Look around at the start of any yoga class: Mats are rolled out, blocks, belts, and bolsters are at the ready, and invariably at one corner of the mat, you’ll find a water bottle. If the class is an hour, or at most 90 minutes, how necessary is that bottle of water? Is it actually good to drink water before yoga? And how much should you drink after your practice?
No doubt we’ve become a nation of water guzzlers, urged for years by health pundits to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. We take water along with us in the car, on our bike rides, and to the office. But do we really need that bottle at the ready for a short vinyasa class? A four-hour marathon aside, few of us in industrialized nations are in danger of keeling over from dehydration in a yoga class (thanks to diets abundant in fruits, salads, veggies, and well, yes, sports drinks, coconut water, herbal teas, and even vitamin-fortified water).
Your body and breath should flow, but your water bottle should not—at least not throughout your yoga practice. Not drinking water while practicing yoga may sound strange and counterintuitive, but there are many physiological and energetic effects of water consumption on your body. Maximizing hydration while maintaining a regular yoga practice is a bit of a balancing act. Still, it can be achieved by following simple tips on when and how much water to drink before heading off to the yoga studio.
How Much Water Should You Drink in General?
For water consumption, the simplest advice is straightforward: drink when you’re thirsty. While helpful, this advice is often too simple since thirst is a signal that your body is already headed towards dehydration. Previously, studies recommended drinking eight glasses of water per day, but now most health advisors recognize that individuals require different amounts of water due to various internal and external factors, including gender, body type, environment, and lifestyle. For example, people who exercise frequently or who live in hot, dry, or high-altitude environments generally need more water. It is also recommended to drink in proportion to your body size, and men are likely to need more water than women. If you want to calculate a specific amount of water that works for you, keep in mind that nearly all food and beverage intake contributes to your daily liquid consumption.
Fortunately, your body will let you know if you’re not consuming enough water. Frequent light-headedness, headaches, or dryness (whether in your skin, mouth, eyes, or lips) all indicate that you should increase your water intake. Dark urine, infrequent urination, or constipation could indicate that you should drink more. Signs of dehydration during asana practice or other forms of exercise include lack of sweat, cramping, and muscle stiffness.
On the other hand, it is indeed possible to over-hydrate. When you drink too much water or consume it too quickly, frequent urination depletes the electrolytes that your body needs to properly digest food and stay hydrated. Some signs that you’re drinking excessively include clear urine, frequent urination, excess mucus, and an inability to quench thirst. Heaviness in the abdomen and bloating are also signs that you may be drinking more water than necessary.
Ayurvedic Tips For Drinking Water
If you drink an adequate amount of liquid and still feel thirsty, there’s a chance that your body isn’t absorbing it properly. Ayurveda advises certain practices for drinking water that can help to achieve optimal hydration.
First of all, although it can be tempting, don’t drink chilled water! Cold water is an enemy of the concept of agni, the digestive fire that we need to circulate prana (life force energy) throughout our bodies. Ayurveda expert Dr. Vasant Lad goes so far as to call cold water a poison to the digestive system. If your water is warm, that’s even better. Boiling water stimulates digestion and circulation, making it easier for your body to absorb nutrients and flush out toxins. Ayurveda also recommends a practice called ushapan, which is simply drinking water (about one whole liter) first thing in the morning. For maximum absorption, practice sipping slowly and in a seated position to ensure that your body and organs are relaxed.
Water and Yoga: When to drink?
If you start each day by drinking warm water and sip before meals (not right after them) and occasionally throughout the day, it’s likely that you will not need to hydrate during your yoga practice. With a fast-paced yoga class, slowly drinking eight ounces of water at least 30 minutes beforehand is beneficial to maintain hydration. If possible, avoid drinking water immediately before or during class. In addition to making our physical bodies feel inflated, consuming large amounts of water before or during a practice also interferes with our energy bodies; one theory says that sipping during yoga practice is akin to pouring water over our inner fire as we try to build it.
While participating in strenuous physical activity, we often mistake a need for water with a need for air. In fact, I’ve found that imaginary “thirst” is one of my most common distractions during both asana and meditation practices. If this rings a bell, resisting the unnecessary desire to drink water can be a good practice in tapas, or self-discipline, since using compassionate self-restraint against our urges helps us build strength through transformation. If you do indeed feel thirsty during yoga, take a moment to check in with your body. After a few deep breaths, if the sensation persists, make your water consumption part of your practice; sip mindfully and don’t let drinking be a distraction— to yourself or others.
Drinking Water in Hot Yoga
Hot yoga classes, which could mean room temperatures ranging from 90 to 117 degrees, pose different considerations.
At that thermostat setting, you are talking considerable heat combustion: in addition to the external room temperature, the body is generating its own internal heat during asanas. A few dozen rounds of downward and upward facing dogs, warriors, and handstands in a hot room can render a yogi the ego-satisfying sweat drench—as it tries to cool you down—but with the room temperature high, you suddenly have the potential for heat exhaustion and dehydration. We’re losing fluids through our breath too! It’s not uncommon for yogis to have a dizzy spell or even pass out in a hot yoga class if they are not adequately hydrated.
When you know you’re going to take a hot yoga class, do like World Cup players or marathoners: hydrate before the event. Drink enough water in the 24 hours leading up to hot yoga to avoid feeling faint as you start to sweat. If you wait until just before class or the middle of a warrior sequence to chug some water, you’ll be unable to deliver an adequate amount of fluid and electrolytes (minerals, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium) to your body. When you drink water in class, do so mindfully. Slowly sip water instead of chugging it.
Sports performance research shows that losing just two percent of your body weight in fluid can decrease performance by up to 25 percent. At that rate, you stand to lose your mental edge and ability to perform the asanas optimally. Higher percentages can be potentially life-threatening. And two percent of body fluid isn’t a lot for, say, a 120-pound yogi who may have eaten light the better part of the day in order to have an empty stomach for yoga class.
Your best strategy to prepare for a hot yoga class: drink plenty of fluids the day before class. Make it water, nutrient-rich clear drinks or juice blends even sports drinks. Add to your day plenty of fruits and vegetables. And most of all, with any class, make sure to drink plenty of water to rehydrate after.