{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.

{ 37 comments }

1 Dori March 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm

You made me want to take more yoga. I love how in love with it you are, and I am not surprise you saw these changes. Anything that challenges your body that you do consistently will have this result, and it is just so awesome when it is something you happen to love. Seriously, I am about to start researching yoga studios near my new apartment. Being strong is the best.
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2 Dori March 5, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Oh and I love the relationship/sex analogy. Spot on!
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3 Rachel March 6, 2012 at 8:59 am

Yay!! Keep me posted on whether or not you find something and plan to start taking classes!

4 erin @WELL in L.A. March 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Much admiration for you for not touting yoga as a weight loss tool. You’ve been doing it for all the right reasons – stress reduction, to feel stronger, to learn new skills – and came away with the knowledge that your body loves this form of movement and responds well to it. Kudos, kudos, kudos!!
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5 K @ The Chic Teach March 6, 2012 at 6:56 am

Hey, Erin! I’m not trying to be a buzzkill, and I never respond to people on blogs, but your comment really struck a chord with me.

I agree that I love how Rachel didn’t talk solely about the weight loss benefits of yoga, but is it bad if people sell yoga as a weight loss tool? I mean, it kind of is. And just because your reasons for doing yoga are to reduce stress, feel stronger, and learn new skills, that doesn’t necessarily mean your reasons are “right”, they’re just different.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I got into yoga for some emotional benefit, but mostly to lose weight and get fit. Then I ended up falling in love with the spiritual/mental side of yoga. So, even though I got into it for what you think are the “wrong reasons”, I eventually grew to love it for all of its many limbs, rather than just one.

So, when I tell my girlfriends about my love of yoga, it starts with how much stronger and leaner it’s made me. Then, I gush about the peace and zen it’s given me, too!

Just a thought :-)
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6 Rachel March 6, 2012 at 8:58 am

That’s a good point, K. One downside I see to promoting yoga for weight loss first and foremost is that people might get discouraged because it’s not leaving them as out-of-breath/sweaty as a cardio workout. That was what I used to do and that was why I just gave up without really giving it a chance. I just hope that if people go into it looking for weight loss they realize that it takes patience and commitment (like any workout, really, but I think people need more a bit more reassurance when it comes to yoga) because that was what I failed to realize for so long. I also hope they realize that if they go into it looking for weight loss and don’t lose an ounce, it’s still worth sticking with it.

I’ve read a similar discussion with regard to Lululemon; critics say the brand is getting people into yoga for the “wrong” reasons, while other people argue that if people start doing yoga for the cute gear and end up falling in love and sticking with it, then it’s not really a bad thing. I tend to agree with that (and with you), but I get what Erin was saying too.

Keeping with the relationship/sex analogy, I think what you’re saying is that it is totally possible to marry your one-night-stand, and I support this. Heh.

7 K @ The Chic Teach March 9, 2012 at 7:25 am

Thank you for your well thought out response! I can definitely see with (and agree with) both sides to a point, and am wary of anyone who gets too preachy on one side or the other.

Annnnd I love your analogy :-)
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8 Annie March 5, 2012 at 9:58 pm

love this! I agree; while yoga is an awesome workout which has changed my body in so many positive ways, yoga, to me, is something which benefits my mind and emotional health more than my body!

9 Mindy March 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Nice, congrats on having to go buy new clothes!!!! :)  I haven’t been blessed with magic weight loss, but yoga definitely increases my ability to treat myself well outside of class – less drinking, better eating, more water.  Overall better well being.  Running never had that affect on me!

10 Anne March 5, 2012 at 10:50 pm

I keep complaining about my lack of upper body strength and I KNOW yoga would help. It’s probably time to cash in on those groupons!
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11 Rachel March 6, 2012 at 8:59 am

Do it! Do it!

12 Nikki March 5, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Rachel, I’m ecstatic you’ve grown so in love with yoga. You’re totally dedicated, and in my own experience, I lost about 40lbs doing it without trying either. I was 18 when I started and honestly, I didn’t know jack about it back in the day. Once I started going 2-3 times a week for a few years even, I was in the best shape of my life. These days, how I let yoga practice (in a studio) slip from me for so long is beyond me. You’re doing your body a tremendous favor and I’m sure you’re noticing the positivity radiating from you! Now that my sciatica is nearly healed (let’s pray it doesn’t come back again) I’m ready to get my ass back in the studio. Hot Vinyasa was my favorite style, but I’m certainly intrigued by the style you’ve described. What a great balance to work in both as you do.

