No water bottles in the studio

Last Sunday, I was about to start teaching when I spied water bottles amid the mats, blocks, and blankets. It was hot, and I teach a rigorous class. One student claims that I can make her sweat in Tadasana.

“Put your water bottles against the wall,” I said, “otherwise I might kick them over. Strict Iyengar teachers wouldn’t let you bring them in the studio.”

Hey, I immediately remembered, I’m strict. I was also wary of messy spillage. “Actually, I changed my mind. Let’s not develop bad habits. Leave your water on the sink.”

“Drinking water during practice is generally not recommended,” I explained. “You build internal heat and energy doing asana, and the water puts out that fire. I don’t know if that’s medical truth, but I personally never drink water during yoga class.” (See Yoga Journal‘s blurb on drinking water during class.)

Unless I’m coughing, I have no desire to hydrate myself in the middle of physical activity. I hydrate myself before and after the activity. Not only would it distract me to chug water during the activity, but the urge to drink never even arises! I’m not talking about running marathons or going on 100-mile bicycle rides, but everyday stuff. The only thing is that I like to drink my water from a filter water pitcher, I don’t drink tap water of course, at first I had trouble on whether to choose a big one or a smaller one but I ended up just getting the smallest since I don’t drink that much.

My practice is primarily Iyengar yoga, which is less sweaty than some other forms. But I attend workshop sessions that last three hours at a stretch… without water. I have tried Bikram and Ashtanga classes for fun… without water. When I ran, I’d go seven miles along the Berkeley fire trail first thing in the morning… without water.

Perhaps the “water break” is a mental break for some. At the gym, I might make a water-fountain pit stop to rally myself before my next set of pull-ups! It’s a ritual of sorts: do a set, stretch, take a sip, do another set. But in class the focus on yoga is constant, plus I’m loathe to miss a moment of my teacher’s teaching (or to need an extra bathroom break!).

If I drink lots of liquid during meals, my thirst is quenched for hours in between. Maybe it’s an individual thing. I’d hate to deny students necessary hydration. But part of me suspects that the bottled water industry has trained us to drink water 24/7! My dog and cat lap, lap, lap with gusto when they’re thirsty; they don’t take a gulp every 10 minutes. Isn’t that how we used to be?

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    1. Maybe. But Savasana is also an asana and perhaps shouldn’t be treated differently.

      In my first two or three years of yoga, I attended a morning class three times a week. During Savasana, I’d feel a marked drop in body temperature, like a cool mist washing over me. Back then, I more easily slipped into the stillness of Savasana than I do now. I loved the “arc” of the class, feeling the poses build heat in my body and then gradually extinguish during Savasana. (Thanks, Sandy Blaine, of Alameda Yoga Station.) If I’d drank water before Savasana, I’d have doused the fire too quickly and missed the natural descent.


  2. I don’t necessarily agree… but then I work in a health profession where hydration is a key component to voice health (it KILLS me that you teach classes without hydrating your voice!!! your poor vocal folds).

    That said, I agree that often I hydrate afterwards and rarely during a class. I like having a water bottle (Klean Kanteen 🙂 ) accessible in case I’m feeling weak or shaky but I rarely use it. For similar reasons- it’s distracting and could get knocked over (If I’m near a wall I usually set it out of the way)

    When it comes to my health and practicing yoga safely I’m not very keen on taking risks, which includes not allowing myself access to water should i need it.


  3. I have to disagree. I can see where there might be a distraction or an accidental spill, but wouldn’t a student fainting because of dehydration or leaving their mat to drink be a bigger distraction?

    Personally, I almost always have a bottle with me, but I rarely drink during class–generally only when the practice is rigorous and the studio is warm. Frankly, if I were told I couldn’t bring water with me, I wouldn’t go back to that class.


  4. If the room is a decent temperature, then yes. This rule came about before yoga studios started cranking the heat up above 80 degrees and started teaching what is essentially yoga inspired aerobics classes. Don’t get me wrong. I like heated rooms and Power Yoga. I’m just saying, In a class that fast, powerful and hot, people can get dehydrated.

