How to Lose Weight with Yoga

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March 31, 2009

Learn how you can lose weight fast with yoga

 Yoga Fat Burn: Woman Looking in Mirror
A month ago I was exercising rarely and had packed 5 extra pounds on my thighs and backside to prove it. My favorite blue jeans were banished to the back of a drawer, and I was fidgeting in bed every night. I was exhausted but too wired to sleep. It was awful. But I’d be lying if I said it was unusual. As a freelance writer, part-time editor, and live-in girlfriend to a night-owl musician, I work crazy hours and go out as often as I can. Sure, I’d go on mini health kicks for a week here and there. Then I’d get bored and return to pulling all-nighters and gorging on nachos. In a way, I was the worst person to test yoga for its weight-loss potential. But, in another, I was the best. Most people fall off the exercise wagon as quickly and as often as I do. If I could make yoga stick and slim down, it would bode well for yo-yo dieters everywhere. It would also be pretty surprising, considering that yoga is far better known for promoting relaxation than burning fat.

As a sporadic fitness fan, I’d taken yoga classes at gyms and studios around New York, and had even done Bikram one or two times a week for almost a month last summer (until a beer-soaked trip to Europe broke my momentum). My objective was to find a way to do yoga no less than four times a week and see if that alone—I planned to eat the same as always, no dieting—would melt away my excess flab. It took a hefty amount of trial and error to find a routine that fit my unpredictable life. But by the end of Week 3, I was shocked to discover that yoga was starting to become a part of who I was—and that the number on the scale was steadily dropping.

Week 1: No Way Om
Since I had fond, if fuzzy, memories of hot yoga, I slotted it in for two of my four weekly workouts. Only now I lived 30 blocks from the nearest Bikram studio and, on most days of the week, work would make my only option an 8 PM class. Not ideal, but worth a try.

That first Monday I was working at home and struggling to meet a monster deadline. When 7:30 rolled around, I struggled to shift gears. Yoga. Yoga. What did I need for yoga? It was 7:58 when I rolled in, and the place was packed with a crowd that was as unrealistically fit and attractive as the cast of Lost. I shimmied through the swarm of bodies in the locker room, changed hunched over in a corner, and had to ask two chatting Evangeline Lily look-alikes to make room for my mat on the floor. Apparently Bikram had become way more popular since the last time I tried it.

I did my best to focus as I followed the teacher through the 26 postures over the course of 90 sweltering minutes (the room was heated to a suffocating 105 degrees). After class I was so dizzy I had to stand next to my bike for a while, just breathing the cool night air, before I felt steady enough to ride. When I got home, it was 10 p.m., and I still had to shower. My boyfriend and dog shot me accusatory looks from the couch as I headed to bed completely exhausted—only one night into my weight-loss experiment, and I was already neglecting my family.

The two slow-moving hatha classes I took that week were a walk in the park. There’s a low-key studio right around the corner from our condo and the classes were blissfully small though still time-consuming at 75 minutes. Another downside: They were a little too easy. The stretching felt wonderful and my muscles were getting a mild workout from all those warrior Is, IIs, and IIIs, but it seemed like a shame to exercise for that long yet burn so few calories.

By Friday I had somehow managed to drop a pound and was already sleeping better and feeling less tense. My outlook, on the other hand, was crappy. There was no way I had the time or money to keep this up. Four classes had added up to $64, and I hadn’t run a single errand or seen a friend all week. If I wanted to meet my goal of becoming a size 4 yogi, I was going to need a Plan B.

Week 2: Choosing My Gurus
The first step seemed obvious—cut out commute time and per-class charges by doing yoga at home, which meant getting some DVDs. I drove around borrowing titles from friends and by Monday night had a decent-size stack. Then I discovered the trouble with trying to exercise within 2 feet of your couch. Immediately after popping in the first DVD, I sat down and propped my feet up on the ottoman.

