Is hot yoga right for you?

ot yoga tends to be a subject of some controversy in yoga circles. Some say they love it, that they’re even “addicted” to it, while others can’t understand why a person would want to voluntarily subject themselves to it.

My response is less visceral, more informed by Ayurveda—often called yoga’s sister science—and the experience of understanding how the elements work for me, and how I’ve seen them at work in my students 12 years of teaching.

The thing is, yoga and Ayurveda are inextricably intertwined. Well, they should be. Or they were. Anyway, they’re derived from the same ancient texts. However, when yoga took to the West (mostly in the last 100 years), largely in the form of physical practice, or asana, we left some of its underpinnings (e.g. Ayurveda, in some cases) behind and went full-steam ahead with what we Westerners love most: doing. And to underscore that, doing whatever it is as full-on as we can possibly conceive.

If you aren’t familiar with Ayurveda, a quick primer (or click on the link above for more info). Ayurveda looks at the world, including our bodies and minds as constructed of five elements: water, earth, air, space and fire. At birth, each of us is made up of a different mix of these elements, with one or two tending to be dominant. These elements govern most everything about us from our digestion, mental state, appearance to our very way of being.

One of Ayurveda’s basic tenets is that like increases like. Meaning things that share the same properties/qualities are mutually reinforcing. Stay with me, I’ll provide a few examples in a sec. For people (like me) with fire as their dominant element, also called pitta dosha, we have to be mindful of things (e.g. foods, environments, lifestyles, etc.), which are already fiery in nature, as they will pump up the fire we already have in abundance. This is the rub with hot yoga for pittas, in particular. Like (hot, sweaty yoga room, coupled with a typically-vigorous practice) increases like (the fire element already high by accident of birth).

To make things even trickier, sometimes the things that are increasing what is already out of whack feel reeaaallly good, hence when people feel addicted to hot yoga. Generally, when you look around a hot yoga class, you will find mostly pittas, because this is the type of practice that most appeals to them. And, of course, it is the type of practice that is the least balancing for them. The trick is that the ego gets involved and as fiery, pitta people we like vigorous work, competitiveness, orienting toward a goal and even heat.

This is not to say hot yoga can never be a good choice, even for pittas. Ayurveda would look at the situation holistically. For a pitta, it may be true that hot yoga may never be a balancing choice of yoga practice. This doesn’t mean pittas can only do restorative, easy-breezy yoga, but the all-out nature of it tends to aggravate pittas. Pittas may (and often do) say they feel great after taking class. But consider, great as in more balanced? Or great, as in having satiated an addiction, accomplished a goal, worked to your max? And for you, are those things the same? Which is more important for you?

The benefits hot-yoga proponents attribute to the practice: increased flexibility, releasing toxins, joint mobility, are all available in good ol’ regular yoga too. Granted, the heat may make these things feel more accessible, but it takes an experienced practitioner to know what is flirting with his or her edge, and what is false flexibility beget by a 100 degree room.

For me, as a teacher and practitioner, as much as I love the feeling of accomplishing something physically-demanding and even getting a good sweat going, when I set my ego to the side, I realize I don’t leave the yoga room more balanced than when I came in, unless I practice hot yoga only sparingly. After all, balance, is what yoga is, what it means, in fact.

There are times, Ayurvedically-speaking, when hot yoga is more appropriate than others, like in spring, when we want to move some excess kapha (stagnation, inertia embodied in the elements of earth/water). More generally speaking, hot yoga may be an OK choice for kapha types on a more regular basis. Though, as you may notice if you look around the room in your hot yoga class, this isn’t the kind of yoga that tends to appeal to kaphas. Ahh, the rub of the ego.

It is not a black and white thing. And it would be to misunderstand to come away from this reading thinking, “she said hot yoga is bad;” instead, think about taking a closer look at how you feel when you practice hot yoga, trying your best to keep your ego in check (always hard) to see if it’s a balancing practice for you.

