Chasing Tigers, Poking Cobras - A Yoga Blog

Keep It Sweaty

Sweat is a part of life and it is part of yoga.  The choices one makes about what to do with sweat have varying repercussions. What is sweat? Basically it is water containing exceedingly small amounts of minerals, lactic acid, and urea.  It is virtually colorless and odorless. What is the purpose of sweat? Sweating allows the body to regulate temperature. The evaporation of sweat cools blood at the skin which then returns to the center of the body’s circulatory system to counterbalance an increase in temperature.  What should you do with your sweat? Use it to your best advantage.

Yoga is a process of cleansing. Yoga practice cleans the physical body, the nervous system, and the mind. As with most yoga processes the order of operations starts at the most gross (most physical) and moves towards the more subtle. Heat cleanses the body, therefore, if you want to cleanse your body you must sweat. Analogies to the heating of metal to remove impurities have been made in India for thousands of years.

Pattabhi Jois adjust students during practice.

Pattabhi Jois adjust students during practice.

In the same way that gold is melted in a pot to remove its impurities, by the virtue of the dirt rising to the surface as the gold boils, and the dirt then being removed, yoga boils the blood and brings all our toxins to the surface, which are removed through sweat.” KPJAYI website

If you don’t want to trust traditional knowledge passed down for thousands of years then trust what modern science has discovered about the lymphatic system. Lymph is made of white blood cells which are responsible for attacking bacteria in the blood. Unlike the circulatory system the lymph system has no pulse, it is pumped through the body by the movement of muscle and the change in body temperature. Heat causes the lymph vessels to relax and cold causes them to contract. Heat your body and move your muscles and you move lymph around.

Here we come upon a conundrum:

I want to have a heated body.
When I heat my body I sweat.
Sweat’s function is the cool down the body.
How do I keep my sweat from cooling me down?

 There is a solution – You rub the sweat back in.

Sri T. Krishnamacharya

Sri T. Krishnamacharya

It is not sweat itself, but the evaporation of sweat that cools the body. The quickest way to cool a sweaty body is to the wipe the sweat away with a towel, exposing dry skin to the air. Never wipe your sweat with a towel during yoga practice! Rubbing the sweat into your skin with your hand keeps the skin and the blood underneath it warm. The process for rubbing sweat back into the skin is detailed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 15th Century text on the practice of yoga. Avoid clothing that holds sweat. If you wear a cotton t-shirt during yoga practice and the cloth becomes saturated with sweat you now have a layer of cold material that sits on the skin and constantly lowers the temperature of the blood underneath. In the ashtanga yoga practice men typically take their asanas shirtless and woman in a small, yet modest, tank top or sports bra. If you don’t feel comfortable showing your midriff wear a shirt that exposes your armpits – a particularly potent area for sweat creation in the human animal.

Showering after yoga is no good. Taking a cold shower after yoga practice cools the body down thereby halting the detoxification process (constricting the lymph vessels). Taking a hot shower after yoga practice drains energy. I know, that last statement sounds a little hippy dippy. Think about it though. During a hot shower the blood is drawn to the skin (that’s why you look all flushed after a hot shower) which means it is drawing blood away from the internal organs. After yoga practice blood is highly oxygenated, aka full of energy, and the internal organs thrive on that influx of oxygen. Showering after yoga practice is cheating yourself of the benefits you’ve worked so hard to gain.

And so we come upon another conundrum:

I want to keep the benefits of my yoga practice.
Therefore I will not shower after my yoga practice.
But then I will smell bad.
How do I keep from getting B.O.?

More on sweat and yoga from Kiki Flynn, my long time teacher.

Remember, sweat is virtually odorless.  Bacteria use sweat as a breeding ground and the smell of B.O. results from bacteria breaking down the keratin protein on the skin. No bacteria equals no odor. How can you get rid of bacteria and keep it at bay. Firstly, take a shower before you practice yoga and make sure you dry off completely. Secondly, wear as little synthetic fiber as possible during yoga practice and on your way to your yoga practice space. Thirdly, avoid loose and bulky clothing during your practice – the sweat that is caught by your clothes is a veritable oasis for bacteria. Finally, allow enough time at the end of your practice to rest so that your sweating stops before putting on clean clothes.  

Keep is sweaty.
Keep it clean.
They’re one in the same.