But, will it help me lose weight?

I recently had a new client ask me my thoughts on yoga. Before I could get through my sunny salutation, she interrupted my flow and double-down-dogged, “well, it’s not going to help me lose weight, right?”

First of all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and cow. Yoga can vary widely in its form, intensity, and calorie burn. But the bottom line is, yes, yoga can help you lose weight. However, what was more concerning to me was that in my client’s mind there was no point in doing a particular physical activity if it wasn’t going to burn a Buddha load of calories.

The benefits of this Eastern practice, in particular for us Westerners, are multitudinous. First of all, the majority of Americans are pretty disgraceful movers. I’m serious. We can’t do a proper squat to save our lives. As a collective crew, we have little range of motion and limited joint mobility. Our tummies are literally hanging out, with little to no abdominal activation present. We have contemptible mind-body connection, are prone to injury, have low back pain, poor posture, tight hamstrings, weak glutes, and crunchy shoulders. For all of these weaknesses, yoga provides us strength as well as fluidity, mindfulness, and not to mention oxygen as we are bad breathers as well.

So, I think by now you’ve gathered that though I am a fan of yoga, I am not so much a fan of my client’s question. However, her comment is indicative of the mindset many of us carry about exercise, and why so few of us are consistently consistent. We engage only for this one specific outcome, which it’s actually poorly suited for, at least in the short term. It’s like your teenager staying up late binge-watching “The Crown” on Netflix the night before a World History test. An enriching experience, no doubt, but probably not the best use of her time and resources to ace that next day’s final. The series will educate her about the world’s political climate, in particular that of mid-century England. It will illustrate the personal dramas and political dogma of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. But most importantly it will entertain her with stories of love and betrayal, as well as exquisite costume, jewelry, and set design. But let’s be clear. She’s not tuning in for her grades.

And so we need to be clear with the objectives of exercise. In one short workout session, we’ll benefit by experiencing an enhancement to our mood with an endorphin and serotonin release, improved insulin sensitivity to feed our working muscles and lower our blood sugar, increased blood and nutrient flow, and better sleep. Perhaps most importantly, when we make a choice to do something good for our health that tends to have cascading positive effects on our nutrition and other self-care decisions. However, exercise, of any kind, is not the dial-mover, especially in the short-term, when it comes to weight or body fat loss. And we’re kidding ourselves, not to mention frustrating ourselves, when we think otherwise.

I can’t think this is new information. However, I embark upon people all the time who become frustrated with a lack of results after putting in days, even weeks (gasp) in at the gym.

Will exercise change your shape? Absolutely. Does it do that based on the calories that you knock off in your gym session? Nope. The right kind of exercise changes your shape by changing your hormonal profile and by building muscle. In addition, with the synergy of these two components, it also elevates your capacity for more work and a higher metabolism, which also means you’ll burn more calories during your workout session and when you’re resting as well. However, those kinds of changes take weeks to uncover, and we’ve typically long given up by then.

So this is my plea. Please ditch the notion of exercising for weight loss. Instead, move because it’s human, and because it fills you up. Move for the sake of moving and because the very act of it is energizing and a validation of your health and alive-ness. Move as an act of gratitude, because you know, you still can. Move in a way that makes you feel fabulous now (or at least as soon as its over), so you’re not waiting around on a number that won’t make you feel any different in the end anyway. Challenge yourself. Lift something heavy. Learn a new skill. Run super fast. Kick or punch something (or someone  ) really hard. Maybe stretch yourself more than you have in a long time, both physically and figuratively. Focus on anything that makes you feel more not less,anything that makes you bigger, not smaller. And when you do this, the “number” will change, but you’ll be too busy with bigger aspirations to notice.



Erin Henry