Yoga and Ayurveda for weight issues

Yoga and Ayurveda for weight issues

I have been living in Asia for almost twenty years and every time I go back to the west, as a yoga therapist, I am concerned by the number of people who have health problems due to weight issues. I once read that in the old days every side show in America featured a fat person. Back then, an obese person was seen as an anomaly. Today, obese people have fortunately disappeared from side shows because we have more awareness about how cruel it is to ridicule fat people. Being obese is no longer considered to be an oddity, but undeniably, it is a condition that has radically increased during the last 25 years in the western world.

One of the most important factors contributing to weight gain is a modern sedentary lifestyle. Many people have deskbound jobs or spend most of their free time watching TV and working on their computers. Children have also become addicted to playing video games or surfing the web. People who live a more sedentary lifestyle tend to drive their cars everywhere instead of walking or riding heir bikes. Another contributing factor to the increase in obesity is the ridiculously large portion sizes served in restaurants in the West. In Asian cultures, people typically eat half the portion sizes that westerners eat.

Obesity is a chronic condition characterized by an excessive amount of fat in the body. A healthy amount of fat ranging between 25-30% in women and 18-23% in men – is essential for storing energy, heat insulation, protection, etc. However, women with over 30% body fat and men with over 25% body fat are considered obese. Most overweight people are at risk of becoming obese. Excess weight and obesity are the main cause of the following serious diseases and conditions:

  • hypertension or high blood pressure
  • coronary heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • stroke
  • sleep apnea and other breathing problems
  • osteoarthritis
  • gallbladder disease
  • some cancers such as breast, colon and endometrial cancer
  • mental health problems, such as low self-esteem and depression

Western medicine offers several options for treating the above mentioned illnesses, but it has never had much success treating the cause of obesity itself. Prescribing dieting, rigorous exercise and appetite suppressant pills have been the norm for many western doctors for decades, and unfortunately very few doctors look at the psychological aspects of the individual. Even when strictly caused by hormonal problems, obesity is a challenging condition to treat for many western practitioners.

Modern surgery has come up with new solutions to help obesity problems, such as gastric bypass surgery, squeezing the size of people’s stomachs, liposuction, and abdomnoplasty, (tummy tuck). All of these treatments only address the symptoms but they don’t really tackle the true causes of the problem. At best, they are very superficial and only temporary solutions which can actually be quite harmful for the body.

According to western medicine, the method in which we store fat is predetermined by our DNA and our genes. Some people store fat in their buttocks, while others store fat in their bellies. Another consideration is that some people burn calories faster than others. Psychological and environmental issues also play an important role. A small fraction of obese people suffer primarily from glandular disturbances, such as thyroid, adrenal or reproductive glands. In most cases, weight problems arise from a combination of bad eating habits, a sedentary lifestyle and some predetermined genetic factors.

Allopathic medicine, Ayurvedic medicine and yogic science all agree that obesity and serious weight problems usually occur when people over eat, have a poor diet or bad eating habits and are not getting enough

In this article, I would like to explain how Yogic and Ayurvedic sciences which take a holistic approach, help people better understand their physical, emotional and spiritual bodies and hence, learn how to balance their physical metabolism.

Yogic Science

Yogic science has different approaches and treatments that heal the whole being: physically, psychologically and spiritually, using asanas, pranayama, relaxation, meditation, shatkarma, karma yoga, swadhyaya, bhakti yoga and diet.

Yogic science views the body as five layers called koshas: Annamaya Kosha (skin, muscle tissue, and bones), Pranamaya Kosha (circulation of breath and life-energy), Manomaya Kosha (mental layer, the nervous system), Vijanamaya Kosha (the wisdom self, higher states of consciousness) and the Anandamaya Kosha (the “body of bliss”, the innermost subtle core of the self).

The yogic approach is to heal the body from the outer layers to the more subtle center layer by clearing the nadis (channels of the body) and enhancing the flow of prana. It recognizes two types of obese people and heals them differently: The rajasic and tamasic overeaters.

