Why I don’t take my yoga hot and sweaty

Here is a simple graphic I’ve been using in my training programs (and in yoga classes) to explain why the yoga I teach is different from other kinds of yoga out there.

After I moved to Asheville in 2001, I quickly realized I had a problem.

I couldn’t figure out why people weren’t coming to my classes. I had done well teaching in the small town in New Jersey I had been living in for the previous 6 years. But here people were doing stronger practices. I didn’t like hot, fast, sweaty yoga and I didn’t want to teach it. I knew what I practiced and taught was valuable, but I had no convincing way of explaining why. Asheville then (and still for the most part today) was a mecca of fitness-based yoga. Students would come to my classes and say things like, “Oh my god, that was so relaxing!” and then only show up once every few months. I’d see them in Earthfare and they’d be like, “You’re such a great teacher!” but I’d never see them in class. One woman searched me out at every yoga event or class that we both were attending, sent me emails, wrote me texts, sent me articles, but she literally never even came to one class!

I watched the popular teachers build followings of regular, consistent students who came without fail two or three times a week to their strenuous classes and wondered why couldn’t I get that kind of following?

One day it finally dawned on me that, surprise, students were using yoga for fitness. For about 50 years (since the advent of Kenneth Cooper’s “Aerobics Revolution” in the late 60s), Americans have been pummeled with the importance of exercise. So, since everyone knows you have to work out about 3 times a week, of course the most fitness-focused (and fit-looking) teachers had the biggest followings. People were going to yoga to feel the burn. They were doing what they had learned was important to their health –  exercising.

It’s not that I have a problem with exercise (a little secret, I love spinning!). I’ve always been into exercising. But Subtle Yoga is different.

The system of yoga that I have learned, synthesized, and teach is designed to do something else – to build resilience – and this requires a different kind of training. Around 2010 I started diving into neurobiology and research. Time and time again, studies showed that slow, meditative yoga does something different to your nervous system than exercise – it helps to build proprioception and interoception. It helps to develop brain structures related to pro-social behavior, self-regulation, and positive affect. Slow yoga trains the respiratory musculature, the vagus nerve, heart rate variability, interoception (which may be correlated with empathy BTW) and the relaxation response. 

And here’s the thing that we are just starting to understand (and why this work is so critically important) – the “rest and digest” part of the nervous system needs to train. And you can’t train it with Netflix and wine. It needs active participation. It needs training. And this kind of training is different than cardio-training. It requires your mindful participation. You can’t get it in the same way while you are moving hot, fast and sweaty. It requires attention – and, if you want to be healthy, it is essential. So essential in fact that the authors of a study published last year from the Benson Henry Institute said this:

“The data suggests that mind body interventions should perhaps be instituted as a form of preventative care similar to vaccinations or driver education (emphasis added). Such interventions are likely to be useful in population management and supported self-care, have negligible risk and cost, and may help reduce the demand curve in health care.”[i] 

This kind of training Venns a bit with fitness training, sure. Of course, nothing is completely linear. But in general, it requires a different approach.

What we do is Resilience Training. 

My suggestion is to keep your eyes open because it is, undoubtedly, the next big thing.

Learn more about the evidence informed basis of subtle practices, register for my upcoming online course with Yoga U:

Change Your Story, Change Your Life – Yoga, Neuroplasticity and the Art of Conscious Transformation – begins July 26 at 8:30 pm ET.

[i] Relaxation Response and Resiliency Training and Its Effect on Healthcare Resource Utilization. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2016, from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0140212


54 thoughts on “Why I don’t take my yoga hot and sweaty

  1. Yes!! I was one of your faithfuls, Kaoveri, and struggle to find other teachers who emphasize “resiliency”. It’s wonderful and so healthy.

