This article was originally published on March 13, 2014.
When I started practicing Zen meditation, I wasn’t doing it to lose weight.
But I did drop pounds, about twenty of them, without making any major effort.
It turns out Zen itself is a weight loss boss. A number of studies have shown that meditation is an effective weight loss strategy: a study by Indiana State University researchers showed that obese women suffering from Binge Eating Disorder (BED) reduced the severity and frequency of the episodes by more than half after just six weeks of meditation. Last year, Oprah teamed up with Deepak Chopra to spread the word about meditation’s benefits for weight loss, sharing that the practice helped her lose almost 30 pounds.
Meditation is a practice designed to help you see yourself and the world for what it is. Part of that reality may just be a skinnier you.
So here’s how it works:
1) You sit still, upright with shoulders back, chest out and notice your breath.
2) You don’t fight your thoughts but notice them without engaging in their story. You don’t stress, you just observe.
3) You stay engaged in that position for roughly fifty minutes.
I had a Yoga teacher tell me recently it’s like doing Yoga with one, single pose.
What it does to cause weight loss is somewhat mysterious and somewhat straight forward.
Here’s the clear part:
1) It calms stress so you’re not releasing cortisol, which makes you gain weight, especially around your waist.
2) You’re increasing your awareness of everything you do, including eating. So you start seeing what you’re eating and therefore tend to eat less and graze a lot less on those vending machine snacks.
3) Just the straight posture and deep breathing is core work. You’re held up by your core during meditation. Holding your body in an alert yet relaxed manner improves your stomach muscles and core strength.
Once you become aware of your body through Zen and meditation practice, stress eating goes away. I also find that connection adds energy, so you simply want to be up and moving. After meditating, I often crave a nice, long walk or jog. It’s not work but a natural impulse. I also find myself breathing through stress and bringing my heart rate down rather than running to the fridge for a snack or reaching for a glass of wine (which definitely adds pounds if you’re not careful).
The mysterious part of weight loss through Zen may be related to better breathing and the way that connects us to our bodies and clears our minds. It also contributes to a sense of well being and self-esteem, which, for me, meant less thoughtless eating. Practitioners will tell you their overall health and immunity improves and that they often experience weight loss.
Brain science is starting to look closely at meditation and its overall positive effects on brain and body, but it’s not yet at scientific clarity.
I can tell you getting skinny is just one of the happy and unintended consequences of a Zen practice.
So if you’re on the road to a skinnier and healthier you, consider adding meditation to your daily schedule. The funny part is you’ll enjoy being slimmer but not because you look better–it’ll be because you feel so much better.
Also by Julie: 5 Ways to Practice Mindfulness for Happiness and Calm
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