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Weight loss & Yoga – A conversation for South Asian women

by Arundhati Baitmangalkar

As I write this I want you to know that I’ve been in the field of wellness, fitness and movement professionally for the past 17 years. But its been a lifelong pursuit in many ways before it became a career. I’ve worked with thousands of women in the countless hours of classes,and trainings. I’ve been privy to deeply personal conversations and occassional emotional outbursts of women’s deepest vulnerabilities. I’ve stayed away from the topic of weight loss for South Asian women publically. Until now.

I also want to acknowledge that I have never really faced this as a real issue in my life. But I’ve been able to help other women gain some perspective and tools through dance to move towards their goal of weight loss. From body laothing to body loving. In this blog, I want to address this topic humbly, sincerely and professionally through the lens of yoga. As well as answer the frequently asked question, can yoga help with weight loss?

But first let’s get some things straight.

Myths about weight loss…

In India, somehow every second person seems to be concerned or wants to comment on your weight gain or loss. Over the years, I’ve realized that this is a cultural and societal problem. Mainly because of the following reasons…

  • We’ve been sold an unachievable, false narrative about what “real beauty” is like. This translates to a thin, fair-skinned, perfect bodies type of narrative. Which is not the average Indian woman. This is also a new age narrative compared to some of our ancient scriptures that celebrated curves on a woman’s body
  • These standards have been set according to patriarchal norms & are beyond outdated
  • Westernization of India & social media culture has accelerated this issue
  • Somehow being thin will bring you better prospects, especially in marriage and finding a suitable match
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So many South Asian women weigh themselves everyday and attach their worth to these numbers.

But have you considered this…

  • Body type, height, hormones, genes, and other conditions pre-dispose you towards looking a certain way
  • People can gain weight due to health issues beyond their control. No one should be shamed for this
  • Constantly bringing weight issues or body shaming affects a young girl, or woman’s confidence deeply. This trauma can last a lifetime without her ever expressing it openly
  • Before you bring up a comment about someone else’s weight – have you looked in the mirror at yourself? All the comments I got about being too thin (I’m on the other end of the spectrum) were always from people who hadn’t worked out one day in their life.
  • If you feel the urge to comment on how someone looks in a negative way, it means something within you needs to be addressed
  • Even if you have “good intentions”, doesn’t mean you get to body shame anyone
  • Just because someone had a baby, doesn’t mean you offer free advice on how to get their body back

What is your why?

The question you have to ask yourself is “why do you want to lose this weight?”. Do you want to change because you deeply desire it or do you want to do it because you feel you will finally find acceptence from your peers?

But its important to get clear on your “why“. Your why is valid. Irrespective of what anyone else says or thinks. If its purely a vanity driven reason, that’s fine. Or if its something related to health – that’s fine too. You get to decide. But the stronger and more personal your why the easier it is to move forward. So take some time and find your why. This will serve as a powerful reminder. For example, for me, it’s been my late mother’s struggles with health her whole life. I use this as my strength and reminder.

Can yoga help you lose weight?

The short answer is yes, anything done consistently can help you move towards a healthier you. Especially yoga. And I’m not talking only about a number on the weighing scale. But…

You have to consider these factors…

  1. Your body type and predisposition
  2. Your lifestyle & how active or inactive you’ve been over the past decade
  3. Your food habits and choices you make
  4. Do you generally like being active, moving, and working out?
  5. Sugar and alcohol consumption patterns if applicable
  6. Time available to dedicate to this new pursuit
  7. Time and effort you’re willing to invest
  8. Obstacles in your path
  9. Ways to hold yourself accountable
  10. Reality check and goal setting with a professional

I can write a blog on each of these points alone. But know that wellness is a multi-dimensional approach. In fact, there are 10 different aspects that make up wellness. But in this blog, I’d like to call out food as an integral part of this conversation as we Indians and South Asian diaspora really love our food. (Like we should, because it’s the best).

