Can yoga combined with pranayama help with weight loss?
Are you amazed at the fact that almost 80% percent of burned fat exits our body in the form of carbon dioxide? It is our lungs that act as the primary excretory organ for unwanted fat and you do breathe out a majority of your fat through carbon dioxide. Studies done at a microscopic level show that we do actually breathe fat out. However, to reduce your weight, you still must balance what you eat against your energy output, eating less and moving more.
In 2014, Australian researchers, Ruben Meerman, and professor Andrew J Brown revealed the surprising truth that we really don’t know much about the fat metabolism process: ‘There is surprising ignorance and confusion about the metabolic process of weight loss’. Their research survey revealed that doctors, dieticians and personal trainers have little idea what happens to our fat when we lose weight.
You also may presume that it is excreted in the faeces or converted to muscle or converted into energy or heat, but indeed the majority is exhaled!
“…Results published in the British Medical Journal, reveal that 22 pounds (10 kg) of fat turns into 18.5 pounds (8.4 kg) of carbon dioxide, which is exhaled when we breathe, and 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg) of water, which we then excrete through our urine, tears, sweat and other bodily fluids.”
The question remains, how can we carry this advice into our movement practice, our yoga and exercise regime? Our bodies undeniably change with regular exercise and daily yoga practice, and weight regulation is possible. However, it’s the way we breathe during exercise and yoga makes all the difference. What we learn in pranayama can be carried into our other daily exercise patterns, using the breath as a ‘weight regulator’. James Nestor explains that our exhalation definitely has some weight: ‘The lungs are a weight-regulating system of the body’, improving both endurance and performance.
His message about better breathing can be filtered down to this: Breathe slowly, not too deeply, mostly through the nose.
“No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or how strong you are. None of it matters if you aren’t breathing properly.” ~ James Nestor
When you practice yoga or do any form of activity, including sleeping, close your mouth and breathe through your nose for the best results. You really need to retrain yourself to use your nose and be aware this could take up to two to three months, so be patient and persistent. Almost 90 percent of the population have some form of breath ‘malocclusion’, which may include pinched nostrils, bent septums, sluggish diaphragms combined with poor posture, all which have worsened our breathing processes. Impaired breathing leads to chronic health issues, infectious diseases, sleep apnea, asthma, snoring, anxiety, psoriasis and other mental health issues.
- 90% of children have deformities in their mouths and noses.
- 25% of adults have severe sleep apnea that needs to be treated.
- Three quarters of modern humans have a deviated septum that is clearly visible to the naked eye. Source
As many times as you can remember during the day, mindfully breathe through your nose slowly and gently. The ideal ratio is about 5.5 seconds on your in breath and 5.5 seconds on your out breath. To make it easy, 6 counts in and 6 counts out. Optimal breathing means breathing less, taking fewer inhales and exhales in smaller volume.
(Please note: Nasal breathing doesn’t apply to all breathing practices, as some pranayama practices that use the open mouth such as sudarshan kriya, tummo, shitali, sitkari will be beneficial at various times throughout the day when used therapeutically for certain conditions).
When you take slower longer exhales whilst exercising or practicing yoga asana you fully engage the lungs, using the lower lobes as the diaphragm stretches more fully up into the rib cage, emptying the lower lobes, which ultimately leads to higher aerobic endurance. The best gauge of aerobic endurance or cardiorespiratory fitness is based on the measurement of the highest oxygen consumption, named V02 max. To increase your VO2 max, you must train your body to breathe less, which will improve your athletic endurance, but also lead to a longer and healthier life. In reverse, if you over-breathe on a daily basis, your nervous system is over-burdened and your lifespan shortened. Athletes in training who learn to reverse over-breathing claim that they can tolerate more lactate accumulation, which allows their bodies to pull more energy during states of heavy anaerobic stress, being able to train harder and longer, reducing any respiratory problems they may have and giving them an overall better performance.
Breathing practices such as nasal breathing, breath holding and extended exhalations have established lineages in many ancient traditions and cultures. The two practices of breath-holding (kumbhaka) and prolonged exhalation (rechaka) control our urge to hyperventilate, which assists us to better tolerate carbon dioxide, the metabolic waste product. Those of us who suffer from either anxiety or asthma or both are often overly-sensitive to CO2, and consequently over-breathe, which can itself cause a panic attack. Native American, Yogic, Buddhist, Christian, Taoist, and Zen practices all have developed prayer and or meditation techniques that independently arrive at an optimum of 5.5 breaths per minute, which is below half the ‘healthy norm’ defined by modern medicine.
James Nestor prompts us to think broadly, reminding us that prayer, chanting and spiritual practices used throughout the ages reveal a wisdom: that these practices have a calming effect on our heart and nervous system through employing our breath. For example, if we use mantra or prayers such as the Ave Maria prayer in Latin, Om Mani Padme Om and Sa ta na ma of Kundalini Yoga, we can slow down breath to that rate of 5.5 breaths per minute.
Try and negate the advice to “take a deep breath” whilst practicing yoga or exercising or to bring perceived calm or even enhanced performance. Rather inhale slowly and gently or even try humming on your exhalation to optimally extend breath with a simple sound current. Exhaling with sound will actually make your outbreath much longer than normal. With correct breathing techniques, overtime the bones in your face will actually change shape to help you breathe better. Teaching yourself to breathe better can indeed begin to re-open nasal passageways.
The more gently you breathe in and the longer you exhale, the more slowly the heart beats and the calmer you become.