This article first appeared in mindbodygreen.com and is written by Marcus Julian Felicetti
Yoga as an ancient science has always been about the benefit that it brings to the practitioner. It would only be a dogmatic position that states it is only for spiritual elevation and nothing more. Yoga is a tool that helps the body, mind and spirit. It can be used as needed according to each individual’s requirements. In today’s day and age western society is suffering from an epidemic of obesity. It needs as many healthy long-term approaches to weight loss as possible. The first and most obvious approach that addresses underlying causes is to eat healthy nutrient dense organic foods. Another way is to use the ancient science of yoga. I have seen through my work as a yoga teacher that the two combined will certainly yield amazing results!
Most weight gain is not simply a matter of too many calories taken in for the calories spent. Most weight gain is just symptomatic of serious underlying causes. When each of the eight areas of health listed in this article become out of balance, then these tend to be the major causes weight gain. If the corresponding yoga postures are practiced under the guidance of a good teacher then very quickly the causes can be addressed and the benefits will show. Not only will the excess weight be quickly shed, but health will also be restored.
1. Stimulate the vital force of the liver
The liver has many essential functions. It is an extremely powerful detoxifier and cleanser. It purifies your blood. It processes fats, both good and bad kinds. If the liver is healthy and strong it can dispose of bad fats and put good fats to work for you. It gives you energy by storing the glucose and making coenzyme Q10 that powers your muscles. By doing certain yoga postures you are strengthening the vital force of the liver in profound ways that will bring it to optimum functioning.
The best postures for the liver are mainly backbends:
- Bhujangasana (cobra pose)
- Dhanurasana (bow pose)
- Chakrasana (wheel pose)
- Matsyendrasana (spinal twist)
2. Activate the thyroid gland
The thyroid secretes a hormone that regulates our metabolism. One of the main factors that defines whether we have a high metabolism that burns a lot of fat is whether our thyroid is active or not. Many people who suffer from weight gain have hypothyroidism (“hypo-” meaning low). There are certain postures that help to correct this dysfunction:
- Sarvangasana (shoulder stand)
- Matsyasana (fish pose)
3. Create the right pH balance – Alkalize!
If the body is too acidic (low pH), then the body will attempt to protect itself from the acid by storing fat and using it as a buffer. This is extremely dangerous because the visceral fat (the kind inside the organs and blood vesicles) accumulates within the veins and arteries, narrowing the passage available for the blood and gradually obstructs the activity of the blood vessels. As a result, the heart is forced to overwork just to maintain the blood circulation. If this continues to happen then the heart gets exhausted and a heart attack occurs. This is known as arteriosclerosis. So the pH balance of the body is extremely important. The ideal pH balance is about 7.35. And most people struggling with their weight are too acidic.
Some of the best postures to increase alkalinity are:
- Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
- Janushirasana (head to knee pose)
4. Find the right balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
A lot of overweight people’s bodies are under an immense amount f stress. Their nervous system is under pressure from lifestyle choices.They often sit at a desk out of the healing sun, under neon lighting. They breathe stale, air-conditioned air instead of fresh, clean, oxygen-rich air.
They stare at a computer screen for hours instead of looking at nature. They often feel rushed to meet deadlines and busy schedules. And if the nervous system is under stress then it will set of a chain reaction in the rest of the body. The body needs to be relaxed and soothed. This requires finding the right balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The best yoga postures for this are:
- Savasana (corpse pose)
- Viparita Karani (legs up the wall)
5. Activate the internal heat in the nervous system.
There are many people who think that going to a hot yoga class is the best way to loose weight. That is far from the truth. Ancient yogis never heated their caves or hermitage in the Himalayas to 40 degrees just so they could practice asanas in the morning. They created warmth in the body through generating internal heat by creating nerve tension/length. This is the best way. This automatically makes the body feel warmer. This can be achieved by drawing the chin towards the chest in forward bends, thereby lengthening the femoral nerve and the spinal nerves. This heat burns up and purifies visceral (deep) fat and subcutaneous (superficial) fat. The best postures for this are:
- Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
- Anjaneyasana (lunge)
In both postures, the head must draw downward actively.
6. Move the body with strength.
Any yoga position that requires you to be active, either as you shorten or lengthen the muscles, will help with weight loss. This is because muscles are active tissue that consume fat as fuel. If you build strong muscles they will be eating your fat stores even when you are resting. That is why strength work is very good for weight loss.
Arm balancing postures are great for this. Even basic arm balancing poses are great because they often engage every muscle, not just the arms or shoulders, but also the abdominals and legs.
- Some great postures for this are:
- Bakasana (crane)
- Pincha Mayurasana (feathered peacock)
- Tolasana (scale pose)
- Chaturanga (plank)
7. Get your heart rate up.
Many people think that getting the heart rate up through jogging is a good way to lose weight. Research shows that this is a misconception, and it is not a good way to lose weight at all. It can make a stressed nervous system even more exhausted, and lead to adrenal fatigue. What is much better for weight loss is getting the heart rate up for a very short burst and then dropping it right down, then getting it up and then dropping it down. This can certainly be achieved by an intelligent yoga practice.
Starting in a standing position at the front of your mat, do two slow rounds of Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) and then come back to standing and connect with your heart with palms together and eyes closed for a moment. Then repeat it again, perhaps this time making the pace a little faster. Continue a few rounds like this and you will have your heart rate at an optimum level; without the tiring and jarring effects your body gets from jogging.
8. Cleansing the colon
Many people have food matter blocked up in their colon. This makes them bloated. Severe bloating can appear as obesity. Eventually if left untreated it can poison the blood and leads to disease.
There is a saying that, ‘disease begins in the gut.’ There is certainly some truth to that. Some people who consume a lot of meat or already struggle with a constipated colon should certainly not do any inversions for this reason, because the putrefied blood will rush to the higher organs and it will disturb the mind. Colonic irrigation may be beneficial in those cases. Drinking water free of chemicals like sodium fluoride and chlorine is essential because water will help flush the waste away, but the chemicals dumped into most western public water supplies will kill off good intestinal flora, and therefore should be avoided. Purchasing a good water filter is an excellent idea.
There are many yoga postures, mudras, and bandhas that cleanse the colon. Many are for the advanced practitioner. Some basic ones are:
- Utks’epa Mudra (bellow’s pose) to be done first thing in the morning upon waking
- Agnisara Mudra (fire pose)
Some advanced ones are:
- Mayurasana (peacock pose)
- Nauli kriya
All the suggested postures should only be practiced on an empty stomach. They should be used under the guidance of a good yoga teacher. If they are used daily, correctly and consistently, in combination with good food habits, then balance will return to the body and mind and the health of the practitioner will be restored quickly.
Marcus became a yoga teacher soon after discovering yoga at University. His classes are fun, passionate and often intense. They offer students the chance to go deep within and connect with their breath and release their emotions.