Generally speaking, you lose weight if you burn more calories than you consume. But what if that isn’t working anymore? Whether you are hitting a plateau, or simply aren’t seeing desired results, consider that there may be other factors contributing to weight gain:
- Thyroid Dysfunction
- Adrenal Stress
- Hormonal Imbalance
- Toxin Overload
- Poor Digestion
- Poor Sleep
While certain health conditions may require medical treatment, yoga can holistically address many of these issues and supplement your workout routine. This article discusses the how and why to use yoga for weight loss to feel and look your best!
Practice High Intensity Yoga
Combining a cardiovascular workout with strength training is an excellent way to shed pounds. Increasing muscle mass also increases your metabolic rate, so having more muscle allows you to burn fat more efficiently. However you don’t need to lift weights or go for a run to incorporate both cardio and strength training into your workout. Yoga can tackle both of these just in one session!
High intensity yoga, such as vinyasa, power, and ashtanga, increases the heart rate and includes physically demanding postures that build lean muscle. Doing yoga in a hot climate also helps you sweat more, which can aid in weight loss, too.
Vinyasa yoga moves at a fast pace, which is different than hatha yoga. Postures are held for a shorter amount of time, and the sequence of movement is quite fluid. Some people say vinyasa yoga feels like dancing. It encompasses both ashtanga and power yoga styles, but you can make your vinyasa workout more or less strenuous based on posture sequence.
Ashtanga is sure to make you sweat! This is a physically demanding workout with high intensity movements and strength postures. Ashtanga incorporates many arm balancing and advanced postures, so it may be suited for you if you are a seasoned yogi. It is comprised of a set of asanas that is great for building core strength and toning the entire body.
Power yoga is very similar to Ashtanga, but the sequences change based on your teacher. It is quite high intensity and may feel like yoga bootcamp! This cardio and strength training yoga exercise will certainly change up the rhythm of your weight loss routine, and you will definitely see results if you do this workout 3 times per week.
Improve Your Detox Pathways
The lymph system is a vital part of our immune system. Lymphatic fluid flows throughout the body to filter outside threats, pathogens, and gunk from our internal organs. It is important to keep these “detox” pathways to the lymph nodes clear and healthy so that our bodies can flush out toxins and byproducts. If the lymphatic system is not draining properly, this can lead to symptoms such as headaches, joint pain, fatigue, weight gain, and the inability to heal efficiently from infections. If the lymphatic system is extremely stressed, your body may not be able to fight off inflammation or even cancer cells. Eating a proper diet and “detoxing” is extremely important for this process. Body work and skin brushing can also be wonderful techniques to supplement lymphatic drainage.
Yoga can also improve detoxification and reduce inflammation in the body. Inversions and twists specifically target the lymph nodes throughout the body.
Surya Namaskar – Sun Salutation
Any variation of sun salutation is great for reinvigorating the lymph system. This posture sequence usually includes, forward bend, cobra, downward dog, and other vinyasa poses.
Salamba Sirsasana – Supported Headstand Pose
This posture targets the lymph nodes around the neck and face. Standing on your head increases blood flow to this area, assisting in lymphatic drainage.
Utthita Trikonasana – Extended Triangle Pose
Twists are especially detoxifying for the body. Do this posture for 10 deep breaths on each side to reboot the lymph system.
Dhanurasana – Bow Pose
Bow pose strengthens the abdomen, stretches the psoas major, and also stimulates the thymus close to your chest. It is a deep backbend, so do not perform this asana if you have any spinal injuries or pain.
Viparita Karani – Legs Up the Wall
Legs up the wall is a wonderful posture for relaxation, and it also helps drain the lymph system by bringing the blood flow back towards the heart. Do this posture for a few minutes with deep breathing to rejuvenate yourself!
Balance the Thyroid
According to the American Thyroid Association, the thyroid helps the body to utilize energy and regulates other vital organs. As we age, we are more susceptible to thyroid dysfunction. Women, especially over the age of 60, are more likely to have hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland. This causes the metabolism to slow down, eventually resulting in unwanted weight gain. Other symptoms include fatigue, sensitivity to cold, dry skin, and thinning hair. Doctors usually treat hypothyroidism with synthetic thyroid hormone to supplement the hormones your body isn’t producing naturally.
While you should see your doctor if you believe you have a problem with your thyroid gland, you can also stimulate your thyroid with yoga. Because the thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck and throat area, yoga postures that incorporate movements of the cervical spine are most recommended for thyroid stimulation.
Salamba Sarvangasana – Supported Shoulder Stand Pose
Shoulder stand increases blood flow to the thyroid gland and stimulates the production of vital thyroid hormones.
Setu Bandhasana – Bridge Pose
Bridge posture activates the thyroid, reduces anxiety, and improves spinal functionality. It also helps regulate the digestive system.
Matsyasana – Fish Pose
Fish pose opens the neck and throat chakra where the thyroid sits. This asana can reduce stress levels and keep the neck joints limber.
Bhujangasana – Cobra Pose
Cobra deeply stretches the neck and throat, regulating the thyroid gland. It also helps with low back pain and spinal flexibility.
Halasana – Plow Pose
Plow is a deeper variation of shoulder stand and really stretches the neck. This posture deeply stimulates the thyroid and throat chakra, while inducing feelings of calmness and easing back pain.
