June 11, 2014

A Shamanic Purge: Why Hot Yoga is Powerful, Positive & Sacred. ~ Keith Allen

Yoga Body

“Sweat is holy water, prayer beads, pearls of liquid that release your past. Sweat is an ancient and universal form of self healing, whether done in the gym, the sauna, or the sweat lodge … The more you sweat, the more you pray. The more you pray, the closer you come to ecstasy.” ~ Gabrielle Roth

To create space for the universe to fill our lives with joy, we must clear the blockages, fears and patterns holding our highest selves back.

These parts of ourself don’t want to leave so easily.

A ritual where we can meet the discomfort of these deep seeded shadows and ultimately persevere is medicine.

Humans have been uniting together for various forms of a hot, sweat, ritual for millennia, in all corners of the earth, with this purpose. A sacred space to come together in community to purge inner demons.

To sweat is to let go.

Yoga, an age old practice of unifying the body, mind, and spirit, delivers its own unique breakthroughs. It is a ceremony that strives to find peace by stilling the mind, emancipate stagnation and, in turn, expand self-love.

Sweat rituals and yoga are catalysts for beautiful change.

Each have ancient, transformative potency. Combine the power of a sacred sweat with the truth of yoga and there lies the magic of hot yoga. It provides a spiritual, soulful rebirth.

Today, hot yoga, has become the positive, empowering and healing heat ceremony for millions worldwide.

A spiritual endeavor in the fervor of a blistering atmosphere is nothing new.

“Throughout history, humans have found ways to sweat out their demons.” ~ Amy Hunter. 

The phenomenon is ancient and worldwide, with each culture giving its own touch on sacred communal sweats. Mayans have long gathered for temezcals, Native Americans have traditional sweat lodges, and the Polish used the practice as part of their folk medicine.

These rituals varied from continent to continent and even from tribe to tribe, however, their essence remained the same. Come together, in community, to release blockages, fears, and darkness. To find the inner strength, to remain in the intensity of the heat.

The heat takes the mind into a trance state.

From there, as sweat pours the obstacles blocking the path to greater happiness come bubbling to the surface—the darkness inside all of us. It is not easy to remain in the scorching temperatures, or examine inner pain for lengthy periods of time, but this process teaches some serious mind over matter.

To persevere, we meet the fervor of our shadows and emancipate them—all with the remedy of heat and symbolism of sweat—to walk out, renewed.

My first experience of this kind came in Zipolite, Mexico, at an Temezcal ceremony. I was 23 years old.

These Mayan ceremonies, conducted by a shaman, are held in small highly symbolic structures that resemble the womb. They invite us to reflect on the past, as experiencing the Temazcal ritual is an opportunity to free ourselves from that which we no longer need in our lives and allows us to live fully in the present.

Bodies were gathered close and naked. A shaman then took us inside on a journey infused with song, prayer, and burning herbs. My preconceived notion that I was going to lounge in a sauna quickly disappeared when the door shut. The claustrophobic fear that arose in the pitch black bordered panic. I quickly declared my hysteria and moved closer toward the door.

What transpired for the next two hours changed me.

I not only faced my fear of the external heat, darkness and discomfort, but accessed the deep fears of thriving, hidden in the layers of my skin.

Long held insecurities, specifically about being gay, rushed to the forefront of my mind first. I couldn’t escape them here. Each exhale, I honored a piece of what the shielding, shame and confusion this part of myself had taught me.

From there, it’s pain began to pour from my pores.

I was letting its grip go, opening up to love this part of who I am.

Next, the journey took me to various stagnant, hidden caves deep in my mind. I accessed pain from my parents messy divorce as a teenager. I thought I was not phased at the time, but seeing my family fall apart, and my parents in such deep despair forever changed the innocent eyes I had viewed life with. This old residue was ready to leave, and this ceremony was its send off.

I felt the damage of every cigarette I’d ever inhaled.

And finally, I examined blockages between my dreams and my current situation. When the incredibly intense heat forced me to dig deep inside, to stay with its fire, I began to glimpse what was buried beneath.

I was accessing parts of my subconscious. Baggage I had been carrying around unknowingly. I had to make a choice, to heal. To release its weight.

Still, my mind kept screaming at me to leave the room. I encounter this fight or flight in hot yoga.