Here are a few questions to consider:

  1. Are you a pitta-type, meaning fire is your most dominant element? See Banyan’s great self-quiz to give you a glimpse.
  2. During yoga class (hot or not-hot), do you feel competitive with yourself, or the person next to you?
  3. Do you find yourself taking every variation your teacher gives you to push your pose to the next level?
  4. Do you feel envious, angry or frustrated during your practice that it’s not as advanced as a fellow practitioner’s?
  5. When you can’t quite get a pose, say handstand, do you keep kicking up (say 7-8) times, or do you let it go?
  6. When your usual hot-yoga teacher is out for the day, and a substitute teaches your class (maybe not a hot class), are you frustrated you aren’t working hard enough?
  7. Do you skip the class to wait until your usual teacher returns?
  8. Are you rigid about your practice? Meaning if you miss a day you feel frustrated or berate yourself for the failing.
  9. Do you struggle at times with thoughts of envy, judgment, anger, frustration that lead you to take action you later regret? Are these qualities more present after you practice yoga?
  10. Do you practice hot yoga because you think it is physically more demanding than non-hot classes?

So as you may guess, the more yeses to the above, the more you may want to consider if a hot practice is the right choice for you.

You also have live in your real life, of course. It is possible, even as a pitta-type, to take a hot yoga class and not leave with your fire aggravated. Say that hot yoga is all that’s available in your community, or it’s the only class at your local studio that fits in your schedule–can it work? Yes, well, maybe. The key is being willing to set your ego to the side. Not to take every variation your teacher gives you to make a pose more challenging. To even sit in child’s pose (gasp) every once and a while or do some sitali pranayama to cool yourself down while the rest of the class does a fiery pose that isn’t the right choice for your body, or your mind.

Our Western culture is embedded with the value that working hard is virtuous. Being mindful of what you are imbibing via your yoga, how it’s affecting your mind and your body, are all a part of the practice. Take the time to unearth your assumptions. Sometimes working as hard as you can isn’t always so balancing.

On entertaining your ‘guests’

In this time when we open our homes and hearts to our friends and family, it sometimes pushes us to open the doors to ourselves. Whether we want to or not. What comes out may not be so pretty.

A teacher told me once those people who make up your family are those with whom you have the deepest karmas, the most to resolve, and that we are given them as family members so that we may have time to work through those things.

Depending on your view, during this one lifetime or in others’ estimation, many lifetimes. I guess for some of us (ahem, Lisa) it takes longer than most. In that spirit, here is a Rumi poem inviting us to do just that, to fling open our hearts’ doors and invite us whatever is there.


This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

She may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.


Celebrate what you are today

We often derive our New Year’s resolutions from the things we beat ourselves up about.

We resolve to make our lives different, our bodies thinner, our incomes higher, etc. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except that we may forget to celebrate our brilliance, just as we are right now.

So before you launch into a list of “should haves … wish I would haves” and your resolutions for 2012, take stock of who you’ve become in the last year. If you’re like me, it can be trickier to come up with positive things than things I’d like to change.

This New Year’s resolution season I hope to spend as much energy recognizing the growth I’ve experienced, challenges I’ve come through and moments of sadness I’ve weathered in the past year as I do in scouting out my intentions for the year to come. Maybe you too?

Could be you start with the small things, they do matter, after all.

I made my niece giggle. I told the truth, even when it was hard to do. I planted a garden.

So today, celebrate. Celebrate even the difficulty, not in a saccharine, fakey “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” way, but instead take a few breaths to feel your self in your body. Honor who you are today, without jumping to judgments and hasty resolutions to be better. You are just where you need to be, right now.

Save your resolutions for another day. Maybe those intentions will change after you truly pause to recognize what you may’ve glossed over in our zeal to jump out of the present moment.

Like a sweet sunset, let it go …

“Keep your heart above your head and your eyes wide open …”

The seminal rule of good solid journalism is don’t start your story with a quote. OK, broken.

I’ve always bucked the rules, much to my parents’ chagrin, I am sure. But for some reason, I was driving home tonight and listening to this Zac Brown Band song (agh, country music and yoga?! … yes, it can be compatible, if it is for you!) and my heart simply broke open.

Ten minutes into my drive was all it took on this night, and replay … replay … replay …  of this tune and a true belting out of it on my part. A real rebel yell of it, in fact, to break open my ribs and let the emotion breathe. What is your song right now? Can you give yourself a break to yell it out? To dance. To really breathe it through you?

What was there for me today was the space that the radiant women in my life have embodied and created for me. Time and time again. Decade to decade. Despite all of my projections and all the other “stuff” over the years.

I knew in that moment I needed to thank those women NOW. Don’t wait for a death in your family to say how much I love you, or Mother’s Day to send a card. Do it now. Today. Right this moment. Let this yogic sentiment move beyond ideal to actualization. Translation: Do it.