Improve Your Digestion
Poor digestion is very common, but it isn’t something that you may think about when trying to lose weight. If you aren’t digesting your food properly, you may be losing essential nutrients and minerals that help aid in a balanced metabolism, ultimately resulting in weight gain. If you have gas, constipation, or acid reflux, this can result in bloatedness, making your midsection appear larger, too. In contrast to conventional medicine, alternative health and eastern medicine directly links gut health to overall wellbeing. Your doctor may prescribe supplements, proper diet, herbs, and probiotics to heal your gut.
In the meantime, yoga can help! Hugging and twisting motions in yoga can help improve digestion by stimulating the stomach, pancreas, liver, and intestines directly. Because the gut is also connected to the nervous system, postures that reduce stress are also helpful with digestion.
Marjaryasana-Bitilasana – Cat-Cow Pose
This posture extends and flexes all parts of the spine, while expanding and contracting the abdomen. Along with deep breathing, cat-cow deeply stimulates the digestive tract.
Ardha Matsyendrasana – Half Twist Pose
Half twist in a seated position rings out the internal organs to stimulate blood flow through the stomach, liver, and intestines. Breathe deeply in this posture and twist more on the exhale.
Salabhasana – Locust Pose
This back bend posture is excellent for constipation, indigestion, and fatigue. The act of pressing the abdomen into the earth gently massages your internal organs, while also reducing low back pain.
Utthita Parsvakonasana – Extended Side Angle Pose
This twisting posture massages and opens the sides of the ribs, chest, and abdomen. It is especially good for when you are feeling bloated or constipated. Perform this for 5 breaths on each side.
Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog Pose
This quintessential yoga posture has amazing benefits that reach far beyond digestion and weight loss. It also reduces stress and is the ultimate stretch for the legs, back, arms, and abdomen.
When we are in acute stress, our bodies go into “fight or flight” response. This triggers the production of hormones, like adrenaline, that would have helped us survive if we were actually in real danger. We may get even more hungry and unintentionally eat more calories than we need. Stress also increases the levels of cortisol in the body through the adrenal gland, and excess cortisol can slow down your metabolism. Stress weight often hangs around the belly area. If you have high cortisol levels due to adrenal dysfunction, it can be very difficult to lose excess belly fat, and you may want to see a doctor to be treated holistically.
Luckily, yoga helps a lot with reducing stress, and should be your go to exercise! Opt for a more restorative yoga class that is gentle on the body and focuses more on breath technique. Meditation is also a wonderful way to calm down the body’s central nervous system and overactive endocrine glands. Practice the following to reduce your stress levels and gain greater peace of mind:
Balasana – Child’s Pose
Child’s Pose pacifies the adrenal glands and allows you to focus intently on the breath. With your forehead on the mat, this posture is grounding and gentle.
Uttanasana – Standing Forward Fold Pose
Any forward fold is gentle on the spine and allows your whole body to rest in a hanging position. When you are stressed, take 10 breaths in this posture to give you a sense of peace and relaxation.
Ujjayi Pranayama – Ocean Breath
This breathing technique gently contracts the back of the throat, making a “ha” sound that can feel soothing and grounding. Do this breath for several minutes to let go of stress and anxiety.
Garudasana – Eagle Pose
Eagle pose is a balancing posture that makes you focus and concentrate. It will quiet the chatter in your mind that may be causing you stress. Practice this posture for 5 breaths on each side to balance the nervous system and calm your adrenals.
Relax and Sleep
Sleep is vital to weight loss and a healthy metabolism. Research has shown that when dieters cut back on sleep over a 2 week period, the amount of fat loss dropped by 55%, even though they ate the same amount of calories. Sleep deprivation can cause insulin sensitivity, making the metabolism more sluggish. Not getting enough sleep can also increase sugar and caffeine cravings, so you may be eating more unhealthy foods if you are sleeping less. Getting at least 7 hours a night is essentially for optimum functionality!
If you are having trouble sleeping, doing gentle yoga postures before bed can really help calm the body down and make you stay asleep for longer. You can even do these postures in bed if you are too tired for the mat.
Supta Baddha Konasana – Reclining Bound Angle Pose
This gentle, reclined posture allows your torso to deeply open as you breathe. With the feet together, there is a sense of completeness and wholeness. Practice this meditative posture for 2 minutes before going to bed.
Supta Matsyendrasana – Supine Twist Pose
Supine Twist is a wonderful two sided posture that aids in sleep, digestion, and back pain. Perform this for 2 minutes on each side, and open the arms wide to stretch the chest.
Paschimottanasana – Seated Forward Fold Pose
Paschimottanasana will help relax the muscles of the spine, stretch stiff legs, and pacify an overactive mind. Perform Paschimottanasana for 1 minute before bed to deeply relax and help you sleep.
Savasana – Corpse Pose
Savasana is the king of relaxation. Often performed at the end of yoga classes, this reclined posture with deep mindful breathing is a sure way to relax all muscles and tension throughout the body. Allow your mind to go blank, and remind yourself that you have nothing to do and nowhere to be.
Did any of the problems above apply to you? If so, yoga may be the answer to help you shed those extra pounds. However, some of these issues may indicate more serious health concerns, and you should always consult a physician to make sure that you are caring for yourself in the best possible way.
If you are new to yoga, start with a class once a week and choose something that is at a beginner’s level to ease you into this practice. You will be on your way to a better you in no time!
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Having been a teacher’s assistant at over 50 yoga teacher trainings worldwide, Rebecca Rebecca has a firm grasp on the fine art of yoga and meditation. In her work, she carefully reflects on a vast expanse of knowledge to help others find peace in both body and mind.