At the Yoga Institute in Mumbai, the city formerly and still defiantly called Bombay by many of its residents, I attended a seminar on Yoga for weight management.
The words of the current president, Dr. Jayadeva Yogendra, who is the son of the legendary founder, Shri Yogendra, reflect the inherent wisdom of the discipline. “Yoga is another word for a way of living, where one gives as much importance to happiness and peace of mind as to one’s material comforts.”
It is through attending to one’s entire way of living, with patience and with hope, that we confront our desires for comfort foods and tame our minds’ tendency to convince us that we’re better off eating Doritos on the couch instead of taking a walk through the timber.
Our minds play a huge role in weight management. We eat when we’re stressed. Yoga lowers stress.
We eat for other reasons too and not always just because we’re hungry. Why do we reach for that piece of chocolate cake after dinner when we’re already full?
Yoga quiets the mind and helps one to reflect with wisdom from a higher perspective, from the witness inside of us who watches everything we do and wants to help us make the best choices.
When it comes to food, Yoga lore makes it clear that the best choice is a wholesome vegetarian diet. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables with whole grains. The instructor for the day was emphatic about avoiding the five “whites.” Eat no refined sugar, no refined white flour, no ghee (clarified butter), no cheese, and drink no milk.
Our attitude towards food should be one of reverence. What we eat is an offering to the Divine, made at the temple of our bodies. Keep a food diary of your offerings and reflect of what you’ve been feeding Spirit.
Of course, Yoga is a set of physical exercises as well. Depending on what style of Yoga you choose, you can burn many calories or hardly any. For the slower, more meditative styles of Hatha Yoga, the benefit comes from awakening the tissues with their stretch, increasing vitality and energy, and motivating one for more strenuous aerobic exercise.
And here’s one last tip from the teachers at the Yoga Institute. Performing surya mudra helps to increase metabolism and thereby promotes weight loss. Place the tip of the ring finger at the base of the thumb, hands resting on the knees or thighs, while sitting quietly with eyes closed for five to fifteen minutes. According to them, this completes a circuit between the earth and fire energy channels, igniting and burning the elements.
Whether there is a subtle energy effect or not is unclear by western science standards, but for sure taking the time to quiet the mind just before eating will lead to the proper state to eat with reverence and awareness. Or you can try it after the meal and before that piece of chocolate cake to reflect on whether you REALLY want it as a part of your body after that brief spot on your taste buds.