    1. Thanks I so appreciate your comment. I think those teachers are out there and a big wave of resilience focused yoga is brewing. xoxo

  2. Thank you for so clearly stating what I have wanted to convey for a while. I often have this conversation around prenatal yoga, and will use this article as a reference for them.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments Linda. And by all means, ask people to look at this simple model – I envision it as a conversation starter – we may know that there is something powerful about going slow, but how do we convey this value effectively – that’s been something I’ve been wrestling with for a while and so I hope my effort can be of service to others wrestling with the same issue.

    2. Not post related, but Linda it’s so uncommon to find people with our same last name! How wonderful to have a fellow Trumpfheller yogi here 🙂

  3. So good! As a yoga teacher I’ve often wondered why students say they really enjoyed my class, that it was just what they needed, but then don’t always return. It seems that they feel the need to push themselves harder and faster in order for it to be “real” yoga. Thanks for the encouragement to keep going with my “mindful movement ” style!

    1. Once a students showed up for one of my detox workshops in nothing but a pair of shorts, ready to sweat out the toxins. When I explained that we were not only going to gently massage our organs with postures but also do practices to “detox” the mind, I saw him get noticeably agitated. AFter about 20 minutes he just left, grumbling about wanting to do “real” yoga. It was such a wake up call. I had to change the way I thought about advertising, marketing, branding…everything except how I actually teach yoga, which has been pretty consistent all these years. What I needed to do was better explain what I teach and why it’s valuable. I still have to work on it – it’s still like fighting a tsunami sometimes. Except now the wave seems a little less daunting and I’ve found more allies!

  4. I have been trained in both vinyasa and Pranakriya teacher training programs and I’m finding more and more reasons to slow it down and focus on resilience and the nervous system. Your blog ROCKED the explanation and frustration of losing students to fitness yoga although I do teach too that but label it as just that. Trying to blend the best of everything and still fill a class is always a challenge, but knowledge is power so Im sharing your site with my students. Thanks!

  5. I agree that this kind of mind-body training is important, but when people have limited time for exercise, most are going to want to go to a class that burns calories or tones the body. It’s hard enough getting in 3-4 x/ week sweat sessions, let alone other mindfulness exercises.

  6. I, too, have had students tell me how wonderful they feel after my bliss yoga class and that it is exactly what they needed. And, I never see them again. I do have a few who stick with it and even include a home practice. With those, we continue to go deeper into the practice and we see profound changes. I must say that in the beginning, many years ago, I would get a little “perturbed”, if you will, by comments of “I want to take your class so that I can get up to the point where I can take the ‘more advanced’ yoga’.” I would try to tell them that the fitness style yoga is not more advanced, just for a different purpose. Now, I just don’t say anything and let them discover it for themselves. Sometimes, they do figure that out and stay. And, sometimes, they move on.

    1. HI Patricia, I remember one student I hadn’t seen in years – I ran into him in the store. He said, “You were my first yoga teacher! Now, I’m doing teacher training in (fill-in-the-blank intense yoga) because I got so advanced, I moved on!” Seriously. Oh well. You are right of course, people will discover it when they are ready. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. I was already teaching Ayurveda based “gentle” healing yoga when I atteded Subtle Yoga’s 300 hour training. It added a while new realm of practices to helping eveyone find what they really need from a yoga practice.

  8. Great article! I totally agree with you. I teach & practice “Gentle Yoga” . I have had students say, ‘That was not enough exercise for me.” But, somehow, I have developed a following of like-minded students, who totally get it & seek out, the practice of what you & I offer! Keep doing what you do best. I follow your inspirational teachings, and appreciate your “Subtle Yoga” approach in a world that wants to go hot, fast & sweaty! Namaste~

  9. Kaoverii, I believe your style of yoga is “suddenly” coming into its own. I have seen such a shift in asheville yoga
    since I began practicing some 12 years ago. You are making your mark, believe me. Thank you for all you’re doing to make yoga what it can be.

    1. Sallie it’s so nice to hear from you! Thanks for your thoughts. It’s interesting to see how things have changed in #AVL isn’t it? One yoga teacher said to me recently, “I didn’t understand the value of what you taught for a long time. I think I’m just starting to get it.” People need different things at different times.