Congratulations on your many successes Rach. <3 <3

13 Nikki March 5, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Apart from the physical changes I described above.. it really did change me into a positive person as well. I see things differently, even food. Amazing what this practice can do. Fantastic post. <3

14 Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic March 6, 2012 at 12:10 am

Great post, and it makes me want to try Iyengar! Have you tried Bikram? I’ve been practicing for years but recently got hooked on hot Vinyasa too (http://www.confessionsofachocoholic.com/healthy/craving-heat-and-salt). I still only go about once a week, maybe twice, but lately have been craving it more and more!
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15 K @ The Chic Teach March 6, 2012 at 6:52 am

Oh my, you’ve seriously echoed my exact same sentiments about yoga!

I had a roommate tell me once, “You know, you need to start taking something other than yoga…your body isn’t going to get fit that way!”. And now I’m 1.5 years into my practice, and stronger and leaner than I ever was by running like a maniac and religiously lifting weights! Aside from the fact that I’m infinitely stronger, I’m also happier, calmer, and much more zen since practicing. It’s gotten me through a couple heartbreaks, a family divorce, and so much more.

Seriously, people who pass yoga off as as this passive, all you do is sit and meditate are HALF right. Sure, you sit and meditate, and it’s awesome. But you also move and sweat, and it’s just as awesome, too.
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16 Hannah March 6, 2012 at 7:07 am

I could not agree with this more …

For so long I feel like I fought, and fought, and fought with my body. Yoga made me start loving and appreciating my body, which led to me focusing on health instead of weight loss … which led to my weight taking care of itself.

I’m all for a running buz, but I love my yoga buzz even more!

17 Katie Cummings March 6, 2012 at 7:10 am

I am very jealous! I used to live in a town with a great yoga studio, and now I live 3 hours away from it. And while I go on weekends when I’m in town, its just not the same as going 4 times a week!
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18 Alyson @ Nourished Fitness March 6, 2012 at 8:06 am

This post made me smile, and it had nothing to do with the ‘weight-loss without trying’ .. though that’s freakin’ awesome. It never ceases to amazes me how much yoga has changed my life.. or perhaps better said ‘my perspective.’ When I practices regularly I treat my body better, but mostly in the form of having less negative thoughts. If you’re in town for SXSW and want to grab a class let me know!

19 Rachel March 6, 2012 at 8:49 am

I will be in town for SXSW and I’m hoping to fit in a class! My schedule is pretty tight but I’ll e-mail you!

20 Megan @ Life As Megan Knows It March 6, 2012 at 9:12 am

This makes me want to sign up for yoga classes ASAP! haha.. I use to take yoga regularly and miss it a lot! I wish there was just more time to run, strength train and do yoga!

21 Melissa March 6, 2012 at 10:21 am

YES. I love this. Isn’t it great to work out for yourself because it makes you feel good and strong and healthy? It’s such a better feeling than just trying to workout to be skinny. I’m a big runner, but an injury has me sidelined. I’ve been doing more yoga, and I’m starting to appreciate the ways that it’s a different kind of strong than running. You’ve definitely made me think about it differently, that’s for sure.
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22 Bronwyn March 6, 2012 at 10:57 am

Yoga is absolutely amazing for the differences it can make in your mind and in your body. I’ve been doing hot yoga now for almost 6 months, and the strength I’ve gained in that time is really amazing. But also the mental aspect to accept my body more as it is, but at the same time not limit it. It definitely has improved my body image in many fantastic ways.

23 Shannon March 6, 2012 at 11:15 am

Thanks for this information! I am seriously entertaining starting yoga (for the first time ever) as my 3rd workout per week, and just liked the idea of doing SOMETHING physical and relaxing. Losing weight was definitely an afterthought so it’s nice to consider that if could help with that as well.

24 Brittany March 6, 2012 at 11:25 am

This is such an awesome post Rachel. I’ve been interested in yoga forever and have taken many classes (or done them at home). Although I’ve always noticed that I’m sore after my yoga classes (especially in my arms), I’ve never done yoga more than once or twice a week.

I’d love to try a regular yoga practice and see how it affects my body and mind. Like you said, yoga is awesome for many reasons other than just getting fit or losing weight.
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25 Michelle @ Michelle Mason Fitness March 6, 2012 at 11:32 am

Rachel, this is awesome. First of all, I, too, used to think that yoga wasn’t a “real” workout, until I started going to a power flow class that totally kicked my ass. That led me to trying different types of yoga, including hot yoga very recently, which (like you) I realized I loved! Now I incorporate it into my weekly routine (although sadly right now I’m lucky to be able to fit it in 1 time a week); I teach a lot of classes and train myself between clients, so having some quiet time to stretch, quiet my mind and restore my body is something I really look forward to now.

