Ask The Yogi: OK to drink Water?
Ask The Yogi
Q: Is it wrong to drink water while practicing yoga?
A: The short answer is no, of course not. If you are truly thirsty… But that is a big “if”. As your practice develops over the years, you most likely will find that you rarely need to drink water during a class. It is probably a good idea to hydrate before and after class (especially vinyasa or heated classes.) But please be aware that the majority of people may not drink during class out of thirst alone…
There was once a spiritual student standing silently at the edge of a group of students who had gathered from the surrounding countryside. Each student in the group was bragging of the miracles that their master could perform: “My master can balance on one fingertip and lift his whole body in the air,” said one enthusiastic speaker. “Well mine can stand on one side of a river and write something in the air and have that symbol appear on rice paper on the other side of the river,” said another. The comparisons went on until finally the small group turned to the silent student standing behind them. “And what can your master do?” they asked. The quiet student stepped a bit closer and in a soft voice hsraed the following:
“My Master can drink when he’s thirsty, eat when he’s hungry and sleep when he is tired.”
Many times in life our minds are filled to choking with distraction. Some of the greatest distractions in life (other than watching TV) can be found in the act of eating and drinking. Now this doesn’t mean that eating and drinking can’t be part of your spiritual practice (everything can). But if you stop to consider how often in your own life you eat when you are not really hungry or eat without thought for what you are eating, of how often in life you drink out of craving for sweetness and flavor or to satisfy addiction or simply in order to have something to hold in your hands as you socialize, you will begin to realize that you may not be acting out of thirst alone.
During an asana practice heat is built in the body. Heat can be transformed into tapas (passion for the practice) and agni (here meant as inner spiritual fire) and is extremely cleansing, especially when used in conjunction with the breath and bandhas. Water can rapidly cool down the physical heat in the body with its properties of coolness. It can also reduce the “psychic” heat a student has worked so hard to cultivate up to that point by engaging your attention in distraction as an escape just when hidden challenges were starting to be revealed in their true form.
The internal heat that we develop in our practice helps to loosen muscles and joints, retard the growth of unhealthy bacteria and strengthen the immune system. The psychic heat (usually attributed to the solar-plexus chakra or manipura) developed gives the determination and courage necessary to face psychological blocks, ultimately helping us to release past and future in order to fully embrace the present moment. When we face a particularly entrenched physical/mental habit, the mind will want to check out. It is important to remember that the mind loves habit and is conditioned to fight, run away or check out rather then actually face what is present.
Yoga is exercise, to be sure, but it is also has the potential to be infinitely more. If you find yourself drinking fairly often during a yoga class, you may choose to participate in the following observations:
- Was I indulging in distracting activities during my practice? (picking at toes, adjusting clothes, continuously wiping sweat or scratching, wandering gaze)
- Was I becoming bored or overly challenged when I thought to drink?
- Do I drink without thinking, automatically?
- Do I leave the room to drink?
- Did I need a break?
The next time you have an urge to drink during your practice, try the following:
- Am I feeling uncomfortable about something inside?
- Am I trying to avoid something?
- Ask yourself “Am I really thirsty?”
- Try Child’s Pose with a mindful breath. If your urge to drink goes away you may have just needed a bit of a rest. Learn to rest by being present rather than resting in familiar distraction.
If you do decide to drink, know that it is not wrong. There is really only conscious action and habitual action. If you use your awareness to differentiate between the two nothing is wasted. If you decide to drink, do so mindfully as if it were part of the practice and return as gracefully as possible into the flow of the class. Avoid leaving the room to drink if at all possible, as this is the most distracting and cooling action you can take during your practice.
Jeff Martens is a teacher, writer and co-owner of Inner Vision Yoga. All suggestions are voluntary. Consult a qualified teacher or your physician before you embark on any practice in which you are unfamiliar.