Herbal medicine Martial Arts

is this sparring gear sauna appropriate?

Browsing an herbal book I’ve consulted through the years. My eyes stopped on an herb used by Native Americans after sweat lodge rituals. Nordic countries that love saunas also have herbs, like birch, that they use after sweating in a sauna. Herbs to help the body, mind and spirit recover from the work and taxation of sweating and heat of the sauna or sweat lodge.


In class this week, as we yet again did TKD in a studio with broken AC that barely cools the room before it turns off, I wondered if I needed to just consider these classes part sauna. Sweating in sparring gear, the collective sweat humidifying a room climbing up over 80 degrees. No fans, no moving air unless you get close to a classmate doing some kicks or punches and you feel that tiny bit of breeze off their arm or leg movement.


It doesn’t take long to get very, very sweaty. So sweaty that as I gathered up my clothes after class, my t-shirt was soaked through and heavy in my hands. So very sweaty my hair is wet, so wet I can feel it drip down behind my ears, my forehead, my neck 360 degrees. So sweaty that there is a lot of uniform washing because I come home wearing a uniform that feels like I wore it in a sweat lodge. So sweaty that I sweat through a t-shirt and uniform top and into my taekwondo belt.


After five or six minutes of class, our jumping jack warm-ups, the sweat drips into my eyes, the salt stinging.  Fifteen minutes in, we’re doing a wide leg forward stretch, to the center, to the left, then to the right. As I put both hands on my left leg, sweat rolls down my head and across my forehead at an angle, some drops making over the precipice to cascade down to the carpet. I see the drop make the gray carpet a darker gray. Not all of them make it, though, and as both my hands move to the right ankle, the sweat all shifts direction and slides across my forehead and face the other way, again, some drops making it down to the carpet.


Honestly, I think this is too hot. I hate to admit it because it makes me feel like I’m not as tough as everyone else. That to admit I’m incredibly uncomfortable and sweating this much means I can’t handle it. But going to camp one day with my son, their AC was left on a reasonable temperature–not the insane 67 you see in some gyms, but a moderate mid-70s–and it was lovely. 5-10 degrees hotter is, for me, too much. As a Pitta with some Kapha, I am a naturally warm person. I don’t wear sweatshirts because I get too hot–in a Colorado winter, I wear long sleeve t-shirts more than heavier clothes. I tried Bikram yoga once, and it was horrific, and my Ayurvedic advisor/practitioner reaffirmed that I am not they type of person suited for overly heated conditions. Hot tubs make me nauseous with a headache.


Is there a reasoning behind the hot workouts? Even with a working air conditioner, the AC isn’t left on for the entire class. Is Mr. Ninja secretly trying to help me with all this sweat? Hmmm….  Men’s Health magazine published an article “How Summer Heat can make you a Better Athlete.” And while with any diet and exercise advice there’s ALWAYS multiple perspectives and arguments, there are some reasons to think it could be helpful:


Not only does heat cause your body to produce more red blood cells, but it also forces your heart to send more blood to your skin surface to dissipate the heat, explains Lee. Do this often enough, and your heart can work more efficiently with each beat. 

What’s more, cyclists who trained in high heat saw a 7 percent increase in their VO2 max and power when they worked out in cooler temperatures, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a19521359/how-summer-heat-can-make-you-a-better-athlete/


Traditional Medicine systems believe everything should be done with balance in mind. With heat, too much can go bad quickly. And my personal health does factor in. Mast Cell Activation Disorder is a condition that causes hives, flushing, infections, etc.. From a Chinese or Ayurvedic perspective, it’s about too much heat in the body. It takes me a long time to cool off, and I’ve had some histamine reactions in the last few weeks after months of having none thanks to the dry, cooler climate here. Getting too hot in class is part of the problem. I’m reminded to tread carefully and that histamines are always a delicate balancing act.


So I take more milk thistle and some maintenance yin tonics like Liu Wei Di Huang Wan to help with the heat and lack of fluids from too much sweating. I add in some electrolytes and I drink hibiscus tea to help cool the summer heat. Thank goodness it is August and the average temperature is on its way down.


But if it was June, would I take a break from TKD? Would I look forward at a hot summer of excessive sweating and say, this isn’t in my best interest? I mean, I don’t drink alcohol or kombucha because I am instantly hot, itchy, irritable and sweaty. What is 90 minutes in a small, sweaty room doing to me? When does the self-care part of exercise go negative, move away from self-care when the heat is having a negative effect?


A note: the AC has since been fixed and while still a sauna-like experience it is far better than with broken AC. Thank goodness!

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