- Yoga can be a fantastic way to achieve and maintain the body you want
- Scientific research has been showing links between weight loss and yoga
- More vigorous styles of yoga include Ashtanga and Bikram
- Here we have given you a 10 step guide to modern yoga
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Most people imagine that yoga is something gentle and mindful, not a form of exercise that will help shed excess pounds. But it’s also a fantastic way to get, and keep, the body you want. There’s not just the anecdotal evidence of many yoga devotees who say it helps them stay trim and toned. Scientific research is increasingly backing up the link between yoga and weight loss. Researchers in one U.S. study, for example, followed more than 15,000 healthy men and women aged between 53 and 57. Those who started out overweight but did at least one session of yoga a week lost about 5lb over ten years, while those who didn’t gained almost a stone.
In another study, a group of heart patients with narrowed coronary arteries were put on a low-fat vegetarian diet and told to practise yoga regularly. They recorded almost 24lb of weight loss over the first year, and five years later had maintained more than half of that original loss, as well as reversing the heart disease. The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, which recently reviewed several studies of yoga and weight loss, also concluded that yoga is a successful slimming tool, not only burning calories and enabling people to improve their performance in other sports, but making them more mindful of their bodies, which in turn may lead them to eat better. All this week, in a brilliant new series, the Mail is focusing on yoga and its many benefits for old and young, fit and unfit. We are showing how you can incorporate simple yoga routines into your daily life in the comfort of your home. The beauty of yoga is that it can be adapted to virtually anyone’s needs — so no matter what your age, shape or fitness level, you’ll be able to take part.
So how can it help you to lose weight?
For a start, there are several styles of yoga that are highly vigorous. If you want to join a class specifically with the aim of burning calories, look for Ashtanga yoga classes — a series of fast-paced postures — or Bikram yoga, a sequence of 26 postures performed in a room heated to around 40c (104f). As a bonus, many people I know who do yoga find themselves craving fruit, vegetables and grains, rather than hamburgers and chips. All that stretching, bending and focusing on the body seems to kill the appetite, leaving a desire to eat healthily.
As someone whose first waking thought is often ‘What’s for lunch?’ I can testify that if I do my yoga practice in the morning, lunch no longer seems quite so urgent. Yoga can give you the skills you need to maintain weight loss. Make it a regular fixture in your life, persist with the breathing exercises and postures, and you will be less depressed, less stressed and more aware of the reasons you may be overeating, which in turn will enable you to break unhealthy habits. You’ll also become more toned and far more flexible. Finally, practising yoga will do something even more important — it will help improve your self-image and make you happier.
10 steps to a trim tum
This classic flowing sequence of postures is at the heart of modern Yoga Pose and can be a complete practice in itself or a preparation for a longer routine. Traditionally performed in the morning to greet the new day, it forms the backbone of most types of yoga and employs various forward and backward bending poses that flex the spinal column, giving a profound, energising stretch to the whole body. Because it is an energetic sequence that tones every muscle group in the body, it’s great for burning calories, building strength and stamina, improving circulation and detoxifying your internal organs through enhanced oxygenation.
It has a deeply relaxing and rejuvenating effect, too. In other words, this is a full body workout like no other, which explains its popularity. I would recommend doing this sequence at least five times a day if weight is an issue. But even if you only do two sequences a day, you’re doing your figure a massive favour. There are small variations in the way yogis do this sequence, but the most important thing is the synchronisation of the motion of your breath with the movement of your body. Basically, all upward movements are coupled with inhalation, and downward movements with exhalation.
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1. MOUNTAIN POSE
Start in Mountain pose: stand up tall, feet together or a little apart, arms at your sides. Place your palms together in a prayer position, roll your shoulders back and down and lift your chest.
Inhale through your nose and extend your arms above and behind your head.
3. SWAN DIVE
Swan dive into a standing forward bend, exhaling through your nose and placing your hands on your legs as close to your feet as you can. Bend your knees a little if your hamstrings are tight, to protect your back.
4. HALF STANDING FORWARD BEND
Inhale and lengthen your spine forward into a Half Standing Forward Bend, with your fingertips on the floor and gaze focused ahead.
5. PLANK POSE
Exhale and step, or lightly hop, your feet behind you to get into a Plank pose, arms straight underneath your shoulders and legs straight behind you. Your back should be flat and your core engaged. Hold for a second, then, in a snake-like movement, lower yourself towards the floor. Then lower your chest and chin to the floor, keeping your elbows close to the sides of your ribcage, and flatten your feet to the floor.
6. COBRA POSE
Inhale as you push down with your arms and raise your head, shoulders and upper body as far as you can without straining. This is the Cobra pose. Look upwards, roll shoulders back and down and keep elbows in. Firm up your kneecaps and thighs to prevent them lifting off the mat.
7. DOWNWARD FACING DOG
Exhale into Downward Facing Dog; walk hands forward and slightly farther apart than shoulder width, and spread fingers wide for stability. Then curl toes under and press your hips upwards so your body is in the shape of a triangle, with your bottom as the apex. Make sure your neck and shoulders are released and relaxed. If your hamstrings are tight, keep your knees slightly bent. Take five deep breaths.
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8. FORWARD BEND
Inhale, step forward one foot and then the other between the hands, looking ahead. Then exhale into a forward bend.
Inhale and come up, arms above and behind head.
10. STANDING POSE
Lower arms into original standing pose.