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Yoga For Obesity

Yoga For Obesity

Introduction

An unhealthy amount of body fat is not a rare sight for us in these times of technology, where most of the work is done on gadgets. According to WHO, worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight and over 650 million were obese. The numbers have only been increasing, and it has become yet another lifestyle disorder which is an epidemic affecting global wellbeing. Overweight and obesity are defined by an excess accumulation of adipose tissue to an extent that impairs both physical and psychosocial health and well-being.

We sit and work for hours, we eat excess and non-nutritious food, we barely move, and we have poor sleeping schedules accumulating fat (as adipose tissue). It is essential to maintain a healthy weight to live a healthy and active lifestyle preventing many diseases associated with an unhealthy amount of weight.

What is obesity?

We generally refer to obesity as a normal accumulation of fat. Medically, obesity is defined by BMI ( Body Mass Index ). Body Mass Index is calculated based only on weight and height. Weight in kgs divided by square of the height in meters. An individual with BMI greater than 30 kg/m² is considered as obese. The leading cause of obesity is when we consume more calories than we burn. Obesity is linked with many diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, coronary heart disease, certain forms of cancers, musculoskeletal disorders and sleeping disorders. It is not just the accumulation of body fat, it leads to hormonal imbalance, the inefficiency of organs, mental disorders etc.

Body mass index ( BMI )

Body Mass Index is a metric used to classify individuals into groups according to their weight and height. The formula for calculating BMI is used to analyze and create health policies all over the world.

Although, there are a lot of studies saying that BMI is a poor indicator of obesity as it takes into consideration just weight and height. In contrast, the main factor in obesity is fat. The characteristics of every individual vary and so does their weight according to their genetics, muscle weight, bone weight.

CategoryBMI
Underweight15-19.9
Normal weight20-24.9
Overweight25-29.9
Class 1 Obesity30-34.9
Class II Obesity35-39.9
Class II Obesity>= 40
BMI Chart

Overweight vs Obesity

Being overweight means being more than the normal weight. Obesity is also being overweight. Although, medically, if the BMI is between 25 – 29.9, an individual is overweight and if the BMI is over 30, an individual is obese. Overweight leads to obesity, if no action is taken. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults aged 18 years and older were overweight. Of these over 650 million adults were obese. According to BMI, Obesity is much more severe than just being overweight. It is very hard to reverse from obesity if we don’t take action when at the stage of overweight (BMI = 25 – 29.9)

The science behind obesity

The main reason for obesity is calorie surplus. When the calorie consumed is more than the calorie used, we tend to gain weight. That is the science. Now, a small amount of fluctuation in weight keeps happening. But when there is a constant surplus in calories with barely any movement, we get to the stage of obesity. That’s why overeating and lack of exercise is the fundamental cause of obesity.
We consume food for energy. Our body breaks down the food we eat into energy for us to consume. When we live a sedentary life, the energy doesn’t get consumed and is stored in our bodies as fat to be used later. Which we don’t tend to use if we live in a constant state of inactivity. Hence, eventually turning obese. It tends to be difficult for the population at large to maintain energy balance.

Other Factors Contributing to Obesity

Apart from the main factor of energy imbalance, there are a few more factors that subtly contribute to obesity. These factors are determined from individual to individual as the characteristics differ. Few of these factors are:

Genetics: There is much evidence that a sizable portion of the variation in weight among adults is due to genetic factors.

Other disorders: Weight gain in many individuals happen corresponding to another disorder that they may be suffering from, for example PCOS, hyperthyroidism, insulin resistance, and Cushing’s syndrome. These disorders contribute to obesity and make it very hard to reverse it.

Age: As individual ages, the metabolic rate tends to decrease. Metabolic rate is the amount of energy to perform metabolism. As the metabolic rate decreases, the energy expenditure also decreases, if the energy consumed is not adjusted accordingly, people eventually gain weight.

