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Yoga + Weight Loss: 5 Intentions to Feed Your Success
Any teacher worth his or her salt will tell you that practiced alone, yoga is not the most efficient way to lose weight, although it does contribute to weight loss over time. There are always exceptions, but the truth is that most people don’t maintain a vigorous, aerobic yoga practice. Many of us come to yoga wanting the exact opposite: a gentle practice that slows our heart rate, reduces stress and cultivates peace of mind. However, as beneficial as getting a good stretch and a nice long Savasana can be, it doesn’t do much to shed pounds quickly.
Discouraged? Don’t be! The good news is that yoga is still an excellent tool for weight loss. However, how it helps may be different than you initially thought, often having less to do with how you move and more to do with how you think and feel. Remember that yoga is a mind/body experience—a holistic approach to living right.
After years of teaching, I’ve found that some things are more important than others in helping people reach their goals. I’ve outlined some of these below. Separately they’re important, but together they form a powerful foundation for losing weight and improving your overall health and well-being. Here’s what it takes:
1. Courage - It’s hard for anyone to go to their first public yoga class, but especially for someone who is struggling with body image and confidence issues. All those yoga pants! All those skinny people! All those impossible positions! All this thinking does is set you up for the worst type of failure: never trying.
It takes courage to try something new, but it is possible. Set realistic expectations. Keep your attention focused on what you can do, not what you can’t do yet. Just remember: In reality, most people are a whole lot more worried about how their own bulge is bulging than they are about yours.
2. Collaboration - Most things are easier when you have a friend by your side. Making that first yoga class a reality is no exception. So invite your best friend, your spouse, or your neighbor. They may be struggling with the same issues, or be looking for ways to support you.
In addition, practicing with someone you know—or even simply telling him/her your goals—makes you accountable, and that accountability will most likely lead you to do what you say you’re going to do and keep doing it. Another potential collaborator is your teacher. Let him, or her know what your goals are.
Many teachers are willing to tailor parts of a class to your needs. I have a student who has been coming to class about twice a week for several years, and I know that part of her fitness goal is stronger abdominal muscles. So every time I have her in class, I am sure to add in a little extra core work. It’s just that simple.
3. Community - Though related to the idea of collaboration, community is something bigger. It’s the entire attitude and atmosphere of a place, its “vibe” if you will. Finding the right studio and teacher is as important as finding the right doctor. Philosophies and practices vary widely, and some are simply a better fit than others.
If you keep trying to make the wrong studio work for you, you’ll have the constant feeling of “round hole, square peg.” Most likely, you will eventually leave discouraged and disheartened, feeling worse when you should be feeling better. However, if you make time to find the right studio community, you can leave competition and dis-ease it at the door and look forward to many months or even years of comfortable, confident practice.
4. Consistency - We all know that any significant change requires sustained effort. For weight loss, that effort needs to occur at your target heart rate, usually defined at about 65-75% of your maximum heart rate. Yoga rarely gets into that zone. But that’s okay!
We can instead use yoga as a way to build consistency in our lives. Showing up on our mats is important, but so is showing up for our friends and families, leading by example, being the change we want to see in the world. It is through consistent effort that things we want, including shedding that extra 15 pounds, will start to materialize, but only if we work for them.
5. Correlation - Over time, you will find yourself with a new sensitivity that extends to all aspects of your being: mind, body, and spirit. Many students report beginning to develop better habits naturally—some would say effortlessly—as a result of consistent practice. As you begin to open up to the process of yoga, you’ll find yourself being more present in all that you do, including what and when you eat, how you spend your leisure time, your sleep habits, and more. Your whole perspective on life begins to change, and your body goes right along with it.
Setting realistic goals and knowing what to expect is essential as you make any change in your life. Adding yoga practice to your weight loss plan is no different in that respect. What is different about yoga is that it can not only change your pant size; it also has the potential to change your whole life.
Be patient and willing to work hard for what you want. Use the five tools discussed above—courage, collaboration, community, consistency, and correlation—and witness just how much can change when we are willing to accept progress instead of insisting on perfection.
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The late Kate Lindholm-Sargent’s yoga teaching practice has been predicated on the idea that yoga is for everyone. Part of her mission has been to get people to slow down and be kind to themselves. Kate began practicing yoga in 1998 and began teaching in 2006, opening her first studio in 2012. Kate has studied with Judith Hanson Lasater, Ray Long, Max Strom, Aadil Palkhivala, Francois Raoult, and Paula Tortolano Self, among others. Kate’s expertise includes gentle, beginners, and Restorative yoga. She created a unique blend of mindfulness, conscious breathing exercises, and supported, simple poses for her classes. In 2013/2014, Kate served as a Yoga Ambassador for Lululemon Athletica.