Wiping sweat only makes you sweat more.
Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.
I have tried all different types of yoga and while my favorite is a good warm vinyasa (or flow) class, I have done a fair bit of Bikram yoga too. This is the type of yoga people are often referring to when they talk about hot yoga. It consists of the exact same series of 26 poses repeated in a specific sequence (which lasts 90 minutes) in a room heated to at least 105 degrees F and 40% humidity. I spent a lot of time disliking this type of yoga but after doing it as my workday default since there is a studio right by my building, I began to recognize some really special things about it.
One thing that characterizes Bikram is the strict obedience it requires. In other types of yoga, you’re somewhat free to do your interpretation of a pose, to move however your body needs. In other words, Bikram is sort of like military school whereas flow class is a little bit more like Montessori school. For that reason, it’s a great sequence for people who suffer from concentration and focus issues. Bikram requires all of the class to move at the exact same time, and to look the exact same place in each pose. There is only one water break suggested (though you can drink as necessary) and standing idly and toweling off the sweat that is pouring down your face and making your entire body slippery is discouraged.
When you first start Bikram, the inability to constantly wipe away your sweat is one of the hardest things to get used to (just behind the heat). At first, I didn’t understand why the instruction to be still instead of toweling off existed. But then I came to realize it was for our own well-being. Wiping away the sweat is pointless. New droplets immediately appear within seconds of wiping so all that you’ve accomplished is taking your concentration and focus away from the present moment and expended energy you could have used in the pose.
If you look up the reasoning behind heated yoga, most of it will refer to the physical reasons why it is so hot. While these are valid reasons, I believe the real utility is something less obvious. It’s a metaphor for life in that conditions are never ideal. When you are in the studio for that 90 minutes, highly discouraged from leaving for any reason except extreme illness, you have to find ways to cope with the heat as the sweat pools around you and to continue to manipulate your body and maintain your focus.
Are conditions ever ideal in life? How many times do we say, “I’m going to start working toward that goal when…or “I’m going to have the talk with her when …” or “I’m going to settle down/get married/have kids when…” or “I’m going to pursue this dream when…” When we do this, sometimes that perfect moment, that “when,” never comes.
What if we worked at accomplishing the difficult task when the sweat was pouring down our face, stinging our eyes, and turning us bright red instead of expending the energy wiping away the sweat for a momentary reprieve? After the wipe, it is almost instantly borderline unbearable again. How may “wipes” do we take in life? What if we saved up the energy of ten wipes and just put it toward the task at hand in less-than-ideal conditions and completed it?