Read an Excerpt
Your Guide to Building a Yoga Body
(It's Not as Hard as You Think.)
The first fruits of the practice of yoga are health, little waste matter, and a clear complexion; lightness of the body, a pleasant scent, and a sweet voice; and an absence of greedy desires.--The Upanishads
A yoga body is the one you have now, only healthier. This book is your complete guide to how to get it. It's not as hard as you might think.
The best part? The benefits don't stop at your appearance. At the end of 4 short weeks, you'll feel better, you'll think more clearly, and you'll find it's much easier to keep a positive mindset and roll with life's inevitable punches. The Yoga Body Diet is more than a diet; it's a change in how you relate to yourself and your body. Losing weight is just a fringe benefit--a pretty good one.
These might sound like big promises, but they're grounded in science and rooted in an ancient practice that we've adapted for today's demanding lifestyles.
A Brief History of Yoga
Although the first book on yoga, The Yoga Sutras, was published 2,000 years ago, it is estimated that people have been practicing yoga for 5,000 years. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, meaning "yoke" or "union," describing the connection--the union--between body, mind, and spirit. A typical yoga class includes physical postures (called asanas), breath control exercises (called pranayamas), and sometimes meditation and philosophy.
The pretzel-tying, incense-burning, and spiritually proselytizing aspects of yoga get a lot of press, but the truth is that in America today, 25 million people say they will try yoga in the next year. And the reason is this: It is a perfect way to de-stress. Last year, millions of Americans-- some 13 million, in fact--took a yoga class and discovered that it isn't too hard, and it isn't scary. What else they did they report? It's a good workout, it feels fantastic, and it's better than a massage or martini when it comes to affordable and long-term stress relief.
Thirty-five years ago, Dr. Herbert Benson, Director Emeritus of the Benson- Henry Institute and Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard Medical School, educated America on what he called the relaxation response. He administered a battery of tests, measuring blood pressure, brain waves, heart rate, and rate of breathing among practitioners of Transcendental Meditation (the Beatles are the most famous TM practitioners) as they sat quietly for 20 minutes and again while they meditated for 20 minutes. Through the simple act of changing their thought patterns while meditating, the subjects experienced decreases in blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate, and had slower brain waves--changes that characterize a relaxation response.
Subsequent studies have revealed that we can tap into this effect through multiple channels. Prayer works. Yoga and deep breathing work. So do running and dicing carrots (although not simultaneously).
Repetition--of a sound, word, or movement--helps to trigger a relaxation response. It also helps to quiet mental chatter. Yoga, a series of movements that are held and repeated in tandem with deep breathing, elicits a relaxation response. One of the main differences between a generic cardio workout and a yoga workout is that if you match your breath to the movement, you'll trigger your relaxation response. That is critical for healing and, in turn, for weight loss. The yoga body diet's bag of tricks sculpts a body and a mindset profoundly different from one that's built in the weight room.
Yoga poses (there are more than 13,000, but our "greatest hits compilation" in Chapter 9 distills the most accessible and user-friendly) use your own body weight and gravity to pull muscle toward the bone, rather than creating muscle tears, which build mass. Yoga creates a body that's more dancer than linebacker. Bulky muscle--the kind most people get by pumping iron--is hungry. It literally requires more calories to keep it from melting into flab. This makes keeping the balance in calorie in-calorie out equation nearly impossible. On the other hand, yoga doesn't leave you famished. After class you do not binge on a buffet of food (or want to, for that matter) and hours later crucify yourself for the caloric inequity. For this reason, this diet is a solution for anyone who exercises like a fiend and still cannot slim down.
Elite physicians, inarguably Western in their approach to medicine, have begun to trumpet yoga's amazing effects. According to the National Institutes of Health, studies have shown yoga to:
* Improve mood
* Counteract stress
* Reduce heart rate and blood pressure
* Increase lung capacity
* Improve muscle relaxation
* Help with conditions such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia
* Improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility
* Positively affect levels of certain brain or blood chemicals
In 2008, researchers in India published a study in the journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice that found that after 3 months of practicing yoga, participants lost more weight and lowered their blood pressure, triglycerides, and blood sugar levels (all indicators of metabolic speed) more than those who received standard care, such as medication, for their symptoms.
"I'm Not Flexible Enough" and Other Yoga Myths Debunked
We often hear the same refrains when the uninitiated talk about yoga. Here are answers to the most nagging questions.
1. "I'm not flexible."
Yoga is for Gumbys; gyms are for buffies, goes the thinking. In fact, yoga increases flexibility. Many people who thought they'd never be able to touch their toes can do incredible things after just a few deep breaths.
2. "You don't work hard enough in yoga to lose weight."
We now have proof that cutting calories alone doesn't leave you skinny. If you don't change what you eat and how you exercise, that scale won't sing. The gym has its place in the world, but it's not all it's cracked up to be (and too time consuming to sustain), and gyms do not actively encourage a ninja-like mind (although being able to zone out in front of seven TVs while treadmilling is masterful, we admit). The mind-body connection is the future of health.
3. "Yoga is a cult of hippies with yuppie money."
We desperately want to show you how yoga is transgenerational, for rich and poor and superficial and profound--just like life. Failing to travel to India, eating meat for protein, or drinking wine doesn't diminish one's ability to understand yoga. Yoga is about increasing your awareness, plunging into your daily life, and turning your future into something so desirable you wake up awash in possibility.
4. "It takes fancy poses to be good at yoga."
The person struggling in the corner is often a lot better at yoga in some ways than the precise, uptight perfectionist in row one. What matters more: mat skills or life skills? Life is lived mostly off the sticky mat, so no matter how awesome your Eagle is, how do you handle Mom's emergency pacemaker surgery happening on the day of your daughter's birthday? Do you have perspective enough to stay productive when the chips are down or you're overwhelmed? Your response to a high-pressure scenario is a better indicator of your yoga than the length of time you hold the Crow pose.
On the mind-body topic, yoga is based on a pretty cool principle called Ahimsa, which means "non-harming" in Sanskrit. The philosophy encourages you to embrace a gentle attitude, and part of this is about being gentle on yourself. You don't have to try to £d your body into shape. In yoga, you respect it, take care of it, and offer it the kind of movement and breathing that it intuitively desires. It's a good place to start going easy on your body. And Ayurveda, yoga's little sister, is built on this exact theory: that the body's intelligence is profound. As a science, Ayurveda is an organic rehab for an imbalanced body.
Meet Yoga's Little Sister: Ayurveda
In one poetic phrase borrowed from a swami, yoga and Ayurveda can be described as "two wings of a dove." While yoga is the exercise science behind building a buff body, its sister science, Ayurveda, plays a starring role in The Yoga Body Diet. It is second nature in India. Just like we run out for Emergen-C at a pharmacy, our friends in Bangalore grab trikatu (a digestive powder made with three spices). The Sanskrit word Ayurveda translates to "science" (ayur) and "life" (veda), literally, "the science of life." At 5,000 years old, it is one of the world's oldest medical systems. Today, 80 percent of India's population continues to use Ayurveda exclusively or combined with Western medicine. You've experienced pieces of Ayurveda in disguise. It was the inspiration for the beauty line Aveda.
The modern applications are many, and some have made headlines, giving Ayurveda a bad rap. One aspect of the plan is herbs, but in The Yoga Body Diet, herbs include the pretty greens like mint and tarragon that you can grow on your windowsill. You won't have to ingest a thing by capsule. Our mission is to deliver Ayurveda's greatest hits and to teach you how to use it for weight loss. We've translated and mainstreamed this ancient science. Between the workouts and the recipes and the simplicity of the lifestyle changes, the program will feel as if you hired Hollywood royalty's holistic health counselor to coach you to your new whole-body health goal.
Ayurveda's preventive mission is to purify the mind, body, and soul. Its target: to prevent or remedy digestive problems. According to Ayurveda, diseases often start with improper digestion. When we eat, undigested molecules of food (called ama) stick to tissues and, over time, cause damage and destruction. Think about how cholesterol clogs arteries or how cigarette smoke renders lungs black. Ayurveda maintains that if you eat the wrong foods, your body can't be expected to process the impurities, and the result is clogged drains.
