Did You Know Yoga Can Reduce Food Cravings?
Fitness trends come and go, and time will tell if the latest craze is here to stay: goat yoga. That’s right, yoga sessions with goats. The CBS News video above features some of the instructors and enthusiasts of this unusual pairing. At Laughing Frog Yoga studio in Santa Monica, California, pygmy goats Floyd and Rosco are part of the ensemble. According to Michelle Tritten of Hello Critter Care, goats have the uncanny ability to “bring out the best in people.”
Many others agree. Lainey Morse, one of the first to introduce goat yoga to the world in 2016 at her farm in Albany, Oregon, tells CBS “it’s impossible to be sad and depressed when you have goats around you.” Since then, goat yoga has spread around the country, with a number of celebrities testing it out and spreading the word on social media. Writing for Viva Glam Magazine, actress-writer Malorie Mackey writes about her goat yoga experience at Laughing Frog, saying:1
“As the goats enter, giggles and happiness ensue. Roscoe enjoys jumping and climbing on people while Floyd enjoys walking under them. Together, they move around the class jumping on yogis and having fun under the supervision of Michelle. Perhaps it isn’t the most calm, meditative yoga class, but it breaks up the norm and adds lighthearted fun to your yoga routine.”
Yoga Is a Powerful Mind-Body Practice
While I believe anaerobic exercise such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is key for optimal health, there’s no doubt yoga can be an important part of a comprehensive exercise program. And research reveals potent mental and physical benefits from yoga, regardless of your current state of health or fitness. Yoga has been around for about 5,000 years, and while many regard it as just another form of exercise, it’s really a comprehensive lifestyle practice that integrates mental, physical and spiritual elements.
With regard to the latter, yoga can be viewed as a form of meditation that demands your full attention as you move from one asana (yoga position) to another. As you learn new ways of moving and responding to your body and mind, other areas of your life tend to shift and change as well. In a sense, you not only become more physically flexible, but your mind and approach to life may also gain some much-needed flexibility.
A report2 by the Institute of Science in Society details how meditative practices such as yoga, tai chi and qigong, just to name a few, can actually alter your genetic expression through their impact on your mind. Indeed, thousands of genes have been identified that appear to be directly influenced by your subjective mental state.
Examples of genetic effects obtained through yogic- and other meditative practices include the down-regulation of cellular stress response genes and genes associated with the pathway responsible for the breakdown of proteins, while expression of heat shock proteins and immune function are increased. One study investigating genetic changes triggered by the relaxation response determined that meditative or mindfulness practices affect no less than 2,209 different genes.
Health Benefits of Yoga
It’s no wonder then that studies have found a variety of health benefits from regular yoga practice, which include:
Improved immune function3
Reduced food cravings4
Improved cognitive function8,9 (doing Kundalini yoga for one hour per week actually outperformed standard brain training, and 20 minutes of Hatha yoga has been shown to improve mental processing speed and accuracy to a greater degree than 20 minutes of jogging10,11)
Reduced anxiety, depression,12 aggression and stress,13,14 in part by boosting vagus nerve activity, which decreases levels of stress hormones like cortisol while triggering the release of mood-boosting hormones such as serotonin.15
Yoga has also been shown to improve emotional resilience and anger management,16 and enhance mindfulness
Lower resting blood pressure19
Improved leptin sensitivity20 (leptin is a hormone that plays a key role in regulating energy intake and energy expenditure)
Increased flexibility, better balance, improved strength, stamina and body alignment, low-back pain relief
Yoga Also Aids Weight Loss
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, yoga has also been shown to aid weight loss. In one study,25 overweight yoga participants lost an average of 5 pounds over the course of four years whereas the non-yoga group gained 13 pounds. This held true even when accounting for differences in diet. Typically, HIIT is the most effective for weight loss, and the key to its effectiveness is the intensity. So how can the effectiveness of yoga — which is the converse of HIIT in terms of intensity — be explained?
