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And in a day and age when many of us are looking to see smaller numbers on our scales, it comes as no surprise that people are turning to the ancient discipline to help battle the bulge. But can yoga actually help you lose weight?
"There's always a bit of a hesitation for anyone to broach the subject, because losing weight isn't exactly what yoga is all about. That said, there's a huge transformative aspect to yoga," explains Natalya Grod, a Toronto-based yoga and Pilates instructor who has nearly a decade of teaching experience. "With other forms of exercise, weight loss can be a very harsh and judgmental process, whereas yoga provides a more positive and welcoming environment for it."
The benefits of yoga
The hallmarks of any yoga practice are controlled breathing, meditation and a wide range of body postures performed in a quiet, non-judgmental, non-competitive setting -- which is a marked departure from the loud, often-intimidating scene at your local gym. And with the wide range of yoga styles, from the slow and purposeful postures of hatha yoga to the fast-paced flow of ashtanga yoga, there's something in it for everyone.
Making a commitment to practising yoga regularly will result in the obvious benefits of burning calories, improving your flexibility and meeting the Public Health Agency of Canada's recommended physical activity guidelines, but you'll also reap some surprising rewards that might help tip the scale in your favour.
"You don't have to do ashtanga or a particularly challenging type of yoga," says Grod. "I've seen dramatic changes to the way students look and feel just by having a consistent practice."
4 benefits of practising yoga on a regular basis
1. It reduces stress
Yoga has proven to be an effective method of treating anxiety and lowering stress, which has a huge impact on your ability to shed pounds.
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"If your cortisol levels are through the roof because you're stressed, it doesn't matter how much you deprive yourself of food, you're still not going to lose weight," says Grod.
And for those of us who turn to food in times of stress -- whether consciously or not -- frequent practise will help reduce the consumption of those extra calories.
2. It builds muscle
Many people instinctively turn to cardio-based exercise when they are trying to lose weight because it burns more calories in a shorter period of time than resistance training.
However, building muscle mass through strength-based activities like yoga is just as beneficial because, in the end, muscle burns more calories than fat.
Through continual practise, your muscles will also begin to lengthen and get toned, leaving you looking slim and trim. The physical strength and fitness you acquire through practising yoga might also encourage you to pursue other forms of exercise.
3. It teaches discipline
A few months into practising yoga you may notice that the mental aspects of yoga -- focus, restraint, clarity and calm -- come to define your day-to-day mental state, and not just when you're in the yoga studio. That same sense of discipline and mindfulness is essential to successful weight loss, especially when it comes to your eating habits.
As your mind and body become more in tune with one another, you might even notice a lack of interest in unhealthy foods.
4. It encourages sound sleep
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation affects your production of leptin, a hormone that tells your brain when you do or do not need food and slows your metabolism accordingly, putting you on the fast track to obesity. The meditative qualities of yoga help create a quieter mind, which lays the foundation for a good night's rest. Try a few restorative poses before climbing into bed to achieve an extra-restful slumber.
To reap both the mental and physical benefits of yoga, Grod recommends practising as often as possible, even daily. Yoga can also be used to complement more strenuous forms of exercise, such as running or cycling, to help keep your muscles long and lean and to provide relaxation for your body.
As with any form of exercise, in order for yoga to be a successful weight-loss tool it's most important that you enjoy it in order to stay committed to it.
"There's a philosophy in North America that you really have to punish yourself to have a healthy body or to lose weight, but that's not necessarily the case," says Grod. "People lose weight practising yoga because they actually like doing it. When there's a desire to actually do the physical activity, it becomes more engrained and entrenched in the fabric of their lives."
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