Practicing Yoga, internal heat or artificial external heat?
[ Inner Fire : the Energy of Transformation ]
TKV Desikachar, the son of Krishanamachaya also a modern-day yoga master, states that Tapas is a “means by which we keep ourselves healthy and cleanse ourselves inwardly”, for tapas also means “cleanse” in Sanskrit. So in yoga practice, tapas is the heat that is generated as our internal purification, like the process of purifying gold.
Tapas, raising the inner heat, melts away layers of unconscious tension in the body, removing blockages in the bloodstream as well as the invisible energetic channels known as nadis, or meridians. When we cultivate spiritual heat through Tapas, we keep the body health and become aware that our natural state is inner peace and the true self.
Synchronizing breathing and movement in the asanas heats the blood, cleaning and thinning it so that it may circulate more freely. Improved blood circulation relieves joint pain and removes toxins and disease from the internal organs. The sweat generated by the heat of the vinyasa and the postures then evacuates the impurities from the body. With regular practice asana or pranayama, the body becomes healthy, light and strong .
Good quality breathing is performed correctly, and well placed, being the most important aspect, since it is the breath that allows to reach all the cells of the body.
Inner heat, it also creates energy, radiance and vitality in our body and a clear, focused mind.
Maintaining balanced prana (life force), ojas (inner vigor) and tejas (inner radiance) contributes to wellness and longevity. Our immune system is strong, and we feel vital. Our skin glows, eyes sparkle, and our mind is alert and focused.
[ But what about the artificial hot environment? ]
- From the Ayurvedic perspective -
In a artificial high-temperature yoga room, doing dynamic postures creates Rajas Guna immediately, and after class, Tamas Guna, a chronic imbalance of gunas that can cause physical or mental illness.
The three Gunas have following attributes:
Intelligence, flexibility, peace, intuition, clarity, happiness, self-love, compassionate, understanding, creativity, caring, humanitarian
Action, dispersing, agitation, anger, jealousy, frustration, ego, overbearing, aggressiveness, loud, overuse of stimulants, violence, motivated, goal seeking, workaholic
Inertia, inflexibility, dullness, stupidity, violence, perversion, depression, unhappiness, lack of love, drug addiction, delusions, insanity, deceiving, dishonesty
Sattva should be predominating in the mind, as that is its domain. When either Rajas or Tamas dominate then Manas (emotional or conditioned mind) becomes disturbed.
(Quoted in a book: The psychology of transformation in yoga by Vaidya Atreya Smith)
Psychologically, when you go into a heated room, Raja, which is dispersion, will increase, and by practicing dynamic yoga, this dispersion will increase again. Afterwards, there will have been so much dispersion, and like a bellows that stops blowing on the burning ember, everything will go down to make room for inertia, Tamas.
In psychology, the combination of Rajas and Tamas creates psychological problems. This is the same cocktail as the rhythm of modern life as it is lived nowadays. It may sound crazy, but there are many people who don't realize it anymore. And this is especially true when most people come out of a yoga session in the heat, in the moment, it will bring a feeling of extreme calmness, which will make the individual dependent on this feeling.
This principle can be applied to all forms of yoga called dynamic yoga that are not practiced in the heat, like Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga or other forms of Vinyasa Yoga. Not that these practices are not good, as long as they are done with intelligence. They should never be practiced quickly, but very slowly with slow, gentle and conscious breathing, and adapted to the individual, which no longer becomes dynamic yoga in excess. But one will favor slowness and awareness of each moment, in order to generate calm and clarity, and without expectation of any performance.
In hot yoga practices, the breath simply cannot be exercised properly, as a yogi would have to exercise it to reach every cell in the body with full attention. The creation of this internal heat, combined with the artificially produced external heat in the practice room, leads to such a dispersion that this heat becomes excessive in every way. Under these conditions, keeping a quality of breath becomes a struggle, becoming totally unreasonable to maintain, and creates an imbalance on all levels, physical and subtle.
But what about places in the world where it is naturally hot like in India, well the difference is that it is naturally hot, the body is already adapted to the place.
In places in the world where it is cold, the temperature of the room better not be too hot. You create your own internal heat, whether in the practice of asana or pranayama. You will better feel the limits of the body with a clear mind, and work with it intelligently, without excess and with acceptance.
According to Ayurveda's three Doshas principle (*1), when a specific doshic energy attracts an increase of its own doshic energy, this becomes an imbalance, and aggravation and over time can become chronic disease. In fact similar increases similar.
If you are a Pitta Dosha and are practicing hot yoga on a regular basis, there is a risk of accumulating excess heat or Pitta, which can literally “burn you out”. If you are a Vatta Dosha and practice dynamic yoga on a regular basis, you may accumulate excess movement or Vatta, which can literally "dry you out."
If you are a Pitta Dosha and practice hot yoga on a regular basis, you may accumulate too much heat or Pitta, which can literally "burn you out". If you are a Vatta Dosha and practice dynamic yoga on a regular basis, you may accumulate excess movement or Vatta, which can literally "dry you out". Ultimately only Kapha Dosha in excess could benefit, but compared to Ayurvedic therapeutic practices, such as Svedana (a sweat therapy, oil application and steam chamber), the head stays out of the chamber so the nervous system is not harmed, and the oil application (Snehana) helps protect the Dathus (tissues) from being damaged by the application of heat. Svedana is used only for Vatta and Kapha disorders.
There is a simple reason to keep the head out of the steam room. It keeps the body in a relaxed (parasympathetic) state where healing and detoxification are facilitated.
A hot head would trigger an overheated emergency (sympathetic, fight-or-flight) response and a shutdown of any of the predicted benefits. The body can only rejuvenate and detox when the nervous system is in a calm state. When overheated, the body will endure the heat stress, but in order to repair, burn fat, lose weight and detox, the body must be in parasympathetic dominance.
(*1) What does Dosha mean? Dosha refers to a bodily humor (or bio-energy center) in Ayurvedic medicine. The term comes from the Sanskrit dosa, meaning “fault” or “disease.”
There are three doshas in total: vata, pitta and kapha. Their energies are believed to circulate in the body and govern physical, mental and emotional characteristics. Each person has a dominant dosha or combination of doshas. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is believed that health is achieved through balancing the three doshas.
In yoga, the practitioner can achieve health by focusing on asanas that support the doshas, thereby creating mind-body balance.
The doshas come from the five states of matter: ether (space), earth, water, air, and fire. The vata dosha is associated with ether and air, the pitta dosha with fire and water, and the kapha dosha with earth and water.