- Are you part of the 71% of Americans who just resolved to diet or eat healthier?
- One of the 65% who resolved to exercise more?
- Or one of the 54% who resolved to lose weight?
Yes, those are the percentages of Americans who claimed they made such resolutions for 2019, as reported by Statista:
Given the numbers, and because moving more is often cited as a way to help one lose weight, it’s possible that you have goals in more than one of these top 3 categories.
Unfortunately, many of these resolutions are the same ones we’ve been making year after year after year. We might do well for awhile, but most regular gym-gowers know even if January is a madhouse, by February things are typically back to normal.
There are many potential reasons for this, and I’ll throw one out here, with a story.
I recently saw a friend post on Facebook that walking the indoor track at the gym (while it’s cold outside) is incredibly boring.
Replies included a lot of advice about how to help alleviate the boredom: e.g. walk with a buddy, listen to a podcast etc. I’m not saying those ideas might not be helpful. But if underneath, the movement one is doing is unpleasant and has to be forced, worked around, etc., then quite frankly, it just isn’t likely to be an activity that lasts.
I also find that most people think accomplishing these goals requires a lot of work, effort, and time. Who wants to do hard things? Who wants to add time and effort to their already overloaded schedule? Not me!
Which brings me to the point of this post. Over the years–both for myself and in coaching my clients–I’ve learned that less is often more. What if you could accomplish your goals with less effort and more ease? That’s where Yoga comes in.
When I say “Yoga,” I don’t mean the typical gymnastic-like exercise classes and slender, model-like women in upside-down contortions that you often see on Instagram today. I mean a practice that involves the coordination of movement and breath in a way that supports one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Everyone, regardless of their physical condition, can do Yoga!
That said, here are 4 ways that taking up a Yoga practice can support your nutrition and weight loss goals:
- Deeper breathing. One of the fundamental concepts in any practice of Yoga is its focus on coordinating breath with movement.
Try this: sit or stand with your spine tall and long. Close your eyes and observe how you feel physically and mentally. When you feel ready, inhale as you reach your arms out to your sides with your palms up, through shoulder height and then up to the ceiling, where the palms turn to face each other. Then flip your palms out and exhale as you reverse the movement, bringing the arms and hands back down to your sides. How was it to coordinate your breath with the movement of your arms? Just notice. Repeat this a few times, seeing if you can slow the movements of your arms, thereby lengthening your breath.
Why this matters: Slowing down the breath helps calm your body, reducing the effects of chronic stress. When you’re relaxed, digestion improves, nutrients are better assimilated, and toxins are more easily released. Bringing this deep breathing into your life on a regular basis can help you become more present to what is happening right now. This awareness teaches you to pay closer attention, including to your food as you’re eating. In other words, you become aware of the colors, textures, tastes and sensations that naturally encourage your body to metabolize food as part of the cephalic phase, leading to natural appetite regulation (not to mention, actual enjoyment of your food!).
- Increased body awareness. How were you able to “notice your breath” in point one? Well, there’s a part of you we’ll call “the witness” (also called the “wisdom body“), which has the ability to observe what you’re doing, thinking and feeling. In the practice of Yoga postures, instructors encourage their students to “listen” to their bodies–for example, to notice areas of tightness, where there may be more space to move, how to improve their alignment by feeling the body, etc.
Try this: For one day, set an alarm to alert you every 30 or 60 minutes. When you hear the alarm, pause what you are doing, close your eyes and pick a word to describe how you’re feeling emotionally (e.g.: happy, sad, overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, etc.) Don’t think too hard about it, just go with your first, best guess. Then, scan your body for sensations, starting at the top of your head. Move your attention all around your face. Notice the areas around the eyes, the jaw. Feel your neck and shoulders. Scan down your arms to your wrists and hands. Observe the body all around the torso, front and back, along the spine, up and down. Connect your mind to your hips and pelvis, moving slowly down your legs to your toes, first one side and then the other. Where are you tightening your muscles? Are there any places that feel “uneven” between the right and left sides? Is anything pinchy? Repeat the scan, this time making small adjustments–see if you can relax the tight areas, balance the uneven ones, or tweak your posture to feel better. When you’re finished, call to mind a word describe your emotional state. Maybe it’s the same one as before, or perhaps a new one. Whatever comes up is perfectly OK. Now continue with what you were doing until the next alarm, when you will repeat this process.
