It's Gotta Be Hot, It's Gotta Be Fast

By Mark Stephens on Wed, 03/05/2014 - 13:41

Common Urban Yoga Myths

Despite being a source of health and wellbeing, yoga is not immune to cultural forces. As yoga gains increasing popularity in the West, the popular “no pain, no gain” mentality easily finds its way into yoga classes. Often advertised as a challenge rather than an invitation to personal health and sustainable self–transformation, many yoga styles and teachers go all out in trying to get their students to go all out, often in conditions that create more tension, not less. That approach revolves around three common myths:

Myth #1: It’s Gotta Be Hot

Despite volumes of scientific medical evidence showing that exercising in intense heat is more a source of stress and injury than sustained openness and strength, much of the yoga scene heats the room far higher than necessary. How much heat is necessary? Just enough to relax. It’s relaxation of the nervous system, not passive heat, that leads to the release of muscular tension. Warming the body naturally through activity, such as doing several Sun Salutations, core work or sustained standing pose sequences, allows the muscles to more easily and deeply release. Relying on intense heat can create a false sense of flexibility that leads to overstretching and potentially to injury. Also, doing slow steady yoga breathing (ujjayi pranayama) will naturally warm the body along with sustained effort in each session. Meanwhile, doing yoga in a hot room is most definitely contra-indicated if you’re pregnant, have high or low blood pressure, or are a child.

Myth #2: It’s Gotta Be Fast

Many yoga classes feel like a sprint. Moving fast is in perfect keeping with a stressful lifestyle in which we’re always trying to get ahead of someone or something. But if yoga were a competitive race, the turtle would beat the hare in the long-distance pace of life. But neither yoga nor life is a race. By moving slowly in keeping with the rhythms of the breath – and making an effort to stretch the breath – we can move more consciously, thereby involving more of our bodymind in what we’re doing. Moving slowly also works more deeply into muscle fibers, helping to build deeper strength rather than superficial qualities like six-pack abs. And if you’re interested in really sweating and working hard, try moving even slowly, especially when it’s more difficult.

Myth #3: It’s Gotta Be Exhausting

Some students say they didn’t get in a good practice unless they’re practically dragging themselves out of a class soaked in sweat and largely fatigued. Sorry, but that’s not yoga. Of course you might sweat like crazy, but it’s not a requirement. Yoga is about moving into sustainable balance, working through obstacles such as tightness and weakness that stand in the way of greater or deeper sources of balance, and practicing in a way that allows one to do it forever. Coming out of Savasana (Corpse Pose) you should feel energized and ready to approach whatever is next with a sense of calmer and clearer awareness.