This past week, I was at the hairdresser for a haircut and a woman I know approaches me and says in a very serious voice, “I need to talk to you.” After stepping aside so we could have a little privacy she tells me that she’s 45 years old, and has been noticing changes in her body lately (haven’t we all?) She wants to get rid of her “jiggle”, wants to lose some weight and was thinking that starting yoga might be great for that. She tells me a little more about her lifestyle and I realize that there are many ways that she might benefit from yoga, however losing weight was not the reason I wanted to bring her through the door.
I told her that while yoga certainly builds strength, works core muscles, and improves balance, in my mind that’s not why she should be turning to yoga. I suggested that she try a yoga class with the idea of becoming more mindful, less judgemental of others and of herself (she had volunteered to me that this was something she didn’t like about herself) and overall, she should see if she could slow down, become more present, and create more space in her body and between her thoughts.
“If you’re just coming to yoga to lose weight, don’t come to yoga. You’ll be disappointed” I told her. I explained that if she became more mindful overall, she may relate to her body and to her hunger in a different way, and might begin eating more mindfully … which might lead to weight loss. But that’s a far stretch from starting yoga to lose weight.
I’ve heard some yoga teachers say that if someone enters the yoga world through the door called “physical” its ok. That if that’s what they want to get out of it, it’s fine.
That’s not how I teach and I’m uncomfortable ‘selling’ yoga that way. I don’t see it as a form of exercise, although as I established above, it has definite physical benefits. I like people to understand what lies behind all the physical poses. All the subtle and really beautiful things that this practice brings.
There are too many other options for someone who simply wants to lose weight. There are more effective cardio workouts, there are more serious weight training programs, and bottom line for me is that real weight loss is achieved by what we do in the kitchen, more than what we do in the gym. It’s also a mindset that needs to be established, acknowledging the reasons we gain weight to begin with. But that’s for another discussion.
Come to yoga to rediscover your true Self. Come to yoga to remember who you were before you became a lawyer, an accountant, a physician, a marketing guru, a full time working mother, a wife, a husband, a brother, a caregiver … come to remember who you are when you strip away all the obligations. Come to remember that you are important and worthy of self-care and compassion.
Use the physical postures to build strength, YES. Strength in the body, but also, strength of character, stability, groundedness. Use the balance poses to develop your balance, YES. But just as important, balance poses develop your focus, your concentration and calm the mind. Use the vinyasa flows to feel more power in your yoga, develop core strength, build up a sweat, YES. But the vinyasa flows remind us to remain fluid, flexible, aware of each movement and its effect on the next movement. Vinyasa flows can remind us to sequence things in our life, so that things tend to “flow” more smoothly.
There is so much depth to this practice; something I am constantly discovering. I hold it in high regard, and because of this, when someone tells me that their ultimate goal is weight loss, I find unfair to connect them to such an all-encompassing practice. If it’s meant to be, they will find their way to the practice, one mindful bite at a time.