When you’re practicing yoga in a hundred degree room with forty percent humidity for ninety minutes straight, the natural inclination is to medicate your suffering with water. Because it’s cold and refreshing and hydrating and satisfying.
But as my teacher loves to remind his students, water is your second lifeline, breathing is your first.
Think about it. When a person experiences a health emergency, the first thing the paramedics provide is oxygen. Nobody inserts a water tube up your nose. People need air. Breath is life. It’s the source of all things.
And nothing against water. It’s a close second on the scoreboard of human survival. But you can survive for three days without water. Oxygen is only three minutes.
And so, in yoga class, when the dizziness and the leg cramps and the dark thoughts come crashing in, the smartest response is to breathe, not drink. No matter how much money you spent on that shiny new vacuum insulated double stainless steel water bottle that keeps contents icy cold for up to eighteen hours, the smartest response is to breathe.
Oxygen first, water second.
It’s a perfect metaphor for life outside the yoga studio, too. Because when our suffering becomes intolerable, we’re given that same choice. We can reach for a crutch to soothe our pain, or we can regulate and refresh and rebuild ourselves with lifelines that are healthier.
And don’t make us have to pee every twenty minutes.
What’s your preferred method of medicating?
Scott Ginsberg is a writer, daily practitioner and workstudy volunteer at Bikram Yoga Park Slope.