Myths and Truths
In the world of fitness, there are tons of ways to get moving, sweating, and burning calories. Unfortunately, it can sometimes feel like an overwhelming task to find a workout that is not only good for the body, but for the spirit and mind as well. Yoga is a great way to shape muscles and allow the mind to relax – but can it really burn calories and increase the rate of your metabolism?
Spirit and Strength: Yoga Then and Now
Yoga is a combination of mental, spiritual, and physical practices aimed at strengthening the union between body and mind. Some of the earliest accounts of yoga date back more than 5,000 years, with practice in the East focused on the mental and spiritual aspects. It has only recently been introduced into Western culture with an increased emphasis on the physical practice. The term yoga, derived from the Sanskrit word for “yoking,” is associated with uniting the mind, spirit, and body into one. It is based on breath control, meditation, and specific physical postures aimed at promoting overall health and relaxation. With yoga, we begin to melt away stress, release tension, and increase bliss. While conventional exercise guidelines are helpful for day-to-day functionality, in yoga there’s often a greater connection between the body and mind. This awareness and attention to each and every movement helps yogis create lean muscle and lose excess weight. The idea that yoga is used only as a stress reliever is a prevalent myth, but flowing from pose to pose can also boost metabolism, helping to burn more calories throughout the day. Read on to learn how to tap into yoga’s many benefits, including the ability to rev up calorie burn.
Stoking the Fire: Metabolism and Why It’s Important
Metabolism is a biochemical process that occurs in all organisms: The body converts what we eat and drink into energy. The actual rate of metabolism depends on several factors including age, gender, and physical activity, which means we each have a unique metabolic rate. It’s important for metabolism to run quickly for the body to function optimally. Physical activity is a key factor for metabolic functioning. When the body begins to sweat, it kicks the endocrine (glandular) system in gear. This system helps regulate many organ functions in the body, including metabolism and digestion. A jumpstarted metabolism means the body will burn energy (or calories) more rapidly, facilitating weight loss.
Yoga’s Influence on Metabolism
Despite common misconceptions, yoga can be great way to increase metabolism. No matter what the activity, increasing movement can increase the metabolic rate. By improving digestion and circulation, and creating lean muscle mass, yoga is an all-encompassing way to help increase your metabolic rate.
Because the majority of the digestive tract is located in the abdomen, yoga exercises that focus on the core help the organs function properly. Think planks, boat position, or bringing knee into chest. Twisting poses help wring out the digestive track and detoxify the organs. Try twisted chair or revolved triangle.
When the body has poor circulation and is not receiving clean blood at a healthy rate, all of the organs are affected because they aren’t provided with enough oxygen and nutrients. When the circulatory system isn’t functioning properly, metabolism slows down. Deep and slow breathing during yoga can improve circulation by allowing arteries to open up and release pressure, increasing the blood flow and helping white blood cells circulate to the organs more quickly. Try inhaling and exhaling once per movement to increase heat in the body, and then slow it down by holding certain positions for five to ten breaths. At the end of your practice during meditation, try to breathe in for five counts, exhale for five counts, and pause with no air in your lungs for five counts. Repeat five times.
When practicing yoga, the body automatically targets large muscle groups and recruits smaller muscles to help achieve each position. Yoga tests strength, balance, and flexibility, challenging the body in a multitude of ways so it’s working as one unit. When multiple muscle groups work in conjunction, muscle starts to increase in size and density. The more muscle we build, the more calories we burn. The more calories burned, the more the metabolic rate increases to burn those calories.
Yoga Sequence to Rev Up Metabolism
When practicing yoga, try not to think about the picture of the pose, but instead focus on how the body feels in each position. Be sure to move slowly, and with control. Keep the muscles relaxed by releasing tension with each exhale. Practice often to increase balance, flexibility, and strength not only for your body, but also for your mind. Try to hold each pose for one breath per movement to challenge your metabolic rate. Feel stronger with each inhale and sink deeper into the position with each exhale. Explore. Relax. Release. Use your yoga practice as a moving mediation. Think of it as time for you to be in the present moment and do nothing but feel yourself, your body, and your mind.
Tips to Stay in Tip-Top Yoga Shape
Always consult with a doctor before starting a new exercise routine. Make sure to eat something light prior to working out – approximately one to two hours before. Replenish the body with something healthy after each workout. Stay hydrated with roughly nine to 13 cups of water throughout the day. Make sure all exercises are completed slowly and with controlled movement. Avoid moving too fast or rushing through a workout. It’s easy to think that the faster we move, the faster the time goes by. But most injuries happen because we push or force ourselves too much or too quickly. When it comes to form, make sure to stack joints one on top of the other. For example, keep knees above ankles, shoulders above hips in a lunge. Keep the spine neutral at all times (for most people this means the tailbone is slightly dropped, the shoulders glide back and down, and the body “lifts” through the crown of the head, with the core active and tight). Remember it’s important to breathe throughout the workout. Avoid holding the breath at any point. Try to challenge yourself every time you hit the mat! A typical sun salutation is a great way for the body to get moving, and increase sweat, breathing, and metabolism.