The rajasic overeaters are characterized as having too much raja (the principle of movement). These individuals tend to be stressed and eat very quickly and in excess. Tamasic overeaters are characterized as having too much tamas (the principle of inertia), and tend to eat out of boredom. Yogic science considers these elements when giving therapy to patients.

Yogic Science and Asanas

Yogic science believes that yoga removes blockages and librates pranic energy in our body, helping to balance our bodies, minds and souls. It considers asanas an essential tool in the treatment of obesity. However, it is essential that the patient does yoga practice at their comfort level and never strain themselves. Yoga is not an exercise to exhaust oneself and does not have to be intense or vigorous. It must be practiced regularly for at least 30 minutes a day.

The tense Rajasic overeater needs to be calmed down with a soothing yoga, meditation and pranayama practice, whereas the bored Tamasic overeater needs more stimulation and activity. Thus, a Tamasic person would benefit much more from a technical yoga, meditation and pranayama practice.

The purpose of Yogic science is to attain a “sattvic” state which means pure and centered:

The tense Rajasic overeater should be prescribed a practice which includes Yoga Nidra or Hatha Yoga along with soothing meditation if the patient is ready.

The bored Tamasic overeater will need to be kept interested and stimulated with a more stimulating yoga practice such as Iyengar or Vinyasa or a guided relaxation meditation

Yogic Science and Pranayama

Yogic science recommends all pranayama but warns that an excessive practice of pranayama can stimulate one’s appetite.

Bhastrika is an excellent practice for obese people as it activates the metabolism and consequently helps to reduce fat.

Individuals suffering from an excess of tamas benefit from Nadi Shodhana pranayama as this practice increases vitality.

People suffering from excess raja benefit from Bhramari practice, which also relieves stress and mental tension.

Yogic Science and Diet

Yogic diet: The purpose of a yogic diet is to balance and purify the mind, body and spirit.

Yogic Science recommends avoiding oscillating between fasting, overeating and eating in between meals. Both lunch and dinner should be taken at fixed times. The time in between two meals should be about four hours. It also counsels a simple Satvic diet as follows:

  • vegetarian food
  • whole grains
  • low fat meals
  • fiber rich vegetables and fruits
  • Reduced fats, minimal calories, sweets, milk, butter, cheese.

The tense Rajasic overeater needs to reduce his/her amount of food intake. This type of individual should avoid rajasic foods which stimulate the metabolism, the liver and consequently the fire element. For example hot spicy food, excessive oils and stimulants like black or green tea.

The bored Tamasic overeater should be distracted from the temptation of food by keeping himself occupied. This type of individual should especially avoid Tamasic foods which create dullness of the mind or an inability to concentrate. For example, sugar, sweets, oils, spices, starchy foods, milk and other dairy products, rich and refined foods, all of which overtax the liver, digestion and heart.

Ayurvedic Science

Ayurvedic science believes that the five main elements in the universe, e.g. fire, water, air, earth and space are present in the human body. These elements combined create three main basic principles that govern the human body called “Doshas”. The doshas are like the genetic make up that we are born with.

There are three types of Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is related to the principle of movement, with cold, dry and empty qualities. Pitta is related to the principle of transformation. This dosha has qualities related to heat and oil. Kapha is related to the principle of structure and has cool and wet qualities. Each dosha also has a different body type. For example, Vata individuals are usually thin, small or tall. Pitta individuals tend to have a medium build and height, while Kapha types are often large and heavy. Everybody has an ideal weight according to his/her dosha.

Of course very few people exemplify the energy of just one dosha. Most of us embody a combination of all three doshas in different proportions. Ayurvedic medicine assesses the constitution of the individual by evaluating the dominant dosha of a particular person’s constitution. This is called Prakritti or otherwise known as our genetic make up combined with our karma. We are born with Prakritti and it never changes during the course of our life.

