How I Learned to Love My Sweat.

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yoga sweat
I will never have to worry about running out of rags.

I buy a t-shirt, wear it to the yoga studio for a few months, and then cut it up into rectangles, ready for the next car-washing or house-dusting event.

It’s not because I’m fickle about my workout gear. No. The shirt is rancid, because even when I’m not in a Bikram-style hot yoga class, my sweat flows like water from those old, non-environmentally friendly shower heads that none of us have anymore. (What? You still have one? Okay, I won’t tell. And I may show up at your house for a shower.)

Sweating in a yoga studio is somewhat expected, I totally get that. But when you sweat more than everybody else, including the men, it can feel highly conspicuous, even though logically you know everyone is too absorbed in their own practice to pay any attention to you. The thing is, logic is easily overridden. By vanity. By embarrassment. By any number of emotions. And sometimes, as your palms are slip-sliding forward on your mat and threatening you with a face plant, you desperately wish those glands would chill the hell out.

To complicate matters, my extremities sometimes remain in overdrive for no reason at all. I might sweat when I’m driving my car or working in my office. When I’m out running errands. Even when temperatures are low. (Then it’s a cold, clammy sweat. My sister’s leg brushed up against my bare foot during one such recent episode and she squealed and recoiled. No one expects a cold, clammy foot.)

All of this caused some anxiety over the years, and led me to examine the possible physiological and psychological reasons for my perspiration. It could have links to my childhood. I was single-parented by a mother with mental illness; out of her unpredictable moods grew my hair-trigger fight-or-flight response. Now my armpits fire off danger signals when I trip over my dog.

It could also be inherited. I’ve noticed Mum works up a respectable sheen after she’s walked a few laps around her nursing home.

Recently, another potential cause was presented to me, one that’s rooted in practicality and that has helped me radically reframe my feelings about my sweat: my internal thermostat has stayed stuck on the setting for “athlete.”

Between the ages of seven and 17, I spent about 13,000 hours on the ice as a competitive figure skater. I was a lithe and limber little girl in a sparkly dress with skating boots so stinky I’m sure they would have sprouted mushrooms if it weren’t for the fact that they were always on my feet.

Science has proven that athletes sweat more than others. Just like the fan automatically comes on in a computer or car engine, our body kicks in to prevent us from overheating when we shift into high gear. When you look at it that way, it’s not such a bad thing. It’s actually kind of smart.

For years, I battled my body’s natural response with a variety of remedies. As a teenager, I used an over-the-counter cream that turned my hands from sweaty to scaly, the skin on my palms peeling off.

More recently, I’ve tried kinder solutions, like clinical-strength antiperspirant and breathable fabrics. And yet my body continues to respond the way it learned to do all those decades ago. So why fight it? When my feet leave snail-trail tracks across the yoga studio floor, I can feel self-conscious and a bit diminished, or I can love my sweat. I am choosing to love it.

It’s not about fooling myself into believing I’m still an athlete. I’m not. One big toe goes into an arthritic spasm every time I wear fashionable footwear, and when I settle into Sun Warrior pose, my joints beg for a shot of WD-40. But I’m granting my nervous system the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t question the source of my sweating anymore, whether it comes from my earlier years of physical conditioning, or the conditioning associated with hiding from a crazy mother. I’m not comparing it to anyone else’s, or worrying about whether it exceeds normal levels. Most importantly, I’m not letting it stop me from showing up in life, just the way I am.

Sweating is the by-product of cutting-edge functionality that keeps everything running at an optimum level. My body knows its own normal. While no longer athletic, it’s still a high-performance machine, and one that I am lovingly caring for so it can continue to serve me for years to come.


Author: Laura Zera

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Image: Flickr/Kullez

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Laura Zera

Laura Zera recently completed a memoir titled Wish I Had a River, her story of loving and leaving her mentally ill mother. Originally from Vancouver, she has traveled to more than 60 countries, and lived and worked in Cameroon, Israel and South Africa. Laura currently resides in Seattle with her husband, their screaming-face cat and a pork chop of a pug. You can connect with her via her website, on Facebook and on Twitter.

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anonymous Nov 12, 2015 5:18am

So much of this resonated for me. I'm not particularly sweaty but in yoga class, every hair on my head gets soaked. Sweat pours into my eyes and stings. And I don't do hot yoga! Luckily I have a teacher who trained me early to take yoga inside and make the practice about you without looking to others with better yoga butts. Or less sweat:) There's so much to love in this piece from self-acceptance to investigating ways childhood can affect the present. I have that same "fight or flight" overdrive you write about, Laura. And just so you know, I've never seen you sweat either! Namaste my friend.

    anonymous Nov 12, 2015 11:16am

    That's a good teacher you have, Cindy! As for the fight-or-flight response, I will admit to still feeling a bit troubled by that, as random and regular cortisol release isn't good for the body in the long run. But that's where yoga and meditation help. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and namaste to you!

anonymous Nov 11, 2015 9:01pm

I didn't think it was possible to admire you any more than I already do and now, with this article, you've increased my respect even more! Dr Phil says (don't worry, I only quote him on this one point): "you wouldn't worry so much about what other people thought of you if you realized how infrequently they do". Your acceptance of your perspiration is exactly such a realization.

