Stretch yourself thin

Struggling to lose weight? Relax! Yoga not only melts stress and tones muscles, but it also helps you shed pounds

by
Kerriann Cardinal loved practising yoga because it lifted her spirits, cleared her mind and strengthened her body. Then the 35-year-old Vancouverite noticed another benefit: weight loss. After a year of downward-facing dog, she shrank from a size 6 to a size 4. “Yoga changed my body shape more than any other activity I’d done before,” says Cardinal.

“The more intense forms of yoga require strength, and research shows that strength training builds muscle mass and can result in fat loss,” says Phil Chilibeck, a kinesiologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. A small study from the University of Pittsburgh also concluded that yoga – combined with a healthy eating plan and modest aerobic exercise – enhances weight loss. Besides, yoga’s overall benefits are undeniable. Discover that soul-soothing muscle-toning payback first-hand with this power yoga workout, developed by Diane Bruni, co-founder of Downward Dog Yoga Centre in Toronto and host of W Network’s Breathing Space Yoga.

Power yoga – a form of ashtanga yoga without the more complex poses – delivers cardio and weight-loss benefits. Try this series of poses three times a week on a yoga mat, if possible. For tips on proper form and breathing techniques, consider attending a yoga class or purchasing a DVD such as Crunch: The Perfect Yoga Workout (Anchor Bay). Always breathe in and out through your nose deeply and hold each pose for several breaths. Do the series a few times, resting for a few minutes between repetitions if needed. And take it easy – you shouldn’t feel any pain (if you do, gently release the pose).

For a complete coloured-photo version of this article, please visit our back issues website and order a copy of the March 2005 issue of Chatelaine.

Child’s pose

Kneel and bend forward from your hips. Place your forehead on the mat, arms resting at your sides, palms facing up. If this isn’t comfortable, fold your arms in front of you and rest your forehead on them. To come out of the pose, press your hands against the mat and raise yourself onto your hands and knees.


Downward-facing dog

Starting on your hands and knees, press your heels back and push your hips up so that your body forms a triangle with the floor. If this is too difficult, place your hands on a chair or table in front of you instead. Your arms should be shoulder-width apart.


Lunge

From downward-facing dog, move your left foot forward between your hands. Your left knee should be bent directly above your left foot. Keep your right foot back. Relax your shoulders, but don’t let your head drop. Hold for several breaths. Then move your right foot forward, bring your left foot back and repeat.

Warrior pose

Stand with your feet about a metre apart. Turn your left foot 90 degrees so that it’s pointing left. Your left heel should be aligned with the middle of your right foot. Bend your left knee, being careful not to go past a 90-degree angle. Hold your arms out to your sides. Turn your head to the left and look toward your fingertips. Hold for several breaths. Return to standing and repeat on your right side.


Triangle pose

Stand with your feet about one metre apart. Turn your left foot 90 degrees so that it’s pointing left. Inhale as you raise your arms out to shoulder level, palms facing down. Shift your weight to your right leg and hip and stretch and lower your upper body to the left until you place your left palm on either your lower leg, foot or the mat, depending on your flexibility. At the same time, stretch your right arm straight up, palm facing forward. Look up at your right hand (if this is uncomfortable, look at the mat instead). Hold for several breaths. Slowly return to standing. Repeat on your right.


Tree pose

Standing with your feet together, shift your weight onto your right foot. Bend your left leg and place the sole of your left foot against the inside of your right leg as high as you can (but not against the inside of your knee). Your left toes should point straight down. Bring your palms together at chest level as if praying. To stay balanced, focus on a spot in front of you. Hold for several breaths. Then bring your arms down, lower your foot and repeat on your other side.

Twist

Sit cross-legged on your mat. Turn your upper body to the left. Place your left hand on the floor behind your left hip, fingers pointing behind you. Place your right palm on your left knee. Exhale as you gently twist a little farther to the left. Imagine your spine getting longer. Hold, then slowly release the pose. Repeat on the right side. Finding it difficult to sit cross-legged? Do the pose with one leg extended in front of you (extend your right leg with twisting to the left and vice versa).


Modified bridge pose

Lying on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat, align your heels with your outer hips. Lift your hips off the floor as high as you can. If possible, interlace your fingers under your butt, pressing your arms against the mat and lifting your chest. Hold, then move your arms out of the way and roll back down slowly with your hips touching the floor last.