Yoga: Just Stupid Human Tricks
Guest post by Jamie Dresselhaus, Yoga Instructor at Nourish Northwest
People are always asking me: “How many calories do you think I burn during yoga classes?” And I often censor my response and dumb it down by saying, “Well, you probably worked off about a meal’s worth of calories.” But the truth is I don’t know that. You might have burned off your morning coffee and you might have burned off everything you ate all day. If we are strictly talking about calories it depends on your height, weight, age, metabolism, blood type and so many other factors including the time of day, how tired you are and how hot it is.
While Yoga is a huge boon to personal fitness it serves so much more than to simply burn calories. What people are often not told about yoga is that the postures and the flows actually serve a purpose. A simple Sun Salutation A will begin to stimulate your body on a much more subtle and much more important level. While it builds strength, a simple upward dog with a gaze up at the sky is stretching out the front line of your intestines and opening the circulation through the throat and chest. Your thyroid and pituitary glands (centers of metabolism and hormones) are stimulated and thus begin to more efficiently regulate your body. The other postures in the series serve to move the blood and circulation and oxygen in the body as well as to lubricate and warm the joints. Movement of the spine in all directions, side to side, forwards and backwards, twisting right and left stimulates your organs and your digestion. Rolling over your toes stimulates pressure points in the body such as the kidney and the gall bladder and even the urinary tract.
More still, the simple act of doing something that requires your attention and focus on how your body works and moves in space at any given time requires that you build awareness and understanding of your body and yourself. While yoga lengthens and strengthens to support our daily range of motion and build lean muscle mass (which increases our metabolism) it also demands our attention. The more we give our attention to what is going on in our body the more we tune into what we really need. Maybe we don’t want to eat that second helping because it doesn’t feel good afterwards. Maybe we want to eat a salad instead of a 4 pieces of bread because twisting in your yoga class tomorrow always feels better on a lighter stomach. Maybe we aren’t hungry at all and we’re just eating because it’s there.
Making shapes with our bodies that require us to concentrate on not falling over also strengthens our attention span and mental acuity. Add to all this, breathing through the challenge of the postures and paying attention to how we get our fullest and most energizing breath and pretty soon you might begin to notice that your everyday breathing might become lighter and easier when faced with challenges outside of your yoga classes. Maybe your asthma starts to diminish.
As we learn to listen to how we feel instead of how we look we might start to look the way we feel. At the heart of yoga is the desire for all beings to have a deep and meaningful understanding of themselves and how they feel and operate best. And pretty soon you might just find that the more you pay attention to what’s on the inside the more you start to shine on the outside.
I often tell students that all the postures in yoga are really just “stupid human tricks.” That the postures happen over time and the point isn’t to do everything perfectly. It is to enjoy the process of being who you are what that means and how that feels on and off the yoga mat. But don’t rely on me. Hit the mat and discover what works for yourself.