Pranayama for weight loss

Anyone who has ever attempted to lose a substantial amount of weight, quickly learns the importance of a multi-pronged approach and the value of filling one’s armoury with a multitude of weapons to blast that blubber away.

Tweaking of the diet, walking, calisthenics, a bit of jogging and other aerobic means are all important components of the fat-burning game plan. Given the criticality of “aerobic” in the overall strategy, why not then cut to the chase and rope in the very act of breathing into the arsenal!

One often hears about the marvels of pranayama (yogic breath-control exercises). In the last few years there has been a massive Hundred for Hundred: Pranayamasurge of interest in yoga in India, thanks mainly to the efforts of Swami Ramdev Maharaj. Also known as Baba Ramdev, this “poor man’s yogi” has held hundreds of yoga camps all over the country and reached out to millions through the Aastha channel on TV. He has been criticised by yoga purists for his unorthodox methods and by other experts for his bizarre opinions and rather tall, unsubstantiated claims of being able to cure just about any disease you might have.

Nevertheless, Baba Ramdev’s impact has been huge, and a major fallout of his ubiquity is that one nowadays sees quite a few people in parks doing some of the popular pranayama. Baba Ramdev (and some other yoga experts as well) claim that these exercises are capable of lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, curing asthma, reducing obesity, alleviating gout, etc, etc, etc. Of course any requests for clinical studies that prove these claims are brushed aside with disdain, and everything is attributed to ancient Indian wisdom proven beyond doubt over the centuries.

But what the heck, I have nothing to lose (except weight!), so why not give pranayama a shot? Despite being a diehard cynic, I am not completely stupid – I do realise that yoga and pranayama can have considerable health benefits, whether corroborated by modern, scientific research studies or not. And since the very thought of all those body-contorting yogic asanas gets my knickers in a twist, I’ve chosen to simply stick with three of the most popular pranayamaBhastrika, Anulom Vilom and Kapal Bhati.

In addition to these three, Swami Ramdev also recommends three other pranayama exercises – Bahaya, Udgeeth and Bharamari.

Bhastrika simply involves breathing deeply at varied speeds. Anulom Vilom is inhaling through one nostril while shutting the other and then exhaling through the other while shutting the first, and then reversing the process (the first inhalation should be through the left nostril). In Kapal Bhati, abdominal contractions are used to exhale forcefully. It is this third pranayama that is most recommended for losing weight.

Take a look at this video, which shows Baba Ramdev doing Anulom Vilom, while explaining everything in Hindi.

Here’s a much longer video of all the pranayama exercises, and then some, with voice-over in English (a translation of Baba Ramdev’s commentary). Although it is over an hour long, it’s time well invested if you are seriously interested in doing everything the correct way.

Please note that if you try these exercises, it’s very important to do them in the right way, else they could cause more harm than good — attempt them at your own risk. Kapal Bhati is best done on an empty stomach. For more details on risks and benefits please refer to the excellent Know Yoga site at Incidentally, Bhastrika, Anulom Vilom and Kapal Bhati can be done sitting upright (back absolutely straight) on a chair; it’s not compulsory to sit in padmasan (lotus position) – in fact that literally gets my knickers in a twist and I find it quite impossible!

Of course, don’t forget that even if pranayama actually works does all the magic it’s reputed to work, there’s still the tiny problem of actually having to do the exercises regularly for them to have any effect at all. And therein lies the rub!

- Val Souza

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