By Shameem Akhtar
Yoga can help you control your hunger pangs naturally, thereby streamlining your weight
When people ask me if they will lose weight with yoga, I want to tell them they will lose something more – the unnecessary urge to eat. This is why a well-disciplined yoga practitioner will be within the best possible weight range for their age, height and constitution.
Nobody quite understands how this mechanism works, though the Bihar School of Yoga gives the best possible explanation for this, while also offering the best list of poses to beat the insatiable demon in our stomachs. Amongst the reasons mooted is that poses like pranamsana (prayer pose), press the master glands in our brain, somehow manipulating their signals to control hunger. Another, more easily understandable reason, is that the body’s energies are flowing smoothly. The metabolism is in peak condition. The body is now running like a well-serviced car. Therefore it becomes fuel-efficient, needing less fuel (food) to run for longer duration (more energy, stamina). In other words, your metabolism has become very efficient. This makes nutrient absorption perfect. You get the energy from the food you eat.
People who are fat feel chronically hungry, not because of greed, but genuine bodily craving for nutrients. But since they are only feeding themselves calories (wrong food, junk meal), and not nutrients, the body is chronically asking for more. It is a vicious cycle.
In fact, man must be the greediest amongst all animals where food is concerned. Most animals eat only as much as they can at one time. They can even walk away from their meal, although it is often more challenging for them to find food in the wild. Very few animals store food for years together as humans do. Or over-eat like us.
When you do Vipassana meditation, you become intimate with another aspect of your mind and hunger: we humans are habituated to eating when food is in front of us, whether we are hungry or not. It is intriguing to note how we react physically before food, when told that we will be served only two meals (all ashrams do this), or that advanced practitioners will only get a glass of lemon juice in the evening. It is not your body which is hungry: your mind fears that since you are not going to get an ‘adequate’ amount the next time, perhaps you must gorge yourself just that bit more. Even I, used to sparse eating and ashram habits, could watch the mind’s demonic and sly urge to take just that extra mouthful, that extra spoonful. When I, normally indifferent to food, could react this way, I sympathise with others for whom food is a genuine physical need, and an outlet or an emotional substitute.
When people undertake fad diets, I wish to urge them instead to start a rigorous discipline of yoga. A fad diet is forced upon you – it is not a natural state, and is likely to shuttle you right back to where you started. But when you do yoga, your appetite normally diminishes. Your emotional strength prevents you from using food as entertainment or addiction, however harmless you fool yourself into thinking over-eating is.
Pranamasana (prayer pose)
Sit on your heels. Lean forward, placing palms flat on the ground, going on all fours like a cat. Palms must be aligned with your shoulders. Place crown on the floor. Release hands to hold ankles, or keep the palms in the original position. The former is a slightly advanced version, challenging your balance. Keep breathing normally, holding the pose as long as is comfortable.
Contraindications: If you have neck pain or high BP, this must be learnt in a phased manner.
Benefits:The pressure on the crown impacts the master glands involved with body signals, like hunger – suppressing or modulating it. It replicates the benefits of the head asana or sirsasana for those who cannot do actual inversions. It is therapeutic and preventive for neck pain. It helps deal with anger, fear, anxiety. Is calming due to increased blood flow.
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