    1. If I hadn’t found any students by now, I think I would have taken the hint and gotten a job at the Dollar Store Beth. I was living and teaching in Frenchtown, but also I had a class in Newtown, across the river, which was a much smaller place 20 years ago. where are you from?

  10. Thank you so much for your article. This style of yoga is how I began my practice. I’ve watched the rise of fast, cardio styled yoga with dismay. It seems to me antithetical to the practice of yoga. I’ve been fortunate to have a studio open near my home which while having classes for a wide range fitness requirements practice what the owner sometimes describes as “cold” yoga. She shared your article. Your Asheville area students are lucky to have you.

    1. Yes it was pretty weird to watch the rise of the hot and sweaty, wasn’t it. But what it did was put yoga on the map, and that created scope for the viability of what we do. So that is the benefit. I always say that without the hot and sweaty craze, I would never have been able to teach what I teach. Thank you for the compliment, and I feel like I am the lucky one to have such amazing and dedicated students. 😉

  11. Just loved this article!! As a yoga teacher working with diverse and at-risk populations, I have found that a slow and gentle practice is trauma- sensitive and respectful of what each student brings to their mat.
    Many friends have also relayed to me how intimidated they are to try yoga because of the popularity of intense and fast paced classes. I keep encouraging them to look for a class that is the right fit, and emphasizing as others here mentioned, that gentle yoga is “real” yoga too. So nice to hear that many of us share the same perspective and style.

    1. Thanks Christen! Glad you enjoyed it – I think yoga is becoming more inclusive for people who aren’t as fitness oriented – it has something to offer everyone.

  12. I think it’s unfortunate when we feel we have to discount one style of yoga to speak highly of another. There is value in vinyasa, in linking breath and movement, too. We can use the movement as a tool to tap into the breath. For some people, including many trauma survivors who can benefit from yoga, a slow practice is not relaxing – it’s triggering and for many people stillness is time for the mind to wander. For some people, sitting in stillness and focusing on the breath is not going to happen. If we were that relaxed we wouldn’t need yoga! For some people, the practice of being in the present moment – mindfulness – requires some level of physical challenge, perhaps because they do lead an active lifestyle aside from this practice, or for some other reason.

    It would be great to have links to the research you cite. My understanding is that any deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve (including ujayi breath often practiced in power yoga) … and that for many people, rest is MORE restful after they have exerted some energy. Any form of movement or physical work can engage the fight or flight system – then by actively resting, and breathing, the parasympathetic rest/digest system is engaged. By “stressing” the body, and then resting, we can train our brains to respond more calmly to stress in general, in the world. http://upliftconnect.com/yoga-and-stress/

    I certainly wouldn’t condemn all slow paced yoga for these reasons – it would just be great to hold space for the wide variety of practices we have today to suit different personality types.

    1. I agree Kate. I specialize in mental health, trauma, and addiction recovery – and I am well aware of the need to escape from feelings in the body and how hot and fast yoga is often great for people struggling with these challenges.
      So, I think it’s important to put this blog in the context of the story I was telling about teaching yoga to populations in the wellness or health promotion sphere. People who have enough capacity to self-regulate and are not triggered by slower practices can benefit. The particular study I was mentioning here, specific to yoga, is a meta-analysis from Holger Cramer (who is a yoga researching rock star!). Although the full text is not available online, the quote is from the article. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23922209
      You can also look for a couple of other studies from some great researchers – Balasubramaniam http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyt.2012.00117/full
      and Uebelacker http://www.rimed.org/rimedicaljournal/2016/03/2016-03-20-intmed-uebelacker.pdf
      and then I’m extrapolating here as well on the rich landscape of research on pranayama and meditation – Lazar,Davidson, Newberg, Zinn, etc.

