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Metabolism refers to a series of chemical reactions where your body converts what you eat and drink into energy and expels waste. (1) Thus, it comprises two parts:
- Anabolism is the constructive phase of metabolism, which involves the coming together of simple molecules to form complex ones that become building blocks for life-sustaining cellular structures.
- Catabolism is the destructive phase of metabolism, wherein the complex biomolecules such as carbs, proteins, and fatty acids break down into simpler ones, releasing energy while discarding the unwanted by-products in the process.
Many things can alter your metabolism rate, but the most important one is how physically active you are.
This article discusses the importance of yoga in boosting and maintaining a healthy metabolism with some important poses and beneficial lifestyle changes as well.
Benefits of Practicing Yoga
The current and popularized understanding of yoga is as a physical practice. However, there are numerous benefits to practicing yoga that are not limited to the physical body. Yoga has the potential to benefit physical, emotional, and spiritual health. (2)(3)
Benefits of yoga may include but are not limited to:
- Increased flexibility
- Increased muscle strength and tone
- Improved respiration
- Increased energy
- Improved metabolism
- Weight loss
- Improved circulation and cardiovascular health
- Prevention of injury and illness
- Improved mood and emotional wellbeing
- Decreased stress (decreases the secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone)
- Anxiety relief
- Reduced inflammation
- Draining of lymph to boost immunity
Recommended Yoga Poses to Improve Metabolism
The following yoga poses can help stimulate metabolism.
1. Bow pose (dhanurasana)
The bow pose increases energy, reduces stress, strengthens the arms and legs, and lengthens the spine and abdomen.
How to do this pose:
- Lie flat on your stomach, placing your arms by your side.
- Fold your knees to raise your legs backward.
- Hold your ankles with your hands such that your body resembles a curved bow.
- Bend as far as your body is comfortable.
- Hold this pose for a few seconds while focusing your attention on your breath.
- Slowly bring your legs and chest to the ground while exhaling.
Caution: The bow pose should be avoided by pregnant women and those suffering from disc issues or high blood pressure. Modifications should be made for those with knee, neck, and shoulder issues.
2. Plow pose (halasana)
Halasana is an inversion, which increases blood flow to the thyroid, adrenal, and pituitary glands. Increased circulation to these glands stimulates a release of endorphins, which makes you feel good and increases your metabolism.
How to do this pose:
- Lie down flat on your back while keeping your legs close together and your chin tucked in.
- Take in a deep breath and raise your legs until your feet point directly up.
- Place your hands underneath your buttocks with your palms facing up.
- Slowly lift your torso until you are resting on your shoulders.
- Keep the upper arms resting on the floor, but move your hands to the lower back for additional support. At this point, your legs should be over your head.
- Gradually straighten your back.
- Keep your knees firm but relax your calf muscles.
- Hold this pose, which is known as the Sarvangasana.
- After a few seconds, lower your legs forward until your feet touch the floor over your head.
- Bring your arms down flat on the floor.
- Breathe evenly and hold this pose for about 30 seconds.
Caution: This pose is not recommended for people with glaucoma, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and neck, shoulder, or cervical injury.
3. Shoulder stand (salamba sarvangasana)
The shoulder stand strengthens and stabilizes the body, improves circulation, and benefits the nervous system and endocrine systems.
How to do this pose:
- Place your hands by your thighs with your palms facing downward and your legs joined together.
- Slowly raise both your legs in the joined position without bending your knees by pressing your palms against the ground.
- Try to make your legs perpendicular to the ground, but gradually and only to the extent that your body allows it. Overexerting yourself can give rise to sprains and injuries.
- First lift your buttocks, then your abdomen, and finally your chest to form a straight line.
- Keep your chin tucked against the chest. You can hold your back with your hands for additional support.
- Maintain this position for a few seconds while breathing deeply.
- Slowly bring down your body to the starting position as you exhale.
Caution: The shoulder stand is contraindicated for those with high blood pressure, migraines, glaucoma, a history of stroke, and neck and shoulder issues.