You may have experienced this if you have elimination problems, skin rashes or breakouts, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, or stomach acidity. Why do we suffer from these conditions? According to Ayurveda, it's because the body has been unable to break down ama. As if symptoms of digestive duress weren't hard enough to contend with, the buildup of ama makes it hard for us to burn off bulky fat. The body is too busy to break down fat. Ultimately, if the body is unable to attend to normal processes, illness and disease result.
Ayurveda, in conjunction with a simple yoga practice, detoxifies the body. The Yoga Body Diet will cleanse the digestive system and renovate your health. Once the digestive system's plumbing is in working order, the body can get back to breaking down fat, creating energy, and keeping your immunity high.
Ayurveda's main mission is not weight loss. And that's a good thing. Many diet plans may help you achieve weight loss in the short term, but it may come at the expense of the well-being of other bodily systems. You don't want to be thin but on dialysis or skinny but hypoglycemic. Many famous diets have little-known side effects. Stringent weigh-ins and counting calories loosen the grip you have on feeling good. And the harder we try, the harder it becomes to lose weight for good. The Yoga Body Diet's only side effect is mind-body balance.
The impact of Ayurveda and yoga on weight loss is secondary. Ayurveda's real mission is to heal. The underlying philosophy holds that our bodies are intelligent, and that if we pay attention, they will tell us exactly what we need. If eating dairy upsets your stomach, your body is trying to tell you something. If you break out when you eat spicy sauces, your body is trying to send you a sign that something more cooling would be better for your skin.
Given all of the stimulation we're subject to, it's tough to be in tune with our basic needs. Our overtaxed lives have trashed our bodies. How many young guys have colitis now? How many women struggle with infertility? How many of us can't get a good night's sleep?
It's as simple as this: We can't fight fat until we win the war on stress. To do this, we need to listen to our bodies. The best part about yoga and Ayurveda is that they teach us that our intuition and natural inclination can tell us a lot if we slow down enough to put them in the front seat.
This book will help you learn to listen to your body and understand that reactions to food and fitness are unique to your individual needs. The Yoga Body Diet looks at how and what to eat as ways to make your body's activities, from digestion to sleep, more effective by restoring whole-body balance in the face of stress. And once your digestion de-stresses, you'll not only have shed unwanted £ds (and your sugar cravings), but your metabolic rate will automatically intensify, and fat won't stand a chance.
Good Stress, Bad Stress
Why will this plan work where other diets have failed you? The Yoga Body Diet identifies stress as a key obstacle to long-term weight loss. And, rather than putting your mind and body under intense duress through extreme and unnatural changes in food and fitness, the program subtracts stress from the get-skinny equation. To cure stress, we have to understand it rather than let it scare us.
Here's the story. Our nervous system has two sides: the sympathetic and parasympathetic. You are familiar with the fight-or-flight response, when stress flips the switch on the sympathetic nervous system. Why might this be good? If you have to race out of a burning building, dodge an oncoming car, or perform a presentation to win your promotion, the sympathetic nervous system controls survival instincts. What happens in your body when survival is at stake is that the pupils dilate, the heart pumps blood fast and furiously, and digestion slows. And because your body translates crisis to mean "no food for long stretches," it stores fat. If you're in the tundra, this is great news. If you're going to be wearing a bridesmaid dress and you're so stressed with work, finances, and relationships that your gym routine isn't shedding the £ds for you, it's not.
The other side of the nervous system, the parasympathetic, is the welcome la-la land of serenity. Stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system has these soothing physiological effects: The heart rate slows, digestion increases, and sexual arousal becomes easier. So our claim on the cover-- slim and sexy without stress--is contingent upon how able we are to mellow out our nervous system on command. The Yoga Body Diet begins by using yogic techniques to ban cortisol--the bad-for-you chemical produced by stress-- using yoga, and teaching you to induce and create reserves of the state of grace we call "calm." How do we do that? By eliciting the relaxation response to soothe the nervous system. If we can begin to bank a little bliss, we can combat stress when it comes calling.
Stress is Fat's Welcome Mat.