For some folks their yoga practice takes a tumble in the summer months. “Too hot” is sometimes the excuse. For others its a great time to deepen their practice.
This month I would like to talk about “heat” and “yoga”. We probably all do “warm ups” at the beginning of our practice. When our bodies are warm we are less likely to damage them and that alone is one very good reason to warm up. We also find that when warm, we can move more easily and further into the asana, and over time our flexibility will noticeably increase.
I recall one of my first serious classes in the Bikram style of yoga. I was in Florida and attended a class at the Yoga College of India in Ft. Lauderdale. It was summer and the outside temperature was in the low nineties with the humidity about the same. I was surprised to walk into the yoga room to find about six radiators and space heaters positioned around the room and the several of the students “warming up” next to them. I recall questioning my sanity in taking this class even before it began and there were many times during it that what seemed like gallons of sweat poured from my body to the towel over my yoga mat.
Despite my protesting mind and body, I stayed with it and then remember how great I felt afterward. I had reached a new level of freedom in my body and also felt very clean and clear. I learned later that part of the reason for the heat in these classes is to raise the core temperature of the body. This not only facilitates the physical experience but also creates a cleansing process form the inside out and dramatically shifts one's level of energy. The prana flows more freely, the breath deepens, toxins are expelled, feelings are brought up and released, and the mind clears. Although a lot of this can happen in any yoga workout, I believe the heat somehow facilitates the process.
After this expereice I became a “hot” yoga practitioner, often heating my room before practicing and keeping the heat up during it. I also introduced it to some of my classes and in the summertime would deliberately let my third floor studio heat all day before my 5 o'clock evening class. Over the years I came across some students who just could not seem to bear the heat. One in particular was an18 year old in a class I was teaching at a local private school. Every time we would heat the room and do a few postures he would break out in an uncontrollable and almost unbearable itching all over his body but mostly down his back. One day he ran out of the class in obvious distress. He was very angry with me, with the class, the school and life in general. As part of the schools therapy program, he spent the next several sessions with his Gestalt therapist, working with his anger, most of which had now shifted toward his parents.
It was remarkable to observe that as this emotional process unfolded, he became less bothered by the heat and the itching that he had previously experienced. Within six months it disappeared no matter how hot the room was for our yoga classes.
Of course I have no proof that there was any connection with what occured in the yoga class, the heat, and his emotional release. It may have been coincidental. I believe though, that there was some connection and that the heat together with the yoga facilitated his emotional clearing.
If you prefer not to heat your yoga room, I would suggest that you at least do some vigorous “hara” warmups and pranayama before getting into your posture routine. Its amazing how much inner heat you can generate with these. I have stood in bare feet in the snow in December doing uddiyana bhanda and generated enough inner heat to not be concerned about the cold. According to legend, some yogis in Tibet have been able to sit in the snow and make wet blankets turn dry from heat generated by their bodies during intense pranayama. I don't reccommend you try this, but you might want to play with the idea of fuelling your inner fire as a prelude to practice, and this month get a little help from mother nature and see how it feels.
After exhaling completely, pull the abodomen up and back toward the spine. This forces prana up the spinal cord. The abdomen is the seat of power in the body and the locus for the third chakra. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika glows in praise of uddiyana bandha: “It is the lion which conquers the elephant, death. Of all the bandhas, uddiyana is the best. Once it is mastered, liberation occurs spontaneously.”
Michael Lee came from Australia to Kripalu
for a year in 1983, decided to stay.
He developed and founded Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy in 1986, and now teaches
and writes about how to use yoga as a vehicle for life enhancement in body, mind and spirit.
He lives with his family in Housatonic, MA. Telephone 1-800-288-9642 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Hot August Yoga" is reprinted from the August 1996 issue of Yoga Community Newsletter.
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