For the past six years, I’ve had the privilege of working with people who want to lose weight. After years of struggling with weight issues, I found my way to Yoga. Yoga provided a base from which I was able to find connection with myself. This enabled me to live in a more sattwic way, which included losing weight (100 pounds). I now help others find their path, which is incredibly rewarding.
Anyone who has had the experience of Yoga asana and pranayama is aware that it is more than just a physical experience. Through our practice, we affect all levels of our being. It is especially important to remember this when working with people for weight loss. The reasons why a person is overweight are complex. As Yoga teachers, our job is to guide our students toward having their own authentic experience so that they can receive insight. This insight is the catalyst for lasting change.
The first step of teaching Yoga for weight loss is to give students a practice that allows them to feel relaxation and peace. For most individuals, this is not a fast-paced practice. This is important to remember, as most people have been taught that burning off calories through aerobic exercise is the best way to lose weight.
I would offer that the best physical practice for weight loss is one that allows a person to de-stress and be in his/her body. This allows the person to find distance from rapidly arising, confusing, often counter-productive thoughts that the mind produces.
To this end, I give most of my students an asana practice that combines movement with breath. It is usually as simple as we can make it. We are looking to produce a feeling of calm. I also give students a guided Yoga nidra to calm the nervous system. As a student progresses, other ways of working with breath and asana are added, always with the aim of feeling less stressed and more mentally clear.
Other parts of the work include lifestyle modifications geared toward increasing an individual’s energy levels. We examine eating patterns, food choices, sleep patterns, work patterns, social life, etc. I ask my students to constantly evaluate whether the choices they are making have the net effect of leaving them feeling more energetic.
There are subtleties to this process, of course. But, as people find patterns in their lives that leave them feeling healthy and energetic, they are also moving toward eating in a way that promotes weight loss. In Yogic terms, they are learning to bring in and hold more prana. Individuals develop a positive relationship with food and movement. The relationships become nourishing instead of harmful.
Overweight people are immersed in a culture that promotes shame and fear. There are constant messages telling us that if we struggle with weight issues, we are damaged in some fundamental way. As Yoga teachers we can play an important role; we can help friends break through this illusion. Yoga practice can point individuals toward the Self, so that they can claim their birthright of a healthy body, mind and spirit.
(by Brandt Bhanu Passalaqua, from the February, 2009 IYTA Newsletter)
Brandt Bhanu Passalacqua is a Yoga therapist practicing in New York City and Northampton, Massachusetts. After struggling with weight, food and substance addiction, and serious illness he found his way to Yoga practice. He has maintained his health and lost 100 pounds by being kind to his body. Brandt is the author of Peaceful Weight Loss through Yoga. Brandt will offer a 6-day retreat for weight loss at Yogaville beginning May 31st.