Thursday, July 12, 2007

Day 25

The 'Shape Shifting Edition'

With the 'teeny ashtangi' thread going full-throttle over on the Ashtanga message board, now seems to be an opportune time to talk about yoga, weight loss and the changes I've seen in my body during the month I've been practising the Ashtanga primary series daily.

I'm no stranger to regular yoga practice - I've had a daily yoga practice (Hatha, Vinyasa, Anusara) for 10+ years. As a full-time yoga teacher, I also teach anywhere from five to fifteen classes per week. I'm in good shape and not remotely overweight, though I do notice when I put on a few additional pounds. Last year, during a stressful period, I consoled myself with muffins and I put on some weight.

I guess you could say I got a muffin top! ;-)

This spring I made some simple lifestyle changes in order to speed my metabolism (which is slowing down as I near my 40s): I started walking for an hour every day and cut out sugar completely. I was already seeing a moderate weight loss from those changes when I decided to add a daily Ashtanga practice to my routine. Since I started this practice, I've seen some dramatic changes in my body that I can't attribute to diet and walking alone. Simply put, the shape of my body is changing:

I have, in fact, lost some weight. Whether it's due to diet, walking, Ashtanga or the combination of the three is anyone's guess. I suspect the walking fuels the Ashtanga (it gets me up in the morning) which fuels the diet (I don't seem to crave junk food as much when I'm practising vinyasa). I don't know how much I've lost because I don't weigh myself. Instead, I use my favourite blue Capri pants as a measure. This winter, I couldn't get into them, in the spring they zipped but didn't button, now they're slightly tight but I can wear them.

From the waist down, I'm shrinking, but from the waist up, it's a different story. Many of my shirts are now too small, and this despite the fact that I've gone down nearly a cup size in my bust. Specifically, I've gained some brand new muscle mass in my arms and broadened in the shoulders. A few shirts that I bought last summer no longer fit properly due to my new, 'buff' physique.

“Baby, I love your arms!”
The first time it happened, I thought it was a fluke (a complete stranger complimented me on my arms and asked if I lift weights). But last night, a close friend said almost exactly the same thing. I was showing her the rash on my arms (yeah, I love to show off my nasty rash to people in pubs) and she suddenly commented on the 'definition' in my arms. Of course, I responded by doing flexing and doing my best Charles Atlas impersonation. ;-) Seriously, though, I've noticed it too. I'm stronger; lifting things is less of a chore. I have no doubt at all that this new strength is derived from doing Chaturanga Dandasana a kazillion times every morning.

But back to the 'teeny ashtangi' issue (which revolves around weight, self-image, and whether one's size impedes yoga practice): Having practised yoga for many years, I can say with certainty that dedicated practice has changed the way I view my body and the altered the importance I assign to physical appearance. I think a strong, properly focused yoga practice can cultivate self-acceptance. I have round-bodied students who have beautiful, advanced yoga practices. I have slender students who can't touch their toes, but express incredible grace and beauty in their asanas. Bottom line: I don't think it matters what your BMI is *and* I don't think it really matters how flexible you are either.


Yoga is about moving the body, mindfully. Period.

From a strictly physical standpoint, moving, stretching, and building strength are all things that make us healthier. Movement increases blood flow (bringing a sense of well-being and health to the internal organs), lubricates joints (alleviating stiffness), lengthens muscle (which prevents injury), and builds muscle mass (to better support the joints and increase quality of life). The mindfulness aspects developed in yoga practice carry over into daily life, increasing tolerance to stress, ability to 'stay in the moment', gratitude, joy and self-acceptance.

I continue to reap these benefits from my yoga practice, regardless of the style I'm practising (though I do find that a daily practice is the best way to cultivate the benefits of yoga).

And on that topic, I had a great practice today. I felt comfortable and unrushed and for the first time, my hour-and-a-half Ashtanga practice felt smooth and graceful. And I was able to bind in Marichyasana D on the right side! The straight-legs-into-headstand project is going well. I'm not there yet, but I'm feeling stronger.

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