According to Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, yoga’s benefits are related to the fact that it does the opposite of strenuous exercise. Rather than boosting your heart rate and stimulating your nervous system, yoga puts you in a parasympathetic state that lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, thereby promoting a positive cascade of health effects.
This makes sense if you consider the adverse biological effects of stress. By promoting systemic inflammation, chronic stress can be a factor in everything from weight gain to high blood pressure, heart disease and dementia. What’s worse, stress-induced weight gain typically involves an increase in belly fat, which increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Stress actually alters the way fat is deposited because of the specific hormones and other chemicals your body produces when you’re stressed. For example, research26 shows chronic stress stimulates your body to produce betatrophin, a protein that blocks an enzyme that breaks down body fat. So, by reducing stress you reduce inflammation, and along with it your risk for any number of health problems, including stubborn weight.
Introduction to Restorative Yoga
In a series of Very Well Fit articles,27,28 yoga teacher Ann Pizer discusses restorative yoga, a gentle practice well-suited for stressed-out souls who want to practice at home. “Restorative yoga is a practice that is all about slowing down and opening your body through passive stretching,” she writes. “If you take a restorative class, you may hardly move at all, doing just a few postures in the course of an hour.” In other words, the main focus of this practice is to allow deep muscle relaxation.
To allow your muscles to relax fully, props are extensively used to hold your body in position for up to 10 minutes at a time. “Postures are usually adapted from supine or seated yoga poses with the addition of blocks, bolsters and blankets to eliminate unnecessary straining,” Pizer explains. In addition to these props, a timer with a gentle chime is helpful to alert you to the passing of time. Following is a sampling of restorative yoga poses. For a visual demonstration, see each reference:
• Restorative seated forward bend29 — Begin seated on the floor with legs outstretched. Elongate your spine and gently bend forward at the hip while exhaling. Stop when you feel you have to round your back to go any further. Place a thick folded blanket on your legs to allow your head and torso to lay comfortably folded forward. A block can also be used to prop up your head if you like. You can rest on your forehead or with your head to one side. Be sure to switch directions now and then to avoid neck stiffness.
• Legs up the wall30 — Begin by placing a bolster or folded blanket parallel to a blank wall. Sitting with one side facing forward on the bolster, gently lower your torso to the floor by leaning to the side and swinging your legs up the wall. Rest with your buttocks on the bolster, arms outstretched to the sides, legs stretched vertically along the wall. After 10 minutes, bend your knees and roll to the side to exit the pose.
• Reclined goddess pose31 — Start by lying on your back. Bend your knees, then allow your knees to fall out to the sides. Bring the soles of your feet together. Place blocks or folded blankets under your knees or thighs for support. Your arms can rest in any comfortable position, either out to the sides or overhead.
• Restorative heart opener32 — Sitting on the floor, legs outstretched, slowly lower your torso toward the floor with a bolster or rolled up blanket beneath your back. The bolster should hit right beneath your shoulder blades; your head will hang off the side of the bolster.
If you’re not yet flexible enough to allow your head to reach the floor in this position, place a block, folded blanket or towel underneath your head for support. Arms can be kept out to the sides or overhead. Relax and allow the entire front of your torso to stretch and expand.
• Restorative bridge pose33 — Position yourself for a normal bridge pose: knees bent at a 90-degree angle, arms parallel to the sides with the weight on your shoulders. Then raise your hips. To make this pose restorative, place a yoga block underneath your sacrum to allow your body to rest. To make it more challenging, turn the block vertically on its tall end. To exit the pose, raise your hips and remove the block before lowering your sacrum to the floor.
Which Type of Yoga Is Right for You?
When it comes to yoga, there’s no shortage of variations. Yoga practices have sprung up to satisfy all sorts of different physical needs and temperaments. While the poses may differ, all are still aimed at unifying mind, body and spirit. Here’s a sampling of the many different forms of yoga available.
