Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Cleansing the soul for fitness

Mai Samih finds out how yoga can be useful for weight loss


Many films have depicted yoga classes as full of people making apparently aimless or strange movements. However, yoga when practised properly is a method of gaining control over the mind, body and soul to live a more balanced life and to shed pounds in the process.

Rania Al-Maghrabi, a yoga and meditation instructor in Cairo, explains the relationship between yoga and fitness. “Yoga does not only deal with fitness or the physical side. It works on three main axes: the body, mind and soul. It is how the harmony between the three occurs” that is important, she said.

Yoga teaches a person to maintain their health and adjust the body in the process. This leads to adjustments in the mind, thoughts and feelings, making a link between the body and the mind. This can take the person to a higher level, a better level of connection, which is connection with the soul and another, higher spiritual level. This is a level higher than simply regular awareness, Al-Maghrabi said. “When we talk about yoga, I prefer to see it as a ‘journey within the self’,
 she added.

Al-Maghrabi said that yoga aims for all-inclusive fitness by working on the human consciousness. When this higher level of consciousness is reached, this means that nothing can disorganise the body’s energy. “When people eat, for example, they often do so because they are upset and tend to go for sweets or junk food. This is what is called an ‘emotional disorder’ in eating. But if I have awareness of my body and understand that what I eat is affecting my thoughts, feelings and bodily energy. I will be very selective in what I eat,” she said.

For example, if a person knows that sugar can increase stress on the body and make levels of anger higher, he or she will stop. “Yoga illuminates human awareness in a similar way by giving knowledge. When it works on your consciousness, it adjusts your energy and works on self-worth. When your consciousness and thoughts change, the type of food and the quantity you eat changes and then your body will be transformed as well,” Al-Maghrabi said.     

There are cases where the mind can trick itself. A person may want to lose weight, but not be able to, for example. This is because that person may have a “limiting belief” or a “negative belief” that is saying “I do not deserve to be slim, or I don’t see myself as slim, causing him or her to keep spinning in the same vicious cycle. After practising yoga, this is reversed. You will say, ‘I do deserve to look good, or I do deserve to have a good body’ instead, and your habits may change, like switching to a new type of diet or practising sports,” said Al-Maghrabi.

“The first thing yoga works on is breathing. Most people do not breathe correctly. They just take shallow breaths, and then this causes more nervousness. Yoga teaches people how to breathe, and when this happens many functions are improved with it, like the metabolism and digestion. Breathing correctly also makes people emotionally balanced and protects them from eating disorders and depression,” she said.

“The second thing yoga works on is the energy centres in the human body, or chakras. Yoga exercises help breathing, and the meditation associated with it relieves the centres of any blockages and rehabilitates them, leaving the person with more energy. The person is emotionally balanced again and starts seeing life, himself, and others from a different perspective.”

“Yoga is composed of movements that are not done alone, but are associated with breathing in a certain way. Some yoga schools take the physical postures that are done in yoga and do them in a quick flow, which can have more effect on the body and make it burn more energy,” Al-Maghrabi said, adding that this “power yoga” can help those who want to burn off more fat.

The exercises done in power yoga depend on the teacher and the class. Vinyasa yoga, a type of power yoga, consists of the same asanas (physical postures) as the regular kind, but done more quickly. “Yoga does burn fat, but people could be practising it in a way isolated from a proper mood. They could be doing the postures and that’s it. But it is all about harmony — you can’t attend a yoga class and then eat a burger afterwards. It does not work like that. It works on the level of awareness,” she said.

Al-Maghrabi recommends the early morning or the evening as the best times to practise yoga. It is also important to do so away from meals or after eating fruit. It should not be practised before sleep, since the body is then in a state of relaxation. “Yoga should be practised on a daily basis of one hour or at least 15 minutes. You could start with 15 minutes and gradually increase to an hour. This may not suit everyone, however, so they could practise yoga twice a week,” she said.

Whether or not a person is on the right track depends on his degree of consciousness and personality. Some people may just want to try something new, while others may want to go deeper.

“You have to want to change from the inside to feel the difference, to touch the depth of yoga. It also depends on the teacher to help you reach this state, as the teacher’s role is to take the student on a journey. It also depends on the person himself and his feeling of his state, his practice, and his punctuality,” Al-Maghrabi said.

People may not feel a great difference at the beginning, although there will be one. However, they should keep practising until they do.

“It is like riding a bike: you need to keep practising until you gain your balance. A person should feel he is willing to enjoy the journey and go with the flow, which is the most important thing,” she said, adding that there have been instances of people who have changed profoundly as a result of yoga. Even their facial features have changed.

How to get the most out of yoga, according to yoga instructor Rania Al-Maghrabi:

Live and focus on the present. You should try to stop being distracted between the past and the present. Live and enjoy the present moment. Whenever there is something that pulls you to the past, think of the present. You are here and now, and from the here and now everything begins.

-Find “me time”. We tend to be people-pleasers, and then we get disconnected from our souls, who we truly are. What I need to focus on is myself in yoga —how I feel, what I want, and how I see myself.  In order to reach that state, I need to have “me time”.

-Stay away from processed food. These can negatively affect the energy of the body, so eat fruit sugars or honey, home-cooked food, sea salt and white meat. Ginger, garlic, onions, and sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, and flax seeds are good for maintaining the positive energy of the body. If someone has chaotic thoughts, they should look at what they are eating. As a rule of thumb, you should look out for fresh green foods.

-Practice makes perfect: to get the most out of yoga, you should practise it regularly.

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