My 20 lb. Weight Gain and Loss

“If your not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks, and that means your not
going anywhere.” -John W. Holt Jr.

I wish I would have know about a vegan diet when I moved to San Diego after college. When I moved here in 1993 I came without a job, very little money and no credit card. After three weeks of desperate job searching, I landed a job, through the yellow pages, at The Center for Sports Medicine. The only catch was, I had to open the center at 5am, which translated to: “Wake up lazy college party girl, it’s time to WORK!” Since I was grateful to even have a J O B I set my 4am alarm and away I would go to work in the dark each morning in my white Nellie the Nova.

Unfortunately my morning shift was slow, so when the coffee cart would show up around 8am sporting large mocha drinks and big fat scones, I was the first in line. I was suffering from work boredom and food seemed exciting, which caused me to unconsciously eat and drink excessive calories. Sadly this lovely mocha/scone combo was probably around 700 calories. I continued this habit on a daily basis, along with drinking alcohol and late night munchies. I was also trying to keep a long distance relationship alive, which was dying a slow death and causing me anxiety.

In six months I packed on 20lbs, lickity split, even though I was still exercising 1-2 hours a day with cardio and weights. It didn’t matter. I was consuming WAY too many calories! The worst part was, I didn’t even see the weight creeping up on me until my friend came to visit and we weighed ourselves. I remember laughing with her, but secretly wanting to cry.

Thank goodness I soon met a tri-athlete at my job and he helped me get on track with food. He was vegetarian and didn’t drink alcohol and in a few months I lost 10 lbs. However, the last 10 lbs. clung to body for another 5 years, until I quit the gym and started doing ashtanga yoga and meditation daily. These practices combined with a vegan and gluten-free diet helped me lose the weight and keep it off permanently. Yoga and meditation helped me heal my relationship with myself and in turn helped me heal my relationship with food. I know they can do wonders for you as well!

Why Yoga Can Help You Lose Weight

“When you heal the soul, the body will automatically heal itself.” Paramahansa Yogananda

I worked in the fitness industry for 6 years as an Exercise Physiologist and a Personal Trainer, prior to becoming a yoga studio owner and teacher. Surprisingly, I have seen more people lose weight practicing yoga than I did when I was working in the fitness field. Over the years I have often asked myself the question, “Why does yoga help people lose weight more than any other form of exercise I have witnessed?” After teaching yoga since 1997, I finally feel I know some of the answers.

Weight loss is traditionally approached as a physical “issue” and tends to be addressed by only focusing on physical means, diet and exercise education, without attention to the individual’s emotional and spiritual needs. Diet and exercise are valuable information of course, but they do not get to the ROOT issue of why a person is overeating. I believe weight loss is an emotional and spiritual issue and needs to be approached with emotional and spiritual means. Otherwise, it is like putting a square key (diet and exercise education) into a round hole (emotional and spiritual void). The two just don’t fit together, at least not for long term permanent weight loss.

Yoga is an exercise that stimulates and fulfills people mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically. When individuals are feeling fulfilled on ALL these levels, it increases their sense of self worth, so they have less need to overeat or abuse their bodies as they might have in the past. Weight loss begins to occur naturally due to an increase in self-esteem and self-love that is cultivated on the yoga mat, especially during the silence in savasana and meditation.

The definition of yoga, according to Patanjali’s yoga sutras states: “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” Yoga uses postures (asanas), ujjayi breath and a gazing point (dristi) to train the mind to be still, so union (yoga) can occur between the mind, body and spirit and the union between you and your God. Notice how Patanjali doesn’t say, “He who does a handstand best wins!”

Yoga is a mental discipline first, because it is all about quieting the MIND. You learn to concentrate in the present moment without dwelling on the past or fearing the future. A Course in Miracles states, “We have undisciplined lives because we have undisciplined minds.” Yoga and meditation train your mind how to concentrate so you can bring discipline into your mind and into all areas of your life, especially your health.

Yoga helps cease the negative self talk that originated in early child hood. It helps liberate you from thought patterns that are keeping stuck in your mind and therefore stuck in your body and your life. Your thoughts aren’t just in your mind, they are permeating every cell in your body. However, YOU have the power to change them through continuous effort and awareness by creating new, positive, self-affirming thought pattern. It takes repeated practice, just like yoga.

Think of your mind as a cassette player and eject the old negative self talk tape and replace it with a new positive one with positive thoughts about yourself and your life. In Louise Hay’s brilliant book, You Can Heal Your Life, she suggests saying, “I love and accept myself exactly as I AM,” 100 times a day, especially while looking at yourself in the mirror with your finger on your throat chakra, which is the seed for transformation. In addition she suggests affirming, “I AM the perfect weight,” for weight loss. The words, “I AM”, represent the Divine within you, your Higher Self, so don’t use these words in a negative context such as, “I AM fat” and “I AM lazy.” Be careful not defame your “I AM”, because your body and life are listening. The law of attraction is always at work. Chose your thoughts and words wisely to create more of what you want in your life. Speak words of love and praise over yourself and make affirmation a part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth. Keep loving yourself lean!