Considered the most popular type of yoga taught in the U.S., hatha involves basic breath-controlled exercises and yoga postures that are great for beginners.
Ashtanga is a vigorous form of yoga that involves quick movements, with the aim of improving strength and endurance.
Bikram involves 26 patented poses, practiced in a room that’s heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity of 40 percent. Its aim is to help loosen muscles, cleanse the body and relieve symptoms of chronic diseases.
Vinyasa is adapted from the traditional ashtanga techniques, which means that it’s also an active form of yoga. The only difference between these two types is that vinyasa involves varying poses, while ashtanga sticks to a single routine.
Kundalini emphasizes fast-paced flow of poses, proper breathing techniques and meditation to improve balance of the body. This form of yoga is more challenging than others, so it may not be suitable for beginners.
Similar to bikram, hot yoga is also performed in a heated room. However, the room temperature and humidity for this yoga style is not defined. The routine may also be composed of varying poses.34
Core power yoga
Also known as power vinyasa, core power yoga is a strenuous routine that’s aimed to stretch, strengthen and tone the muscles while emphasizing mind-body connection.35
Prenatal yoga includes a series of postures that are specifically designed to help pregnant women prepare for labor, delivery and postpartum recovery.
Yin yoga asanas focus on stretching the connective tissues around your spine, sacrum and pelvis, as well as your knee joints. Each pose is typically held for three to five minutes, allowing for slow and gentle but very deep fascia release.36 It is also said to be a way of cultivating compassion and kindness, helping you “let go of your inner control freak.”37
Aerial yoga makes use of soft, fabric hammocks that are held up by carabineers, straps and support chains. The hammock is used for support while you perform aerial adaptations of traditional yoga poses.38 A significant benefit for those suffering from chronic low back pain is the ability to reduce the compression on your lower back without using an inversion table.
The hammock sling also enables you to attain more difficult poses you may not be able to do without the support of the material. The sling allows you to slip into poses and explore movement without the added stress to your knees and hips that may make the pose impossible for you.
Sources and References
- 1 Viva Glam Magazine December 7, 2017
- 2, 14 Institute of Science in Society May 21, 2014
- 3 PLOS ONE 2013 Apr 17;8(4):e61910
- 4 J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Aug;109(8):1439-44
- 5 Headache 2007 May;47(5):654-61
- 6 Journal of the American College of Cardiology March 19, 2013; 61(11): 1177-1182
- 7 Reuters January 30, 2013
- 8 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2016 Apr 5;52(2):673-84
- 9 The Telegraph May 10, 2016
- 10 Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function
- 11 Huffington Post June 10, 2013
- 12 New York Times March 16, 2016
- 13 Scientific American March 1, 2014
- 15 Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 2011 Feb;17(1):1-8
- 16 Huffington Post February 2, 2013
- 17 Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 2004 Dec;29(4):269-78
- 18 University of Rochester
- 19 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2014 Apr;20(4):241-50
- 20 Physiology and Behavior December 5, 2012: 107(5); 809-813
- 21 Froniers in Psychiatry, 25 January 2013
- 22 Huffington Post January 7, 2013
- 23 J Sex Med 2010 Oct;7(10):3460-6
- 24 J Sex Med 2010 Feb;7(2 Pt 2):964-70.
- 25 Altern Ther Health Med. 2005 Jul-Aug;11(4):28-33
- 26 BBA Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids February 2016: 1861(2); 130-137
- 27 Very Well Fit, June 7, 2018
- 28, 29, 30, 32, 33 Very Well Fit, June 15, 2018
- 31 Very Well Fit May 7, 2018
- 34 Boston Magazine, Hot Yoga vs Bikram Yoga: What’s The Difference?
- 35 Do You Yoga, What Is Core Power Yoga?
- 36 Yoga Journal, Yin Yoga
- 37 Yoga Journal May 8, 2018
- 38 Huffington Post, Why You Should Try Aerial Yoga