An Emotional and Spiritual Approach to Weight Loss
“Diets don’t work, but diets from negative thinking do.” -Louise Hay
“If you heal the soul, the body will automatically be healed.” -Paramahansa Yogananda
I worked in the weight management and fitness industry for 6 years as an Exercise Physiologist and a Personal Trainer, prior to becoming a yoga studio owner and teacher. Surprisingly, I have seen more people lose weight practicing yoga than I did when I was working in the fitness field. Over the years I have often asked myself the question, “Why does yoga help people lose weight more than any other form of exercise I have witnessed?” After teaching yoga for eighteen years, I finally feel I know some of the answers.
Weight loss is traditionally approached as a physical “issue” and tends to be addressed by only focusing on physical means, diet and exercise education, without attention to the individual’s emotional and spiritual needs. Diet and exercise are valuable information of course, but they do not get to the ROOT issue of why a person is overeating. I believe weight loss is an emotional and spiritual issue and needs to be approached with emotional and spiritual means. Otherwise, it is like putting a square key (diet and exercise education) into a round hole (emotional and spiritual void). The two just don’t fit together, at least not for long term permanent weight loss.
Yoga is an exercise that stimulates and fulfills people mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically. When individuals are feeling fulfilled on ALL these levels, it increases their sense of self worth, so they have less need to overeat or abuse their bodies as they might have in the past. Weight loss begins to occur naturally due to an increase in self-esteem and self love that is cultivated on the yoga mat and especially during the silence in savasana and meditation.
The definition of yoga, according to Patanjali’s yoga sutras states: “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” Yoga uses postures (asanas), ujjayi breath (pranayama), and a gazing point (dristi) to train the mind to be still, so union (yoga) can occur between the mind, body and spirit and the union between you and your God. Notice how Patanjali doesn’t say, “He who does a handstand best wins!” Yoga is really a mental discipline first, because it is all about quieting the MIND so that you can learn to concentrate in the present moment, on and off your mat, without dwelling on the past or fearing the future. The Course in Miracles states, “We have undisciplined lives because we have undisciplined minds.” Yoga and meditation train your mind how to concentrate so you can bring discipline into your mind and into all areas of your life, especially your health.
I believe weight loss begins by ceasing the chatter in the mind as well, especially the negative self talk that was developed as a self loathing habit over the years, usually stemming in early child hood. Be very aware that your thought patterns (consciousness) aren’t just in your mind, they are permeating every cell in your body. However, YOU have the power to change them through continuous effort and awareness to create new, positive, self affirming thought patterns, it just takes repeated practice, like yoga. Think of your mind as a cassette player and eject the old negative self talk tape and replace it with a new positive one with positive thoughts about yourself and your life. In Louise Hay’s simple, yet brilliant book, “You Can Heal Your Life”, she suggests saying, “I love and accept myself exactly as I AM,” 100 times a day, especially while looking at yourself in the mirror with your finger on your throat chakra, which is the seed for transformation. In addition she suggests affirming, “I AM the perfect weight,” for weight loss. The words, “I AM”, represent the divine within you, your Higher Self, so be very aware that you are not using these words in a negative context such as, “I AM fat”, “I Am stupid”, and “I AM lazy.” Be careful not defame your “I AM”, because your body and life are listening, so chose your thoughts and words wisely. Your body follows your mind, not the other way around, so keep loving yourself lean to achieve your goal weight. I can’t even begin to tell you the power of saying affirmations with conviction, they truly can produce miracles in your life, sometimes even instantaneously! Say them in the shower, while your getting ready for work, while walking outside in nature, in your car or right before you fall asleep.
What makes yoga a spiritual practice is the breathing, otherwise it would just be physical exercise. The breath is the bridge or link between the body, mind, Spirit union. Every time you INHALE with awareness, you are drawing in higher states of consciousness thru the prana (universal life force), helping you to cultivate your Higher Self into being more prevalent in your life. Your Higher Self is the part of you that wants the very best for you and knows without a shadow of a doubt that you are divine, perfect, whole and complete, just as you are in this moment. This is yoga’s greatest gift, Divine love, which is non-judgmental and unconditional. Yoga helps to teach you to love and knows yourself as God loves and knows you. In turn, when you EXHALE with awareness, you are being liberated from tension in the the body and fear based (ego) thoughts patterns, past experiences and behaviors that are no longer serving your highest good, such as addictions.
So the metaphor for yogic breathing can be summed up as follows: Inhale – drawing in new life force, healthy habits, new life experiences, new career opportunities, new relationships, improved self-esteem, a deeper connection to Spirit and the courage to live out your heart’s desires. Exhale- releasing and WILLING to let go of the following: fear, negative self talk, draining relationship, careers without passion and purpose, stress, unhealthy habits and addictions such as, overeating, not eating enough, drinking alcohol, obsessive exercise, compulsive shopping, smoking and drugs, just to name a few. There is a saying in yoga that states:”Your bad habits will lose you.” I have experienced this personally and have witnessed it in many of my students as well. More Divine love equals less bad habits.
Every time you walk out of a yoga class you are a different person than you were before you started the class, because a shift of consciousness has occurred in the mind. The body has also been infused with prana, changing you on a cellular level. In just 1-2 hours, a powerful rebirthing of sorts has taken place on your mat, leaving you feeling joyful, calm, content, connected with God and more clear about your purpose on the planet. Think of yourself as a chrysalis in a cocoon going thru the powerful process of metamorphosis, waiting to emerge and embrace the person you born to be. Yoga can help you facilitate this transformative process by helping you to shed the layers of your being and your life that are no longer serving your highest good.
Anais Nin said it best: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk to bloom.”
I wish you much success in your new lifestyle changes. It’s time to bloom!
Love and light,
Exercise Physiologist M.S.