I used to think, yoga’s great, but it would take an act of Congress and 100 fearless Marines to get me in some of those yoga poses. However, you can do yoga without getting into positions that would make Gumby scream.
“The biggest myth about yoga is that you have to be flexible and contort yourself into difficult poses,” says Kirsten Tillisch, MD, and director of the Mind Body Medicine Program at the UCLA Center for the Neurobiology of Stress at the David Geffen School of Medicine. “Holding a challenging pose can lead to a deeper meditation, but these poses are really a tool to calm the overactive mind. I have patients who can achieve the same results that are very ill, or can't even walk. Yet, yoga can still access the brain, and be a force for deep healing and peace.”
That’s because yoga is merely uniting mind and body, so anybody with a mind and a body can do it. There are many schools of yoga, but most combine exercise, meditation and breathing.[1-3]
I know—hate it, as most overweight people do. But let’s not worry about that. I have good news, and a plan. First, the plan: we will find a fat-friendly exercise. We have enough grief dealing with our excess weight, so grief out—easy in. As for “no pain, no gain”... I am trying to lose, not gain, so pain is out.
Now here’s the good news about exercise. When you are really large and very sedentary—the smallest movement is actually a lot of exercise. In my yoga practice I sit on my bed and raise my arms up and down, with my palms flattened, and fingers extended, like a large, bird taking fight.
“I don't like to think of yoga as ‘exercise’ for the body,” says Dr. Tillisch. “It's work by the body for the benefit of the brain. For example, if a patient cannot move a limb because of a stroke, I have them do the movements in their imagination. There is brain imaging data that shows that even paralyzed people activate the brain regions involved in basic movements, so why not exercise the brain, even if you can’t exercise the body.”
Very broadly speaking, meditation is training the mind to induce a mode of consciousness by concentrating in a way that brings you into the present. The simplest way for me to do this is to close my eyes and focus on my breathing. [4-6]
“The force for deep healing and peace stems from the breath, the concentration, and the marriage of the mind and body into a practice that brings the person into the present moment - not an easy feat,” explains Dr. Tillisch. Since breathing is a continuous enterprise between our inside and outside worlds, naturally it is vital to yoga. The breathing technique that I use for my yoga practice is simple deep, slow, focused diaphragmatic breathing. By this I mean, pull and push your breath using the muscles of your diaphragm. Slow, deep mindful breathing works on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is the transmission of the stress vehicle. When you become stressed, the brain immediately calls on the HPA, which is linked to the nervous and endocrine systems and affects most bodily functions. [7-9]The HPA inaugurates a battery of functions by dispatching stress hormones, and metabolizing glucose quickly in preparation for the eventuality of fight-or-flight. Deep focused breathing has the opposite effect. It decreases the up-regulated neurochemicals involved in those stress regulatory processes. [1, 10]
A Simple Yoga Practice
Make yourself comfortable. I suggest beginning with the mantra, “I love and accept myself just as I am.” My former mentor, the late Dr. Candace Pert, who discovered the opiate receptors on the brain, [11-17] developed this mantra; it has neurolinguistic programming rewards. It also promotes self-acceptance without discouraging change. Repeat this nine times because the mantra has nine words and humans are drawn to uniformity and ritual, which is why religions use them.[18-22] This ritual signals the beginning of meditation, which will help facilitate achieving the meditative mindset. Then simply close your eyes, and coordinate: the arm raising exercise described earlier, with your deep diaphragmatic breathing, while mentally focusing on your breath as it travels in and out of your body. So, breathe in as you raise your arms, and out as you lower your arms. After you have done that nine times, think chaos out as you exhale, peace in as you inhale. Repeat this in sets of nine.
If you need to modify this to better suit your needs, then by all means do. The most important thing is that as compulsive overeaters we practice being aware, and staying in the moment. We must focus on where we are, as opposed to where we have been, or where we want to go. So do not fall into that, “When I’m thin I am going to start doing yoga.” Yoga is a good way to love and heal your self now. At the end of the day doesn’t loving and healing yourself present the biggest challenges in your life? They do in mine. Remain fabulous and phenomenal.
Sidebar: Not surprisingly, Psychology Today was recently chosen as the top Psychology Website; Very surprisingly, I was chosen as one of the "30 Most Influential Neuroscientists Alive Today" I am so honored by this, and I truly believe this is largely because of the unwavering support of my readers and Psychology Today. So this really belongs more to you guys than me. Thank you. - Billi
* All images used, purchased from Shutterstock by UCLA CNS, and altered by Dr. Gordon
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