Weight Loss versus Fat Loss

Excess fat is the main factor in obesity, the fat obviously contributes to weight. More excess fat, more weight. Although weight is the standard way of measuring obesity through BMI (Body Mass Index), there are many studies saying that it is not the most precise way to diagnose obesity but it does give an idea. BMI can also be easily calculated so it helps determine the health of a larger population.
The number on the scale although isn’t a true marker of health as it doesn’t consider muscle mass, bone weight, body type etc.
People who aim for weight loss by any means usually end up following unsustainable ways of losing weight and fad diets which only deteriorate metabolism and health.

To lose weight, you need to create an energy deficit by eating fewer calories or increasing the number of calories you burn through physical activity or both. But in order to consume fewer calories, we cannot compromise on the essential number of calories we need for our body to maintain itself, which differs from individual to individual. Weight loss, in its entirety, could also include water and muscle loss, which may be detrimental to overall health. Whereas prioritizing fat loss helps decrease the risks associated with chronic diseases, inflammation and prevent muscle mass loss. It also uses sustainable ways for better health. Hence, it is important to understand your individual needs and engage with fat loss over weight loss.

6 Primary Causes of obesity

Here are the main causes of obesity:

  1. Overeating: Food is consumed to provide us energy to sustain and go on with our daily activities, when we consume more than we need on a daily basis it starts accumulating as fat leading to obesity. The quality of food also has a significant role in obesity.
  2. Bad quality food: Fast foods, processed meats, desserts, candies, fatty meats, white bread products, snacks, sugary drinks, alcohol, and condiments are high calorie foods, with barely any nutrients contributing highly to obesity. These foods are also harmful for the overall health.
  3. Lack of exercise: The other aspect of energy balance apart from consuming it is using it. If we do not exercise enough, there would be very limited use of energy causing a calorie surplus. We need to use enough calories according to the calories consumed to avoid it from converting into fat.
  4. Lifestyle: If we live a lifestyle that in itself is sedentary, we will hardly use much calories. Sedentary lifestyle creates more than just a calorie surplus. It causes the overall health to deteriorate. There are many studies that mention that movement and exercise release happy hormones, the lack of movement of and exercises limits our happiness, also causing mental disorders.
  5. Environment: Our surroundings define us, if we live in a negative environment, it affects both our physical health and mental health as they are both interconnected. Negative events and negative people create a negative impact on our health both directly and indirectly.
  6. Poor mental health: Poor mental health resists us from taking control of anything, let alone physical health. It is important to have a good state of mind to take care of your physical health and vice versa.

Effects of obesity on overall health

Obesity is associated with many other diseases and increases the risk of many disorders. The health-related problems in obesity are either due to the excess fat or the metabolic changes caused by excess weight. 

Osteoarthritis

It is common for overweight individuals to develop osteoarthritis significantly increased in overweight individuals due to the pressure of excess body weight. It usually affects the weight-bearing joints like the knee and ankles and restricts their movement. However, there have been increased cases of osteoarthritis affecting non-weight-bearing joints.

Sleep apnea

Increased body weight significantly affects the lungs as it decreases in lung capacity due to increased abdominal pressure on the diaphragm, eventually causing sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a severe sleep disorder in which pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep occur more often than normal. One interesting hypothesis is that the increased neck circumference and fat deposits in the pharyngeal area may lead to the obstructive sleep apnea of obesity.

Mental disorders

Obesity brings along a lot of stress from different sources. Overweight individuals usually get a lot of unnecessary criticism from society, go through a lot of self-doubts, and lack happy hormones. Overall the quality of life decreases. This stigma towards obesity occurs everywhere in education, employment, health care, and elsewhere. Obese women appear to be at greater risk of psychological dysfunction than obese men; this is potentially due to increased societal pressures on women to be thin. 

Diabetes mellitus

Type 2 diabetes mellitus is strongly associated with being overweight in both genders. The risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus increases as the fat increases. Obesity causes increased levels of fatty acids and inflammation, leading to insulin resistance, which in turn can lead to type 2 diabetes. Anyone who is overweight and/or obese has some kind of insulin resistance

Endocrine changes

A variety of endocrine changes are associated with being overweight, it creates significant hormonal imbalance. Most importantly, imbalance in the reproductive system causes irregular menstruation and reduced rate of fertility. Overweight people often have abnormalities in secretion of hypothalamic GnRH, pituitary LH, and FSH, which results in anovulation. Anovulation happens when an egg (ovum) doesn’t release from your ovary during your menstrual cycle.

