A reader recently asked me what I thought about using towels and drinking water in a Bikram class and I thought it was a very worthy topic to cover in a post.
Let me preface all this by saying that I am not a yoga teacher. (And yes, I am interested in teaching someday but for now, I am too busy/cheap/scared to spend 9 weeks at training with the Boss.) I am a mere yoga nerd. The thoughts below reflect the way we roll at my studio. Undoubtedly, people do it differently in different places, so take it for whatever you think it’s worth.
I am a big believer in the idea that if you hydrate properly before and after class, you won’t want any water in class. There are all kinds of reasons why I don’t drink in class but my main one is pretty straightforward – drinking water in class makes me want to puke. Put water, especially cold water, in your belly and do a forward bend, it is likely to come out your nose. I’ve seen it happen. I wish I hadn’t.
When you get thirsty, chances are good that you are not breathing properly. Your body is giving you the signal for thirst, because it knows it can get oxygen from the water, since you are not giving it enough from the air. If you feel thirsty, first try focusing on getting your breath under control. If that doesn’t do it – sip, never chug.
Sweat is the body’s way of cooling itself; when the water evaporates from your skin it cools you. If you towel the sweat off, you are fighting your body’s natural process and the sweat is just going to come back. You are forcing your body to exert extra energy generating more sweat and your skin’s temperature is going to rise when it is dry. So, if you are cold and not working very hard – towel off. Otherwise, leave the towel on the mat.
So, that is the physical part of all of it, which is important but less interesting than the other part. Let’s get to the good stuff:
A yoga class is a moving meditation.
Anything that distracts you – and others – from the practice should be eliminated. Period.
Yoga means “to unite” and pretty much every faith on the planet agrees that union with the divine can only be accomplished when the mind enters a place of stillness. The postures were designed thousands of years ago to help calm the mind. There is no “wipe your face with the towel” pose. There is a reason for that. Getting my brain to shut the hell up is near impossible anyway, but if I give it optional activities like drinking water or playing with a towel? Forget it.
The fifth of the 8 Limbs of Yoga is called Pratyahara and it deals with getting a grip on your senses. We tend to trust them a little too much. They tell us we are thirsty or itchy and we immediately react.
But watch what happens when you don’t jump to a reaction. The sensation fades away. That’s because while you thought it was your senses, it was actually just your mind being bored or annoyed or wanting to leave the room. Your mind loves distractions and jumping around because that’s what minds do best. When you learn to sit with that feeling and be the observer, your mind becomes the servant rather than the master – and that’s how it can be most useful.
Is it the worst thing in the world to sip water or wipe your sweat? Of course not. But it is not helpful to your body and downright detrimental to your meditation. Not to mention the meditation of those around you.
Water, towels, watches, heart monitors, cell phones, that cute guy in the back row – leave it all alone for those 90 minutes. Nothing extra, no wasted movement.
Be with your Self. Enjoy that union.
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