Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What do you do with all that sweat?

I have been thinking a bit about this question since my previous post. If you practice Ashtanga, chances are you will sweat at least some, at least some of the time. I personally know one person who can get through all of second without breaking a sweat (or at least not noticeably), but such a person is, I take it, a somewhat rare case. So most of us will sweat during practice to varying degrees, anywhere from a light film on the skin to a puddle/mini-lake on your mat or the space in front of it. To my mind, these are some of the possible things one can do with one's sweat:

(1) Wipe it off with a towel.
(2) Wear a headband/bandanna/some other kind of sweat-absorbent headgear.
(3) Do nothing; just allow the great gushing rivulets of brine to flow off your body in all their glory.
(4) Rub it back into your body.

To be sure, this list probably does not exhaust all the possibilities: For example, one can also (at least in theory) lick oneself off like a cat. But I'm not going to go there...

As Kimberly said in the video I posted yesterday, (4) is what is traditionally prescribed: It is supposed to unleash the fountain of youth. Interesting. The trouble with this, as with so many other aspects of Ashtanga practice, is that there is no scientific basis for this: To my knowledge, no long-term studies have been done to date about the effects of rubbing sweat back into one's body.

Of course, just because something doesn't have a scientific basis does not mean it doesn't work. In fact, as somebody pointed out in a blog post or comment somewhere sometime ago, it's not even scientifically proven that sweating actually releases toxins. And I can imagine that there's probably a whole bunch of things about Ashtanga yoga practice (and Hatha yoga practice in general) that has not been subject to any systematic long-term studies. Not that that has prevented a bunch of crazy people from doing this practice six days a week... :-)

Well, I probably should stop here; I see that this post is quickly spiraling into rambling-about-neither-here-nor-there-land. But I guess I'll leave you with a question: What do you do with that salty-tasting liquid that comes out of the beautiful pores on the skin of your beautiful body when you practice?

In case you are shy to share, I'll start the ball rolling. I basically just let it flow freely. I have done this even before I started practicing Ashtanga, because I've always felt that stopping to wipe the sweat off really breaks my practice rhythm. I'm not a big fan of rubbing the sweat in, but I do it when getting into Garbha Pindasana; I basically rub the sweat all over my arms and use it as a, well, natural lubricant to get my arms through, because I am too lazy to get up to go get a spray bottle.

What about you? What do you do with all that sweat? 


  1. Me too, I think Garba Pindasana is what finally gets anyone, or at least got me, to break the taboo of rubbing it back in... no rubbing no rolling, so I do... and after a while it is OK... about the legends of the fountain of youth, we shall see...

    Cool post!

  2. Interesting poll by the way, will tweet... I would DEFINITELLY TAKE THE PILL

  3. Hello Claudia,
    thanks for tweeting about the poll. I must say that the results have been very contrary to my expectations so far; I keep thinking there will be more "purists" who will choose NOT to take the pill... but what do I know? :-)

    Yes, I think that sweat is actually a much better lubricant in Garbha than water. Probably because of the minerals in it :-)

  4. Guruji clearly states that the sweat is to be rubbed back into the body and this will bring a glow to the skin. Using sweat to get into GarbhaPindasana is a common practice in India.

  5. I love the sweat! I am not a "Sweat-Hog" as you so stated(too funny) however, I have my moments and I absolutely adore the sweat(except in Bakasana, cos I wear shorts:))It makes me feel clean and detoxed and I know if I'm sweating a good amount I'll be nice and open for my asanas:) I usually practice alone in the studio aka my garage so nobody complains, maybe the murties:)

  6. Thanks for sharing, Rani Jeyaraj. It's very interesting to know that using sweat to get into Garbha Pindasana is a common practice in India. I'll remember that when I go to Mysore :-)

    JayaKrishna, I feel the same way about sweating too: It makes me feel detoxed and clean-out, and I get a buzz from sweating :-)

  7. During the practice I'm all about just letting it flow, the more the better. After practice maybe a little rubbing before rest. And usually when I get home from practice and changing into work clothes, I do a little dry skin rubbing, which is fairly commonly prescribed practice in Naturopathic medicine (and I've experienced the same practice in Classical Chinese Medicine and heard something similar is practiced in Ayurvedic Medicine).

  8. Yes, Tom, letting it all flow is good :-) I did not know that dry rubbing is also practiced in TCM and in Ayurveda. I wonder if the Ashtanga practice of rubbing the sweat in is influenced by Ayurveda.

  9. You know, rubbing it in is a nice idea in theory, but some of us sweat too much not to wipe. Of course, it depends on the temperature of the room, and I'm OK in a cooler space. But my teacher makes the room pretty warm (and his girlfriend make it hotter if she can!). He was assisting me in Galavasana this morning (so, 11th pose of 3rd, after all of 2nd, in a very warm room), and I was in the pose for probably a good 10 breaths, at which point I had to come out because I was drowning: the sweat was running up my nose! That used to happen a lot in Tittibhasana B/C, especially before I dropped Primary before 2nd, but not so much anymore. When it's dripping in streams off my head, what part of my body, exactly, am I supposed to rub it into???

  10. Hello Frank, thanks for sharing. It appears that you are also a sweat-hog :-) (and I mean this as a compliment).

    "When it's dripping in streams off my head, what part of my body, exactly, am I supposed to rub it into???"

    I'm guessing the answer would be: Whatever part of your body your hands can reasonably reach, without interrupting the flow of the practice. Actually, even if you don't deliberately rub the sweat into your body, I suspect that the friction of various body parts against each other in the course of doing the practice would probably have the same effect :-)

  11. Another Sweat Hog chiming in. I just let it drip most of the time but when it gets really really hot, I wipe my face occasionally so that I don't get drops of water in my nose or eyes. And yes, sweat is the perfect alternative to the spray bottle for Garbha!

  12. I think you've missed my point. When sweat is dripping off every part of my body, there is no place to rub it into that's going to absorb it. It's not like I'm sweating a little (glistening...) and I can take the sweat running down my forehead and rub it into my arm or leg; my leg and arm are dripping too!

    ALso, to your point about friction having the same effect: perhaps for those who never sweat more than the "glistening" stage. But for me, that friction is only creating more heat and thus more sweat!

    Oh, and this is partially solved by waering a headband. But at some point that gets soaked as well, so its effect wanes.

  13. Thanks for sharing, savasanaaddict. More power to sweathogs! :-)

    Hello Frank, perhaps I've missed your point. I don't know. The way I see it, the three most important components of the practice are breath, drishti and the bandhas. If either wiping off sweat or rubbing it in causes one to pay less attention to the tristana, then one should either stop wiping off sweat or stop rubbing it in, whichever is the case. What I'm trying to say is that this whole sweat issue can't be as important as the tristana.