To Drink or Not To Drink? The Hot Yoga Question!

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Recently a studio member forwarded a blog written by the esteemed San Francisco Bikram Yoga teacher Mary Jarvis in which she describes drinking water during class as a an unnecessary distraction.

Okay, I’m going to go way on a limb & say that Mary’s position is extreme. First, a little perspective for folks who’ve never practiced Bikram or other HY variety. By its nature, Hot Yoga is meant to kick your ass. It’s designed to be an extreme emotional-spiritual push-to-the-edge cardio physical challenge.    

Discovering facial patterns in streaks of dried sweat on the front mirror … checking out whose body/outfit looks sexy … cataloguing the many parts of the human body that scream “I AM UGLY”  … competing with your neighbor to kick a leg higher in Standing Bow … these are distractions in a yoga class.  Wondering if the teacher will ever open the door  … fanning yourself … compiling an inventory of what’s in the frig to make for dinner … guessing where the stock market is heading … worrying about whether your honey picked up the kids … These are typical distractions.

Isn’t Mary Jarvis making a mountain out of a molehill by declaring the act of drinking water during class as a distraction? The mind has so many other higher grades of distraction on which to dwell.  Isn’t one of the main purposes of hatha yoga to purify the body? And isn’t sweating alongside Ujaya breath the surest way to eliminate toxins? Now I don’t know how much sweat Mary drops in a 90-minute class. But when I’m in the groove of an intense practice, I drench my towel with so much sweat that I have to carefully wrap it up inside my mat & sprint to the nearest sink to avoid dropping a river in my wake. And, yes, I pay much more attention to the quality of my breath than guzzling water. At the same time I typically drink 1.5 before class and 2 liters during class. Usually I add electrolytes to a liter of water. As a matter of standard procedure, I advise studio members to drink plenty of water before, during & after class. I even commit the heresy of allowing studio members to leave the studio to get H2O refills during class.

What I have observed about visiting students who refrain from hydrating during class is that this absence of distraction doesn’t make them inherently more attuned to their bodies or better yogis. What it looks like to me is that they are suffering under a concept that if they refrain from hydrating, it makes them a more serious yogi. But maybe they ought to relax and get properly hydrated rather than adhering to Mary’s concept. I confess that my sample is small. Bikram certainly doesn’t tell anyone to leave the water outside the studio.

In Mary’s blog, she claims her refined awareness of yogic breathing trumps all secondary issues including any perceived need to hydrate. She also claims to only take 1 breath per posture. Okay, so Mary Jarvis must be one extraordinary yogi because my heart rate spikes up intensely in these postures & part of doing the asana is holding it. Like I said, she is either a supremely amazing hatha yogi. Or she is stretching the truth here. Or she doesn’t hold the postures very long or work from her core. In my practice I take anywhere from 3 – 5 breathes per asana. And I make every effort to extend the duration of my Ujaya breath by engaging the whisper muscle at the back of the throat & drawing up mula & uddidha bandhas to relax my nervous system & breath with my energy body. And I can’t get anywhere near taking only 1 breath per asana. So Mary Jarvis must be in an elite league of Hot Yogis.

Anyway it’s a great topic. And I won’t be surprise if lots of Mary’s students rush to her defense. During my Bikram’s Spring 2000 YTT, Mary Jarvis was the most inspiring visiting instructor to guide our class of Bikram Yoga Teacher Trainees.  One thing’s for sure. Mary doesn’t need anyone’s protection. This yogini is a fierce warrior who stands tall in the breech of her convictions. And I don’t pretend to be THE Authority on Hydration.  I just know what my experience is after hurling sweat time after time on a yoga mat. The few seconds is takes to drink water 3 – 4 times in a 90 minute class doesn’t represent a distraction to my yoga meditation. What’s more the risks of refraining from hydrating are: 1. Retaining toxins in the body  2. Being unable to give 100% effort because the body is not working at optimal capacity  3. Quitting on Hot Yoga because it’s just too extreme.

Regarding The Hot Yoga Question … I definitely DRINK PLENTY OF WATER DURING CLASS! What about you?   BTW: Mary, Isn’t it time you put out a Yoga DVD with you & your TopGun Yogis practicing this AMAZING BIKRAM YOGA?

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17 Responses to “To Drink or Not To Drink? The Hot Yoga Question!”

  1. yipiia says:

    Um…is Bikram really Yoga?

  2. Gee, Peter. This blog was so entertaining I enjoyed it even though I've never done hot yoga. I like the way you always invite discussion and debate, even after expressing very strong opinions.

    It's not hard to see why all your blogs are such hits with Elephant readers. Great video, too!

    Keep 'em coming

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  3. AMO says:

    Yes, I am a Bikram trained yoga teacher and I drink water, a lot, during hot yoga classes. Mary is operating under the common but patently false belief that the body can't "digest" water for hours so it's not helping you in class anyway. In fact with an empty stomach, during exercise, particularly under extreme conditions like 120 heat (heaters aren't precise enough to guarantee 105) and 30-100% humidity the body puts water to use immediately, flooding the blood with extra fluid, cooling the body from the inside by cooling the stomach. Peter your description of your mat is similar to mine. I drank 3 gallons of water a day during teacher training (2 classes a day) and was still sometimes dehydrated. I drank much of that during class.

    Yes, some people don't sweat much, it's true. But some people do. Some of us sweat more. Some of us are bigger. One tiny skinny girl I knew watched me drink a gallon of water in class one day and was shocked. She said her stomach couldn't process that much water that fast. Well her stomach, like the rest of her, is half the size of mine. When the weather is hot, if you talk a lot, teach, or lecture, if you walk a lot, if you live or work in conditioned air, hot or cold, if you are nursing, if you drink caffeinated things, you need more water for all these, The baseline is six 8 ounce glasses of water a day. Add a Bikram yoga class and you HAVE TO add water. You can, of course, drink lots before and after, and, there's nothing wrong with staying hydrated in class.

