Recently my lovely cousin Gemma from London, England asked this question. It is a question that I get asked a lot, so here is my sincere response for the moment…
How are you? I have a question... I have been doing a lot of yoga lately... a mix of Ashtanga classes and hot yoga / Bikram... anyway, I am feeling great BUT I cannot sleep at night!! I wake up at 2am and can’t get back to sleep till 4am. Mummy says I am doing too much yoga so brain is too active...What say you? It’s doing my head in like.
Hi dear Gem,
Quite often, the hot form of yoga practice short-changes a very important part, which is savasana... the deep relaxation at the end. This is vital for the body to integrate the practice and return to a state of homeostasis. Also, the hyper dynamic forms of yoga, hot yoga in particular, aggravates the pitta (the element of fire) in the body. This is all the more true if, as you mentioned, you do this a lot. It is naturally challenging to get good rest if the 'fire' in the body is out of balance.
Also, how you practice is very important. Every moment of the class (and beyond!), the breath has to be stable and comfortable; otherwise, by definition, it is not yoga. To me, from personal experience, certain yoga classes are more like yoga inspired boot-camp stretching. Don't get caught up in the ambition... zero ambition, absolute awareness. This way, everything becomes yoga. Otherwise, developing just the body without considering the mind is called ‘flexible misery’. What is the point of having a toned, flexible body if the mind is still miserable?
A fundamentally important aspect of yoga practice is prana, to boost and regulate the essential vitality in the body. As much as possible yoga is best practiced with open windows and fresh air. This is what gives the body energy, not only to function properly throughout the day, but also for all the internal growth, repair and maintenance activity. Yoga practice without prana is like apple pie without the apples. The ‘apples’ are the lungs full of fresh air, with a smooth and regulated breathing pattern.
Also, you may have noticed that there is a difference between sweating from intense physical activity and sweating because it’s just hot. How the body feels in a sauna and how it feels say, after the ashtanga series is quite different. Some of these yoga sequences, if practiced in ordinary temperatures, are well, quite ordinary. They will not break a sweat for anyone who knows how to breathe properly. If it is sweating you are after, practice the forms of yoga that make you develop internal heat. This way you are not dependent on external circumstances to practice the way you want to.
My recommendation dear one, is to cut down any 'fire' aggravating practice, especially in the evening. Instead, practice 'fire' pacifying yoga in the evenings. Both have their benefits. The heat will purify the body from the inside. It’s just that, the ‘fire’ aggravating form of yoga is playing to your strengths. Better to also develop the ‘cooling’ aspects, which is where a lot of benefit awaits… pranayama, passive postures and deep rest. An ideal yoga practice has both these qualities, a little more ‘fire’ in the mornings, and a little more ‘cooling’ in the evenings.
Alternate nostril breathing is particularly good for calming down the mind. I recommend practicing 10 minutes of this, together with 10-mins of pure, bare breath awareness before going to bed. The latter is also good for when you wake up at 2am, because the body still gets the rest required to repair and rejuvenate. Chances are, you will fall back to sleep. Later when you have 10 spare days, please consider going for Vipassana meditation training (dhamma.org).
Below are links to information regarding hot yoga and sweating:
Love all ways,
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