Cancer

Certain forms of cancer are significantly increased in overweight individuals. Males face increased risk for neoplasms of the colon, rectum, and prostate. In women, cancers of the reproductive system and gallbladder are more common. One explanation for the increased risk of endometrial cancer in overweight women is the increased production of estrogens by adipose tissue stromal cells. This increased production is related to the degree of excess body fat that accounts for a  major source of estrogen production in postmenopausal women. Breast cancer is not only related to total body fat, but also may have a more important relationship to central body fat (25). The increased visceral fat measured by computed tomography shows an important relationship to the risk of breast cancer.

Hypertension

The mediators of abnormal kidney function and increased blood pressure during development of obesity hypertension include (1) physical compression of the kidneys by fat in and around the kidneys, (2) activation of the renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system, and (3) increased sympathetic nervous system activity.

Obesity in children

The metabolism in children is good and Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of obesity, premature death and disability in adulthood. But in addition to increased future risks, obese children experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects.

Yoga for Obesity 

Any sort of physical exercise would help burn calories but instead of exhausting ourselves physically we need to start gradual and slow and not just focus on  For obesity, we should practice more of the yoga that helps us release energy blockages, makes us feel refreshed, helps release mental tension and regulates our endocrine system. Apart from that, it is very important to focus on the whole body and perform more of what consumes more energy occasionally to use those fat stores according to capacity. Yoga works with breathe coordination and hence, increase vital forces (prana) which lacks in an obese person. 

Unlike other exercises that only help burn some calories, yoga ensures to work on better functioning of our internal organs. It massages the organs, tone the muscles and regulate the body functioning along with burning calories. 

Here are few yoga practices that helps immensely in obesity. Make sure you don’t perform these without the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher, especially the cleansing practices (shatkarma). 

Yoga poses for Obesity

Surya Namaskar

Also Read
Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) For Reducing Belly Fat
Sun Salutation – All You Need To Know

Step 1. Prayer pose (Pranamasana)

Keep your eyes closed and your feet together. Stand upright.

Slowly bend the elbows and place the palms together in front of the chest in namaskara mudra, mentally offering homage to the sun, the source of all life.

Step 2: Raised arms pose (Hasta Uttanasana)

Seperate the hands, while inhaling, raise and stretch both arms above the head, keep them shoulder width apart. Bend the head, arms and upper trunk slightly backward.

Step 3: Hand to foot pose (Padahastasana)

Exhaling, bend forward from the hips touching the palms on the floor on either side of the feet, keeping the spine straight. Bring the forehead as close to the knees as is comfortable. Do not strain. Bend the knees if necessary.

Step 4. Equestrian pose (Ashwa Sanchalanasana)

Inhaling, stretch the right leg back as far as is comfortable, keep your right knee on the floor and grasp the floor with your toes. At the same time, bend the left knee, the calf perpendicular to the floor and the foot on the floor in the same position. Keep the arms straight. In the final position, the weight of the body should be supported on both hands, the left foot, right knee and toes of the right foot. The head should be tilted backward, the back arched and the inner gaze directed upward to the eyebrow centre.

Step 5. Mountain pose (Parvatasana)

Exhaling, take the left foot back beside the right foot. Simultaneously, raise the buttocks and lower the head between the arms so that the back and legs form two sides of a triangle.

Step 6. Salute with eight parts or points (Ashtanga Namaskar)

The legs and arms straighten in the final position and the heels come down towards the floor in the final pose. Bring the head and shoulders towards the knees. Hold your breath and lower the knees, chest and chin to the floor; the feet will come up on to the toes simultaneously. The buttocks, hips and abdomen should be raised.

Step 7. Cobra pose (Bhujangasana) 

Slide the chest forward and inhale, raise first the head, the shoulders, then, straightening the elbows, arch the back into the cobra pose. This will lower the buttocks and hips to the floor. Bend the head back and direct the gaze upward to the eyebrow centre. The thighs and hips remain on the floor and the arms support the trunk and the arms will remain slightly bent.

