Primary Friday: Sweat Box Extravaganza

 This week I decided to save my Primary-only practice for Friday.  All day long, I had been looking forward to a happy-go-lucky afternoon Primary, only to be met by a stiflingly hot and humid practice room.  I broke a sweat simply laying out my Manduka.  Twenty minutes into practice, every single mat in the place was surrounded by an ever-expanding ocean of sweat.  Faces were flushed, shirts were drenched, and moans of misery could be heard from time to time.  Every so often, my bewildered gaze would catch a fellow student's in the mirror and we would share, for the briefest of moments, a nod and sweaty smile at the slavish conditions, assuring one another that it was, indeed, really hot in there.  So much for happy-go-lucky.

So it wasn't the light practice I'd been hoping for.  It was, however, an opportunity to very carefully consider pacing in the practice.  This keeps coming up here lately, maybe because the weather is turning warm, but I have to be very careful doing my practice in hot rooms.  My body doesn't seem to have an efficient cooling mechanism in place.  I sweat and I sweat and I sweat until I have not a single salt left in my body.  My skin turns beet-red, I get woozy, and eventually an oppressive headache descends that doesn't go away for the rest of the day, no matter what I do.  This happens to me regardless of my level of fitness.  It doesn't manifest as fatigue, it feels more like internal pressure, and it can be avoided if I simply slow down, but.... that's hard to do.  It's my practice.  What's the point if I can't practice to my best ability?

I have been to doctors about this.  Specialists, even.  This was back in the days when I had access to health care.  I used to run, and this total system failure would not generally happen during training but it did happen at some point during EVERY. SINGLE. RACE.  They told me to drink Gatorade instead of water and eat well during the days leading up to my races.  I tried that.  It made no difference.  When that didn't work, they tried to give me antidepressants -- the good ol' American cure-all.  HA!  No thanks, doc.  So I've been left to deal with it on my own by simply not putting myself in situations in which this catastrophe is likely to arise.  However, as we all know, sometimes we can't control the conditions of our surroundings.  We can only control the way we conduct ourselves.  Which brings me to pacing in the practice...

How important is it to stay with the count?  How much of a "bad lady" would I be if I took an extra breath or two in Down Dog between postures on hot days to let my system settle before jumping back into the fray?  I know that only I can really answer these questions for myself.  Is staying with the count so important that I should knowingly drive my body into disfunction?  No.  It isn't.  But it's frustrating because I have the strength, I have the focus, and I have the determination.  I just don't have the ability to maintain homeostasis.

During my practice yesterday -- drowning in sweat, the pressure on my brain increasing to a level of warning -- it occurred to me that I can probably never go to Mysore to study at KPJAYI.  It's really hot there, right?  I'd be miserable!  I'd have to hobble through my practice, my internal flame pathetically extinguished by the external abundance of heat.  Oh well... just another quiet dream thoroughly crushed by circumstance.  I'll survive.


  1. I don't know if you'd be able to get to an Ayurvedic practitioner where you are, but if so, perhaps you could get some better suggestion than antidepressants from one (I'm curious how those cure sweat). "Too much heat" is an actual diagnosis in the world of ayurveda, so at least your issue might be take seriously there... Good luck - I hope you find something to help you keep to your practice this summer!

  2. Hi Liska - Thanks for the Ayurveda suggestion. That's actually a very good point. As far as the antidepressants go, sweat in and of itself isn't the problem. Overheating is the problem, the sweat is simply a result.

    I actually laughed when I read your wish that I find something to help me "keep to [my] practice." I can't imagine anything, much less a little sweat and a headache, that could keep me from my practice.

  3. Hello Megan,
    have you tried coconut water yet? I have found it to be better than Gatorade or any of those so-called sports drinks out there. I think Maehle also said something about slowing down the pace of the practice when the weather is warm. I think this can be down by taking longer breaths (5-count inhale, 5-count exhale), without necessarily having to take extra breaths.

    As for KPJAYI, don't give up on it just yet. I'm sure there must be a way to practice in hot weather without dying. After all, I think there must be Indians out there who have the same issues, and they must manage somehow...

  4. Hi Nobel - I've had coconut water, but not before my practice. It's hard to tell when this is going to be an issue. I never know until I'm midway through. Also, coconut water tastes suspiciously like milk to me. It kind of grosses me out. Of course, if I could verify that it helped, I'd probably overlook that fact.

    Extending and softening the breath is usually my first line of defense when I start to feel overheated, and it does work to an extent, but there are some parts of the series that are just about impossible to cool down (for example, the Marichyasanas through Navasana).

    I agree that there must be some way for me to compensate for whatever the root cause of this overheating business is. I've actually considered cutting my hair short to allow for more efficient cooling. I have thick, long, curly hair that insulates my head like a wool cap. I've always wondered if that isn't part of the problem...

  5. My Mysore teacher out here is also a really good Ayurvedic practitioner. If you don't know of one out where you are, I'm sure she welcomes questions via the internet (maybe she even knows someone out in your area)--http://www.ayurvedaboston.com/

  6. Wow, thanks Tara! I'll look into it.

  7. Hi Megan. Losing some hair would probably help. Since wearing a hat in the cold helps keep the heat in, it seems like the converse would be true when it is hot. I feel for you. I am also an "overheater", ever since I was a kid. I have not experienced it in yoga, but definitely on runs in hot weather followed by an excruciating, pounding headache. Is there any possibility of taking a small fan with you when you practice? Would that be a sacrilege? It sure would help!! Hoping you find a solution as the weather sure won't change!

  8. Hi Dottie - While I'm sorry to hear you suffer from the same heat sensitivities, it is nice to know I'm not the only one. I LOVE the idea of bringing a fan with me to practice. I can see it now, fighting for a spot by electric outlet to plug it in, then setting it up at the top of my mat. It sounds heavenly, but I'm sure the teachers would think it strange, at the very least. Haha!

  9. I would definitely try cutting your hair. I know it sounds extreme, specially if you've had long hair for a long time! But it will grow back!! I had always had long hair since I was a teenage, and then things changed and I had to accept that (well, it fell out - chemo - but that's another story and all is well now!) I've actually ended up preferring short hair!

    And on the KPJAYI issue - there are season in India too, you know! It's not nearly as hot in the winter months as the summer ones. So hold onto that dream ... :)

  10. Hi Susiegb - It's tempting. I've often fantisized about having short and poofy instead of long and flowy hair. I'm sure it would make a huge difference with the heat... but I've always had long hair and I'm both intrigued and horrified by the idea of cutting it off. It's strange that I'm able to have images permanently tattooed on my body, no problem, but I can't bring myself to cut my hair, even knowing that it will grow back.

    And, yes, I am aware that there are seasons in India. ;) But aren't there also certain times of year when students flock to Mysore? For some reason, I thought it was in the hot season...

  11. Don't give up on Mysore! As for the seasons, January and Feb are the busiest months and they're not as hot as March-April-May. I went in Feb/March, and I was expecting a sweltering hot shala, but it was actually not bad at all. You'd be practicing in the morning, when it's cooler, and they have doors and windows open so there's air circulating, especially if you can be near the periphery. I actually wanted it to be warmer a few times. I think the difference is in cooler climates we have to create artificial heat, and close the doors and windows so it becomes like a sauna. It's really nice to practice at the shala in Mysore.

    Plan on taking naps in the afternoons there, though. There a few hours of the day that -- if you tend to overheat-- you won't want to leave the house.

  12. Hi Ellie - Thanks for sharing your experience. It's very encouraging that you didn't find the shala to be too warm. And as for the afternoon naps... no problem. They're already a beloved part of my daily routine. :)