No Sweat

After years of asana practice and breath training, Neal Pollack notices he doesn't sweat as much in class anymore. He kind of misses it.

Coming out of my Sunday-morning asana class, I notice that almost all the guys, and some of the women, are completely slathered in sweat. Their backs are splotchy and soaked, like they’re wearing a Rorschach test. They have to linger to spray down and wipe off their mats. It’s a real schvitz show.


On the other hand, I’m completely dry. Well, maybe my forehead is a little moist, and maybe I dripped on the mat a couple of times during minute 55, the height of the day’s toughest flow sequence. But I won’t have to change my shirt when I get home. I’ll sweat more walking back to the car than I did at yoga.

When I started practicing , I needed to bring a thick towel to class. Sometimes I needed to bring two. In 2007, when my wife gave me a sweat cover for my mat, I hailed the gift as a life-saving technological advancement. I sweated a lot in yoga. A salinated Slip-and-Slide emptied from my pores, splattering the floor and the people around me. It was disgusting. But not anymore. What’s happened to me?

The answer, as far as I can tell, is manifold. First, I stopped taking classes that made me sweat a lot. If I were practicing the Core Power sequence, or taking difficult led Ashtanga classes, or doing Bikram, I’d certainly sweat as much as anyone else. But I’m not. I have unreliable knees and hinky sacroiliac joints. My yoga routine, under the guidance of a variety of teachers, has become much more “old man.” I hold simple poses for long periods of time, stretching out the connective tissue. I roll my spine back and forth on thick bamboo cylinders stuffed with foam. I meditate. When I take a flow class or practice hatha at home, I’ll skip the extra vinyasa, and I rarely jump back anymore.

Also, I’ve just gotten better at regulating my breath, my energy flow, and my body temperature. That’s not intended as boasting. It’s merely a byproduct of years of practice. When you first start an asana routine, you’re just trying to learn the sequences, you’re distracted by a thousand shiny new things, you’re zigging and zagging in ways you haven’t since you were a little kid. Your body has a lot of toxins to shed.

After a few years of practice, or sometimes a few months, or sometimes never, the panic and excitement of your early yoga experience evolves into something more mature, sophisticated, and possibly a little boring. If you’re practicing with relative dedication, then your pranayama, the control of bodily energy via the breath, will develop, and you’re probably going to sweat a little less than before. At least I think that’s what’s happened to me. Or maybe I’m just being lazy.

Sweat is good in yoga, as in life. It releases impurities from the bloodstream and it helps cool the body. But it’s not necessary. Still, I miss it sometimes, and I admire my sopping-wet classmates. It means they’re still in the earlier days of their yoga practice, when everything is new and surprising. They wear their sweat like a glorious badge of honor, as they should. I feel briefly envious of them before, as my training indicates, I notice that feeling and let it go. At least, I think, I’ll have one less soggy T-shirt to toss into the laundry pile.