Jessica Nelson had been a Division 1 college athlete made up almost entirely of tightly coiled muscle and practically zero body fat. After completing her college volleyball career and starting work full time, she lost much of that muscle and began to gain weight. After going up two pant sizes, Jessica started practicing yoga interspersed with various running or weight lifting activities. She toned up a bit, but her clothes were still too tight. “I was a little frustrated,” she admits. “Of course, my body is not going to look like it did in college, and I wouldn’t want it to. But I had thought that the activity I was doing would help me to lose weight.”
Then someone invited her to a newly opened Bikram Yoga studio. Their 90-minute sessions didn’t leave Jessica much time to do any other activity after she got off work, so she started going four to five times a week. “Although I had been doing hour-long yoga sessions a couple times a week before, the Bikram yoga was a lot different. The length of the sessions kept my muscles fatigued, and I felt so relaxed and aware of myself after each one.” Jessica was still building muscle, but she no longer went to yoga on purpose to lose weight. “I decided to give myself a break and go simply to enjoy the activity. However, as I went each day to detox and de-stress, I started to choose healthier meals and almost entirely gave up fast food. I hesitate to say the yoga made me healthier, but is it really a coincidence?”
Researchers say it’s not. A direct correlation exists, according to a study performed by Alan Kristal,1 between yoga practice and weight loss. Doctors think this has less to do with the actual practice of yoga causing weight loss and more to do with practitioners choosing healthier lifestyles because of yoga helping them get in tune with their bodies. Yes, yoga helps build, tone, and elongate muscles, but no, it is not an aerobic exercise.
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“I’m not really sure how,” Jessica states about her own yoga practice, “but in my third month of going to yoga consistently, I just seemed to all of a sudden lose ten pounds.” She’s sipping water flavoured with lemon as she talks, a chicken breast topped with asparagus cooling on her plate. “It was like the muscle I had gained coupled with 90 minutes of yoga activity daily created an all-around healthier me! And my clothes fit again!”
So how effective is yoga for weight loss? It’s probably not as effective as running three miles a day at a good clip. However, a yoga practitioner won’t have the aches, pains, and muscle tightness associated with such a high-impact exercise. And yoga probably isn’t as effective as cutting all carbohydrates and sugar from one’s diet. But then again, yoga is meant to encourage a life style change that is neither extreme nor painfully difficult to stick to. The mere practice of yoga can eliminate a lot of the unhealthy chemicals people ingest daily, while the relaxed feeling practitioners leave with have them coming back for more. As Jessica sums up, “I used to have a sugar addiction. Now, I have a yoga one.”
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