One of the most common requests when people seek out yoga is that they want to lose weight. The yogis pictured in the magazines are always thin. They must get that way by doing all the hot yoga and vinyasa flow, all the Bikram and the planks, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
The research that has been done (mostly in India) points to restorative yoga as the best yoga for weight loss. (Say what?!)
Restorative is restful, laying on the floor with blankets and pillows and blocks and holding poses for several minutes while you sort of fall asleep and wake up. It is easy and delicious yoga.
Why on earth would this help with weight loss? Good question.
There is a connection between being able to rest properly and being able to maintain a healthy weight. Weight is gained around the midsection because of stress. Stress makes the adrenal glands over work, sending out lots of cortisol. This stress hormone keeps the mind active, alert, supercharged.
All of this leads to insulin being produced more and more with the body able to use it less and less. Insulin is the chaperone that takes sugar (glucose) into cells. It keeps blood sugar levels steady when it is able to do its job. But in this scenario, it cannot do its job. The body becomes insulin resistant. There is all this sugar in the blood because the cells cannot access it because insulin helps them access it. It turns out that lots of sugar is pretty bad for the blood. It harms the organs and the blood vessels when it is out of balance.
This metabolic imbalance leads to diabetes and to heart disease and to strokes. Oh yeah- and to weight gain around the midsection. Yikes!
Restorative yoga decreases stress and cortisol (and actually so do meditation and massage) and it helps create a better resting state. Resting, sleeping, meditating all are the times when the body heals itself and comes into balance. Better quality sleep means healthier weight because of the healing and balancing properties of rest.
A novice yogi went to a restorative class once and she described her experience to me in this way: "we just laid on the floor on pillows in different positions for an hour. Then we went home."
That is what it feels like. And what it is. But learning how to really rest is a powerful experience and it can reset the body's ability to heal. And maybe to lose weight, too.