Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Sweet and sweaty

This (probably shortlived) heatwave we are experiencing, has been the perfect opportunity to experiment with how heat, and indeed sweat, affects your practice — and your emotions while practising. It's also been a reminder of which poses are easier to achieve and more comfortable while hot and sweaty — binds, many backbends and especially kukkutasana from Ashtanga primary -— the lifted lotus pose. Here, wearing shorts with slippery, yes sweaty legs, facilitates sliding the arms between the thighs and calves so you can press hands firmly into the ground and lift up away from the floor. 

In an exceptionally sweaty ashtanga class yesterday evening, my students were amazed to discover that some could achieve elusive postures they had never managed before.... and crucially they were also trying less hard! They were so hot, they had relaxed and found their movements took on a naturally flowing element... while water flowed from them!

Some of the balances were far harder to achieve however as slippery shins slipped off upper arms, as in eka pada galavasana and bakasana (crane pose) see below. And toes were harder to hold in binds, so belts came in very handy!

The other flip side is the tiredness which comes with practising in very hot conditions, and the possibility of irritation creeping in...  That's when staying mindful of your body and knowing when to back off and slow down, and when to use the heat is essential.

It is helpful to include rounds of the unpleasant sounding sitali breath ('s' is generally pronounced as a 'sh' in sanskrit),  otherwise known as cooling breath. Roll your tongue into a narrow straw shape (if you can, if not, draw your lips together to making a little circle as if you're sucking in through a straw).

Then, breathe in through the rolled-up tongue or pursed lips for 5 or 6 counts, hold the breath to savour the cooling air for just a second or two and exhale calmly and slowly through the nose. Repeat a few times to stay calm and cool headed. It also works when you are hot and flustered in the office, with your kids ... on the tube ;)

When practising yoga in the heat, it is also lovely to slow down your movements, visualise yourself moving through water as you take your vinyasas and focus on the calming, cooling breath. Mind over matter. But staying grounded by really using your feet and constantly coming back to feeling the sensation of the Earth beneath you and the space around you is essential to prevent feeling spaced-out and light-headed. Try it.

Personally I love to sweat when practising... not in a "hot yoga" studio I should add, but through the exertions of doing the yoga. It feels so good afterwards.

Enjoy the sun and your holidays and remember to keep practising when you are away... whether on the beach, a field, back garden, balcony... the more relaxed you are, the better!

Sitali breath
Kukkutasana and sitali breathing, courtesy of