The good news is, yoga and Ayurveda can absolutely help you do both of those things, so you’re in the right place.
But I want to take some time here today to talk more about how to lose weight with Ayurveda and yoga and how these health systems view weight loss in general.
We can’t really deny that, in the United States at least, obesity is an epidemic. According to statistics published in 2013, the fitness/weight loss industry is worth $61 BILLION and that number continues to increase. And yet it seems America is not getting any slimmer. Consider this – the fast food industry in the US alone is worth $161 BILLION. That’s $100 BILLION more than the weight loss industry.
According to one online article, the average dieter attempts to lose weight 4 times a year. This means that at least 3 of those attempts fail. Maybe it’s because of the fast food…
Why Dieting is NOT The Answer
The problem with dieting is we assume when you go on a diet you can follow a strict set of rules – count your calories, eliminate fat and carbs, only eat watermelon for 6 days, etc. – and lose weight. What we don’t think about is that once that 21-, 28-, 7-, month-long diet is over, we’ll go back to eating the way we did before and that’s why the weight comes back! Dieting is a temporary solution for a much larger problem. You don’t need a diet to lose weight. You need to change the way you eat permanently. And that’s damn hard.
What’s Your Ideal Weight?
In Ayurveda, it’s not about a number on the scale. It’s about how you feel. Each dosha presents itself in the body in a different way, which means every individual will have an ideal weight based on your predominant dosha. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, take a break here and watch my introductory videos on Ayurveda over on YouTube. (If you haven’t subscribed to the channel, make sure you do so you can get updated every time I post a new video!)
If your predominant dosha is Kapha, for example, you’ll have been called “big-boned” all your life and you’ll have a heavier weight then a Vata, who is your skinny, lanky, scrawny friend who seems to be able to eat anything without ever gaining any weight. In balance, Kaphas will naturally be heavier, Vatas will be pretty bean-pole skinny, and Pittas will be of medium weight, with good muscle definition. So if you know your primary dosha, you can get a general idea for your ideal weight.
It’s important to note that obesity is a sign of imbalance in Ayurveda. If you know your primary dosha is Kapha but you don’t feel well and your weight is causing you additional health problems, then you’re not at your ideal weight. Being Kapha is not an excuse to be overweight! Since ideal weights don’t really fall in a numeric range, you have to tune into your body to know if you’re at an ideal weight or not. If you feel good on the inside, if you don’t have additional health problems caused by your weight, and if you’re full on energy and you feel light, then you’re probably at your ideal weight no matter what the scale says. Pittas might feel light at 140 pounds, Vatas at 12o and Kaphas at 150 in a 5’4″ frame. It will be different for every single person, which is why playing the COMPARE & DESPAIR game is absolutely useless.
How To Lose Weight with Ayurveda
As I mentioned, obesity or any extra weight is a sign of imbalance in Ayurveda. Your job as an active participant in your own health is to bring your body back into balance. It’s not so much about losing X amount of pounds as it is about bringing your body back into balance so you feel light and energized rather than heavy, and sluggish.
While not all techniques work for everyone because every person is dealing with their own unique issues in life, the following activities are great for feeling lighter and more energized. I’ve heard plenty of stories about people who have done these activities and nothing else and shed extra pounds as well.
What I want you to know about Ayurveda is that this is a life-long process. I was talking to a friend the other day who is going through a Yoga Teacher Training program that includes a month-long Ayurvedic cleanse. She was really nervous about it because eating that way is so different than what she is used to and she wasn’t sure if she could do it. My advice to her was to pick one part of the cleanse that sounded appealing and start there. Incorporate one thing at a time until that one activity becomes a habit and then start adding in new activities. Over time, you’ll build up to an Ayurvedic lifestyle without feeling overwhelmed. Easing into this type of work ensures you don’t get overwhelmed and quit or you don’t burn out.
My intention here is to offer up small things you can start with that aren’t too overwhelming. On on their own they don’t seem like they’ll have much effect in helping you lose weight. But have faith, commit, and watch what happens.
