Look around at the start of any yoga class: Mats are rolled out, blocks, belts and bolsters are at the ready, and invariably at one corner of the mat, you’ll find a water bottle.
If class is an hour, or at most 90 minutes, how necessary is that bottle of water?
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No doubt we’ve become a nation of water guzzlers, urged for years by health pundits to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. We take water along with us in the car, on our bike rides and to the office. But do we really need that bottle at the ready for a short vinyasa class? A four-hour marathon aside, few of us in industrialized nations are in danger of keeling over from dehydration in a yoga class (thanks to diets abundant in fruits, salads, veggies and well, yes, sports drinks, coconut water, herbal teas and even vitamin fortified water).
For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s a really hot summer day and you’ve been sweating a lot, releasing vital fluids from your cells. Yes, the desire for a nice dousing of water before class is understandable.
But too many yogis fall into the habit—and I dare say, crutch—of having a water bottle handy, often taking you out of your practice and into a ‘break’ or distraction. (I encourage yogis not to pause in the middle of class to sip water or fix ponytails—or look with awe at others doing challenging poses—but that’s another story).
Albeit, hot yoga classes, which could mean room temperatures ranging from 90 to 117 degrees, pose different considerations.
At that thermostat setting, you are talking considerable heat combustion: in addition to the external room temperature, the body is generating its own internal heat during asanas. A few dozen rounds of downward and upward facing dogs, warriors and handstands in a hot room can render a yogi the ego-satisfying sweat drench—as it tries to cool you down—but with the room temperature high, you suddenly have the potential for heat exhaustion and dehydration. (We’re losing fluids through our breath too!) It’s not uncommon for yogis to have a dizzy spell, or even pass out in a hot yoga class if they are not adequately hydrated.
When you know you’re going to take a hot yoga class, do like World Cup players or marathoners: hydrate before the event. If you wait until just before class or the middle of a warrior sequence to chug some water, you’ll be unable to deliver an adequate amount of fluid and electrolytes (minerals, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium) to your body.
Sports performance research shows that losing just two percent of your body weight in fluid can decrease performance by up to 25 percent. At that rate, you stand to lose your mental edge and ability to perform the asanas optimally. Higher percentages can be potentially life threatening. And two percent of body fluid isn’t a lot for, say, a 120-pound yogi who may have eaten light the better part of the day in order to have an empty stomach for yoga class.
Health experts are on the fence these days on the “eight glasses of water per day” rule. Most recommend we drink enough water and clear liquids to maintain urine at pale yellow—not clear, not dark.
Your best strategy to prepare for a hot yoga class: drink plenty of fluids the day before class. Make it water, nutrient-rich clear drinks or juice blends, even sports drinks. Add to your day plenty of fruits and vegetables, and foods prepared in water, such as soups and pasta.
Lastly, consider one of the tenets of yoga: moderation. Sweating liberally every day taxes the body and drains it of prana—our life force. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika warns us to avoid extreme heat, as well as extreme cold. The wisdom of the Sutras urge us to practice Brahmacharya—the Yama of moderation. Could you apply that to the way you approach hot yoga?