I watched a few minutes of two DVDs by big-name gurus, but it wasn’t until I put in the third, Yoga Shakti with Shiva Rea, that I stood up and rolled out my mat. I loved the fact that she had a real, strong-looking body, and the beach scenery was gorgeous. It had been another rough workday for me and the quiet, edge-of-the-world atmosphere was just what I needed. I finished the 30-minute basic workout and 15 minutes of “solar flow” before the phone rang. Two seconds later I was back on the couch, talking about yoga instead of doing it, but I had put in a solid 45 minutes. That night I stayed up until 1 AM working, but wasn’t overly stressed. As a result, I didn’t feel my usual compulsion to munch on Cheetos as I typed.

The next 2 days were a total bust. Work got crazy on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I decided a little QT with my boyfriend was more crucial than being thin. Finally, on Thursday I cracked open a DVD set that I’d ordered online, something called the Budokon Weight Loss System. I ended up loving the 50-minute workout. It started with some easy-to-moderate yoga, progressed into high-energy punching and kicking (I think I actually let out a “hee-ya!” at one point), and then finished with a short meditation.

Saturday afternoon, after forgoing yoga for paninis and mojitos the night before, I tried the last DVD in my triumvirate: Progressive Power Yoga with Mark Blanchard. Never mind that everyone on it is dressed in the same color, which makes them look like cult members. The yoga is intense. I could feel my butt getting smaller. So why wasn’t I any lighter the next day? Probably because I’d fit in only one intense and one semi-intense workout all week—and I’d eaten and drank even more than usual. But I was starting to feel more in tune with my body.

Weeks 3 & 4: Getting into a Groove
Now that I had a great mix of DVDs, the problem was getting myself to do them on a regular basis. It’s more my style just to work out when the urge strikes me, but I could see that there was no way that was going to cut it. The only way to be consistent, I was starting to accept, is to put life on hold for an hour and do the damn yoga.

To create structure while still giving myself some options, I got on the computer and whipped up my own customized weekly class schedule. It still felt like a bit of a chore, but my homemade schedule made things a lot easier. When I “missed” my 7:30 PM class on Monday, I made sure to do a 45-minute Yoga Shakti workout. By now my DVDs and yoga mat were a permanent fixture next to the TV, and I was keeping a pair of yoga pants and a tank top hanging on an easy-to-reach hook in my closet. And because I now had these yoga appointments to work around, I was able to make plans—I could watch a movie at 9 PM, or go to early dinners, and still fit in some yoga. That week I felt more energized and well-rested than I’d been in a long time. I also felt the desire to eat better. What was the point of doing all this great yoga if I was going to feed my body so much crap?

That week I dropped 2 pounds, and I’m convinced it had more to do with how well I was sleeping than with how many calories I burned. When I’m tired, I tend to eat tons to keep me awake and alert. Now that I had energy, I didn’t feel like I had to constantly refuel with food. And that connection to my body—which I got my first hint of during Week 2—was improving. With fork midair, I’d suddenly think, “Do I even want any more?”

Week 4, I stuck to my schedule and spent some time on the mat every day—even if it was just a short meditation in child’s pose. With my DVDs (I had returned the loaners to their rightful owners), I never had to do the same workout twice in a row. My teachers—all 6 inches of them on the TV—felt like personal trainers.

I finished my experiment 4.5 pounds lighter than when I started, and I’ve lost another half pound since then. Does yoga work for weight loss? It has for me. And it’s getting to a point where if I don’t do any yoga all day I feel like I’m missing out on something fun, relaxing, and satisfying. I’ll even close the door to my office, take off my shoes, and do a few sun salutations or twisting postures to get my blood flowing. It’s a far cry from that “ugh, I have to work out” feeling that used to plague me. When I finally slipped those size 27 jeans back on, I found myself more interested in the 2 percent stretch than how my butt looked in the mirror. What good is a pair of pants if you can’t do triangle pose in them?