When there is dis-ease, it is caused by an imbalance of Vata, Pitta, or Kapha. Ayurvedic science calls this type of imbalance Vikritti. Therefore, when treating obesity or excess weight, Ayurvedic science treats the Vikritti while considering the Prakritti, the individual’s genetic make up.

Ayurvedic science believes that by balancing the vikritti (imbalance in dosha) and considering the prakriti (constitutional type) we can achieve a natural and ideal body weight. The prakriti doesn’t need to be balanced and cannot be modified as we are born with it and it never changes during the course of our lifetime, but it is considered only in terms of having a better understanding of the individual. Ayurvedic science assesses the problem of obesity of the patient by considering both the vikritti and prakritti. It also considers the seven bodily tissues (sapta dhatu), channels (srotas), digestive fire (agni).

Aggravated Kapha or Kapha individuals may eat very small amounts of food and still gain weight. They gain weight because of their low metabolism and their deficiency of digestive fire (agni).

Aggravated Pitta or Pitta individuals have a great appetite, drink a lot of liquid and suffer from

heartburn. They gain weight when long-term waste accumulates, clogging the channels (srotas) around their stomach and creating too much heat in the body (agni).

Aggravated Vata or Vata individuals may forget to eat regularly, disturbing their digestion (agni) and clogging the channels (srotas). They gain weight because of mental stress.

Ayurvedic Science and Asanas

The Ayurvedic approach and purpose of asanas is to balance the doshas:

Kapha individuals whose dosha qualities are cool and wet need to be stimulated and generally benefit from an Ashatanga practice as they like to work fast and be challenged.

Pitta individuals whose dosha’s qualities are heat and oil, also need to be challenged, but cannot be overheated. In this respect, an Iyengar practice would be appropriate for them.

Vata individuals, whose qualities are cold, dry and empty, benefit from sun salutations or a slow Vinyasa practice.

Ayurvedic Science and Meditation

Ayurvedic science recommends choosing a type of meditation according to one’s dosha. For example:

Vata individuals are auditory and usually enjoy a meditation practice which incorporates mantras. Repeating mantras can be very soothing for these types of people.

Pitta individuals are visual and therefore benefit from visualization techniques during meditation.

Kapha individuals are kinesthetic and thus, benefit greatly by observing the movement of their breath.

All individuals can benefits from relaxation practices such as Yoga Nidra. If someone is inclined to meditate, she can greatly benefit from a twice daily meditation practice.

Ayurvedic Science and Pranayama

For aggravated Pitta or a Pitta individual, it is recommended to practice Shitali, which is a cooling breath that decreases pitta and increases Kapha moisture. This practice cools the body and the mind while reducing mental and emotional excitation and encouraging the free flow of prana throughout the body. It also promotes muscular relaxation and mental tranquility. For those who cannot practice Shitali because of a genetic inability to roll the sides of the tongue into a tube, the practice of Sitkari can provide the same benefits.

For the aggravated Kapha or Kapha individual, it is quite beneficial to practice Ujjayi a type of psychic breathing which is a tranquillizing form of pranayama and also has a heating effect on the body. In addition, it soothes the nervous system and calms the mind.

For aggravated Vata or Vata individuals, the practice of Bhramari which is humming bee breathing, relieves stress and cerebral tension, alleviates anger, anxiety and insomnia.

Ayurvedic Science and Diet

Ayurvedic diet: The purpose of the Ayurvedic diet is to balance the dosha.

Excess Kapha is treated with a warm, dry and stimulating diet. These individuals are advised to follow a waste and toxin-eliminating diet which also serves to pacify the Kapha. This diet mainly consists of a lot of pungent, bitter and astringent tasting foods.