Step 8. Mountain pose ( Parvatasana)

Do not move the feet and the hand, from bhujangasana assume parvatasana.

Keep the arms and legs straight, grip the floor with the toes and while exhaling, use the strength of the arms to raise the buttocks and lower the heels to the floor.

Step 9. Equestrian pose (Ashwa Sanchalanasana)

Inhaling, bring the left leg forward in between your hands, keeping the left foot on the floor and the calf perpendicular to the floor. Grasp the floor with the toes of the right foot, keeping the right knee on the floor.

Keep the arms straight. In the final position, the weight of the body should be supported on both hands, the left foot, right knee and toes of the right foot. The head should be tilted backward, the back arched and the inner gaze directed upward to the eyebrow centre.

Step 10. Hand to foot pose (Padahastasana)

Exhaling, bring the left foot forward. Keep the palms on the floor, bend the knees if necessary to keep the spine straightened. Tip to deepen this yoga stretch: Gently straighten the knees, and if you can, try and touch your nose to the knees. Keep breathing.

Step 11. Raised arms pose (Hasta Uttanasana)

Inhaling, raise the back and hands ups, stretch the arms above the head, keeping them shoulder width apart. Bend the head, arms and upper trunk slightly backward.

Step 12. Prayer pose (Pranamasana)

Exhaling, first straighten the body, then bend the elbow and place the palms together in front of your chest. Relax in this position and observe the sensations in your body.

This completes half a round, two of these make one round of Surya Namaskar. Complete the round by repeating the steps but in the other half, while performing step 4, stretch the left leg backward and  while performing step 9, bring the right leg forward. 

Note: This style of Surya namaskar is according to the book ‘Asana pranayama mudra bandha’ by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. When done dynamically, it consume a lot of energy and also has many internal benefits. It works amazingly well for obesity.

Triyak Tadasana

Step 1: Stand with the feet more than shoulder width apart. Fix the gaze on a point directly in front. Interlock the fingers and turn the palms outward. Raise the arms over the head, stretching upwards.

Step 2: Bend to the right side from the waist. Do not bend forward or backward or twist the trunk. Hold the position for a few seconds, then slowly come back to the upright position.

Repeat on the left side.This completes one round. Practice 10 rounds.

To End The Practice, return to the upright position, release

the hands, bringing the arms down to the sides.

Trikonasana

Gatyatmak Meru Vakrasana (dynamic spinal twist)

Paschimottanasana (back stretching pose)

Sit on the floor with the legs outstretched, feet together and hands on the knees.

This is the starting position. Relax the whole body.

Slowly bend forward from the hips, sliding the hands down the legs. Try to grasp the big toes with the fingers and thumbs. If this is impossible, hold the heels, ankles or any part of the legs that can be reached comfortably. Move slowly without forcing orjerking.

Hold the position for a few seconds. Relax the back and leg muscles, allowing them to gently stretch.

Keeping the legs straight and utilizing the arm muscles, not the back muscles, begin to bend the elbows and gently bring the trunk down towards the legs, maintaining a firm grip on the toes, feet or legs.

 Try to touch the knees with the forehead. Do not strain. This is the final position.

Hold the position for as long as is comfortable and relax. Slowly return to the starting position.

This is one round.

Utthanasana (squat and rise pose)

Stand erect with the feet about one metre apart. Tum the toes out to the sides where they remain throughout the practice. Interlock the fingers of both hands and let them hang loosely in front of the body.

Stage I :

Stage 2:

Stage3:

Stage 4:

Padachakrasana (leg rotation)

Stage I : Lie in the starting position and relax.

Stage 2: This may be repeated raising both legs together, but do not strain.

Pada Sanchalanasana (cycling)

Stage I : Lie in the starting position and relax.

Stage 2: Raise both legs. Practise alternate cycling movements as though pedaling a bicycle.

Stage 3: Raise both legs and keep them together throughout the practice.

Gatyatmak Paschimottanasana (dynamic back stretch pose)

Lie flat on the back with the feet together. Raise the arms over the head and bring them to the floor with the palms facing up. This is the starting position.

Relax the whole body.

Raise the trunk to the sitting position with the arms straight above the head and the spine straight. Bend forward into paschimottanasana in a smooth movement.

