{the life} The Yoga Body

by Rachel on March 5, 2012

For the past week, I’ve found myself constantly hiking up my jeans. Every time I sit, stand, or move, I need to pull them into place. After a few days of doing this — even after they were freshly washed — I realized, Oh. The problem is that these jeans are actually just too big and it’s all that damn yoga’s fault.

It’s been a while since I had that feeling. More than a year, actually. And for someone who used to keep nearly every size of jeans in her closet, that kind of stability has been nice. But…now it’s gone.

And yoga is to blame.

While a lot of people have been asking me about how yoga has affected my weight, I’ve avoided writing about it, simply because, well, I don’t want to make yoga about weight loss. It’s not about weight loss for me. But I’ve realized that in avoiding the topic, I’ve totally become like that friend who meets a new dude and is totally into him and after several dates, you and all your other friends are like, “So?! Is he good in bed???” and then she responds, “Ugh, you guys…there is more to a relationship than sex.” And you and your friends all sit there kinda speechless and then someone says, “Right, well of course there is…BUT IS HE GOOD IN BED???”

OK, so fine — I’m not one to withhold the dirty details!

First, some background: I’ve been going to Iyengar yoga twice a week and and Vinyasa yoga twice a week since late August, with a six-week break due to out-of-control allergies/traveling from mid-October to December. The classes are usually 75 minutes, though I typically take one 45 or 60 minute class per week. I prefer the Iyengar classes, which focus on strength and alignment. It’s about holding intense poses and breathing through them rather than moving quickly through a series of poses like you might in a Vinyasa (or Flow) class. As a beginner, I found having more time really useful, and I think that the strength aspect is a big part of why my body has reacted the way it has. Even though it’s beginner-friendly, it is intense. Sometimes it feels like conditioning for Vinyasa or other types of yoga; we hold these variations on downward dog and chair pose for so long and most days, I feel like I’m going to scream in that stillness. While I’d prefer to just go to Iyengar all the time, I don’t want to get an injury from only doing one type of class so I mix it up by going to Vinyasa as well. I like Vinyasa because it leaves me totally out of breath and energized and because it’s really damn hard.

Since I started taking yoga classes, I haven’t done any other type of workout (no running, no spin class, no strength training or Core Fusion) but I’ve remained active — cleaning, running errands, and walking my dogs about 3/4 of a mile per day. This is all I was doing for several months leading up to starting yoga classes, so there hasn’t been a major change there. Similarly, my diet hasn’t changed since I started yoga, except maybe in that way that all exercise in general makes you want to eat less junk. But I feel pretty confident that all the changes in my body are unrelated to my diet.

So somehow, those four yoga classes a week — and just those four yoga classes a week –have led to major changes in my body.

Even before my jeans started falling off, the changes in my body blew me away. My back, arms, and shoulders have changed the most noticeably. A couple months ago I sent a friend a picture of me in a new workout top and she kept going on about how toned my arms looked. While I don’t have Madonna’s arms or anything, I can tell that they are way more toned than they have ever been in the past. Eric was rubbing my shoulders a few weeks ago and he commented on all the muscles he could feel. It’s not exactly a scientific study, but if he notices a difference — and he sees me every day so he never notices a difference — I take that as a good sign. Given how much time I’ve spent in that godawful turbo dog pose (what happens at 1:37? is what I’ve been up to in yoga class), it makes sense that I’d see a big change here, but it’s still exciting.

I’ve also noticed a huge change in my abs and lower back. I noticed a few weeks ago that my torso has this long look that I’ve always assumed was out of my reach. My abs aren’t terribly defined (and that isn’t something I really expect, as I’ve always carried my weight in my tummy) but they are so much flatter and the length in my back just makes them look nice from all angles. Also, they seem to stay flat, which I think has a lot to do with the fact that most of the classes I go to are lightly heated. I sweat a good amount in them, so I never really feel bloated anymore. Even if I do go out to breakfast or dinner, I feel like I sweat out any bloating that might have occurred from extra booze/salt/dairy/grease before I can get into that “ugh I feel so bloated” cycle that, for whatever reason, always makes me want to eat more junk food. Speaking of food, yoga makes me way less hungry

It’s also given me a more defined lower body; just well-proportioned and strong. My lower back looks longer/flatter and it runs into my butt, which now has some curve to it (though I can’t say that’s from yoga — that is a curve I’ve been working to build up for years). My thighs are thinner than they’ve ever been, but they still look really strong…because they are really strong.

One way yoga can affect your body in a negative way is that it can be hard on your wrists. I just happen to have bad wrists so I have to be extra aware of where my hands are during yoga classes and take care not to compress them. I’ve also definitely had a few days when my neck or knees feel a bit off and I know it’s from not being careful enough in my yoga classes. Part of the reason I like Iyengar so much is that it helps me avoid this because it’s more focused on doing a pose right than speeding through a sequence of poses.

People assume that you can’t burn enough calories during yoga to lose weight and from everything I’ve read, that’s not really true. I used to believe that neither walking nor yoga was a “real” workout, meaning that these activities wouldn’t make me super red-faced or out of breath and therefore wouldn’t help me lose weight. (Ugh, that’s just not even true. I get so out of breath and red-faced in Vinyasa classes!) Because of that, I had kind of just half-assed yoga; it wasn’t until I committed to going four times a week for a month that I really fell in love with it and, unsurprisingly, saw changes in my body too. I’m not sure if going twice a week would bring about changes this dramatic, or how much of an effect the different types of classes have on weight loss, but I can say that by making it my main workout, I have actually been able to lose weight without even trying.

And I have never, in my entire life, lost weight without even trying. Seriously, just typing that sentence made me feel like I had been kidnapped and replaced by some skinny bitch version of me.

What’s funny is that I’ve finally found the form of exercise that could help me lose weight easily and I don’t even care that it’s helping me lose weight easily. I was really happy with my body before and have developed a deeper love for it that has nothing to do with how my abs or thighs look. I’m just so excited about the mental benefits of yoga and the fact that it’s made me calmer, more open-minded and laid-back, more humble, more grateful, more comfortable with the unknowns about my life, and more creative; the loss of inches at my waist really feels like a free gift with purchase.

For me, the weight loss aspect of yoga really is like awesome sex in a really great relationship…while I’m thrilled about the physical stuff, I know that a physical connection alone isn’t what sustains great love. My love for it goes deeper than that, but that said…I still get a little tingly feeling when I see that aside from bringing me a lot of love and happiness, yoga also has a pretty great body.