    You speak of drinking water during meals. Many people argue that it interferes with digestion. It waters down the digestive juices in the same way it puts out your yoga fire.


  5. You seem way too ridget. I don’t think I would take your classes if such a small thing is a concern for you. It only yoga and a yoga studio.


  6. Amid the notion that students are fainting in droves, EcoYogini is concerned about my vocal cords. Thanks, Eco! That never occurred to me.

    Let it be known that students are free to drink water: at one studio, there’s a faucet with filtered water at the back of the room; at one community centre, there’s a water fountain right outside the door. Water bottles? Store them with your belongings, not by your mat.

    Unlike Bikram yoga, Iyengar yoga is not done with the heat cranked up, and no one should be sweating buckets, much less fainting from heatstroke or dehydration!

    Main thing: Drink when necessary. Drink mindfully.

    Now, these pretzels are making me thirsty. I’m not practicing yoga; I’m not eating a meal. Time for a water break.


  7. haha- you’re welcome 🙂 Honestly, I know it sounds nerdy, but I wonder about yoga instructors vocal cords often lol. I am a speech nerd like that though.

    Yep, I think you have a nice compromise there- need water? go get some outside the studio. I also agree that Iyengar def is not like Bikram (or heated yoga), so hydration will be different.

    a good discussion though i think- as students like having clearly defined rules on what is ok and not in class (ok, well at least THIS student likes clearly defined rules!) 🙂


  8. Drinking water also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which is counter to the work we are trying to do in yoga asana, especially savasana 🙂


  9. While your rules are yours to make, and as an Iyengar practitioner I fully agree that the class experience is less sweaty and more internal, I have to laugh at Iyengar rigidity yet again. Bottles by the wall is what I do, for the “knock over” reason alone. I do not think it is fair to generalize my own water drinking preferences and needs to a class. That said, thanks for your blog! These discussions are informative and fun.


  10. Dear Yogaspy: I have a kind of off topic question. I noticed you mentioned pull-ups in your post. I, too, practice mainly Iyengar style yoga and have been wracking my brains looking for a pull-up action in any yoga pose and I can’t find one. I have practiced yoga for ten years or so but was unhappily surprised when my yoga-induced strength barely allowed me to pull myself up on a trapeze in an aerial arts class. Do you find traditional pull-ups the only way to get that specific action and strength? Have you found anything similar in a yoga pose or simple sequence? I would love another yogis ideas about this issue. Thank you.


    1. Intriguing question! Because asana is done off a floor, it can build upper-body strength but primarily from pushing with the chest and shoulders, eg, Chaturanga Dandasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana, and arm balancings. I cannot think of a traditional pose that emphasizes pulling with the lats (Latissimus dorsi) from overhead.

      One idea: Practicing with wall ropes (kurunta) can involve pulling with the arms, although not necessarily from overhead. You’d probably need to do advanced kurunta work to target the lats from a hanging position. (Any kurunta experts out there?)

      Bottom line: I believe that pull-ups are best developed by… doing pull-ups. Those who cannot do full, free-hanging pull-ups can use machines that target the same muscles. That said, doing pull-ups can tighten the upper-back muscles and be counterproductive to backbends. (Eg, reaching up in a pose such as Eka Pada Rajakapotasana seems harder if the lats are developed.) It’s a fine balance of strength and flexibility. Which do I (and which do you) need more?

      Maybe pull-ups are like aerobic exercise: You need to do it outside your asana practice. There’s no way to raise your heart rate high enough and long enough to constitute a real aerobic workout. And maybe it’s similar with pull-ups! (Be careful with trapeze work; a friend in SF loved it until it wrecked one of her shoulders.) Other thoughts?


  11. I believe I agree with the spirit of what you are saying here but, disagree with the rule in general. I need sips of water for most physical activity. Every several of hours is too long imho (or for myself). I like your blog though – keep up the great work!


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