    Finally there's this. Mary Jarvis is an elite athlete. She is the Derek Jeters of hot yoga. This skews her perspective. As a teacher, she is responsible for stepping outside of her magical yoga world and standing in the company of yoga students, normal people, who live normal lives, who have normal bodies, not beautiful finely tuned machines. Most people don't spend the majority of their time in the company of elite athletes. Most people will NEVER be as fit, as healthy or as acclimated to the yoga as Mary is. She has been practicing and teaching for many years and practices for hours each day. She talks yoga, walks yoga, lives yoga.

    Bikram is actually much better at this himself. He remembers that his yoga is a journey that starts at the bottom of a hill. Bikram includes a call to drink water in his MANDATORY dialog. Bikram IS an extreme person, his yoga attracts extreme personalities like Mary's. What that means is that students in the system must step back from the extremity of the system and stand in a place they can occupy in the body they have, in the reality of the practice. It also means that responsible teachers will call on students who tend to extremes to be still, relax into their postures, drink their water, let go of competitiveness, calm their faces, calm their breath, calm their approach. Have a drink of water. It's OK. Even if it means you come a few seconds late to a posture, even if it means you get a little distracted from the pose, your body is calling you to drink. Listen. THAT is what yoga is for, to teach us to listen to our bodies…

    • PeterSklivas says:

      Wouldn't it be great if Mary Jarvis shot a Bikram Yoga dvd showing her practice & 3 or 4 of her Topgun studio members? I'd love to see how she manages to hold standing bow for 45 seconds in 1 breath cycle … as she claims to use only 1 breath cycles per asana.

  4. Shawn says:

    The mind will be distracted with or without drinking the water. Sometimes it is the water, other times it is the flatulence of the person in front of you, or maybe even seeing yourself in the mirror with rolls of fat over the tiny Speedo that you thought you should wear in class. Hot yoga is not meditation. You can certainly practice mindfulness during class, but this will not be lessened with a bottle of water in your hand.

    In yoga classes at room temperature, teachers ask students not to drink water for several reasons. One is so you can be aware of the tastes in your mouth, which offer subtle clues to the changes in your body. Another is that many poses are difficult to do with a stomach full of water.

    But no responsible teacher would deny a student water, rest or a modification of a pose when needed. Every body is unique. Students need to learn to listen to their bodies and adjust accordingly. The teacher should be a guide, not a platoon leader. The body will certainly not adapt to the heat overnight, and each person will adapt differently, if at all. If you're thirsty, drink. As long as it is mindful, along with the rest of your practice, then the teacher should support you.

  5. Big Sweater says:

    "And isn’t sweating alongside Ujaya breath the surest way to eliminate toxins?"

    That's a good question. But I'm affraid the answer is "no." Medical studies show that sweating is not an effective way to remove any significant amount of toxins from the body. That's what the lungs, liver, kineys and some other organs are for.

    The good news is that practicing yoga is a great way to keep those organs healthy (I haven't researched that one, but I believe it is so). So while sweating makes you feel great, the medical benefits come from practicing the postures and keping your body healthy.

    By the way, I stopped drinking water in class about 6 months ago. I kind of agree with Mary. Water may not be the strongest distraction, but it is a distraction non the less. The real benefit for me, however, is that knowing I will need to be well hydrated for class, I've become more aware of the importance of staying hydrated all the time.

    Thanks for the post.

  6. I practiced Bikram fro years, out of convenience mainly, it being the only game in town. I gained much from the practice in terms of endurance… but was always unnerved by the teachers barking at me when I needed to break from the routine to take care of myself… That and the militaristic and sometimes sadistic language. "Push beyond your level of flexibility" and some innane sounding things like "fold yourself in half – squeeze like a japanese ham sandwich." What? I'm vegan, I don't say that to me while I practicing….

    After one class I asked the teacher what the Japanese ham sandwich thing was about. (and a few other common points of alignment" She said she didn't know, that she's told to say that. Soooo, it was may last Bikram class. I prefer a more intuitive practice, one that I can meet from where I am at. Where I can close my eyes without a teacher standing over me telling me to open them. Nothing against those doing it, or teaching it, but at this point, not for me. Maybe again in the future? who knows. peace to you all. -j

  7. aliagrace says:

    Water is the best! I have become water enlightened through Hot Yoga. Call me aqua-woman. Drink, drink and more drink.
    Thank you Peter!

    • valda says:

      without copious amounts of water beore during and after class I experience debilitating headaches and overwhelming tiredness. I agree – drink drink drink and be merry and engaged with your own practice.

  8. stephanie says:

    love the post. I especially appreciate your statement, "The mind has so many other higher grades of distraction on which to dwell." So very true.

  9. Moiesha says:

    I would like to say that I am not a big fan of Mary's classes, however I do respect her. Her vibe is just not in harmony with mine during class. I felt like this blog was a not so thinly veiled attack on her. There are many teachers that like to enforce the no water philosphy, not just Mary. I think you could have been a better journalist by making the story about water, not Mary.

  10. @areagray says:

    I would say try not drinking water for 30 days then evaluate. I drank water for the first 8 years of my practice, then switched over to no water. Instead of offering my opinion, I'd encourage those curious to try it – then come to their own conclusion based upon their personal experience. I don't think one is more 'right' then the other…

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