Sweat. Let’s talk about it for a quick second. I am a yoga teacher in Europe, but am doing all of my training in the US. One of the biggest differences that I’ve noticed between European and North American yoga cultures is the element of sweat. When I’m in Los Angeles, every class I go to is held in a slightly heated room, usually around 28° celsius (82° fahrenheit), and it's a given that people will sweat. I thought I wasn’t the sweating type until I found myself walking out of these slightly heated classes looking like I’ve just stepped out of a shower.
At first I didn’t like the heated classes and all the sweating; I was struggling. But then I realized that I was a bit more flexible, and that after awhile my skin was glowing (even when my face was dry). My best friend, who came to class with me once, told me that my skin seemed much more radiant when I was in LA than at home, and the usual cold I used to have every winter simply disappeared.
This led me to an investigation on sweat: I wanted to know the benefits of perspiring, or if it was just a coincidence that my skin was glowing, my recurring winter cold final kicked it, and that I generally felt better after a good sweat sesh.
So let’s talk about the good effects of sweating:
When you sweat, your pores open and release the dirt that’s inside of them. Sounds gross, but sweat is our body’s natural way of cleansing. Ask your dermatologist! Even just washing your face in hot water or exposing your pores to heat or steam will help to cleanse your skin.
Sweating flushes the body of alcohol, cholesterol and salt. It’s the body’ssecondary flushing system, next to the kidneys and liver. When these guys are overloaded, the sweat glands take over to rid the body of toxins.
Research suggeststhat “happy sweat,” which is the result of exercise or working hard, rather than fear, can increase our mood, and trigger our face muscles to dawn smiles. So if you think you stink after a hot yoga class, just remind yourself that your armpit odour is bringing happiness into the world.
Sweating can’t cure your cold, but it can help to boost your immune system. Since sweating rids the body of toxins, it makes our immune systems healthier. Sweating and the physicality involved also gets your circulation going, which brings support to our immune cells.
Someresearch from the University of Washingtonfound that when we exercise, we sweat out salt and retain calcium in our bones. Without exercise, there’s a higher chance of salt and calcium heading to the kidneys and urine where stones form, and these elements don’t help with existing stones. Sweating also makes you want to drink more water, which helps to flush out toxins through urine, and generally helps to keep stones at bay.
When we exercise and sweat, we release endorphins, which are natural painkillers. But exercising (or just being) in heat,increases blood flow to muscles, which can yield temporary relief. We also need to stay hydrated after a sweat sesh, and all that water helps to hydrate our muscles, even the sore ones, and relieve them of some stiffness.
Research showsthat sweat can act as an antibiotic for surface wounds. The antibiotic dermcidin, which is produced by our skin when we sweat, helps to decrease infection and inflammation in places where we have scratches or mosquito bites. And because of the antibiotics’ origin, germs aren’t as able to create resistance to the little helpers, which helps us in the long run. We are our own pharmacy!
You don’t always have to practice yoga in a heated room to get a sweat on; your body will naturally build internal heat during your yoga practice through movement and breath work. Avoid opening windows or turning on the AC once you’ve got some heat building, as it can disrupt your body’s natural rhythms. And if you’re more into restorative or other kinds of yoga that are more meditation- or relaxation-based, then any activity that gets sweat rollin’ off your forehead will get you all these fine benefits listed above. And hey, after all, sweat is nothing a shower can’t get rid of!
Cheyenne Ravarino, Inner Fire Luminary