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Can yoga help you lose weight?

Yoga instructors are tailoring specific programmes to aid weight loss while promoting healthy habits amongst young Indians

Yoga can provide a range of health benefits as long as you are prepared to take it slow.
Yoga can provide a range of health benefits as long as you are prepared to take it slow. (Unsplash)

Fashion strategist Jasleen Chopra, 41, used to lead a hectic life, had made poor lifestyle choices and didn’t have the best of eating habits back in 2017. That was the year when she walked up to Mumbai-based celebrity yoga instructor Abhishek Sharma with the goal of weight loss. Chopra, who now lives in Chandigarh, used to go to the gym but no matter what she did, she found it very difficult to lose weight.

She spent three months following a programme of yoga mixed with cardio, one that Sharma designed specifically for her to aid in weight loss. In that time, her weight didn’t decrease a whole lot, but she did drop down a few sizes, she started feeling a lot better and her eating habits and lifestyle also improved vastly. “By five months I had lost 8kg. What yoga did was to help me get in touch with my own self, which in turn helped me focus better. After that I started reaping the benefits of the physical exercise aspect of yoga and also made better choices and decisions,” says Chopra.

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Yoga for the young, and the old

Turning to yoga for spiritual and mental wellbeing is fairly commonplace. However, of late there is a growing demand among people in India to turn to yoga to achieve their weight loss targets as well. An increased focus on yoga since the introduction of the International Day of Yoga has made it a lot more popular among people to achieve all sorts of fitness and lifestyle goals. “The requests for people coming to me with weight loss requests is pretty high,” says Sharma, also the author of Fitness On The Go. It’s usually younger people, especially women in their 20s with poor eating habits, and people over 50 who approach yoga teachers to help them lose weight, adds Srivalli Cherla, the 28-year-old yoga instructor and founder of Samsara Yoga in Bengaluru.

Television presenter and creative producer Neha Sareen, 39, had struggled with weight since childhood. She had tried all kinds of “fad” diets and while they worked for a short period of time, she would always gain back everything she lost and more with a vengeance the minute there was a break in her diet. That was usually the case till she met Sharma, 15 years ago. “I really didn’t like gym, had developed a knee issue due to running but when I started yoga with Sharma, it was a joyous experience that I looked forward to. It wasn’t torture that I dreaded to put myself through every single day. I used to look forward to it and it made me happy,” says Sareen. Yoga immediately had an impact on her physiological health as well. “My body responded to yoga better than anything else that I had ever tried. I am guessing the holistic approach of yoga helped,” she says.

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New and more effective forms of yoga

Not all types of yoga worked for Sareen’s goals. The more strength-focused Ashtanga yoga resulted in her shoulders getting bigger and she didn’t like that. Again, Sharma had to tailor a programme that worked for Sareen. Over the past decade and a half, Sareen has successfully managed to meet her weight goals as Sharma managed to “reprogramme my approach to fitness by introducing long-term lifestyle adjustments, such as climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, which have been helping me. Yoga has also brought me calm while maintaining my weight at the desired levels without have to measure what and how much I am eating as long as it is clean.”

The newer and dynamic forms of yoga are more effective for weight loss than traditional yoga, says Cherla. She had turned to yoga at the age of 21 to lose the extra kilos that she had put on due to her love for junk food. “I recommend newer forms of yoga that are more cardio-intensive, such as power or Vinyasa yoga, to those who want to address their excess weight problems. Vinyasa yoga is a combination of the dynamic and static forms where you hold asanas for a little longer before moving to the next. In power yoga you move through postures very quickly. Power yoga is a very dynamic practice,” says Cherla. The key, she says, is to be consistent and to focus on eating healthier instead of measuring every spoonful you eat.

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A slow and steady process

Yoga helps in many ways that other forms of exercise can’t. It helps create an internal balance in the endocrine system which affects the metabolism rate of the body. This is what dictates one’s weight, explains Sharma. But achieving this balance is a slow process. Hence, compared to modern day explosive and hyper-dynamic training methods such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and the evergreen running-based cardio training, yoga is a lot slower in achieving weight loss goals.

“Younger people have greater strength and endurance compared to older folks and they are likely to see results quicker. Having said that it will still take months and in some cases even up to a year to achieve your weight targets with yoga alone,” says Cherla, adding that combining it with other forms of training is the best way to see results in decent time.

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However, Sharma warns against merging traditional yoga and cardiovascular workouts during the same session. Ideally Hatha yoga and running or sports-based workouts should be scheduled on alternate days for best results. Sometimes though, Sharma starts with one activity, then takes a short break, and moves on to a different one. He says he has to strike a fine balance so that the clients can reap the benefits of yoga as well as that of complimentary workouts. “One is essentially slow and the other is fast-paced. If you combine yoga and cardio, it just becomes aerobics,” he says. And that’s why he would rather have his clients play a sport or run and follow that up with a session of Hatha yoga instead of powering through 50 to 100 Suryanamaskars, as is the fad now.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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