I lost myself before I lost 50 pounds, and yoga was the catalyst that helped me lose the weight and get "me" back.
For me, losing track of myself physically happened slowly. I always considered myself a "health-conscious" person, rarely ate fast food, took vitamins, knew about nutrition, used olive oil. Yet during a period of time when the needs of my kids and job just always seemed to be more urgent, I started using my brain way more than my body. I liked the satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment I could get by doing a good job with work, actually finishing something and doing it well. At home, with young children and one child with special needs, I was just trying to keep up and never felt like I finished anything completely (or did the best I could have if I just hadn't been so dang tired). I was viscerally defensive about the insidious weight gain. I was taking care of SO much, how can anyone expect me to waste an hour in a gym class where clearly people do not have the same priorities or responsibilities that I do?
I went to yoga here and there for a few years with a friend or my husband and liked it somewhat. It was (mostly) do-able, so that was good, although in my mind I mocked the skinny people doing yoga that looked more like acrobatics than exercise.
On New Year's Day in 2014, I went to a "Detox Flow" class at a studio on a whim just to escape the stress and insanity at home. The room was hot. The class was WAY harder physically than I expected. The teacher seemed like a real person, and went out of her way to relate to me. No phones were allowed in the studio, and so I unplugged for the first time in years. I struggled to follow along, my shoulders buckling in downward-facing dog, plank seeming like an impossibility. At the end in savasana, I felt tired in a way that was actually energizing. I went to yoga for the stress relief, and I fell in love with the physical transformation.
I decided on my own to make a 30-day challenge for myself. (This should not be surprising if you know me well). I treated yoga like a medical appointment, scheduling my classes in advance, arranging for childcare, and making my way to my mat every single day for 30 days. I found that there was magic in practicing with others, and that everyone wasn't actually as perfect as they seemed. I told myself daily what I still tell my own yoga students today: "Just keep showing up."
My body started to change. I found muscle tone forming in my shoulders and legs that I had NEVER experienced before. I learned to breathe and cared about breathing intentionally for the first time in my life. I craved the concentration and focus of the practice that allowed me to really listen to my body instead of the constant alerts on my phone and requests from my kids.
Over about a year and a half, I lost 50 pounds. As the weight came off, my body changed, but I also became different on the inside. I faced some hard truths about where I had been directing most of my energy (to work, as a distraction). I let myself become more vulnerable, and in turn, my husband and I became closer. I tried in class, letting go of fear that I wouldn't be good enough and instead just trying for the sake of trying in the moment.
There are a few pillars that changed for me because of yoga and that I still practice now, and I believe this is key to weight loss with yoga.
Reward yourself with time instead of food. I used to "treat myself" with a scone and coffee from Starbucks, or something equivalent, when I was busy or stressed. Extremely sweet, strong, and salty foods are a distraction because the intensity makes us snap out of our abyss, and for a moment we are overcome by the sensations of eating. Instead of believing that food is your "reward", give yourself the reward of time. Time to do something that makes you feel amazing, or cultivates a part of you that is neglected. For me, that meant doing more yoga classes.
Try 10% harder. I remember at some point feeling like I was stuck, my weight had plateaued and the honeymoon swoon of my new yoga experience had worn off. This is where some people quit, by the way, but that is where the real experience begins! I just started trying harder, in every pose, in every transition, in every breath. I gave more, and I found that I got stronger and more grounded. It's a simple practice that no one else can see. Just try harder.
Swear off white carbs. It is just a fact that if you want to lose weight you're going to need to reduce the amount of caloric energy potential you consume through food. White flour and white sugar, and everything made from white flour and white sugar, are so dense in carbohydrates that it is very, very difficult (impossible for me) to lose weight while eating them. Third-world countries with very poor food supplies subsist on these white carbohydrates (rice, bread, tortillas). Just eliminate them, start using vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini) as your meal base instead and swap the white sugar and flour for natural sweeteners and nut flours (stevia, almond flour, coconut).
Have the confidence to stay in discomfort. This is huge. In yoga, we stress and stretch our body, which can be challenging physically and mentally. Staying in a pose a few seconds longer, taking a few breaths when you feel your leg quaking in a balance pose, this helps to learn to stay in the moment of discomfort without running away. I did not do that before yoga. If I was hungry, I ate. I felt I was actually listening to my body by doing this. However, if you eat often and eat foods that are high in carbs, your body will keep telling you that you are hungry. I learned to listen to the hunger cue, and then have the confidence to decide if I should act on it or not instead of always reacting. The act of intention applies on and off the mat. Just like standing on one leg and steadying the breath in order to steady the body, being hungry for an hour so that I could enjoy a wonderful meal became an act of perspective. Am I starving to death? (No.) Am I going to be physically sick or hurt if I do not eat right now? (No.) Can I do something else and look forward to a wonderful meal experience instead of giving in to snacking? (Yes!). Do this, you will lose weight.
Lower your stress and increase your muscle mass. Stress is the silent killer. We know this. Stress increases cortisol, which makes belly fat stick around in case of emergency. Stress increases your blood pressure. Stress increases insulin; our body is designed to burn fat for fuel in the absence of insulin. Increase your muscle mass and decrease stress to switch the bad mechanisms off. You may be fighting the most difficult battle to lose weight otherwise (I used to always say, my body works against me! It's impossible for me to lose weight! It was stress.). You probably cannot change the situation causing the stress, but you can change your attitude about how permanent it feels and about how much you believe that it controls you.
If you are showing up on your mat, I share my story today for you.
The light in me honors and encourages the light in you! Namaste.