Here’s a weight-loss plan I think Ashtangis can handle, no problem

This weekend’s New York Times Magazine has a short piece on new findings about how people can drop body fat pretty quickly, and keep it off — for months.

There’s this, though, from the story: “The catch, of course, is that those four days are pretty grueling.”

Since “pretty grueling” is an easy practice in the Ashtanga world, I figured this is tailor-made for all the Type A practitioners out there. (Note: Not that I’m advocating a diet.) Here’s how the Times describes things:

Researchers in Spain and Sweden had 15 healthy but overweight Swedish men restrict their calories to about 360 a day, a reduction of approximately 1,800 calories. What calories they did ingest came in liquid form: Some men drank mostly sugary carbohydrates, others a high-protein drink. The men also exercised — a lot. Their days began with 45 minutes of cranking an arm-pedaling machine for an upper-body workout. Then, as a group, the men strolled foreight hours across the Swedish countryside, with only a 10-minute break every hour. They were allowed as much of a low-calorie, sports-type beverage as they wanted during their walks.


After four days, the men had each lost almost 11 pounds, with nearly half of that coming from body fat; the rest of the loss came primarily from muscle mass. The researchers had anticipated that the high-protein drink would protect people against muscle-mass loss. In fact, the losses were the same, whether the men had been given sugar or protein.

Aside from subtly offering you a challenge, my real reason for linking to this study is that some of its fundamentals strike me as similar to those of the physical Ashtanga practice. Lots of exercise — 90 or 120 minutes, for some of us — and some level of calorie restriction, if only because there’s the need/tendency to eat less at night, in anticipation of the morning’s practice.

Put another way: Does something in this study suggest similar benefits to Ashtanga? Can we draw any conclusions, see anything that might argue for the “intelligence” of the practice?

Sadly, no. But that’s just because researchers are basically baffled by their findings:

But given the doleful statistics on weight loss — most people regain everything they lose dieting and more — these results are startling. They also, at the moment, are inexplicable. “The only explanation we can offer” for the sustained loss, Dr. Calbet says, is that the men were inspired by their hypercompressed success to change their lifestyles. The men moved more and ate less than before.

I wonder if any took up Ashtanga.

Posted by Steve

Food study may make the argument for that early Ashtanga dinner

Upfront, I want to put the emphasis on the “may.” We’ll circle back to that later.

A study out of Spain — published in the International Journal of Obesity — suggests that the old saying about “eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper at dinner” might have some truth to it.

Or, to put the Ashtanga spin on it: No dinner after 5 or 6 p.m.

I heard about it Wednesday morning on NPR. Here’s some of that report:

The Spanish study finds that dieters who ate their main meal before 3 p.m. lost significantly more weight than those who ate later in the day. This held true even though the early eaters were eating roughly the same number of calories during the five-month weight-loss study as their night-owl counterparts. 

The study included 420 overweight and obese volunteers who lived in the Mediterranean seaside town of Murcia, Spain. Their average age was 42. Half were men, half women. Their midday meal constituted about 40 percent of their diet of roughly 1,400 calories a day, on average. Right — that’s not a lot of calories. The average nondieting American eats about  2,700 calories a day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On average, the early eaters in the Spanish study lost 22 pounds, compared with the late eaters who lost 17 pounds.

Those participating in the study had similar levels of physical activity, so any difference there was ruled out.

So what gives? From NPR: “[B]ecause eating seems to send a signal to our body clocks, it’s possible that when people delay eating a big meal until late in the day, things get out of whack: The master clock in the brain gets out of sync with the mini clocks in the cells of the body that regulate metabolism.”

Not everyone is convinced by the study, NPR notes. Those skeptics don’t see a cause and effect link and maintain that it is more about what (and how much) one eats that effects weight.

Still, this sounds right up the Ashtanga alley, right? Aren’t we always on the look out for rationales to our sometimes extreme lifestyles? So, back to my initial “may.”

