Fitness

The Magic of Yoga

Turns out, the ancient practice helps you shed a lot more than just stress. Learn how striking a pose can slim you down.

The Magic of Yoga
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Nix emo eating
Another way mindfulness can peel off the pounds: Being aware of how much you’re consuming can help you push away your plate before you overeat. “Mindfulness trains your nervous system and sensory organs to be more sensitive,” Turner says. “You’re more aware of the effect of food and can ask yourself how you feel after eating it.” In a study in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 19 overweight people who completed a five-day yoga and mindfulness program were, on average, 17 pounds lighter a full year later. Cutting out careless noshing, it seems, has lasting effects.

In addition to helping you eat more intentionally, yoga can also teach discipline, says McCall. “In yoga class, you learn that you can stay in a pose even though you might like to come out of it,” he says. That’s like boot camp for your willpower muscles. “In turn, you realize that you can skip the chocolate ice cream even though you think you really want it.” Certain yoga moves serve as life practice, too. Take, for instance, Triangle pose. “In this asana, you create tension in your body and then let it go,” says Aruni Nan Futuronsky, a program advisor for Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “Off the mat, you see that you can let go of tension without having to resort to doughnuts as a coping mechanism. Once you’ve mastered that skill, it applies to anything.”

Retrain your brain
The other key benefit you’ll get from yoga is flexibility— the neurological kind, not just getting as bendy as Madonna. “The conventional wisdom used to be that the brain’s architecture was fixed,” says McCall. “Now neuroscientists are finding that the brain is constantly rewiring itself and forming new connections in a process called neuroplasticity.” Anytime you do, say or think something, you’re more likely to do so again, he explains. “When you repeatedly have certain thoughts or actions, you tend to strengthen those neurocircuits. When you face adversity with calmness in your practice, you repattern your nervous system not to freak out so much, so you’re not getting cortisol jolts and are less likely to overeat. You can literally change your mind.” All without spending hours on the Elliptical or subsisting on diet food. Just like that, your weight loss resolution is finally within reach. Om run!

Meditate to Lose Weight
No time for a yoga class? Meditation also builds willpower— and it’s easier than you think. Yoga and meditation guru Ashley Turner shares her tips:
Start Slow “Nose breathing calms the nervous system,” Turner says. “Close your mouth and simply lengthen your breath to 4 slow counts in and then 4 counts out.”
Take the Next Step “Once you have that down, add what I call ‘four square breaths,’ which is inhaling for 4 counts, pausing for 4 counts, exhaling for 4 counts, then pausing for 4 counts,” she says.
Stay Positive If just thinking about all that breathing has you panting, you can try meditating with affirmations instead. Identify your biggest self-criticism, like your eating habits or your body image, then turn that problem into a positive outcome, Turner says. “Your affirmation could just be as simple as ‘I will be healthy and fit,’ or ‘I choose to make my well- being my highest priority.’ Repeat that 10 times or more. One of the biggest challenges of weight loss is that you focus your attention on what you don’t want—like being overweight or having love handles. This way you build confidence from the inside out.” —Emily C. Johnson

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