Water and Yoga: How and When To Hydrate

yoga pose water

Your body and breath should flow, but your water bottle should not—at least not throughout your yoga practice. Not drinking water while practicing yoga may sound strange and counterintuitive, but there are many physiological and energetic effects of water consumption on your body. Maximizing hydration while maintaining a regular yoga practice is a bit of a balancing act but can be achieved by following simple tips on when and how much water to drink before heading off to the yoga studio.

How Much Water Should You Drink in General?

For water consumption, the simplest advice is straightforward: drink when you’re thirsty. While helpful, this advice is often too simple since thirst is a signal that your body is already headed towards dehydration. Previously, studies recommended drinking eight glasses of water per day, but now most health advisors recognize that individuals require different amounts of water due to various internal and external factors, including gender, body type, environment, and lifestyle. For example, people who exercise frequently or who live in hot, dry or high-altitude environments generally need more water. It is also recommended to drink in proportion to your body size, and men are likely to need more water than women. If you want to calculate a specific amount of water that works for you, keep in mind that nearly all food and beverage intake contributes to your daily liquid consumption.

Fortunately, your body will let you know if you’re not consuming enough water. Frequent light-headedness, headaches or dryness (whether in your skin, mouth, eyes or lips) all indicate that you should increase your water intake. Dark urine, infrequent urination or constipation could indicate that you should drink more. Signs of dehydration during asana practice or other forms of exercise include lack of sweat, cramping, and muscle stiffness.

On the other hand, it is indeed possible to over-hydrate. When you drink too much water or consume it too quickly, frequent urination depletes the electrolytes that your body needs to properly digest food and stay hydrated. Some signs that you’re drinking excessively include clear urine, frequent urination, excess mucus and an inability to quench thirst. Heaviness in the abdomen and bloating are also signs that you may be drinking more water than necessary.

Ayurvedic Tips For Drinking Water

If you drink an adequate amount of liquid and still feel thirsty, there’s a chance that your body isn’t absorbing it properly. Ayurveda advises certain practices for drinking water that can help to achieve optimal hydration.

First of all, although it can be tempting, don’t drink chilled water! Cold water is an enemy of the concept of agni, the digestive fire that we need to circulate prana (life force energy) throughout our bodies. Ayurveda expert Dr. Vasant Lad goes so far as to call cold water a poison to the digestive system. If your water is warm, that’s even better. Boiling water stimulates digestion and circulation, making it easier for your body to absorb nutrients and flush out toxins. Ayurveda also recommends a practice called ushapan, which is simply drinking water (about one whole liter) first thing in the morning. For maximum absorption, practice sipping slowly and in a seated position to ensure that your body and organs are relaxed.

Water and Yoga

If you start each day by drinking warm water and sip before meals (not right after them) and occasionally throughout the day, it’s likely that you will not need to hydrate during your yoga practice. With a fast-paced yoga class, slowly drinking eight ounces of water at least 30 minutes beforehand is beneficial to maintain hydration. If possible, avoid drinking water immediately before or during class. In addition to making our physical bodies feel inflated, consuming large amounts of water before or during a practice also interferes with our energy bodies; one theory says that sipping during yoga practice is akin to pouring water over our inner fire as we try to build it.

While participating in strenuous physical activity, we often mistake a need for water with a need for air. In fact, I’ve found that imaginary “thirst” is one of my most common distractions during both asana and meditation practices. If this rings a bell, resisting the unnecessary desire to drink water can be a good practice in tapas, or self-discipline, since using compassionate self-restraint against our urges helps us build strength through transformation. If you do indeed feel thirsty during yoga, take a moment to check in with your body. After a few deep breaths, if the sensation persists, make your water consumption part of your practice; sip mindfully and don’t let drinking be a distraction— to yourself or others. Finally, make sure to rehydrate after class, especially if you practice hot yoga or if you typically sweat during practice.

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