Yoga For Weight Loss...Or Not

Rachel Mack
Yoga For Weight Loss...Or Not

This week two young men came to my yoga class. They were total newbies but they were game for everything I threw at them. They settled strongly into their first-ever utkatasanas, and when we transitioned into a prayer twist, they were able to twist with almost perfect alignment. I couldn't resist adjusting the placement of their upper arms on their legs and helping them use the resistance to twist deeper. That's not an easy pose for a beginner. I had to take a moment to admire, and if I'm honest, be a little envious. I can't get my arm firmly outside my thigh in that twist, so I can't use it to get the deep rotation my newbies were enjoying.

In the early years of my yoga practice, it would have been a great motivator to see those two guys in their deep twists. I would have thought, "All in good time. When I lose the weight I'll be able to do that too." When I started yoga, I was looking for exercise I enjoyed that would help me lose weight. After two years of settling into bad habits, I'd gained a lot of weight without really noticing. I decided to get myself "on track" so I didn't end up diabetic or worse.

I did lose weight (from yoga and lap swimming and changing my eating habits) but the best thing that came from my yoga practice was body awareness. I checked in with the scale every so often, but eventually, even as I noticed that my clothes were fitting looser, I put on a bunch of badass muscle and the number on the scale seemed to be the same no matter what. It bothered me, and I could have redoubled my efforts to lose weight (fewer calories! take up running!), but the body awareness I'd gained from my yoga practice led to a shift in priorities. Because of my yoga practice, I can feel small changes and fluctuations in my body, and I know what to do if I start feeling bad. I don't need a nutritionist or a scale to tell me if I'm making good choices. I notice.

Even better, this body awareness led me to appreciation for my body. After all the abuse that I put it through, it keeps carrying me through life. It is something to be grateful for, not ashamed of, frustrated by, or starved in the name of future perfection.

I am not on any strict diet (I eat vegan but I still enjoy an occasional treat) or exercise regimen, and there are definitely times when I get lazy. Sometimes I wake up feeling a little lighter, and other times I don't. But I am in much better health than I was when I started yoga, and that was my goal. My blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels are healthy (and much better than quite a few skinny people I know). I don't envision a thinner future self, and I don't punish my body for being what it is. I live in the moment and do what I can with the body I have. It feels good to do yoga for yoga's sake. If weight loss happens, great. If not, that's okay too.