It strikes me that Ashtangis who have early dinners aren’t really eating earlier in most cases. It’s just that our daily routines are shifted earlier. Dinner at 5 p.m., if you are asleep by 9 a.m., isn’t much different from dinner at 7 p.m. if you fall asleep around 11 p.m.

Now, not stuffing yourself to overflowing at dinner — the pauper meal — may be worth some thought, if you haven’t already started limiting those dinners to little, teeny, tiny portions.

Posted by Steve

Sunday conversation: What’s the goal of yoga?

Mid-last week, the New York Times ran a piece that opened with this: “I was an addict of ashtanga yoga for a decade. It made me strong. It made me feel superior to people who went to the gym. What it did not make me was skinny.”

Image via yogadork

You can read our earlier post about it, but for now I want to focus on that last word: skinny.

Was Ashtanga supposed to make the author “skinny”? Is that the point or goal of the practice?

Truth be told, what is the goal of yoga for you? Health benefits surely are part of it. How much, though, is it about how you look?

I’ll admit, it plays into things for me. When I pull on the skinny jeans I bought earlier this year (after returning from teacher training with Tim Miller) and I can yank them up without unbuttoning them, my ego gets a charge. But I hope I realize it is just an offshoot of being healthier. And that my ego shouldn’t have anything to do with it.

I hope I realize that…

Posted by Steve

Indians are wondering if yoga is enough of a workout, too

The solution to any worry about yoga not trimming your waistline? A bunch of Suryanamakaras.

A round of sun salutes, via

You heard it here first, but now the Times of India has added more to the discussion about whether yoga is enough of a workout. So, it isn’t just Westerners who are worried about what the scale says.

The paper talks to two people, strength and fitness expert Arnav Sarkar and life coach Malti Bhojwani. Both agree that yoga is good because “[a]nything that involves your body, your mind and your breathing is essential to being healthy.”

But… but there’s a but to that: “In most cases, yoga is more weight training and toning as opposed to cardiovascular training, unless you workout with a yoga instructor who builds in a lot of Suryanamaskars into the program making it 30-40 minutes work of cardio as well.”

So, how do you that? Here’s Bhojwani:

Depending on what your needs are, you can choose a yoga routine that works for you or you could participate in both. When I wanted to lose weight, I walked for 60 minutes a day and I did weight training for 45 minutes a day, I did this 6 days a week without fail. So depending on your goal, there are different options you can take. Now that I don’t want to lose any more weight, I do yoga/pilates 4 times a week and cardio twice or 3 times only.

And here’s the paper’s “Final Verdict” from Sarkar: “At the end of the day, Yoga does have limitations due to which it should not become the only workout that you do, especially if you want overall fitness. While some of its teachers market it as a way to enhance fitness, gain strength, lose fat, in reality it does not give the best results when those are the goals.”

Or, of course, you could just do Ashtanga, right?

Posted by Steve

A counter to the whole ‘yoga makes you fat’ idea

Just days after we learn that a major book on yoga — by a New York Times science writer, no less — is going to argue that yoga, in fact, makes you fat, a piece appears on Yahoo! Sports that highlights three kinds of yoga to help you lose weight.

And Ashtanga comes at the top of the list. Here’s the key description:

Ashtanga is the perfect type of yoga for those looking to lose weight because it provides a cardio effect. It flows nonstop from one move to the next. Men looking for yoga classes should try Ashtanga. It was originally created with teenage schoolboys in mind. Ashtanga is an advanced form of yoga that is known for demanding movements.

That’s pretty close to what I’ve said before about the practice, that on a purely physical level it works as well as weight training.

The other two forms of yoga are Power (which is rightly described as a Western offshoot of Ashtanga) and, of course, Bikram.

The argument from the New York Times writer’s perspective, if you’ll recall, is that yoga ultimately helps people slow their metabolism, which is what causes the weight gain. I wonder if that is perhaps more true of asana practices that focus on relaxation (yes, I’m looking at you, Iyengar classes). It’s hard to believe if you’re doing Ashtanga at even 75% effort that you won’t keep fit.

Posted by Steve