Don’t touch that dial!

You can talk about doshas. You can talk about metabolism. You can even talk about safety, health, what is fair, or what reasonable people can agree to disagree about; but when it comes to the temperature of the practice room, you’re talking about a subject that makes even Tim Miller’s eyes roll.

I’ve seen him do it. “What’s the best temperature to practice, and what do I tell my students that keep messing with the thermostat?” he was asked. Timji eyes roll here. (I’m going to refrain from telling you what he said. You can ask him yourself.)

The eyes roll because of the intensity of the controversy. It’s a conflict that crosses gender lines, room position lines, and our notions of social decorum.

yoga sutras
The sutras won't tell you where to set the thermostat.
Of course, Tim’s shala is in Encinitas, California. It’s always a beautiful day in Encinitas. The thermostat never has to work that hard, although I’ve seen him walk over and tinker with it. The room always seems to be somewhere between 75-80, which is usually something close to the outside temp. You can take that as a sort of endorsement, I suppose. But I’m sure he’s heard his fair share of complaints.

It’s a sensitive subject, because it’s such an intimate thing, something close to the ego, and with a very small margin of error. It’s something akin to an old George Carlin joke about driving on the freeway: Everybody going slower than you is an idiot and everybody going faster than you is a madman.

Personally, I freak out if I’m not sweating like a construction worker in August by the end of the first suryanamaskar. I used to run in south Texas in the summer. I fear no heat. That causes problems in and of itself, even here in SoCal: I’m too embarrassed to surf  because I need a full wetsuit on the warmest summer days. It’s not so much an external thing as an internal thing. I want to sweat when I practice, whatever that might mean for the ambient environment. When my rug is moist it’s evidence of tapas. When the windows are starting to fog and the floor is looking slick, I’m in my happy place.

On the other end of the room, my fellow Ashtangi is sweltering. He looks like he’s having trouble breathing. There’s a lot of towel-swiping, pursed-lipped exhaling, and maybe even a little surreptitious fanning going on. I can feel his misery, and I’m baffled.

In the winter, our fates may be reversed. The room feels airy and open to him. He spritzes his practice rug because it’s not wet enough to be sticky. He’s got a light sheen on his skin that seems to dry while he’s holding poses. Finally, he must be thinking. Over in the most distant corner of the room, I’ve got shivers. My muscles are tight. I’m feeling like I might cramp. I may even leave my long-sleeve tee on and vow to bring leg warmers next time. What is it, like 70 in here? I might be thinking, as if that were near Absolute Zero.

So, what’s the answer? Will the eternal battle of the thermostat ever be resolved? Certainly not here. No doubt, somewhere in there is the Golden Mean, the middle ground that everybody can live with; but we can’t even agree what that is, really.

The real solution is in the practice (as is true with everything, really). If what I’m learning is, in part, non-attachment and non-aversion–to avoid reacting to samskara, focus on drishti, bandha, breathing–then surely I can practice in a room that’s a little chilly. I can take this as an opportunity to practice my very neglected skill of non-reaction. The Yoga Sutra 1.12: “abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodhah“: “The mind can reach a state of Yoga through practice and detachment.” I can just practice, because that’s what I came for. Or, in the immortal words of Van Halen: “You’ve got to roll with the punches and get to what’s real.” (Check out David Lee Roth’s hanumanasana here. The ’80s were a strange time.)

Posted, somewhat sheepishly, by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

2 thoughts on “Don’t touch that dial!”

  1. Another great Confluence Countdown post. Perhaps not coincidentally — maybe Tim Miller will blog later today about what Vedic astrology says about coincidences right now? — late last night I blogged about what I’ve had to give up (i.e., practice detachment toward) by moving to a home practice. Heat is top of the list. I mean yes, I absolutely miss having a teacher (other than the practice itself, of course). I miss adjustments. I miss the camaraderie of other ashtangis. But viscerally, in a moment-to-moment basis during practice, I miss heat. My little room heater struggles to hit 75 degrees, when in an ideal world, I’d be practicing in an 84-degree room. I’ve had to recalibrate what it means to feel detoxified after practicing, because when I have a sweet, sweaty practice in a heated yoga studio or in a yoga shala surrounded by the body heat of others, that was never an issue. Having less heat has for me underscored how much the asana practice is meant to link to the other seven limbs, rather than being an end unto itself.

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