By: Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani
EDITOR’S NOTE: A popular activity called Hot Yoga has been around for a couple decades in the USA. It was developed by Bikram Chaudhury who, as the author described, “is minting millions by turning up the thermostat in his posh yoga studios and copyrighting his series of yoga asanas.” Here, Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani gives us a beautifully little narrative on the significance of heat in Indian and yogic culture …
“Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice .
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I side with those who favour fire.
But I think I’ve seen enough of hate
To know that ice is also great
And will suffice.”
(Robert Frost – 1887-1963)
These magnificent words of the great American poet Robert Frost flash through my mental screen often like sub-titles on a movie called “Hot, Hot and Hotter!”
Yes, here in South India we are in the midst of our Agni Kshethra (Star of Fire) and one can fry dosas (an egg too) on the sidewalk! No need to go fire walking as a penance in this Indian season. Just take off your sandals and walk on the sand or road. You feel as though your feet will incinerate!
Heat is transformative! Heat causes fusion of disparate elements producing alloys. Heat causes sweat to form, burning out toxins in the blood stream. Heat purifies and strengthens.
Heat is a natural tapaysa (penance / discipline). The word tapasya is rooted in tejas or fire and literally means “to burn out”. Tapasya is the third niyama (discipline) of Ashtanga Yoga and a vital part of all good yoga sadhana (practice).
Fire / heat tests purity and has been used for millennia as the core element in all Hindu ceremonies. Fire accepts sacrifice in the form of offerings in the homas (fire ceremonies). The aarthi (flame) illuminates the dark, sacred face of the black granite murthi (idol) in the sanctum sanctorum (shrine), and devotees touch this flame (aarthi) to prove the sincerity of their intention.
I love heat, as it seems easier to cool off than to warm up. Indian society has developed myriad ways to beat the heat, many of them involving delightful food stuff like coconut water and nungu fruit. Buttermilk and sweet lime drink are also “fire extinguishers.” Here in South India we love and reverence our trees as they cool off the surroundings to an amazing degree.
In India’s naturally “hot yoga” we pull out our bag of cooling breaths like Sheetali Pranayama and Sitkari Pranayama and literally watch the body temperature drop. O, how wise were our yogic ancestors! They had a remedy for everything under the sun.
So blaze away, O Surya, thou flaming ball of fire in the noon day sky! We will worship you at the sandhyam (twilight) of dawn and dusk, but certainly not at high noon! As for the noon day sun, we will allow it to shine only on “mad dogs and Englishmen”. The British author Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) so astutely observed that these were the only creatures on the Indian sub continent foolish enough to venture out at that time of day!
About the Author:
Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani is the resident Acharya of Ananda Ashram in Pondicherry, India. She is also the Director of the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research (ICYER), the Director of Yoganjali Natyalayam, and Editor of Yoga Life, a publication of Ananda Ashram. For more information, visit: