Yoga practice helps middle-aged people lose weight and keep it off, suggest new studies published in the online journal Alternative Therapies In Health and Medicine.
Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center surveyed 15,500 men and women to assess their weight and yoga histories between the ages of 45 and 55.
For purposes of the study, regular yoga practice was defined as practicing at least 30 minutes once a week for four or more years.
Statistics showed that the subjects who were of normal weight at the age of 45 and did not practice yoga consistently gained about 10 pounds, while those who performed regular yoga routines lost 3 pounds during that same 10-year period — a difference of 13 pounds.
There was a wider gap between people who were overweight at the age of 45. The non-yoga group gained about 14 pounds, while the yoga group lost 5 pounds — a difference of almost 20 pounds.
It is not likely that yoga’s fat-fighting potential is due to the physical activity itself, according to the study’s lead author, Alan R. Kristal, DrPH.
“During a very vigorous yoga practice you can burn enough calories to lose weight, but most people don’t practice that kind of yoga,” he notes.
Body Awareness a Factor
“From my experience, I think it has to do with the way that yoga makes you more aware of your body. So when you’ve eaten enough food, you’re sensitive to the feeling of being full, and this makes it much easier to stop eating before you’ve eaten too much,” Kristal explains.
“Most people practice yoga in a way that’s not aerobic enough to burn a lot of calories, so it has to be some other reason,” adds study co-author Denise Benitez, owner of Seattle Yoga Arts.
“People who regularly practice yoga develop the inner resources to stay with a bit of discomfort,” she says, hypothesizing that those inner resources help people to stay with the discomfort that is caused when they deny themselves junk food.
In order to accurately measure the effects of yoga on weight maintenance and loss, these preliminary findings will need to be replicated, Kristal cautions.
The following tips for enhancing one’s yoga practice, offers Benitez, may be particularly helpful for those who wish to maintain or lose weight:
1. Practice in a room without mirrors and pay more attention to your internal experience than to your outer performance.
2. Learn to feel sensations more and more subtly, so that you become deeply involved in and curious about small movements — sometimes called micro-movements.
3. In your poses, find an edge for yourself where you are challenged but not overwhelmed. At this edge, practice maintaining a clear, open and accepting mental state.
4. Give yourself permission to rest when you feel overworked.
5. Pay close attention to what you are saying to yourself as you practice, and make an intentional effort to appreciate your own efforts and innate goodness.
6. Go to class faithfully, arrive early, and talk to a few people before class begins.
7. Buy your own yoga mat and bring it to class.
8. Realize that the development of qualities like patience, discipline, wisdom, right effort, kindness, gratitude and many others will arise from your yoga practice. These qualities create a steady and soft mind.
9. Find a teacher who offers a balance of gentleness and firmness and whose teaching inspires you to practice from your highest self.
10. Recognize that simply attending class is a major statement of courage, self-care, and positive momentum. Realize that you are inspiring others as you become more true to your deepest desires.