As soon as my music and yelling cut off in my car and I walked into my house, and with the turning of the key I felt weird right away. I had a plan–radiant and vibrant–as I yelled into my car’s space. Yes! I will do this! But as soon as I turned the key, I felt myself shrink. The important point here, I suppose, is that I did actually feel it. I knew it was happening and, at least tonight, I chose to resist the shrinking into smallness. I chose to expand my being beyond the physical space that it occupies day to day.

I started by calling my radiant, vibrant, ebullient mom just to say “thank you. You are amazing and I hope to be more like you, one day.”

I had to start with small talk to warm myself up. Maybe you will too? But in the end–there shouldn’t have to be a catastrophic event in your life to tell those you adore, admire, rely upon, that you do. Do it NOW. It feels weird; I know. Still, do it. Isn’t this what we’re all waiting for? To know that we matter, to someone? That our efforts are not unseen?

To Tara, for your trust and patience; to Danielle, for your strength and perseverance; to Liz, for your grace; to Rachel, for your authenticity, to Amy, for your wisdom; to Cary, for your lessons about loyalty; to Jennifer, for your compassion; to Kate and Katie, for your wit and lightness; to Tataya, for teaching passion and how to be; to Stacy, for teaching me how to live; for Marsha, for teaching me how to LOVE and for all the things that are beyond words, that pass from heart to heart.

Thank you. You are my steadfast North Stars. And I’ll be calling you. Seeing you. It might be weird. Unfamiliar. But it’s what’s real and you deserve. Love. Love. Love.

Who are your North Stars? Tell them NOW. There is no other time.

4 Ayurvedic sense cleansing tips for beginners

The first time a boyfriend saw me use my neti pot as a part of my morning sense cleansing ritual, his reaction told me ayurveda (or at least this manifestation of it) may not be in everyone’s karma, not his anyway. Needless to say, he didn’t last long. And I can see it… voluntarily sending salt water through your nasal passages resulting in the inevitable freed booger or two isn’t the stuff of romance. But sense cleansing will help you to see and feel more clear, especially this time of year when we often wake up feeling like we’ve cracked out of a cocoon. I guess I never was one for subtly.

Why take on this set of practices that sets free some icky stuff? Well, she says it better than I can…

“The sense organs are our only apparent means of communication with with external world. By maintaining them in excellent health, we are better equipped to use the innate cognitive abilities that braid us with the universe and our own sacred journeys from the beginning of time.” –Bri. Maya Tiwari, Ayurveda: Secrets of Healing

So if it sounds like something you’d like to give a try, here are a few simple instructions on the ayurvedic practice, as well as some “in a pinch” tips.

1. Washing the eyes (Akshitarpana)

Rather than using chemically-based eye drops to keep your baby blues clear and moisturized, pick up an eye cup like the one here on the left at your local whole foods store (even some pharmacies have these); glass is best.

There are myriad solutions you can concoct to wash your eyes, including warm water with a bit of triphala settled to the bottom of a glass or rosewater. In a pinch, I just use a little bit of warm tap water. Regardless of your solution, fill your eye cup about 3/4 full, then put it to your eye and cock your head back. Open your eye fully while it’s covered by the cup, take a moment to look fully to the left, right, up and down before finishing. If using triphala, I typically will follow it with a warm water rinse, as to take out any lingering little triphala bits in my eyes.

This practice is balancing for all doshas, though if you have high pitta (fire, mediated by water), often exaggerated by staring at a computer screen most of the day, you may find the rosewater your best bet (as it will most effectively counteract fiery pitta, with its cooling, soothing properties). The eyes are governed by pitta, so they are easily irritated in this way. Another indication of high pitta is if closing your eyes makes them burn. High fire. Rosewater is a little pricey, by my estimation, so when I need it, I’ll sometimes dilute it with a bit of warm water to make it stretch.

2. Neti pot (Navana Nasya)

Making sure any significant others on precarious terms are out of sight line, and grab your neti pot. There are lots of these for sale these days, at drug stores or whole foods stores. I prefer the glazed clay sort pictured at the left, rather than a plastic one. Though as with many aspects of ayurveda, doing something, while it may not be “ideal,” is better than nothing at all if it fits into your life, schedule or budget. I do urge you to resist purchasing the pre-packaging salt that comes with some neti pots in drugstores. Instead, measure out approximately a teaspoon of sea salt (you can even eyeball it) and put that in your neti pot.

