2.1 Yoga Therapy 1 : Obesity
Obesity or excessive fat in the body is becoming one of the major problems of this century. There are three stages of obesity–enviable, laughable and pitiable. If you are a little over-weight then your face will look round and smooth and beautiful (although concept of beauty changes from time to time). This is the enviable stage. If you put on some more fat and you look ugly, people will laugh at you. But there are people who cannot move their body because it is so bulky and they need help even to get in and out of the body. This is the pitiable stage.
Excessive fat that accumulates and makes you obese could be due to several causes. A small percentage of these cases could be due to some organic cause like lack of thyroid hormone, too much of adrenal cortisone or female sex hormones. Rarely it can be due to damage to a part of the lower brain which controls hunger and satisfaction. But the majority of cases do not belong to this category. The major cause of obesity is clearly recognized to be due to the modern lifestyle.
What are the factors in the modern life style that contribute to obesity? Our body is like an elastic bag. What you put inside the bag (high calorie food) and what you take out of the bag (exercises) decides the size of the bag. In the present day lifestyle with advanced technology and busy schedules, life has become sedentary; hence there is no time or the need to do any physical work. Most of us are involved in brain work which consumes much less calories than muscular activity as in walking, running, playing etc.
The present day lifestyle also has led to wrong eating habits. Consumption of high calorie foods such as fried foods, bakery items, sweets, and chocolates (junk foods ) available in very attractive tasty presentations, is clearly the cause of this malady.
Is there a role of heredity? Yes, I am sure you have many friends who can eat any amount of junk food but still are underweight, whereas some of you find it extremely difficult to reduce weight in spite of sincere dieting. This is due to the hereditary tendency. The underweight families are called rapid metabolizers and the obese are slow metabolizers. Please remember that it is more important to reduce the weight if you have a strong tendency in the family for overweight although you need to try a little harder.
Where do we start? All obese people know what you need to do. It is very simple information to know–avoid high calorie food, eat more fiber and exercise more. But why is it so difficult to reduce weight? It is all in your mind. Mind controls every function of the body. There are two centers in the brain (hypothalamus) that are responsible for sensing the hunger (appetite center) and fullness after eating (satiety center). These two centers function in perfect coordination under healthy, natural conditions to maintain normal weight. The functioning of these lower centers is modifiable by our mind (higher brain centers – cortex). In other words, in human race the eating habit is more controlled by the state of the mind than by the instinct of hunger unlike animals. Gluttony and Obesity are unknown in animals (except pets). Since it is all in the mind and we have the freedom at the mind level to eat more or less; we should be able to control our eating habits through voluntary awareness rather than as a reflex. But as one becomes guided by the weakness of sense pleasure (taste buds) the control is lost and he becomes a slave to the cravings. If the mind is disturbed due to longstanding stress and speed, it can lead to abnormal eating pattern. Thus, loss of control over emotions results in disturbed balance of appetite – satiety centers. It is a common experience that you may gain or lose a lot of weight if you are depressed or anxious. Hence the most important component in management of obesity is mind management. Yoga is the right tool to develop a healthy and happy way of controlling the weight through cittavrtti nirodhaç. (mastery over the mind is yoga). (PYS:1:2)
In the present day competitive world where everyone is racing with time, it becomes almost impossible to find time for exercises. Many a times even if you find time laziness takes over. Again, it is all in the mind and hence yoga gives the necessary willpower to adhere to the regularity of exercises which is very essential for a steady maintenance of the weight.
Yoga understands that obesity is also a problem that starts in the manomaya kosa just like many other ádhija vyadhis that we have seen. This results in excessively speeded up activity first in the manomaya kosa in the form of cravings or laziness or suppressed intense loop of worry during depression.This results in disturbed prána that shows up as imbalance of the rhythm and rate of breathing. This may also show as excessive dominance of left nostril breathing .When we try to correct the problem we make note of these facts and work at all the kosas to bring about balance through deep rest and relaxation and activation of the energy-expenditure channels.
The set of practices for one hour should include 30 to 40 minutes of physical practices selected to bring about stretching followed by relaxation of different parts of the body so that fat can be mobilized and used up for the additional extra work during walking or any other vigorous exercises. In other words one needs to practise any other physical activity like walking or jogging or sports in addition to the practice of ásanas to get the full benefit of the program. Yoga basically helps in overcoming the tension and laziness.
Integrated approach of yoga therapy includes techniques that correct the imbalances at physical, mental, emotional and notional levels. The physical yoga practices (ásanas) have advantages over other forms of physical exercises. yoga ásanas are to be performed indoor .on an empty stomach, early in the morning or evening when you are not too hungry. Yoga practices are to be maintained in the final posture with ease and effortlessness (sthiram and sukham) (PYS: 2.46) for a comfortable duration of time (one to three minutes) without much strain or pain. Most of the asanas involve bending or twisting of the spine in different ways, maintained without exhaustion, and helps in mobilizing the fat in the trunk region. The fat tends to accumulate in abdomen, thighs, waist and buttocks where there is loose space under the skin. Yoga practices are of special value to cut down the fat in these areas. For example for reducing the fat on the abdomen, the practice of straight leg raising and dorsal stretch as exercises followed by navásana is useful.
Naukásana, Salabhásana and Dhanurásana are useful for reduction of fat in the buttocks. To reduce excess fat on the waist there are ásanas like Trikonásana, Parivrtta trikonásana, spinal twist etc., To reduce the fat on arms one can use some loosening practices such as shoulder rotation and elbow movements followed by Vakrasana, Ardhamatsyendrásaná, Tiger breathing. All these practices help in stretching, exercising and or compressing the area where excess fat has accumulated.This promotes better blood flow and rapid mobilization of the fat from these loose tissues under the skin.
Another important component of yoga is to have deep internal awareness (with slow breathing) of the part of the body that is stretched during the practice. While you are in the final posture of the asana you are expected to bring your total attention to the part that is being stretched. This phase of focusing of the mind on the zone is called Dháraná (Desa bandhaç cittasya dháranám - pataòjali). (PYS:3.1) After you have done intense concentration (Dháraná) on the painful stretched part of the body, you are advised to practice defocusing of attention. In other words you release or relax the stretched part while you still maintain in the final posture of the ásana. This process is indicated by the suiggestion by patanjali who says practice prayatna shaithilya and anantha Samapathi after you have attained the final position. This means do sithilikarana of prayatna -let go of all effort or relax in the final posture. Then go on to merge your mind in the expansion (Antarahita sthiti-anantata) (PYS:2.47) by imagining that you have come out of the body to merge yourself in the vast sky umbrella under which you are doing the ásana. This process of ‘let go’ in the final posture is the most beneficial component of any asana practice. This allows the necessary structural changes of mobilization of fat from the area of focused attention. Most of the postures are called cultural postures as they culture (facilitate) the functions of the organ underneath through deep rest to that part of the body. Thus, the yogic concept of weight reduction is not through violence and fight. Please do not hate your body or the mind. Yoga therapy for obesity is a smooth and easy way to consciously detach from the body, remove or wash away the deep seated blocked feelings and stresses (Citta Sudhi) and allow the body to do its job of restoring its healthy way of functioning. An ideal healthy body weight becomes a possibility when you learn to function with deep internal rest with effortless eternal activity through out the day. Yoga is a way of life. It is not just doing some ásanas or vigorous exercises. It requires a deep commitment and internal awareness to change your lifestyle to one of softness, ease, acceptance and stability. A balanced state of mind is to be practiced under all situations. Thus a balance between the rate of energy production (consumption) and expenditure is restored in a pleasant natural way resulting in total personality growth at both physical and mental levels.