I think there’s also something to be said for the fact that you found an activity that you ENJOY, and because you enjoy it, you’re putting your all into it, and that’s why you’re reaping the rewards of weight loss, feeling better/stronger, etc. It’s perhaps less about the yoga, and more about your approach to it.
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26 Rachel March 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm

“I think there’s also something to be said for the fact that you found an activity that you ENJOY, and because you enjoy it, you’re putting your all into it, and that’s why you’re reaping the rewards of weight loss, feeling better/stronger, etc. It’s perhaps less about the yoga, and more about your approach to it.” So true! I’m sure other people could tell similar stories about activities they pursued mostly as hobbies/to stay active wherein the weight loss sort of snuck up on them. While yoga did that for me, it could just as easily be gardening or cycling for someone else!

27 Ashley March 6, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Hey Rachel,
So glad that you were able to find a form of exercise that you Love and gives you great results! I just wanted to point out that it isn’t that far fetched to think that attending 4 60 min+ exercise classes a week has led to weight loss. That is a lot of physical activity even if it’s low impact (or high impact!).

While you pointed out you stayed active before you started your regular yoga classes your body was used to that type of activity- this way you were burning an extra at least 1200 calories a week that you weren’t before (if you assume your burning at least 300 calories a class which is a very low assumption) as well as building lean muscle which burns more calories throughout the day.

I think its pretty safe to say any already active person who adds on another 4 hours of some sort of physical activity a week will see gradual results in body composition regardless of what it is.
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28 Rachel March 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm

That’s true — I think the surprising part for me is that it didn’t “feel like” I was burning an extra 1,200 calories a week. I mean, even now, knowing that it led to weight loss, the idea that yoga burns that many calories still surprises me! I think that’s why I was so hesitant to stick with it before and why a lot of people still ask me if yoga really helps you lose weight; I didn’t believe it could burn enough calories to “count” as a workout for weight loss and I think many people are the same.

29 Mel March 6, 2012 at 2:45 pm

I forwarded this article over to my friend who has just gotten really into yoga! I think she liked the reaffirmation. I wish I felt the way about yoga that you and so many others feel! While I look forward to taking classes, feel great after and think it’s an awesome workout, I spend so much of the practice being a negative nancy – which is so not typical for yoga (or me!)! I have some injuries and changes in my body that make it frustrating/painful to do the poses and turn me into a “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t” machine. It sounds like a lot of people enjoy the practice for the positive vibes it brings into their minds/ bodies. I’m trying to work on my realization that no one cares about my practice and on curbing my self-anger. I have a month-long Groupon I plan to initiate soon and my goal will be to try to absorb other’s positive vibes rather than giving out my “can’ts.”

30 Rachel March 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm

One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s damn near impossible to care what other people are doing! Between doing a lot of things with your eyes closed or being in weird positions, I find that I can’t look around much at what others are doing without, like, tweaking my neck in a major way. So try to keep in mind that people physically cannot judge you as much as they might in other classes! (And even then, I just don’t think people judge as much as we think they do.)

I’m very excited to hear how your Groupon works out. I think a month is perfect amount of time for you to figure out if it’s just not going to work for you or if you can get over that initial hump and make it work.

Can’t wait to hear how it goes!!

31 RAIN March 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm

I love yoga for so many reasons!

It’s the only thing besides running that I really love to do! It’s spiritual, athletic, thoughful, at times inspirational, and sometimes pushes me beyond my comfort zone which I just love!

I am so glad you are seeing the benefit of weight loss! That just makes it so much more appealing!
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32 RAIN March 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Oh and if you are coming to Austin for SXSW you should check out Black Swan Yoga :)
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33 Jennifer March 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm

I’ve always wanted to incorporate more yoga into my workout plan and I think this is a perfect time to do it! Not only has my weight loss stalled (for more than 6 months!), but I’m having a hard time being kind to my body now. I keep craving junk and skipping workouts. Maybe yoga will help me focus and realize what’s most important…my mental and physical health can go hand in hand.
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34 Megan C. March 7, 2012 at 10:54 am

Thank you for this post!! I went to yoga for the stress relief and relaxation but I slowly discovered strength came for me too. Both mental and physical strength. Initially I felt like I couldn’t do certain things and then I realized I was the one setting the limitations.

You have inspired me to increase my yoga class attendance. Thank you!!
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35 Christina March 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Pssh, no one wants Madonna arms.
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36 Maggie March 8, 2012 at 7:14 am

That is my teacher Steve in your video! He is great.

The turbodog move is Forrest yoga staple (Steve teaches Forrest out in Chicago along with his wife, Talya). If you like the emphasis on strength, you might check out some Forrest classes. Houston happens to be a Forrest yoga center, and there some great teachers there, including Cat Allen and Anne Hyde. Forrest has totally changed my life, not to mention my body; I’d recommend it to anyone interested in developing a strong practice.

37 Kristin March 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Wahoo!! Get it girl – that’s awesome! I totally agree with the benefits of yoga is so many ways – most of all yoga gives me strength, motivation, etc. that I never got when I was trying to make myself into a runner. As soon as I stopped trying to love running so much and just did things like yoga that I enjoy, working out got so much easier – and more fun!
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