Yoga for Weight Loss? The Latest

Several blogs
recently cued the yoga blogosphere’s perennial debate: yoga for weight loss.
Yet while a vocal minority of yoga practitioners do lose weight, does this
represent everyone’s experience? Is weight loss even desirable for some
overweight individuals (here, we use overweight to also refer to obesity)? And
is yoga actually effective in fostering weight management? In this two-part
series we clarify some routinely-cited myths.

To begin, one of the easiest human pitfalls is to assume
that one’s own experience is reflective of everyone else’s. It’s therefore
tempting to assume that because you lost 10 or 100 pounds practicing yoga, this
extrapolates to everyone’s experience. When this occurs and a person fails to
behave in a way that doesn’t align with your self-concept, judgment arises.
This is a slippery slope that can lack a fundamental tenet of contemplative
traditions: compassion.

Thus, a
yogini that loses 60 pounds blogs about how being overweight must indicate that
1) something is out of balance in your life, 2) your body is high in toxicity, or
3) you most likely have an issue with emotional eating.
Lost in this
well-intentioned manifesto is the reality that while many who experience
overweight do emotionally eat and struggle to find balance, others
are metabolically balanced and healthy
, or suffer from medical conditions, such as underactive
thyroid
. In Ayurveda, many kapha (earth-water) body types would be
considered to have overweight body mass index (BMI), despite being naturally
larger-boned and framed.

Furthermore, repeated research has failed
to find consistent linkages between psychological factors and overweight
,
although popular misconception conflates being overweight with mental or
emotional deficits. Also, the claim that excess body weight is inherently
related to toxicity is not supported by current evidence. While obesity has
been linked to
inflammatory biomarkers at the population level
, this is not true for all
individuals
(for example, a larger-boned kapha body type who may be
technically classed as overweight/obese but in perfect health).

After decades
of failed treatments
, for healthy overweight patients some
experts
now recommend eating a healthy diet and engaging in enjoyed
physical activities rather than losing weight, given the characteristic
cycle of regain following reductions in body weight
. Nonetheless, a minority does
manage to lose weight and keep it off.
But for every highly-publicized yoga
weight loss success story, there are more overweight yoga practitioners who experience significant improvements
in health and well-being, yet don’t wish to lose weight and/or experience
minimal weight loss following long-term practice.

This may be why blogs on yoga for weight loss are a trigger
point for many. Such pieces reflect a tendency in the broader US culture to
whitewash the multi-factorial origins of overweight/obesity, over-simplistically
attributing body weight to factors within the individual’s control when
scientific research has clearly established that more frequently, origins are
far more complex and treatment requires greater nuance.

What are your thoughts on weight loss among yoga
practitioners?

Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a two-part series.
Next: What research suggests about yoga and
weight loss

Comments 1

  1. I imagine that finding a way to connect your mind body and spirit in a positive way does result in healthier habits and a better overall sense of well-being. For some this could include weight loss, but I think that is a side bar issue to the real benefits of a consistent yoga practice…..

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