Life Balance Yoga
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Leo comments on yogaYoga and weight-loss

Leo Bunyard comments . . .

Yoga is often thought of as a relaxing and rather sedentary form of exercise, one that reduces stress and alleviates musculo-skeletal problems, but not necessarily as a one-way ticket to a slimmer body. Both Nigella Lawson's revelations and scientific research rather contradict this view. In a recent interview, Nigella stated that her current trim silhouette is the consequence of taking up "a rather slow form of yoga called Iyengar". She continues, "As you get on in life, you value feeling well as opposed to looking well. Yoga certainly makes you feel great, and you want to carry on feeling great. I just do a bit in a very slow way – sometimes lying down."

YogaAnd there is increasing scientific evidence to back up the view that yoga can be an effective way of controlling weight in both the short and the long term. One US study, involving 15,000 healthy men and women between the ages of 53 and 57, found that doing yoga significantly reduced Body Mass Index (BMI). The author of the study, Dr. Alan Kristal, associate head of the Cancer Prevention Program in the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Centre said, "…we found that middle-age people who practice yoga gained less weight over a 10-year period than those who did not. This was independent of physical activity and dietary patterns. We hypothesized that mindfulness – a skill learned either directly or indirectly through yoga – could affect eating behavior".

The health benefits of a regular yoga practice do not stop at lowering BMI scores. In another US trial (Ornish et al, 1998), patients with moderate to severe coronary heart disease were divided into two groups. One group followed a regime with fairly major lifestyle modifications that included regular yoga practice, meditation and a vegetarian diet. The second group, the control group, followed the advice of their doctors regarding lifestyle changes.

Patients in the group doing yoga averaged a weight loss of almost 24 pounds over the first year, and they maintained more than half of this weight-loss five years later. Not only that, but LDL cholesterol levels went down by 37.2%, while anginal episodes reduced by 91% and their coronary arterial narrowing saw an average reversal of 2.2%. Compare this with the control group, whose LDL levels reduced but only by 6%; they also actually suffered a 165% increase in anginal episodes, and their coronary arteries continued to narrow by a further 3.4%. Dr Ornish stated: "the more yoga (was) practiced daily, the greater was the effect on the coronary arteries".

So is yoga a quick-fix? Well, sorry, but no: this is not a six-week bums-and-tums-style programme. If you start yoga, you need to be prepared to be in for the long-haul. As teachers, we sometimes say that we work not in weeks but in decades. Results, which are not confined to heart health and weight-loss, can be remarkable; but they require dedication, consistency of practice and, above all, patience.

Leonore Bunyard
Iyengar Yoga Teacher

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