Mental Yoga: A Cognitive Approach to Getting in Shape by Andy Bernstein
The number of books, pills, powders, fads, diet, and plans that promise to change our bodies is staggering. A University of Pennsylvania study found that nine of the top ten diet programs did nothing for long term weight loss, and the one that was somewhat effective (Weight Watchers) produced only a five percent change in body weight, far less than what participants expected or desired.

The end result? One out of every two Americans is dissatisfied with their appearance, and it's not just aging baby boomers who don't like what they see in the mirror. 81% of 10-year-old girls say they are afraid of getting fat. Eating disorders are rampant and cosmetic surgery, once a luxury of the ultra-rich, has gone mainstream. The fact that 25% of all advertisements we see today perpetuate the myth of idealized beauty helps us to understand our collective obsessions with our bodies.

So is there hope for real change? Absolutely, but it may be time for us to consider a different approach to getting in shape - an approach that begins not with what happens in our stomachs, but with what happens in our heads. Notice, for example, how thoughts about a relationship lead to your eating cookies, how concerns at work "require" a few candy bars, or how anxiety about money starts you longing for pretzels and beer. Even if you don't give in to temptation, the stress alone has its effect - raising cortisol levels in your blood, which increases the fat deposits around your midsection. Whether you like it or not, your mind is playing a part in your health, and this affects your physical appearance. Body follows mind. Consequently, by working with your mind, you can make peace with stressful thoughts before they take you to the refrigerator, local pub, or candy aisle. And that makes getting in shape much easier.

We've believed that we have to get our bodies in shape first, and then our minds will feel better: "If I'll lose weight, then I'll be happy." But if our mind changes first, we become more aware of how our choices affect what we do to our bodies. Consider that there are many people alive today who are heavy but who have no problem with this.

In fact, there are cultures that admire body fat, such as Mauritanians, who intentionally overfeed their teenage women in order to fatten them up and make them beautiful. The point isn't to adopt their mindset (or move to Mauritania), but to become aware that your dissatisfaction is not a mere function of your physical weight. Your dissatisfaction is a function of the beliefs you have about your weight. When you learn how to dismantle those beliefs, your entire approach to finding happiness changes.

For example, if you believe the phrase "I need to lose weight," you're likely to experience depression, self-judgment, shame, anger and hopelessness, among other things, all of which make it harder to get yourself to a gym or avoid comfort foods. Now imagine that, instead of believing it, you questioned your thought: "I need to lose weight. Is this "need" actually true or false? What you do need is water, food, shelter and clothing to survive. See how you can begin to challenge your limiting belief?

Through the insight gained by questioning your belief, you lose the mental weight of that belief. The same thought that makes millions of Americans depressed would now no longer be true (or as true) for you, and as a result, you wouldn't react the same way to it in the future. An advertisement might ask, "Do you need to lose weight?" and part of you would know that you don't "need" to.

Mental weight loss techniques help you work with the thinking that underlies your unhealthy thought patterns which lead to unhealthy behaviors. One of these techniques is called Mental Yoga - a sequence of non-physical exercises that stretch your mind so that you can experience greater peace and clarity. Learning new tools like this can be challenging at first, but in the long run, not learning them may be even more challenging. Instead, you end up continuing to carry through life all your mental weight - about body image, relationships, childhood experiences, financial concerns - which, in turn, prompt you to overeat, stay at home, and avoid exercise, and so the cycle feeds itself.

At their core, all body weight issues are really mental weight issues. When you lose the mental weight by working with your subconscious beliefs, physical weight loss gets much easier because your head is clear. You make food choices that are more intelligent, you stop eating (or not eating) from emotion, and you exercise from a place of balance instead of from hopelessness or despair. From that expanded space, taking care of your body - even loving your body - is no longer a chore, but becomes surprisingly effortless. When the mind is clear, the body simply follows.

Andy Bernstein is the founder of Mental Yoga, a powerful mental workout that transforms stress into peace. To learn more about this technique and where you can find workshops in your area, visit mentalyoga.com,call (310) 398-8833 or email: andy@mentalyoga.com