These individuals prefer:

  • Warming, drying and activating foods
  • Pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes
  • Honey and hot herbal teas
  • Vegetarian, low-fat diet
  • Sesame oil and flax seed oil can be used minimally
  • Vegetables, grains, and beans, cooked and well-spiced
  • One salad per day
  • Whole grain crackers and toasted breads of millet, quinoa and corn
  • Pungent spices: cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, mustard, cloves, celery seed, dill radish
  • Spices and cooked fruits
  • Cranberry, pomegranate, carrot, grapefruit and spinach juices can be used in moderation
  • Herbal teas

They must avoid:

  • Cold, wet, bland foods
  • Excessive use of oils, sour and salty foods
  • Too many dairy products, especially yogurt
  • White sugar and too many sweets
  • Wheat, oatmeal, unless toasted
  • Too many cooling fruits such as bananas, dates, mangos, apples and apple juice, especially in the winter


Excess Pitta is treated with a cool and calming diet. These individuals are put on a cooling diet to eliminate toxins with a lot of sweet, bitter and astringent foods.


These individuals prefer:

  • Astringent, bitter, sweet tastes
  • Cooling oils, like olive oil, coconut oil, and ghee
  • Cooling spices such as cumin, coriander, fennel, anise and cardamom
  • Organic milk, cottage cheese
  • Basmati rice, barley, millet, quinoa
  • Cucumber, lettuce, winter squash, yams, tofu, avocado
  • Sweet fruits such as grapes, raisins, dates, blueberries, red raspberries, babcock, peaches, apples, pears, mango and coconut.
  • Bitter and astringent herbal teas and non-alcoholic beers and wines
  • Whole grains.
  • They must avoid.
  • Cashews and peanuts
  • Red meat, shellfish
  • Alcohol, caffeine and soda pop
  • Excessively hot spices, such as cloves, mustard, onions, garlic, chilies, radish and cayenne
  • Frequent use of acidic fruits, juices and vegetables: tomatoes, beets, eggplant, corn, carrots, hot leafy greens, papayas, pineapple, citrus (except limes), vinegar.

Excess Vata is treated with a warm, lubricating (oil) and calming diet. These individuals should follow a Vata balancing diet with a lot of sweet, sour and salty foods.

These individuals prefer:

  • Cooked, warm, soupy, light, foods
  • Plenty of healthy oils such as monounsaturated fat, sesame oil, ghee, butter, nut butters and EFAs)
  • Natural and healthy sweet, sour and salty tastes and flavorful sauces
  • Carminative spices which remove gas such as basil, oregano, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, pippali, coriander, dill
  • Protein-rich of animal products which do not take the animal’s life: ghee, warm milk, yogurt, cooked cheese, buttermilk, kefir, eggs, etc. as well as the grains quinoa, corn, and basmati rice, and easily digested nuts and sesame seeds.
  • Fresh fruits and juices: tomato, pomegranate, carrot, fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit, apricot, peach strawberry, raspberry and vegetable juices.
  • Lots of fresh vegetables, pumpkin, carrots, beets, green leafs, avocado, broccoli, baked potato, winter squash, tomatoes, etc.

They should avoid:

  • Hydrogenated oils, other saturated and polyunsaturated oils.
  • Caffeine, white sugar and soda pop
  • Excessive use of beans (except tofu) and heavy grains (prepare them with ghee and spices
  • Dry foods taken alone
  • Taking foods and drinks colder than room temperature
  • Red meat.


I hope this information will help you have a better understanding about various methods that are effective in dealing with weight issues. I don’t advocate one approach more than the other. As a matter of fact, both approaches are good and even compatible. It only depends on what resonates with you. However, whether you choose Ayurvedic science or Yogic science, it is important to understand that you will need to undertake an inner journey which will take you deep within yourself in order to eradicate the source of the problem permanently. You may be frightened by what you discover on this inner journey, but don’t be afraid as this powerful experience will help you peel off the different layers and ultimately result in your finding true peace and happiness.Welcome to the path of self-healing. It’s a journey worth taking.


In peace and light,


Linda Madani