When I first started practicing yoga I was 94 kilo, I'd been living in Japan for six years, drinking too much beer and living on convenience food, the weight came on gradually and because I had some fancy suits at the time I never really noticed I'd put on as much weight as I had, thought I was looking pretty sharp actually and hadn't really considered how unhealthy my lifestyle had become. I started practicing yoga with a book from a library, it just happened to be Ashtanga and for that first year I panted and sweated through practice each morning on a bath towel in my underwear. I would sweat around two kilo's a practice, there was the suggestion at the time that the Ashtanga practice room needed to be hot (it doesn't). Because I was bending and twisting so much each morning I really didn't want to eat that heavy a meal in the evening. I dropped down to 78 kilo in those first two years and put it down to my dynamic, sweaty, Ashtanga practice although I had also switched to a vegetarian diet a couple of years into my practice..
It was partly the practice of course that accounts for that dramatic weight loss but no doubt just as much to do with eating less. Practicing twice a day I just got into the habit of eating less between practices, smaller portions, plus Ashtanga is great for building discipline and saying no to a beer or a tub of ice cream.
Still, in my mind, at the time, it was that dynamic, sweaty Ashtanga practice that I credited with losing
I should add that I didn't start yoga, Ashtanga, to lose weight, I'd been burgled, had seven vintage saxophones stollen, I was annoyed about it and wanted to do something about the anger. I decided to get back into Sitting and the yoga was because I'd read that it could make the sitting more comfortable.
Jump forward a few years.
Two and a half years ago I got ready to move back to Japan. Ashtangi's we love our routines, we love stability, our mat in the same place, practicing at the same time each morning, are we all a little OCD? The disruption caused by that move to Japan threw my discipline out somewhat, those yama/niyama's slipped and the outward manifestation of that was a gradual increase in weight. Also, I had been practicing more slowly, less dynamically and because I associated sweating through practice with the kidney stones I'd had in the past I avoided sweating during practice as much as possible.
My practiced had slowed down in the last few years. Following Krishnamacharya's early Mysore instruction, as found in Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934) and Yogasanagalu (Mysore 1941), I was breathing "...slow like the pouring of oil", staying in postures for longer, ten breaths, ten minutes even. To accommodate this slower practice I let go of more and more asana. By the end of last year I was mostly only practicing the first half of Primary and even then with many of the asana dropped, this approach, a 'mudra like' approach to practice is outlined on my Proficient Primary page.
Because I associated the dramatic weight lost of the past to my hot, sweaty, dynamic Ashtanaga practice, the temptation was to switch from my slower more modest practice back to a fast paced full series practice once more, I mean it had worked in the past.
The temptation was great.
Thankfully I was stubborn enough and determined NOT to change my practice, not to speed it up, not to practice more asana, not to practice in a warmer/hotter room but decided instead to 'merely' change my eating habits.
It sounds obvious doesn't it. Of course it's not the practice, it was never the practice, all the practice did really was to provide the discipline to eat more circumspectly. And yet I suspect I'm not alone, I'm sure there are many who associate their physical condition with the practice itself, with how they practice rather than the relationship between how they eat and the practice they have.
I stopped drinking alcohol. From drinking only a little watered down wine in the past I'd started drinking wine that wasn't watered down, from one to two glasses with meals, three glasses even, beer through the summer, a whiskey in the evening, or two, through the long holiday season of Christmas and new year.
I cut out bread, we had discovered we had a great bakers here in our village by the lake.
Quit drinking milk
No more pasta but instead 100% Soba
I cut out rice altogether at first and then allowed a little brown rice once or twice a week.
I stopped eating chocolate, biscuits/cookies, cake any kind of snack other than nuts.
I stopped eating most sugary fruit too.
These days I mostly I tend to eat salad, vegetables, Soba ( including crepes made from Soba flour), strawberries, Sashimi..... nuts.
I went from 84 kilo in November to 73 kilo this morning my practice just slow as slow, just as modest. It was nice however to see the wrist binds come comfortably back if and when I included Marichiiyasana D, Pasasana.
I make M. lemon drizzle cake, I buy her chocolate occasionally but have no interest in them myself, I'm quite content with a handful of nuts as a snack, you get used to it very quickly. Simon stresses that he eats what ever he wants, as much as he wants but that all he fancies is, fruit and vegetable, I feel pretty much the same.
It's not our practice, Ashtanga was never about losing weight.
We CAN practice our Ashtanga as if we are in a Cross-fit gym, or a Bikram studio or we can practice calmly, steadily, in a moderately, comfortably, warm room, our breathing slow and steady, our asana modest.
What Ashtanga, what any regular practice gives us, or can give us, is discipline, or a least it can act as a support for our practice of the yama/niyamas (of our or any other culture) that we choose to follow.
If we choose to switch from a faster paced practice to a slower more modest practice we 'merely' have to adjust our fuel and how much we consume accordingly. I say merely but it can be tough, the practice though can support us in this through the discipline it gives us, the yama/niyama, the asana, they support each other, go hand in hand.
from Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934)
"3.3 Dietary Restrictions for the Yogabhyasi
Food must be eaten in measured quantities. It must be very pure. The food should not be overly hot, it should not have cooled down too much (very cold food should be avoided). Savouring the taste, fill the stomach with such food until it is half full. After this, leave a quarter of the stomach for water and leave the rest empty to allow for movement of air. For example, one who normally has the capacity to eat 1/4 measure of food, should eat 1/8 measure of food and leave the rest of the stomach as mentioned above.
For whom there is neither excess nor less
of sleep, food and activity
For him alone it is possible
to attain the state of yoga"
*** How what you eat directly affects the way you breathe
*** That learning how to comfortably breathe less than normal (pranayama) eventually allows you to comfortably eat less than normal
*** That the only diet that has been scientifically proven to increase lifespan is the ‘calorie reduction’ or ‘eat less’ diet
*** That eating less can mean eating less volume of food or less concentration of food
*** Eating less is only viable if it is completely without negative physical or emotional side effects, and how to achieve this with simple yogic techniques
*** How balancing your diet with your breathing can improve circulation, increase mobility, increase energy, help calm your nerves, reduce asthma, reduce arthritis, improve your concentration and help you think more clearly
*** The dangers of eating many common foods and the benefits of eating many relatively unknown foods along with some forgotten methods of food preparation
*** That by making your diet more alkaline (e.g. by eating more fruit and vegetables) you can improve your breathing (i.e. comfortably learn how breathe less, like an experienced athlete) and exercise, relax and meditate more easily
*** Here are some of my nutrition tips:
What you will learn in my seminar:
This 3 hour seminar literally turns upside down many common myths and misconceptions about nutrition, diet and exercise.
You can book for the seminar here. https://goo.gl/F6Oxgj
Thanks to Anita Reilly for this photo of me making salad in my house.
The post below is an old post in response to a New York Times article about the possible dangers of yoga or rather postural practice ( not a bad topic but clumsily promoted). The post mentions that my body was pretty wreaked before I started yoga and that I lost 20 kg, got fit and generally much healthier. I had put a lot of that weight lost down to the practice and recently, on moving back to japan when i put