Hold the final position for a short time.

Return to the sitting position with the arms straight above the head.

Lean backwards and return to the starting position.

This is one round. Practise up to 10 rounds.

Padahastasana

Stand with the spine erect, feet together and hands beside the body. Relax the body.

This is the starting position.

Distribute the weight of the body evenly on both feet. Slowly bend forward, first bending the head, taking the chin towards the chest, then bending the upper trunk, relaxing the shoulders forward and letting the arms go limp. Bend the mid-trunk and finally the lower trunk.

While bending forward, imagine that the body has no bones or muscles. Do not strain or force the body.

Place the fingers underneath the toes or bring the palms to the floor beside the feet. If this is not possible, bring the fingertips as near to the floor as possible.

Relax the back of the neck. The body is bent forward with the knees straight and the forehead close to or touching the knees.

Hold the position, relaxing the whole back.

Slowly return to the starting position in the reverse order. This completes one round.

Relax in the upright position before continuing the next round.

Breathing Practises ( Pranayama)

Bhramari

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (psychic network purification)

Cleansing practises (Shatkarma)

 Jal Neti

Step 1: Get a neti pot. Fill it with lukewarm water (around 40 degree Celsius), add salt in the proportion of one teaspoon per half liter. The addition of salt ensures the osmotic pressure of the water is equal to that of the body fluids, thereby minimizing any irritation to the mucous membrane. A painful or burning sensation is an indication of too little or too much salt in the water.

Step 2: Stand with legs apart distributing the body weight evenly. Lean forward and tilt the head to one side. Breathe through the mouth.

Gently insert the nozzle into the uppermost nostril against the side of the nostril so that no water leakage occurs.

Tilt the neti pot in such a way that water runs into the nostril and not down the face.

Keep the mouth open. Raising the elbow of the hand which holds the neti pot helps to adjust the body position so that the water flows out through the lower nostril. When half the water has passed through the nostrils, remove the nozzle from the nostril, centre the head and let the water run out of the nose.

Remove any mucus from the nose by b1owing gently.

Tilt the head to the opposite side and repeat the process, placing the nozzle of the Iota in the upper nostril .

After completing this process, the nostrils must be thoroughly dried.

Sutra Neti (nasal cleansing with thread)

Kunjal

Key Tips

  1. Prioritize fat loss over weight loss to maintain muscle mass.
  2. Some of the hacks that work towards promoting fat loss can also backfire if you don’t strategise well.
  3. However, apart from working out regularly, there are also a few other ways to ensure that you are losing weight in the form of fat and at the same time, conserving muscle mass:
  4. Make sure you have ample protein, preferably in every meal
  5. Eat fewer calories and aim to reach a calorie deficit
  6. Focus on intensive exercise forms such as cardio and weight training.
  7. If you are concentrating on losing weight (body fat), aim at reducing 500-700 grams of weight every week.

References and Further Reading On Yoga For Obesity

[1] Asana pranayama mudra bandha Swami Satyananda Saraswati

[2] Yoga for obesity Baba Ramdev 

[3] Yogic Management for common diseases 

[4] Yoga for obesity the yoga Institute 

[5] Kopelman, P. G. (2000). Obesity as a medical problem. Nature, 404(6778), 635-643.

[6] Adab, P., Pallan, M., & Whincup, P. H. (2018). Is BMI the best measure of obesity?. Bmj, 360.

[7] Singh, P., & Rai, S. N. (2019). Factors affecting obesity and its treatment. Obesity Medicine, 16, 100140.

[8] Nuttall, F. Q. (2015). Body mass index: obesity, BMI, and health: a critical review. Nutrition today, 50(3), 117.

[9] Obesity and overweight, WHO

[10] Bray, G. A. (2004). Medical consequences of obesity. The Journal of clinical endocrinology & metabolism, 89(6), 2583-2589.

Author

Chaitanya Roopani

I have been a yoga practitioner for almost 6 years and now I am pursuing my bachelor’s degree in yogic sciences to become a full time yoga therapist.

Chaitanya Roopani has authored the following key articles on the World Yoga Forum.
Yoga For PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)

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