Yoga can be key for weight loss, but not for the reasons you might imagine.
Typically when an overweight person comes to yoga it is with great anxiety and discomfort.
All of those media images of long, slender, twenty-something, sun-kissed white women have done a number on our conception of what it means to be a yogi and practice yoga.
And yet, that media image is often the “inspiration” and the impetus for our decision to sign up for a class or hit play on the yoga video in the first place.
I know, because it was my impetus for years.
“If I could just be more disciplined, practice more, do more, go harder, I would look like that.”
The desire to be slender and strong is what first brings many of us to the mat.
And then “reality” hits.
Anxiety and negative thinking set in.
Throughout the practice thoughts like:
And it is here, with these thoughts running through your head that the growth happens.
You belong on your mat.
You belong on your mat exactly as you are right now.
You belong on your mat in yoga class exactly as you are right now.
Right alongside that thin girl who has been struggling with an eating disorder since she was 11 and has found yoga as a way of releasing her fear of food and losing control.
Right alongside that 25 year old former gymnast who uses yoga as a way to feel better about herself after years of self-loathing and self-assault.
Right alongside that stay-at-home mom of college age kids who is stronger, and calmer, at 52 than she was at 22.
Right along side every person in that room.
Including that ripped dude in the front who can’t stop doing handstands in the middle of the room despite them not being in the teacher’s sequence. (You know who I’m talking about. ;)
Because all they did today is what you did today: decided to get up and go to yoga.
You get to do that, too.
You have a right to your practice.
You have a right to feel in your body what they feel in theirs-- the building of heat to build strength, the lengthening of muscles to soften and release tension and stress, and the connection to something far greater than themselves.
And once you stake your claim, once you make a habit of crossing the threshold of the yoga studio, you will gain the opportunity to transcend the physical preoccupation with your body and begin to learn about your mind and how it is the sole contributor of what your body looks and feels like.
Significant, permanent weight loss happens when we learn why we are overweight in the first place.
And you don’t need yoga to tell you that.
I can tell you that.
You are overweight because you overeat.
You overeat to numb out all those undesirable, uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, sadness, boredom, exhaustion, fear, and stress.
Everytime you feel strong, uncomfortable emotion-- or sometimes not-so-strong, just a whisper of that emotion-- your brain sends signals to distract yourself from that negative emotion with food. Eat a salty snack, find some chocolate, pour a glass of wine.
This is the definition of emotional eating.
And it is a vicious cycle.
Because you will have negative emotions about 50% of the time and therefore are slated to eat a whole lot more than your body needs.
Anytime we eat when we are not hungry we are teaching our body that food is the answer to uncomfortable emotions.
Just like Pavlovian dogs, we condition automatic responses to eat when we are not hungry, resulting in weight gain.
The good news is that you can learn to feel your feelings without overeating.
Yoga and meditation are gateways to that learning.
Yoga teaches us to feel without reacting to that feeling.
Yoga teaches us to stay in that uncomfortable place, in fact to go deeper into that place.
And the result is growth, health, and weight loss.
Working through physical and mental discomfort on the mat is like practicing for a soccer match.
You won’t be in game day shape if you have skipped practice all week.
And what is game day?
Game day he anxiety-ridden evenings after a long day at work when all you want is to gulp down a couple glasses of wine, eat take-out pizza, and finish it off with some really good chocolate-- a lot of it.
Game day is the cookies in the breakroom at 2 PM.
Game day is going to a party during the holidays.
Go practice for game day.
Step onto your mat with the intention of practicing staying with discomfort.
Take an observer’s eye to your mind and see what you learn.
The lesson just may unlock the door to a world of insight that will lead to permanent weight loss once and for all.
Lia Pinelli is a weight loss coach and educator who helps women put an end to emotional overeating and lose weight, permanently.