I typically do this practice in the morning, during my shower if I can, so the the humidity of the shower will help loosen up the “stuff,” (we’ll leave it at that).

Note: you may have to adjust your proportion of salt to water to meet with your body’s natural saline proportion. Begin with about one teaspoon salt, then fill your pot with warm water. I usually just use shower water, though I saw online recently—and we all know everything online (particularly, as in this instance on Fox News), including this blog, is totally true—a case of brain-eating bacteria seeping its way into an individual’s homemade neti solution. Yikes. I’d never heard of this before in more than a decade of ayurvedic practice, using regular ol’ tap water for my neti pot. But I’m not a scientist and can’t speak to the veracity of brain-eating claim, so if this concerns you, just use distilled water.

While in the shower, I take a Ball jar full of sea salt I keep in there for such occasions, and pinch about a one teaspoon salt into the pot. Then I use shower water to fill the rest and swoosh around the salt. Typically, I’ll run half the neti liquid through one nostril, then close off that nostril and blow out forcefully (hence, latent boogers and lost boyfriends), and repeat the same on the other side.

You must tilt your head to the side to do this. If it hurts, your salt balance is probably off. I tend to find people err on the side of adding too little salt. It should not hurt. If you feel like your younger brother has dunked your head under water and its just run up your nose, chances are you have too little salt. If you are really congested, use one full pot though each nostril. You will radiate like a whole new being! (Though your nose may run for a few minutes as the stuff trickles out).

3. Gargling (Kavalagraha)

Lay ayurvedic practitioners and experts alike herald triphala as one of the best curative tonics around. Some benefits proponents cite: it assists natural internal cleansing, gently maintains regularity, nourishes and rejuvenates the tissues, supports healthy digestion and absorption, and acts as a natural antioxidant. Anyone who follows From the Ground Up, with even passing regularity, may’ve noticed I’m a big fan of Banyan Botanicals. I think they are a great source for all of these items, with a keen attention to sustainability, affordability, and wonderful web tutorials that make ayurveda really palatable for a Western audience.

You can use triphala in sense cleansing in several ways. Upon arriving to the bathroom in the morning, I typically take one teaspoon of triphala powder (not tablets), mix it in with about eight ounces of warm/hot water, and then just let it sit and filter down to the bottom of your water (to be used in the eye rinse). In the meantime, I shower, use the neti pot, tongue scraper, thoroughly rinse my neti pot with hot water to extract the sea salt, then fill it with a teaspoon of triphala and refill it with warm water. You could use a separate cup if this weirds you out, but I am OK with it.

I mix the triphala in with my finger and gargle with it three times. On each round, I swish the mixture throughout my mouth and throat. Then, before letting it go, open all of your senses… bug your eyes… flare your ears and nostrils, and then kick your head back for one final gargle and expel the solution with as much force as you can. This is your final sensory “hi–yah!” to expel all of the ama out of all of the senses. Because of triphala’s astrigent properties, such a method will extract ama (toxicity that stagnates throughout the digestive tract) as well as other stagnation, which may come in the form of kapha (read: mucus). Again with the subtlety. Mom would not be proud. “Stop talking about mucus-ey things online,” she’s probably saying. Someone’s gotta do it, Mom! Onward.

I do the eye cup, neti pot, and the gargle in the shower, as well as our final step, tongue scraping. May make you think twice about staying the night at my house, but I just wanted to throw all of this out there for those who are interested.

4. Cleansing the tongue

One of the primary mechanisms an ayurvedic doctor uses to assess your imbalances is by looking at your tongue (and what forms on it… sorry, a bit gross, I know). Most recently, when I studied with Dr. Vasant Lad at The Ayurvedic Institute, I had him assess my dosha and diagnose imbalances. He took one look at my tongue and said, “Much ama in the colon.” Super. As if I don’t have enough to worry about. But the truth was, I’m sure there was ama. I’d been traveling, eating processed foods and I was vata-aggravated, big time. Damn that fast food burrito I ate the night before. In ayurveda, the thought is that all dis-ease begins in the digestive tract, hence why these little maintenances aren’t so little.

Try to find a stainless steel tongue scraper, then cleanse your tongue by scraping it from the back of your tongue forward, about 5–10 times. If the gunk that comes off of your tongue is yellowish in hue, it may indicate high pitta; if the tongue is dryish and grey, that could be a vata imbalance; and if the residue is thick and white, you may have high kapha.

