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Yoga: Slim Bodies, Strong Minds


WebMD Feature

Huffing and puffing your way through yet another aerobics class in an effort to lose weight? Feeling cranky because you're starving yourself? Don't lose hope. Yoga may be just what you're looking for.

 

This ancient discipline might not give you a whippet-thin body, but it might give you the discipline and peace of mind to think about your eating habits in a new light.

 

"When you practice the asanas [postures] of yoga, you gain more respect for your body," says New York yoga instructor Anita Goa. "The key element of yoga is breathing. When we learn how to breathe properly -- when we are more aware of our breathing -- we are able to connect our mind and our body."

 

Goa says yoga gives us control over our mind, and when we have that control, we consciously ask ourselves, "Is this good for me?" In other words, "Do I really need this piece of pizza?"

 

"When we get to know our body, we automatically want to choose food that's good for us," says Goa.

 

Many people approach yoga as a form of exercise, says Anne O'Brien, a yoga instructor in Sonoma, Calif., but they soon find that yoga offers a deeper connection to their own body.

 

"After you take a yoga class, you feel so good that it carries through to the rest of your life and you wind up incorporating it into your lifestyle," she says. "You find that you're not doing yoga because you have to do it to lose weight, but you want to do it because it feels good."

 

In addition to "nourishing your soul" so that you want to eat what's good for you, yoga has actual physiological benefits as well, Goa says. The various postures are good for your digestive and elimination systems, helping to speed food through the body. And the different poses, with names such as adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog), navasana (boat pose), and virabhadrasana (warrior pose), strengthen and tone your muscles. And as you probably know by now, muscle burns calories better than fat does.

Changing Your Lifestyle

Michael A. Taylor, MD, medical editor of Yoga Journal magazine, and a gynecologic oncologist in Carmichael, Calif., cautions that yoga itself will not do the trick in helping you lose unwanted pounds.

 

"When people are looking for a magic bullet, they're looking for one bullet, one thing that will change their life," he says. "Yoga isn't a magic bullet ... but it does offer the benefit of a change in philosophy and lifestyle."

 

If you take up yoga purely to lose weight, you may be disappointed, Taylor says. "It's when you become involved with the whole lifestyle process -- that's where yoga fits in."

 

Even if you're less than svelte, you can join a yoga class. "Not all yogis are thin," Taylor says. "Anyone can do yoga: older people, physically disabled people, overweight people."

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