful figure and she looked fit and healthy. Most weight loss regimes require punishing exercise at the gym. However, a few simple yoga moves can reduce body fat, help you burn fuel better and regulate your blood sugar, says yoga expert, Charlotte Watts.
There is no doubt that yoga is fairly cheap and accessible to all. Whether you attend classes or, having mastered the main moves, practise it at home, there is no excuse for not spending some time each day on your yoga exercises.
New evidence shows that with long-term regular practice, yoga can help you lose weight by lowering your waist to hip ratio and body fat levels, it helps with better appetite control and to stabilise your posture.
A study of men with type 2 diabetes, which described yoga as a “slow, static type of muscular exercise”, noted that it can be performed even by people with “limited joint mobility [and] physical unfitness associated with overweight and sedentary lifestyles” (J. Clin. Diagn. Res., 2015). This study showed that daily, early morning yoga sessions on an empty stomach for six months reduced blood glucose levels significantly in 30 diabetic men aged 26 to 55.
Interestingly, a recent Dutch review of the yoga research to date, citing 37 randomised controlled trials and 32 pooled analyses, reported that regular and sustained yoga practice can improve not only body weight and body mass index but also the heart disease risk factors associated with weight gain, such as cholesterol levels and ratios, fats in the blood, blood pressure and heart rate (Eur. J. Prev. Cardiol., 2014).
Our state of health and weight management are determined to a great extent by what we put into our bodies and how much we move around, also by how efficiently our body system’s metabolic processes are working. Our whole body and mind requires both activity and rest, stimulation and recharging.
Appetite levels, food choices, energy and sleep patterns can all be affected by poor posture, high stress levels and disordered breathing patterns that yoga helps to address.
Yoga can help you lose weight by lowering your waist to hip ratio and body fat levels
These are factors which may be forgotten as underlying causes of faulty digestion and blood sugar imbalances and addictive patterns, all of which can contribute to ill health and weight gain.
I have previously written about how yoga can help stress, in order to calm down the mind. This links in with addressing stress reactions in the body, which can lead to anything from food cravings to a lack of motivation. However, we can also practise yoga to help tone postural muscles and those involved with breathing. In both of these areas, the abdominal muscles are involved. This is a core muscle and supports the whole of our body. Relating to posture, yoga helps with moving and compressing the digestive organs and the elimination of toxins from the body.
Better posture and breathing also helps our metabolic rate and fat-burning capacity when exercising. Include the proven stress-reducing effects of yoga and we have a recipe for muscle strengthening and weight loss.
Yoga postures are essentially positions into which we wouldn’t normally place our bones, muscles and joints in everyday life.
Therefore, it represents a good stress challenge physically. This, in turn, evokes a positive response in circulation, muscle strength, release and length, hormonal balance and oxygenation through breathing.
Yoga includes great attention to breathing throughout exercises. It focuses on the present moment, and helps reduce stress responses, increasing the resilience that encourages us to maintain good habits.
Yoga has also been shown to alleviate insomnia, sleep issues, depression and lower back pain – all of these are known barriers to weight loss.
There is no doubt that we live in a society in which we are continually faced with stimuli that excite our nervous systems and push us towards more shallow and fast breathing. In stressful situations, our breathing becomes even more shallow without our even noticing.
This is the reason were should take deep breaths when stress, panicked or angry. You could even be holding your breath when concentrating or carrying out a task that requires deep concentration. A good start would be going through one day being ‘breath aware’. Then monitor how you feel at the end of the day.
It can’t be emphasised enough, how important ‘correct breathing’ is to your health and overall body fitness. Regulating breathing increases the flow of oxygen in the body so that chemical reactions can happen faster, you then burn fuel as calories at a higher rate. More oxygen in the blood means the pancreas needs to produce less insulin to transport sugar efficiently into the cells.
As insulin can make us store fat, calmer breathing helps with both blood sugar levels and our tendency to gain weight in the long term.
Ultimately, remember that practising yoga little and often can have better effects than doing one intense class a week.