But you can’t do yoga one hour a week without changing anything else and expect overnight results. I’m not an expert about food and nutrition. But I’d suggest you talk to a professional in this realm if you need help.

What type of yoga should you do?

There is only one yoga. But there are many different “styles” of doing asana or the physical practice of yoga. For example, some styles are faster and flow through poses more. While others are more gentle and take a therapuetic approach to yoga.

What you need to do is figure out what you “enjoy”. Because if you don’t like it, it won’t last. You’ll give up more easily. So at first, shift your attention from losing weight as the only goal to finding a teacher, a class, or a yoga studio you find fun, inspirational, and body positive. You should always feel welcome in a yoga space. Especially by the teacher. So take your time to find a safe place.

Then work on being consistent. This is the key to finding real results. Your worth is not what the weighing scale shows you. When you practice yoga deeply, you’ll learn that wellness is multi-dimensional. Acceptance and kindness towards yourself is a key principle of life according to yoga.

Practicing yoga asanas and Surya namaskar regularly can help increase body tone, and organ function, boost mood and help hormone health. But you need to find a credible teacher who knows what they’re doing and set realistic goals and make appropriate life changes.

Arundhati in Ardha Matsyendranath asana
Arundhati seen demonstrating an asana. Consistency is key over everything else.

The biggest mistake women make…

  • Give up too soon because you didn’t see results quickly. Yoga is not a quick fix, band-aid solution.
  • Think of yoga as punishment and do it out of guilt instead of joy
  • Put everyone else’s priorities before your own
  • Think that it’s not possible to feel good after having kids
  • Think that you need massive lifestyle changes to achieve this when its the opposite

Starting yoga, here’s what I would say…

  • Invest time in finding a teacher, studio or class that you enjoy, and feel welcome in
  • Explore your own cultural and societal conditioning as this is a big part of it
  • Find a teacher who is willing to listen to your goals and needs from the practice & question them about their approach and plan of action about this. You don’t want to be with someone who avoids this topic, laughs at it, or sells you some false notion. You want a teacher who will have an honest conversation with you and set realistic goals.
  • Look at aspects beyond just the one-hour asana class. What other joyful, healthy changes can you make? This momentum will help you move forward and make it more enjoyable
  • Avoid being around people who draw you down and spend more time with people who will build you up and cheer for you instead of the opposite. Mindset makes all the difference.
  • Re-evaluate if your goal needs to be a certain number on a scale or can you develop a more holistic approach?
  • Set mini goals. For example, you’ll attend yoga 3 times a week for a full month. Pick something that’s logical and effortless for you. For example, if you’re not a morning person then signing up for a 6am yoga class is counterproductive
  • Pick an accountability buddy who takes your goals seriously and helps hold you accountable. Not someone who’s your best friend and will take you to eat chaat instead of yoga class. This person need not attend with you but can be a remote accountability partner who has already hit these goals in their life successfully.

Other than yoga, what else?

You could do anything else apart from yoga that you enjoy. But for women here’s what I would professionally recommend.

  • Add some multi-planar movement. Like dancing, Zumba, indoor cycling, hiking, etc. Walking is okay but not as multi-dimensional.
  • Add some light weights to your schedule. Especially for women closer to menopause as muscles atrophy
  • Take the focus away from flat abs and focus on overall health & wellness
  • Follow like-minded, body-positive people on social media

This is a complex and deeply personal experience for each one of you. I hope you find deep satisfaction and joy as you navigate towards a healthier you. If you’re interested in online classes and are not remote, check out my yoga studio – Aham Yoga.

If you have questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below.

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2 comments

Online ISO 27001 Certifications August 20, 2022 - 3:28 am

This is an informative post. Got a lot of info and details from here..Thank you so much for sharing.

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Arundhati Baitmangalkar August 24, 2022 - 11:44 am

I’m glad it was helpful. Thank you for reading & sharing. – Arundhati

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