For now, this is enough. And maybe in this regimen, you’ll pick one thing that works for you and leave the rest aside. Ayurveda is all about questioning what works for you, at any given time, and modifying throughout one’s lifetime. I’d encourage you to apply the same scrutiny.

Some of these practices are contraindicated with states of being, like pregnancy, as well as conditions and diseases. Please consult an ayurvedic practitioner or even your family doc if you have concerns about anything.

To research more specified herbal remedies for non-generalized conditions, I recommend this source: Tiwari, Maya. Ayurveda: Secrets of Healing. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 1995. Print.

Let the cracks in you radiate light

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have little respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them, about the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. Because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” (from Apple Inc.)

Let the places in you that’ve cracked, that remained scarred and may feel wounded radiate the fire of transformation. We all have these cracks, our choice is whether we choose to close into ourselves for good, or to share the light of what we’ve transfigured with the world.

Awaken Your Inner Power

A lovely poem for today in awakening, remembering, stepping into your own INNER POWER…

“She was honey and milk.
Freedom sprang from her footsteps as her gaze fell upon only the most beautiful things.
There was no greater compliment than her attention.
She responded as if I was the only proper noun with which to verb;
and if I said it, it was certainly the truth.
If I valued it, it was the most important of all things.
She made me matter to myself,
and by the example of her easy-going Grace, I decided to choose to be lovely.”
–R.R. Shakti

Abhyanga: Cool down with some coconut oil

No matter what the season or the condition, self-oil massage or, abhyanga, is a supportive practice in any season to keep your Self in balance and feeling vital.

Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic practice of therapeutically massaging the body with oil. The oil is usually warmed and applied to the body before you take a bath or shower. For thousands of years people have used abhyanga to maintain health, benefit immunity and overall well-being.

Coconut oil is excellent for high pitta (fire/water), or in the summer season. Sesame oil works best for high vata (air/space) or kapha (earth/water) or in the autumn, winter and spring.

To begin, warm the oil in a pot on your stove – be careful, it gets hot fast. Pour the oil into a container (a glass jar works well) that you can keep in a bowl of hot water to maintain the oil’s temperature. You will want to use enough oil to cover the body, a ½ cup should suffice, but you can adjust that if needed.

For high pitta, you may not want to warm your oil. Instead, take the coconut oil right out of the jar. It will liquefy as it comes into contact with your skin.

Lay a towel down in your tub. Then apply the coconut oil or warm (not hot) sesame oil over your body until fully coated. Sit down on your towel to fully rub in the oil. Work from your extremities, the feet and hands, inward toward your heart and solar plexus surrounding the navel. The massaging of the oil should take about 15 minutes to do a thorough job. Allow the oil to sit on your skin as long as your day allows, then take your bath or shower. You may smell a little like a roasted bird at first, but don’t worry—the smell goes away with the shower and you’ll be so nourished it won’t matter anyway!

This is a wonderful practice to employ daily, if that’s feasible for you. If not, start with once a week and see what happens. It is meant to leave you feeling soothed.

Find your tribe

It’s true. We should follow that silent and sometimes strange pull within us that’s necessary to step fully into our most radiant selves. Of course this doesn’t mean it’s easy, or that we won’t feel astray some (or maybe even most) of the time.

Those bright souls endeavoring to travel the road of Self can sometimes find it a lonely one. Not many other travelers along the way. Not to mention the rest of the world may project their judgments onto us…Why can’t you work a “regular job?” … When are you going to decide what you want to do with your life?”… “Pull it together…” Sound familiar?

I sincerely hope not, but if so, we need a supportive community to guide us along the way, support us.

My husband and I just moved to a new city to do just that. To find our people. Our tribe. And it’s been great so far. It may seem like a radical move to more linear minds, but for us, it was the right thing to do in following our souls’ longings. We trusted our intuition and acted. That simple. Well, actually no, it was a giant pain from top to bottom, but it was worth it. And good to know that even though the work can be tough, no one said self-work was easy, just necessary.

Sometimes this sense of community can be elusive. I, for one, believe that truly walking down the road to the Self is simply a lonelier choice than others. Nonetheless, we all need a tribe to inspire, love and hold us accountable for, well, just being our Selves. And if you already have a community like this (lucky you!), reach out to someone on the fringes. Bring him or her in so that we can all experience the sense of belonging that is our birthright.