If you’ve ever practiced hot yoga, you know that heat intensifies any smells in the yoga studio. The smaller the space, the harder those smells are to escape. But hot or not, it can be a challenge practicing yoga (pranayama! breathe deeply!) for those of us who are sensitive to smells.
You probably started reading this thinking I was going to complain about body odor, the (sometimes) rank detoxing of the body as we sweat and strain. Well, believe, me B.O. smells like nectar compared to fabric softener, fruit punch scented hair product, and eau de hydrocarbone yoga mats. If you are the type of person who has allergic type reactions in the presence of smells that others think are “nice,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Sometimes, mid flow, I’ll imagine myself practicing wearing a mask, and not the kinky kind!
Now, I know this is a problem for me, so I tend to try a strategy of avoidance: I attempt to position myself so that I’m not tightly surrounded by others (when possible), I avoid tight corners or walls where there is less air movement, and yes, I have been known to pick up my mat and move it if someone too smelly plops down nearby (how rude of me!). In truth, I rarely experience a yoga class free from obnoxious chemical smells. Usually, off the mat, these types of smells ignite an adrenal response, fight or flight, in me. On the mat, I power through it, but not through a simple trick of mind over matter.
Recently I learned of the incredible, wonderful, beautiful psoas (“so-az”) muscles and the incredible, beautiful, wonderful things that yoga does for them. This, I believe, is the magic behind me tolerating situations that would otherwise make me have a meltdown. A yoga instructor recently explained that tightened psoas muscles (our normal, un-exercised, seated state) are associated with the flight or fight response, while relaxed psoas muscles (as in ones lengthened and relaxed through asanas) help keep us calm and out of that adrenal reaction zone. Which also explains why everybody seems to feel so blissed out after a yoga class!
This was a pretty powerful insight for me. It turns out there’s even a book on the subject, called (duh), “The Psoas Book.” Since I’m not a yoga teacher, a medical professional, or a psoas specialist, I won’t attempt to elucidate this connection for you, but I will encourage you to read an article about it by the psoas specialist, Liz Koch, who literally wrote the book on the psoas!
More importantly, I will simply allude to the healing nature of relaxing the psoas muscles as an excuse to strongly encourage you to try some yoga. If you are suffering from chemical sensitivity so badly that you can’t leave the house, look up some videos on youtube and try it at home. Otherwise, find a local yoga studio and maybe start with some gentle classes. See if you feel a difference. Yoga might not cure you but it will probably make you feel a whole lot better on a day-to-day basis.