Type ‘yoga for weight loss’ into your search bar and what will you find? Pages upon pages of research-based studies suggesting that yoga can help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight. The majority of this research focuses on the benefits of the physical practice. While some studies show how reducing stress through yoga and mindfulness affects eating behaviours. All good stuff!
But, what about the Yamas and Niyamas?
I hear you say!
The Yamas and Niyamas are the first steps in the definitive yoga guide, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Essentially, the Yamas and Niyamas are a set of ten social and personal guidelines. Historically, an aspiring yogi must master these areas of life before even setting foot on a yoga mat.
The basis of yoga philosophy, the Yamas and Niyamas ask us to reflect on our actions in all areas of life. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali encourages us to apply them towards ourselves, our relationships and the wider world.
What if adopting just ONE of these Yamas could help us to be healthier and happier? Is that even possible? Well, I think it is!
You’ve got to be kind to be kind
So, the first Yama is ahimsa which literally means ‘not harming’ but let’s translate it here as ‘kindness’.
I honestly believe that if kindness were the only ‘rule’ that we lived by, we would live in a happier, more peaceful world. Wouldn’t that be nice?
And, how does ahimsa affect weight loss and body image?
Well, being kind towards ourselves means we are more likely to make choices that support our physical well-being. Kindness means taking care of our bodies compassionately with the food we eat and how we move. It promotes a sense of genuinely wanting to do what is best for ourselves.
By embracing the concept of ahimsa, you will find you naturally choose foods that nourish the body. You will consciously aim to be kind to yourself in every aspect. Certainly, this has been true for me. But don’t just take my word for it!
A study published in 2015 showed that subjects who regularly practised yoga chose foods with a lower fat content. At the same time, they also increased their consumption of vegetables and whole grains.
What a happy side effect of a yoga practice!
Eaten up with guilt?
When being kind to yourself becomes second nature, you might find yourself becoming less emotional when it comes to food. Self-compassion means letting go of the feelings of guilt and shame that can be attached to so-called ‘unhealthy’ food choices. On the odd occasion that you opt for a burger & fries, you won’t berate yourself for it. Instead, ahimsa and it’s non-harming foundation gives us permission to be kind towards ourselves and simply enjoy our food. Imagine that!
Physiologically-speaking, this has a massive knock-on effect on the body and the nervous system. When negative emotions arise in association with food our bodies produce the stress hormone, cortisol. Consequently, this sends the nervous system into a fight or flight state inhibiting effective digestion and take-up of nutrients. Furthermore, cortisol actually causes the body to store fat in case of an emergency.
Moreover, being kind to ourselves and learning to be happy with all of our food choices has the opposite effect. It allows the nervous system to self-regulate. This means that essential functions of digestion, repairing cells and building muscle can take place.
Will you be so kind…?
The savvy amongst you will have noticed that we have failed to mention the other nine Yamas and Niyamas in our exploration of yoga and weight loss. Well, let’s save them for another day since ahimsa alone has given us more than enough to digest (pun intended!)
Finally, I would like to challenge you to be kind to yourself. Believe me, it is easier said than done in a society where we are constantly told that we are not good enough.
Remind yourself every day of how amazing you really are! Remember that your body is capable of incredible things – moving, stretching, lifting, running and so much more! For many of us, this is a challenge – I know. But, whatever your relationship with your body, start by being kind to yourself. Who knows, one day you might end up loving yourself.
PS Try this free Yin yoga class on YouTube to practise self-acceptance and kindness towards your body and mind. Alternatively, follow the extended version in the on-demand library at Happy Yoga Wales.