I stayed, and the more I endured the deeper I dug into old wounds, the more effectively I purged them, letting layers of my old skin disintegrate.

As the shaman went around, hitting us each with leaves to shake away our past disappointments, the cries, screams, and proclamations of the 16 other people huddled inside of the fort with me grew louder.

It was immensely uncomfortable, but positive change usually is.

When finally I emerged to the sounds of the pacific ocean, views of a sunset, and fresh air, I was reborn. The breakthroughs were real. The power of a heat ritual.

Yoga is another incredibly transformative healing ritual.

Placing the human body in sacred shapes takes one on a journey, closer to their truest self. Similar to sacred sweats, yoga tests ones limits physically, mentally, emotionally.

“The Yoga path of Self-realization is one of progressively moving inward, through each of those lampshades, so as to experience the purity at the eternal center of consciousness.” ~ Swami Bharati.

It is another path to expose hidden darkness. This physical practice cultivates the inner poise, to remain, endure, and deepen into the ferocity of discomfort, similar to remaining in the heat. Through this discipline, practitioners leave with greater ease walking this earth inside their skin.

There are profound blessings to all styles of yoga. I have had love affairs with many, teach many and practice what my body calls for. However, the component of added heat makes hot yoga unique in its power to purge our souls of darkness from the past.

Skip ahead a couple thousand years from the inception of both heat rituals and yoga and hot yoga is born.

While yoga and forms of a sweat lodge are both ancient, the combination all started with Bikram Choudhury in the 1970’s.

At 20 years old, a weightlifting accident left this Indian man’s body crippled. He was told he was never going to be able to walk again. However, with the help of his teacher, he created sequence of 26 specific postures, done in the rigor of the heat. This healed his body back to optimal health in six months. Six months!

His practice soon spread to the West, and beyond. While Bikram Yoga is the start of the asana in the heat, various styles of heated yoga have been created. All forms of hot yoga, not exclusively Bikram, contain the shamanic purging quality of releasing our inner toxins in the deep heat. Each offer a communal gathering for individuals to go on an inner journey, and walk away renewed.

It is this element of profound inner purge that gives hot yoga a transformational magic.

There is deep internal release. A sacred ceremony of humans coming together to each go on their own inner journey. As the breath deepens, slowly, the room moves into a trance state. This practice becomes “the definition of mind over matter.”

When I find the inner poise to stay present in the room, in my body, and find ease as the fire inside of me builds, I leave feeling lighter, stronger, and happier.

The epiphany of my first hot yoga class was that I had potential to live healthier. Unhealthy habits revealed themselves through the practice, and I felt their negative effects on an almost cellular level. I felt like eating a salad and drinking water instead of drinking a beer after class.

Hot yoga makes my body feel healthy, clean and vibrant.

It is also an exercise of mental toughness, discipline and poise more than any other form of yoga I’ve encountered.

As a teacher, I see it in the faces of my students. When I hold space in the heat people are focused, working hard and visibly creating change.

The rewards are bountiful when they choose to let go.

Yes, all forms of yoga have a degree of challenge. But if we can find equanimity in this blistering routine, we are better suited to find inner calm when the obstacles of life present themselves. Touching our own darkness, and letting it wash away, drip by drip. It is a ritual of rebirth.

To fill our lives with beauty, to live our dreams, we must examine ourselves in an often uncomfortable way, and recognize, release and let go of what keeps us down.

The union of an intentional sweat gathering, with the discipline of a yoga practice is a ceremony of renewal, cleansing and transformation. A tool to discover the darkness inside of ourselves. A group ritual to let it go.

Meeting these obstacles head on, the intensity of hot air melts their power over our freedom away.

This empowering force creates the space in our beings to thrive. To let our problems fade a little more, with each bead of sweat. I believe many touch this sacred, introspective, shamanic place when they step onto their hot yoga mats and open space for their existence to be more harmonious.

This is the power of hot yoga.



1. Bharati, Swami Jnaneshrava. “Five Sheaths or Koshas of Yoga.” http://www.swamij.com/koshas.htm

2. Giuffrida, Maggie. “It’s Getting Hot in Here – Literally!” http://www.sheknows.com/health-and-wellness/articles/1004943/the- health-benefits-of-hot-yoga

3. Hunter, Amy. “How Sweat Lodges Work.” http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/sweat-lodge.htm


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Keith Allen