By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
I continue to get phone calls and questions about “Hot Yoga.” Do I offer it? Do I teach it? Where to find it? Why do it? My usual response is that I do not heat the room for yoga practice, but the practice of yoga builds tapas (internal heat), so any yoga can be “hot yoga” whether you turn up the external heat or not.
Many Westerners like the heat because it places yoga into the category of a “workout,” accompanied by the usual sweat and muscle fatigue. But, a well-rounded yoga practice has much more to offer than a regular workout. Yoga is given to bring balance to our inner and outer life, something only the “hot” of yoga can’t provide.
Where the initial idea for heating a yoga room came from, I have no idea. India, the birthplace of yoga, is hot sometimes, but not everywhere and not all the time. Fire, represented by heat, is only one of five elements that can be affected and manipulated by practicing yoga, so why neglect the other four (earth, air, water and ether)? I have been in a hot yoga class, and I have tried Bikram yoga, where the room is heated to 105 degrees. I like to sweat (especially since I do not perspire easily), but for me, “hot yoga” lacks the full experience a well-rounded yoga practice has to offer.
Yoga asana (posture) is an experience in microcosm of our macro-world, affecting us not just on the physical level, but organically, mentally and spiritually as well. In yoga practice, we may find obstacles and bumps in the road just as in life. We are challenged out of our norm, drawn away from the distractions of the outer world, and introduced to our own self. Going through each pose with awareness of breath, movement, and sensation within our more controlled inner environment prepares us to find a little more peace and equanimity in the turbulence of the outer world.
An artificially heated room immediately sets up a false experience. I am sure past yogis practiced in every temperature possible, but heat is only one of many to experience. Manipulating our outer environment in yoga prevents us from dealing as readily with our inner experience. Heat melts away many of the obstacles we might face in regular practice. Feeling and moving through resistance within the body can prepare us to deal with resistance in our daily life. Patiently, and with the breath, a yoga practice can teach us to move with awareness and balance through any obstacle.
A heated room gives us an instant sweaty fix, a little detox, and physical looseness without a lot of effort. But, if there is inflammation anywhere in the body, adding heat may be detrimental. Plus, we don’t just build physical heat, we build emotional and mental heat—faster metabolism, creative energy, power, aggressiveness, agitation, literal “hot-headedness.” It is important to first be aware of our own nature and our own temperament before adding on external elements in our practice for balance or imbalance. Added external factors risk destroying the experience of balance yoga is meant to bring to our lives.
Ultimately, a heating practice done well builds an internal heat that lasts over time—a heat that lights the fire of change from within. Try standing in a warrior pose for more than a couple of seconds. Stay in a backbend for a few minutes. Do 108 sun salutations for good luck. Internal heat can be good for long-term well-being, but a heating practice is just as important as a cooling practice, depending on the person and the day.
Adding external heat to internal heat can also be over-stimulating and distracting. The challenge and benefit of yoga asana comes from building awareness of and being attentive to the inner effects of any pose. The beauty of a balanced yoga practice is its many opportunities to experience yourself in diverse actions and environments. It is summer, so hot yoga is naturally here. But to find the balance yoga truly has to offer, do it hot, but sometimes not.
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the June 29-July 5, 2011 issue