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In our last blog we discovered how Ayurveda has given us the tools for losing weight and keeping it off. We learned what to eat and when and the reason why fad diets don’t work. Right lifestyle is the key to successful weight management. That lifestyle includes not only right foods but also right stress reduction.
In this blog we’ll look at the reasons why stress = weight gain. You will also discover the #1 way to destress — the stress-busting practice of conscious breathing, or pranayama.
Is Stress Causing Your Weight Gain?
For many of us, stress is a fact of life. Unfortunately, stress is also a fact of fat. “Even if you usually eat well and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing weight—or even add pounds,” says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women.
The Cortisol Connection
Few of us reach for carrots in stressful situations. Instead we go for the cupcake or the Krispy Kreme. Why? According to Elissa Epel, PhD, a researcher on stress eating at the University of California, San Francisco, ”We crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension.” This soothing effect becomes addictive. When you become anxious, you start to crave fattening foods.
Whenever you are having a stressful day, your brain instructs your cells to pump out more cortisol, that damaging stress hormone. When cortisol skyrockets, food cravings appear.
Cortisol also drives up the blood pressure and the blood sugar. It encourages the body to store fat. It tells the body to replenish energy, even if few calories have been used up.
Unfortunately, the body will keep on producing cortisol as long as the stress continues. For that reason, stress reduction is a critical component of weight management.
Ayurvedic Stress Management
Obviously, getting completely rid of all stress isn’t an option. But by taking steps to beat stress, you can get your cortisol levels and your weight under control—and improve your health. Let’s look at one of the most effective tools for managing stress and lowering cortisol: conscious breathing, or pranayama.
Breathing with a Purpose: Pranayama.
Both Yoga and Ayurveda, the healing branch of yogic science, have given us the tools to reduce the effects of life stress. Perhaps the most effective (and fastest) stress reduction practice is conscious breathing, breathing with a purpose.
The yogic science of breath (pranayama) links body, breath, mind and spirit. Just as a kite string links the kite-flier to his kite, the breath links the mind with the universal life force, cosmic prana. In Yoga, conscious breathing is a unique way to soothe the nervous system and influencing stress-related disorders.
Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY)
One of the most powerful pranayamas in Yoga is the Sudarshan Kriya, taught at Art of Living centers around the world. Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) is a special breath technique that calms the mind and energizes the body. Sudarshan means “proper vision” and kriya is a Sanskrit term for “purifying action.” Here purifying means to make sattvic — balanced, centered and calm.
Sudarshan Kriya Yoga has been taught to more than 6 million people in 152 countries worldwide. SKY has been reported to be effective not only for treating stress and anxiety, but also for PTSD, depression, stress-related medical illness and substance abuse.
A recent article in the International Journal of Yoga, “Sudarshan Kriya Yoga: Breathing for Health,” highlighted the benefits of this powerful technique on the body-mind. The article states, “rather than allowing the emotions to alter the breath (and cause physiological changes which may prove unhealthy), one can skillfully use the breath to transform one’s emotional state.”
Besides reducing stress, SKY helps the body burn more fat. It boosts oxygen and stokes the digestive fire. In this respect, pranayama (regulating the flow of breath and energy through working with the breath) is instrumental in natural weight loss.
In this post, we learned how stress is a major contributing factor for weight gain. For optimal weight management, we must learn how to manage life stress. Yoga and Ayurveda have given us the tools for stress reduction. One of the most effective tools for stress management is conscious breathing, or pranayama, like the Sudarshan Kriya. For those interested in learning the The Sudarshan Kriya, it is taught at AOLRC each month in the Happiness Program weekend workshops.