if you can’t stand the heat…

…get out of that yoga studio — or at least ask the teacher to turn it down.

I’ve been reading bindifry’s itty bitty brain basket blog for a while now. bindi is an astanga teacher in chicago. proving once again that it’s a small world, I already “know” bindi from the yoga studio where I trained although we have never met. such is life in the blogosphere!

bindi is in india right now so I emailed her and told her how I loved her post about cranking up the heat during yoga because I totally agree with her. bindi gave me permission to quote her blog:

“for all of you who like to turn up the heat in the yoga room to 80, hear me out. not everyone can tolerate that kind of heat. us pitta/vata people have a tendency to overheat. and that is not good for us. the yoga room seems to be a constant battle of heat/cold depending on the dosha make up of the individual. sharath talked about this last year when i studied with him in australia. he said there should always be windows open, ventilation at all times. and it is dangerous to have sweat dripping off your body because that means the body is unable to cool itself anymore. too many salutations is not good when you are this heated, and you should do less. and you should do more when you are very cold. when i practice yoga, i do not even turn the heat on. because it’s actually dangerous for me to over heat. there aren’t any totally closed rooms in india, so this western idea of a sauna room with steam on the windows & puddles of sweat is just that-a “western” ideal of yoga. we want the heat to “do” the yoga for us, instead of us making that heat ourselves by working hard. the room should not be heated above 69 degrees. the last thing you want to do is ingest other people’s toxins. someone like me has a real reason for needing to practice very early in the morning. especially in south india. and this is the reason. i lack kapha in my bodily make up. i like to make my own heat. too much makes me overheat. sick, even. and i turn very red & am unable to cool down for a long time. i lose my appetite, and get heat stroke.

i am reading an interesting astanga book right now called, “ashtanga yoga practice & philosophy,” by an australian named gregor maehle. he talks about this phenomenon. …here’s some paraphrased words from the book regarding heat:

‘care needs to be taken not to overheat. overheating is not good. sweating too much drains the life force from the body. 68 degrees is ideal for practice. heating the yoga room above 77 degrees produces flexibility, but decreases strength, stamina & concentration.’ he goes on to discuss how overly flexible people are lacking strength, a result of biochemical imbalance. and too much strength without flexibility restricts the range of joint movement.’ ‘a cold room increases awareness and attention to detail & pays off in terms of benefits. there is more learning if the temperature is low & the body becomes sturdier due to the awakening of physical intelligence.’

so please consider others in the room when you enter the yoga shala & take it upon yourself to turn the heat up to 80 degrees. if you are that cold, you need to do more salutations, move faster, and do not stop moving. sensitivity to others is supreme. and think about that when you close a window, too. because some of us are losing our life force.”

(italics emphasis added)

the yogis reading this know the yoga styles where it is customary to turn up the heat. I have done both styles and frankly I think it’s a gimmick. I think it’s a gimmick to cater to the western mindset of “it ain’t a workout unless I sweat.” I know that people who do Bikram yoga claim that they are more flexible after a class. well, yes, because it’s the heat that’s doing it, not the yoga. it’s a false sense of flexibility.

flexibility has everything to do with the connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, and fascia of the body), not the muscles. and the connective tissue must be therapeutically stressed (i.e., held) for a minimum of three to five minutes in poses like cobbler’s pose or pigeon or low lunges or hero, to name a few. that’s yin yoga. connective tissue must be worked every day, consistently, in order to achieve true flexibility. anything less, and connective tissue will literally shrinkwrap your joints. you don’t need heat to achieve the flexibility that working your connective tissue in this manner will give you.

In a vinyasa class we can create heat by holding the pose longer and watching the breath or by engaging in kumbhaka after the inhalation. But many yoga students can’t be still for that long. You don’t have to do “power yoga” or move fast to create heat. I sweat a lot anyway and I’m dripping with sweat if I practice in an unairconditioned studio during a hot midwestern summer. The sweat rolls down my face so I don’t need the heat cranked up.

bindi is right on when she talks about heat not being good for certain doshas. teaching pranayama indiscriminately in a group class without knowing the students’ doshas is also not wise. for example, kapalabhati breathing aggravates vata, and if the student is vata/pitta, and does kapalabhati breathing in a room that is heated to over 80 degrees…you get the idea.

is yoga about soothing and harmonizing the mind/body complex or is it about further aggravating an already stressed and aggravated body?

during my first training in India the class was predominately western yoga teachers. the asana class was the first class of the day, from 7 to 8 am, before the heat of the day, in an open-air room. all the classes were taught by Desikachar’s senior teachers.

one day a teacher was speaking about certain asanas and one of the American teachers asked, “but will it create heat?” The Indian teacher looked confused. “heat?” “yes, heat. like in the core.” the teacher still looked confused. “why do you want to create ‘heat’?,” she asked. now the American yoga teacher looked confused. she did not know how to answer that and remained silent.

the Indian teacher laughed. “South India is already hot. we do not want to create more heat! we do not understand this idea of ‘creating heat’ in your yoga classes.”

indeed.

thanks, bindi!

11 thoughts on “if you can’t stand the heat…

  1. This is a great post. I finally have a few minutes to sit down and read! You make excellent points (as does Bindi). I am vata pitta and I have a hard time with temperature extremes. A very hot yoga room makes me feel terrible, like I’m going to pass out.I have heard Ashtanga teachers who study in India talk about building internal heat—I guess it surprises me that the Indian teacher did not support this, but perhaps it’s to do with the particular “school” of yoga she comes from. Isn’t the idea of building internal heat pretty much well accepted in Ashtanga? Still, it does not mean heating up the ROOM too hot is the answer. I like the suggestion to listen to your body and do more suryanamaskaras or fewer if you are too hot or too cold. What a concept!

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  2. that may be true for astanga yoga…I don’t know since I do not do astanga. but I study with Desikachar, son of Krishnamacharya (who as you know also taught Iyengar and P. Jois), and his senior teachers, at his school in Chennai. his “style” is viniyoga, although he no longer calls it viniyoga. The American yogi who teaches in that lineage is Gary Kraftsow.the asana practice that I do in India DOES build heat, however, not via heating the room or through a vigorous practice. it is much more subtle.

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  3. Great post. Thanks.

    In a history of Bikram I read recently, Bikram himself is quoted as explaining that hot yoga was the result of trying to match the very hot natural conditions he grew up with in India. He was living and teaching in Japan at the time, before coming to the U.S., and he was puzzled as to why so many of his students were getting injured. According to Bikram doctrine, the heat is a way to avoid injuries, but it always sounded both unpleasant and dangerous to me.

    Bob W.

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  4. “he was puzzled as to why so many of his students were getting injured.”

    hmmmm….maybe it's the YOGA and lack of MINDFULNESS and NOT the temperature of the room….

    just sayin'

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  5. This is so great to read. I get easily overheated as well, and my face is red for hours. I won't even try Bikram! I am glad to have some confirmation that overheated rooms are not desirable.

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  6. I am so relieved to see someone write about this! I have never liked heated classes and where I live it is nearly impossible to find an intermediate/advanced level class that does not involve a heated room.

    I hope other teachers will take heed.

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  7. all I know is from MY training (everyone else's mileage may vary)….things like heating the room and pranayama practices must be done with CARE because a teacher does not know every students' dosha, that's impossible….which means that a yoga class is NOT one size fits all.

    personally, I don't mind sweating at all, doesn't bother me to sweat buckets. but I'll do so ON MY OWN TERMS.

    I will say what my teacher Paul Grilley has said: to have our deeply held beliefs challenged can be very upsetting to us. as Vivekananda said “it is good to be born in a church, but it is bad to die there.” 😉

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  8. Thanks for the great post, Linda. I'm actually tridoshic, but excessive heat saps my strength and energy. I understand that some people love the heat at the Bikram and power studios, but I just can't imagine doing asana in order to sweat. I much prefer taking a brisk walk for that. For me, asana is about smoothing out my subtle energies, not creating further agitation.

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  9. exactly. if someone is already Type A, high-strung, agitated, “vata deranged”, etc., why would someone want to become more agitated?

    yoga is about balance…if someone is very yin, then do more yang style. if someone is very yang, you need to slow down. that is the ayurvedic outlook, to balance.

    here is one opinion from a well-respected yoga school in India:

    http://www.yogapoint.com/info/article9.htm

    “If the Asana is practiced in HOT ENVIRONMENT (temperatures about 105 degrees Fahrenheit) as it is done in some styles of Yoga, the heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure increases, though muscles expand and one can stretch the body more, this may harm the muscles. Ideally the Yoga should be practiced in normal environmental conditions.

    This Hot Yoga, Bikram yoga or similar type is inappropriate and difficult to justify version of Indian ancient Science of Yoga. In fact it can not be called as Yoga as per Indian Science.”

    not saying the above is the be-all and end-all…but they are points to ponder.

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