4. Boat pose (navasana)
When done properly, the boat pose works to lengthen the spine, strengthen the core, improve digestion and elimination, and support the reproductive system.
How to do this pose:
- Lie on your back with your feet together and arms beside your body.
- Raise your feet off the ground while exhaling, and extend your arms toward your feet.
- You may feel a slight tension in your belly as your abdominal muscles contract.
- Maintain the pose for a few seconds while taking deep breaths.
- Slowly return to the starting position while exhaling.
There are many variations of this pose, and modifications should be made for those with hip, knee, and back issues and while learning.
Caution: The boat pose should not be done by pregnant women and those with a hernia.
5. Locust pose (salabhasana)
The locust pose strengthens the back body, improves the health of the circulatory system, and stimulates the abdominal organs, kidneys, and adrenal glands.
How to do this pose:
- Lie on your back with your palms below the thighs and your heels joined together.
- While inhaling, press your palm downward and lift your legs as high as possible.
- Look upward and take five breaths.
- Slowly bring down your legs while exhaling, and release your hands.
- With the pelvis pressing into the ground and using the strength of the lower back and abdomen, lifts your legs off the ground.
Caution: The locust pose should not be done by pregnant women and those with high blood pressure and lower back issues.
Other Yoga Poses That May Improve Metabolism
Some yoga poses have properties that can boost your metabolism. Poses that help to improve digestion support increased metabolism. Any twisting poses or revolved variations are known to promote digestion, absorption, (4) and detoxification. (2)
Such poses include:
- Seated spinal twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
- Revolved chair (Pashasana)
- Rotated wide-leg forward fold (Parivrtta Prasarita Padottanasana)
- Core-focused poses and abdominal exercises such as Ardha Navasana
Does Pranayama Increase Metabolism Rate?
Pranayama encompasses varying breathing practices in yoga. This practice of controlled breathing increases the intake of oxygen and warms up the body, both of which stimulate and improve the body’s metabolism. (5)
Controlled breath throughout your practice will boost your metabolism, and being mindful of your breath in all of the above-listed poses can support a healthy metabolism. Additionally, breath exercises, including the three-part breath and breath of fire, are great practices to stimulate your metabolism.
Safety of Yoga for People With Medical Conditions and Injuries
Different styles, variations, and modifications allow yoga to be accessible to everyone, especially those with preexisting conditions. It is important to be mindful of your medical conditions and injuries to determine which specific poses, practices, or exercises should be avoided.
If you have questions regarding your condition, it is important to consult your doctor, learn from a trained professional, and always listen to the feedback from your own body.
Exercises That Are Good for Metabolism
Increasing the amount of your movement will increase your metabolism or metabolic rate. Thus, lightweight cardio exercises, such as swimming, aerobics and Zumba, cycling, running, jogging, and even brisk walking, can help in this regard. (6)
Moreover, studies have shown that the resting metabolic rate of those who take up endurance training is higher than normal individuals. (7)
Lifestyle Changes to Boost Metabolism
The most effective way to boost your metabolism is to combine yoga and/or other forms of movement with healthy lifestyle choices, including but not limited to diet, proper sleep hygiene, (8) and managed stress.
Yoga can only boost your metabolism when included in an overall healthy lifestyle, rather than as a standalone treatment. You must eat a well-balanced diet, stay active, keep stress under control, and get proper sleep if you wish to see any long-lasting improvement in your metabolism rate.
As mentioned, perhaps the most crucial aspect of a healthy metabolism is staying active, and yoga is one of the most wholesome forms of exercise that can easily be done at home. But for this intervention to bear fruit, you must do it regularly.
Start with simple yoga poses to loosen up your body and then gradually move on to the more complex ones. At no point should you overexert yourself, which can cause severe damage that can add to your health woes.
The stretching and bending are bound to induce a bit of muscular tension but should not cause any serious discomfort or pain. If that is the case, you must stop immediately and ask an expert to guide you. A boost in metabolism is not something that happens overnight, so be patient and be consistent with your efforts.