My temperature spikes from hot flashes caused me embarrassment until I decided that my age is my age is me. And on balance, I'm pleased with how I turned out. Thanks Laura for the smile and inspiration :))

    anonymous Nov 11, 2015 10:50pm

    I love this: "And on balance, I'm pleased with how I turned out." That's perfect. Because really, we could all find all sorts of quirks and oddities about ourselves, But on balance, we're just right! I do think it's hilarious that this piece has boosted me in your esteem. Who knew that my sweat declaration could do that?! 🙂

anonymous Nov 11, 2015 6:16pm

HA! I'm a sweaty and stinky girl too. I guess I take after my dad because my mom hardly sweats at all. I also gave up on the super-strength deodorant and went back to regular cheap stuff without a whole lot of difference.

    anonymous Nov 11, 2015 10:46pm

    HA! Right on! You know, I don't think the super-strength stuff works all that differently either! It just leeches more chemicals into your body.

anonymous Nov 11, 2015 1:15pm

Thanks for making light of another part of being human. Although, I have to say, I've never seen you sweat. You always look put together. We will have to exercise together some time so I can see the "wet" Laura. 🙂

    anonymous Nov 11, 2015 5:15pm

    Don't you remember my feet that time we went to L.A.?!?!

anonymous Nov 11, 2015 11:01am

I'm the same way. I do yoga at Strala Seattle and bring 3 t-shirts. I'm also a fireman go figure. It may be normal for some guys but my last girlfriend said maybe I should see a doctor. I swear when I eat anything. ANYTHING. it's literally a life of misery. But I too have turned that corner. Since I'm a Seattle-ite I just say it's raining lol. I have just embraced it and warn people that I just meet that it's ok, that "I'm" OK. Nothing is wrong. It's normal……. For me good to know I guess women have this problem… Kinda. Misery loves company.

    anonymous Nov 11, 2015 11:51am

    YES, company is good, and we'll sashay away from misery and into "detached acknowledgment," kay? But I know, it can be a pain. I sometimes warn people, too! And it's not a bad idea to discuss it with your doctor, actually, and then they might pay closer attention to some other health indicators and just make sure everything is indeed humming along as it should, and that it's your normal. Thanks for your comment, Andy. It's sort of sunny in Seattle today, so enjoy it!

anonymous Nov 11, 2015 8:37am

Another well written and funny read Laura. Well done… again.

    anonymous Nov 11, 2015 11:47am

    Thanks very much, Deniece!

anonymous Nov 11, 2015 2:51am

Thank you Laura. I will take this with me and try to start accepting my mega sweat break-outs during yoga and regular walks etc etc. x

    anonymous Nov 11, 2015 11:47am

    You're welcome, Sandra, and I know you'll get there. Luckily, t-shirts and towels are cheap. 🙂

anonymous Nov 11, 2015 12:20am

Great post, Laura, thanks! I have the same problem, leaking all the time when it's not even hot, people staring at me as sweat trickles down my face and my shirt has big wet patches under my arms. I've always felt awkward about it but you're right: it's just the body doing its thing. This really cheered me up! (And I liked the WD40 joke, too – why isn't there something like for humans yet? :))

    anonymous Nov 11, 2015 11:44am

    If this cheered you up, then mission accomplished! 🙂 And so far I think the closest thing to WD-40 for humans is cod liver oil capsules. Of course, it's probably a good thing they're ingested, because if we spritzed those on our bodies, we'd smell like a cod!

anonymous Nov 10, 2015 10:52pm

Too funny! But close to the bone. I, too, have the same problem and when shopping, I choose clothes that won’t show sweat. Sigh. Over the years I have come to accept my body’s normal as you have done. You are right, we need to treat our bodies well. We all need that reminder and the reminder hits home better with humor. Thank you for writing this piece. We have very different lives, but thank you for telling “our” story.

    anonymous Nov 11, 2015 11:42am

    Hi Heather, I'm really glad that you've also reached that place — not always easy to do. Thanks for your kind comment.

anonymous Nov 10, 2015 5:47pm

Wonderful read, Laura. Well done. Congratulations!

    anonymous Nov 11, 2015 11:40am

    Thanks so much, Aniruddha!