1. Sip warm water throughout the day
You can add lemon, lime, or steep some herbs if you need flavor. Why does this help you lose weight? Our digestive fire helps us metabolize and digest food. If that fire is weak, we aren’t able to digest food as easily or absorb the nutrients from our food. If we can’t absorb the nutrients from our food, then our food gets stored as fat in the body rather than being used for it’s intended purpose. Ice cold beverages dampen our digestive fire. Plus, a lot of research has been done that shows that drinking water throughout the day helps stave off hunger. In fact, at my recent Journey into Healing program at the Chopra Center, we learned that a majority of people reach for food when they’re really just thirsty.
2. Meditate in the morning and in the evening
What does meditation have to do with losing weight? Often we eat emotionally. Meditation helps you feel calm and in control and balances out any emotional issues you might be experiencing from daily stress.
3. Ask yourself “What am I really hungry for” right before you eat
One of Deepak Chopra’s latest books is called What Are You Hungry For. In it, he argues that most of us eat when we’re actually looking for some other form of nutrition – perhaps connection with someone else, love, acceptance, etc. If you ask yourself the question “What am I really hungry for?” every time you’re about to grab food, you may find you’re not even hungry, you just want to talk to a friend instead.
4. Ask yourself “Will this food really nourish my body?”
Note that you’re looking to nourish your BODY, not your mind. I know from personal experience that eating a few slices of delicious pizza will make my mind feel great, but it will make my body feel really gross about 20 minutes after I’m done eating. Is it worth it to please your mind for a few seconds in exchange for a few hours of extreme discomfort, heaviness and lack of energy?
5. Eat your largest meal at lunch instead of dinner
I’ll admit this may be the hardest one to incorporate, unless of course you already do this. The American culture is used to eating the largest meal at night, but unfortunately our abilty to digest is slowing down right around dinner. Just as our bodies and minds are expressed through the doshas, the doshas express at different times during the day as well. 6-10pm is a Kapha time, which means the body is starting to slow down. It will be harder for the body to digest a big meal during this time. On the other hand, 10am-2pm is a Pitta time, and the time of day when our digestive fire is the strongest. Eating your biggest meal during this time ensure that you’ll be better able to efficiently and successfully digest your meal without negative consequences, assuming you’re eating healthy, fresh, and whole foods.
6. Eat the rainbow
Instead of getting really crazy about what you can and can’t eat, make sure you’re eating a variety of colors. For all you visual-learners out there, this activity is for you. I love Dr. Valencia Porter’s routine she uses with her kids to help them eat the rainbow. She’s created a chart with all the colors of the rainbow and each day at the end of the day she asks her young daughters to mark an X next to the colors they ate that day. At the end of the week she takes her daughters to the grocery store/farmer’s market and lets them choose one food of their choice from the color category they ate the least of the previous week. What a fun, family-friendly way to eat healthy without obsessing over what is good/bad for you! When you eat all the colors of the rainbow all the time, you’ll be getting the nutrition you need. (Hint – Fruit Loops don’t count!)
7. Eat mindfully
This means no TV or cell phones at the table. No reading. Just eating. Pay attention to the texture of your food as you chew. Really become curious about taste. Smell your food, and take some time to look at all those fantastic colors. Stop eating when you’re 70% full so there will be a little extra room in your belly to aid the digestion process. If you’re not eating mindfully, you won’t be in tune to when you’re 70% full.
8. Practice the right kind or exercise for your dosha
In the West we’ve been taught that to be healthy we must eat well and exercise often. This is absolutely true in Ayurveda as well, but Ayurveda offers a little more specifics on what that really means. And because Ayurveda is an individualized healthcare solution, eating well and exercising often looks different for every dosha. Kaphas will do well with a vigorous style of yoga like Power Vinyasa, CrossFit or long runs. Swimming is fabulous for Pittas, but Pittas should avoid Bikram yoga or anything in a hot room. Dance is great for Vatas as is gentle to moderate styles of yoga.
So remember, pick one and start there. See how it goes incorporating just one thing from the list above into your lifestyle and notice how it makes you feel. Then, once you’ve got the hang of it, pick another one.
I’ll leave it at that for now, lest I overwhelm you. Make sure to head over to our Facebook page and let me know what you think about all this information! And if you know someone who is trying to lose weight right now, please share this post with them and encourage them to sign up for the newsletter!