What makes yoga a spiritual practice is the breathing, otherwise it would just be physical exercise. The breath is the bridge or link between the body, mind, Spirit union. Every time you INHALE with awareness, you are drawing in higher states of consciousness thru the prana (life force), helping you to cultivate your Higher Self into being more prevalent in your life. Your Higher Self is the part of you that wants THE BEST for you and knows you are divine, perfect, whole and complete, just as you are in this moment. This is yoga’s greatest gift, Divine love, which is non-judgmental and unconditional. Yoga helps to teach you to love and know yourself as God loves and knows you. I

When you EXHALE with awareness, you are being liberated from tension, toxins and stress in the the body, along with fear based thoughts patterns, past experiences and behaviors that are no longer serving your highest good, such as addictions.

So the metaphor for yogic breathing can be summed up as follows: Inhale – drawing in new life force, healthy habits, new life experiences, new career opportunities, new relationships, improved self-esteem, a deeper connection to Spirit and the courage to live out your heart’s desires. Exhale- releasing and WILLING to let go of the following: fear, negative self talk, draining relationship, careers without passion and purpose, stress, unhealthy habits and addictions such as, overeating, not eating enough, drinking alcohol, obsessive exercise, compulsive shopping, smoking and drugs, just to name a few. There is a saying in yoga that states:”Your bad habits will lose you.” I have experienced this personally and have witnessed it in many of my students as well. More Divine love equals less bad habits.

Every time you walk out of a yoga class you are a different person than you were before you started the class, because a shift of consciousness has occurred in the mind. The body has also been infused with prana, changing you on a cellular level. In just 1-2 hours, a powerful rebirthing of sorts has taken place on your mat, leaving you feeling joyful, calm, content, connected with God and more clear about your purpose on the planet. Think of yourself as a chrysalis in a cocoon going thru the powerful process of metamorphosis, waiting to emerge and embrace the person you born to be. Yoga can help you facilitate this transformative process by helping you to shed the layers of your being and your life that are no longer serving your highest good.

Anais Nin said it best: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk to bloom.”
I wish you much success in your new lifestyle changes. It’s time to bloom!

Liberation from the Gym: The Magic of Ashtanga Yoga

“Practice and all is coming.”
-Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga Guru)
Ashtanga yoga is the closest feeling to being HOME that I have ever experienced. This challenging yet infinitely rewarding style of yoga has changed my life in so many unforeseen ways for the last eighteen years and continues to do so every time I step on my yoga mat.

I began ashtanga yoga while working as an exercise physiologist and a personal trainer in 1997. I had been practicing more gentle styles of yoga for two years previously and was making very little progress in my practice. Fifteen years of compulsive cardiovascular and weight training exercise had left my body and my being, in what I now feel was a crippled state of existence. I had created so many imbalances in my body from conventional exercise and was paying the price of tight muscles, injured knees and an unfulfilled sense of Self. Therefore, I took a great leap into the unknown and let go of my controlling mind, which had dictated my exercise behavior for half my life and decided to do a pilot study on myself, by just practicing Ashtanga yoga, without any other form of exercise for one month. After all, if I was going to exercise for two hours a day, I wanted to be doing something I enjoyed and was meaningful to my personal and spiritual growth. In that defining moment I was liberated from my previous gym mentality, which was the best choice I have ever made concerning my health and longevity. I haven’t been to a gym since 1999!

As a health professional, I whole-heartedly believe that Ashtanga yoga is the most effective and thorough form of yoga, exercise, weight management, addiction recovery, physical therapy and psychotherapy. It truly is magical! On the physical level, Ashtanga yoga has made me feel like a little kid again. I feel stronger and more flexible in my 40’s than I ever have in my life. Years of conventional exercise had left my body in a bulky shape, that made me unrecognizable to myself. Ashtanga yoga has reinstated my body to its’ natural shape, with longer, leaner and more flexible muscles. Oh the joy of being free from a tight body! Ashtanga yoga uses your body weight as resistance, very similar to gymnastics, so your entire body is working synergistically; using muscles you never knew you had, making you equally strong and flexible throughout your body.

Ashtanga yoga continuously flows in a vinyasa style of movement, from one pose to the next, making the system a moving meditation, or prayer in motion. Once your body becomes familiar with the set series of sequential poses, you feel like you are truly channeling thru the Ashtanga system, instead of struggling. This is mainly due to the utilization of deep Ujjayi breath and the energy locks, called bandhas. The breath and bandhas help you connect to Spirit and tap into to your energy body, so you are working your practice, from the inside out. In time, your practice will appear more effortless than muscular; allowing you to do poses you never dreamed possible! In my yoga teaching I am a huge proponent of encouraging students to step out of the box of their comfort zone. My intention and hope is that they will then take the internal power cultivated on their yoga mat and apply it to their personal lives, allowing them to live their life with less fear and more courage and self-esteem.

On an emotional and spiritual level, Ashtanga yoga has helped deepen my connection to myself and to God which has given me the strength and insight to make the following positive changes in my life: opening Maya Yoga solo, after my first studio burned down, became vegan, lost 10 lbs, moved to Los Angeles to find my husband, thank goodness it worked (met him IN an asthanga class!), quit drinking alcohol and a 20 year coffee/caffeine addiction and initiated contact with my biological parents, whew! Most importantly, Ashtanga yoga helped give me absolute faith in God’s will for my life. It has also helped me deal with life’s challenges like the unexpected death of my father, who just didn’t wake up on Easter morning.

Ashtanga yoga has been a major life line in my life. I’m afraid of where I would be today without this transformative practice that continues to feed my soul and my life daily. I believe Ashtanga yoga was designed to be initially unattainable, with the positive intention of bringing you back to the mat daily, helping you to GROW in your practice and in your life. It is a discipline and commitment to getting honest with your Self and the GOD of your knowing.