Why it matters: Increasing awareness of mind-body states has many benefits for nutrition and weight loss. Your body does a lot for you without you needing to attend to it, like breathing. But in today’s busy world, it’s easy to “dis-embody”–meaning tune out important signals, such as when you’re hungry or full, when you’re tired, when you’re holding a shape that’s causing muscular stress (e.g. sitting with poor posture), and when you’re feeling something emotionally. Such dis-embodiment can lead you to overeat and binge eat, since these activities are great distractions and help induce a relaxation response. By learning to listen, receive, and respond to your body’s signals, you may improve your eating rhythm (i.e. have more regular times of day when you nourish yourselves with food), which reduces the likelihood of you getting ravenous, eating too fast and eating too much, and feeling fatigued. Using your mind to relax your body is a simple practice that’s a good alternative to eating when you’re in a challenging emotional situation.
- Yoga postures help improve digestion. Arranging the physical body in different shapes offers your internal organs a gentle massage, including the ones involved in digestion and metabolism regulation.
Try these: Seated forward fold, wide-legged standing forward fold with twist (place your hand on a block or chair if the floor is far away; and/or bend your knees), half lord of the fishes pose (a gentle twist seated on a chair is also fine), low / baby cobra pose, bridge pose (or supported bridge).
Why it matters: Yoga postures like these help improve blood and oxygen flow to the digestive organs, are stimulating to the digestive tract, and help to regulate the thyroid gland, which is important for digestive function and metabolism regulation. Yoga has also been known to help with chronic digestive issues like IBS, constipation and diarrhea, bloating and gas. A healthy, optimally working digestive tract is critical to meeting any nutritional and weight loss goals. If your system isn’t working properly, your efforts may be in vain.
- More compassion and self acceptance. Yoga isn’t just about physical postures and breathing. It’s “a progressive process of replacing our unconscious thought patterns and behavior with new, more beneficial patterns that are helpful towards a better life1.” Yoga provides a way for practitioners to experiment, get curious, and explore our inner world. It invites us into a safe space where we can explore letting go of our egos, accepting where we are right now (which might be different than where we were or where we want to be).
Try this: Wearing something form fitting that allows you to really see your body, strike a simple pose in front of a mirror. (Mountain pose is the easiest one to start.) With your eyes open, notice what comes up for you as you sustain the pose for a comfortable time. Are you holding your breath? What are you thinking? Are you worried about doing it perfectly? Are you involved in an internal dialog about a part of your body that you wish looked different? Are you comparing yourself to a photo of someone else in the posture? Do you want to look away? See if you can simply notice these thoughts as they pop up in your mind. Practice accepting whatever comes up for you. If it’s helpful, you can imagine putting the thought into a “thought bubble” (like you see in cartoons) and allowing it to float away.
Why it matters: Finding a style of Yoga that you enjoy can replace the punishing exercise that you may do solely for the sake of calorie burning. (Note that over-exercise and exercise one doesn’t like can contribute to the stress response, therefore defeating our best intentions at improved metabolism and weight loss.) Yoga’s focus on acceptance and self-love can also help improve body image issues for those of us who struggle here. As Marc David says, “acceptance moves energy”. Meaning, when we become more aware of our self-criticisms, self-judgements, and ways we habitually cause “self-induced hate stress”, we can figuratively and then literally “lighten up”. If you’re someone who constantly beats yourself up over losing that last 5-10 pounds, or feel impatient at your progress if you have a lot of weight to lose, this refined view of the situation may be just what you need to not just let go of body weight or fat, but also toxic beliefs about yourself and the importance of these things in the grander context of your life.
Notice that I’ve said nothing about what food you actually eat. 😉
Want some help? I include a customized movement and breathing practice (i.e. Yoga!) in each of my coaching programs. To see if Mind-body Wellness Coaching is a good fit for you, schedule a 20-minute, complimentary consultation.