I’ll never forget the first time I walked into a hot yoga studio.
It was over a decade ago in a different state and the closest I’d ever come to doing anything remotely yogi-like was listening to Madonna’s “Ray of Light” album. I expected the candles, the diaphanous draperies fluttering down from the ceiling, the sitar music and the vibrations from a roomful of Om-ing meditators.
What I didn’t expect was the smell.
The stench of that sweltering, muggy room was enough to kill. Imagine how much stink was in that yoga studio. Years of built up, cooked on, steamed up sweat was combined with very new sweat, some of it emanating from individuals who were clearly so enlightened and such higher beings that they no longer believed in deodorant. The room was rank. No amount of nag champa could cover that stink up and no amount of Dr. Bronner’s could scrub it away.
Before class, the teacher had misted the room with specially blessed, eucalyptus scented “aura” water that was supposed to help open our chakras—and that had combined with the B.O. into a hybrid scent I called “sweatalyptus.” It had minty, refreshing top notes with strong bottom notes of butt crack. I didn’t last long in that class.
Many years later, I now practice regularly at a larger and well-ventilated studio and while the space itself is pleasant smelling and spotless, sometimes I find that my fellow yogis have that not-so-fresh feeling. The biggest complaints I hear from both my yoga teachers and classmates are always about unwanted odors. Nothing can block your qi or ruin your flow like being stuck next to a stench, especially if it’s coming from your own mat.
Now, I totally get that we are human beings. We have bodily functions and bodily fluids and those fluids and functions have their appropriate natural scents. I also understand that spending an hour and a half exerting your body and releasing toxins in hundred degree heat is certainly not going to smell like a blooming lotus, but that doesn’t mean that we can just ignore our hygiene and housekeeping.
An important way to honor your body, your space and your practice is by keeping yourself and your belongings clean and fresh.
I’m sorry, yogis, but you stink at yoga and here’s how not to:
Take a quick rinse off before class instead of just after class if you have time. Brush your teeth.
Yes, I’ve heard about aluminum and Alzheimers and all that, but rubbing a chunk of crystal on your pits can’t possibly cut through that packet of taco seasoning you’ve got under there. Please, for the love of Krishna, find some natural deodorant that actually works.
Raw garlic possesses a myriad of health benefits. I’m thrilled that it’s part of your diet and that it’s cleansing your blood, but please, please do us all a favor and eat it after class, not before.
Smoking and yoga simply don’t mix. When you have a cigarette outside the studio and then come plop down on your mat, everyone knows it. Remember Pig-Pen from The Peanuts and how he was always surrounded by a cloud of filth? That’s you, when you smoke, and you’re bringing those foul-smelling toxins onto your mat with you. Yuck. Please try to stop smoking and if you can’t, then at least spare the rest of us by waiting until after class.
Your body might be impeccably clean and groomed, but have you ever taken a whiff of your yoga clothes? How about your towels? Over time, even with repeated washings, your yoga accessories can breed a powerful funk. Luckily, there are a few ways to stave off the stink.
As soon as you get into the shower after practicing, thoroughly rinse out your clothes, headbands, towels, etc. and then wash them in the washing machine. Pre-rinsing by hand really makes a difference, so don’t skip it.
Use a laundry detergent with baking soda. You can also add a few drops of lavender or tea tree essential oils to the wash water and I have had a lot of success with detergents specially formulated for use on sportswear. Look for laundry soaps that say things like “Tough on Odors.”
Look for a product called washing soda. This stuff is miraculous and is not to be confused with plain baking soda. It’s not the same thing. Many grocery stores sell washing soda, but it’s inexpensive and easily ordered online if you can’t find it. Add a half a cup, along with the regular amount of detergent to your water before adding the laundry. If you have an HE machine, add the washing soda in with the detergent in the detergent dispenser.
Make sure you dry your laundry completely as even a little bit of dampness will harbor the stink. If you can, hang your laundry outside to dry.
Understand that you can only fight the funk for so long. Eventually, your yoga clothes and towels will need to be replaced. Don’t be cheap. You’ve gotten a good run out of those shorts. Now go get some new ones.
So many yogis ignore their mats and a lot of the time, our yoga mats are the real source of the pungent odors which repulse our classmates. Yoga mats need to be cleaned and often.
After every practice, wipe down your mat. Many yogis I know spritz their mats with alcohol. Others swear by wipes containing hydrogen peroxide. Both work great and are quick and convenient.
Always hang your mat up after class so it can air out. Rolling it up and tossing it in the trunk of your car is a bad idea, unless of course, you want it to mildew and smell like a runny, French cheese.
Most yoga mats can be washed on the gentle cycle of your washing machine with no problem, but if you aren’t comfortable doing that, you can scrub yours down by hand or hose it off outside. Again, hang it up and let it dry completely. I don’t recommend ever putting a yoga mat into the dryer.
Use it as a way to practice mindfulness and compassion for the other yogis around you, because come on, no one wants to smell your “fetid goat” pose and you can’t connect with your higher self if you smell like a dairy farm.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman