Athletes clutching plastic bottles of water are ubiquitous in aerobics classes and bodybuilding gyms. Lately those water bottles have been bobbing up in yoga studios as well, a fact that has begun to perturb some teachers.
"It's become a huge, bad trend," says Rodney Yee, only somewhat facetiously. The codirector of Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, California, Yee is quick to point out that his objection goes beyond the obvious—that water drinkers unwittingly provide visual and aural distractions with their popping tops, slurping, gurgling, and extra runs to the bathroom. More important, he says, is the problem (as yet unproven by Western science) that drinking water during asana practice may affect the drinker's subtle energies.
"The health industry has done a great job encouraging people to hydrate, which is important," says Yee. "In yoga, though, we're working with the pranic body, not just the musculoskeletal system. The problem is that water cools the system down and puts out the subtle fires. There is also the problem of mental distraction, because whenever one feels uncomfortable, instead of simply observing that feeling, one tends to want to get rid of it."
Swami Ramananda of Integral Yoga in New York City agrees that it makes sense to drink before and after class "to enable oneself to cleanse," but he would not recommend drinking during class. "Drinking water interferes with the prana flow," he says. "We're talking about a subtle science."
Whatever their thoughts on the issue, many other teachers choose not to make waves. "I don't drink during class. But as a teacher, I don't want to be judgmental," says Carol Dickman, a Bikram-trained instructor and president of Yoga Enterprises in New York City. "I want to give my students every freedom. If they need to drink water, then they should drink—consciously, I hope."
Those students who genuinely require water during class are most likely doing Bikram or Ashtanga Yoga, according to researcher Richard Miller, Ph.D. "These two approaches are very demanding and produce a great deal of sweat. In these cases, I don't see what the problem is with drinking water. But drinking can interfere with postures such as Shoulderstand. For this reason, I usually don't recommended replenishing water until after a class is over."
Yee concurs that drinking up is in order if the class is especially vigorous or the room excessively hot. "If it's a Sun Salutation class and everyone's really going for it, then people may need to drink more. In most cases, though, it's really not necessary. Why disturb the equanimity we're trying to create?"