      My blog was not intended to shame anyone for not “gettin’ it” from slower practices or meditation – the need for therapeutic interventions is desperate IMHO, and if someone with trauma or other symptoms benefits from fitness-based yoga and uses it to self-regulate – fantastic! Much better than some of the self-meditating and self-harming roads that people take to mitigate the intolerable experiences in their bodies. But the conversation I was initiating with this blog was not about the realm of treatment, it was about prevention and health promotion/wellness.

      This post was rather about a broader section of the population who are continually pushing themselves because that’s what the culture expects/demands, who may actually find that training their nervous systems to relax can be highly beneficial. My intention is to offer people who prefer slower practices (and the teachers who offer them), a rationale and a “pep-talk” about why their styles are highly valuable in a culture that often doesn’t appear to value them at all.

      1. I appreciate this. Thanks for posting my comment and taking the time to respond in such detail. I will look through the research links you shared (and will look over your blog more generally as well, it sounds like you do very interesting work).

        I can see the distinction you make – from working in yoga service and teaching public yoga classes, I don’t believe things are as clear cut as “special populations” that can’t self-regulate at all and people who are totally fine and seeking out yoga in gyms or whatever. It can be a form of privilege to get a diagnosis, to consider yourself worthy of seeking addiction recovery services, and obviously to pay for them. Often people go years without treatment – or deal with effects of trauma and so on – and also get classes in public settings.

        It’s possible I’m sensitive to a lot of judgement in yoga, though, and misread this into your article. Take care.

        1. I did go over the studies you linked to, the look like quality research. It’s worth pointing out that while a few of them acknowledged different styles of yoga, none really commented in a way that would agree or disagree with my point that vinaysa might serve some people too. These articles are more about the benefits of “yoga” as a whole (there are many others like this!)

          The first one just mentioned, “the description of the intensity of yoga has not been specified in many studies.” … The third one said “yoga is affordable for many people ” (I would disagree with this!) and only “If the patient is not
          physically fit, it is wise to start with a “gentle” or “beginner’s yoga class. … practices such as rapid breathing or extended
          meditation possibly leading to symptom exacerbation (mania or depression), physical injury, and negative comparison
          to other students. Other possible risks include dehydration resulting from the combination of a heated room
          and psychotropic medications, or strong negative psychological reactions (such as panic attacks, flashbacks, or hallucinations)
          to extended meditation sessions.”

          Certainly these negative effects apply to both faster and slower paced yoga class – I wouldn’t send someone new to yoga into a hot room for a vigorous practice! – but it’s worth noting that none of these articles said movement or vinyasa was necessarily unhelpful.

          1. Hi Kate, sorry to take a while to get back to you – been on the road.
            As for your point that vinyasa might serve some people – I agree. I have worked with many clients who needed to do a strong practice in order to mitigate the effects of their anxiety and vinyasa worked really well for them. It’s not that vinyasa is not therapeutic for some people – my article is more about seeing the value of slower practices, which, in general, are not perceived by the larger culture as being as valuable – because of the focus we’ve had for so long on fitness.
            Because slower practices are not as valued, many people who do or teach them have some feelings of inadequacy or shame around it. My articles was intended to highlight the benefits of slower practices which have taken a back seat to stronger fitness based yoga in terms of perceived value.

            As for the research – another group of studies that are arising come from the Trauma Center in Boston. What is so useful about this info is that it is beginning to tease our the mechanisms behind slow, interoceptively oriented practices – noticing how the body feels as you practice – as key to healing trauma. Also, I will again mention that Holger Cramer in his meta-analysis of yoga for depression wrote, “Yoga, in particular meditation-based yoga forms, seem to be effective for treating depression. While the low methodological quality of the included studies limits the interpretability of the results and safety of the intervention remains unclear, yoga, especially meditation-based yoga forms, could be considered an ancillary treatment option for patients with depressive disorders and individuals with elevated levels of depression.”

            This study came out in 2013. Four years later, I would say that what we will soon see is more research on interoception and its importance in the healing process. Interoception can best be accessed through slower practices.
            I’ll add that not everyone can tolerate interoceptive practices and in some cases these slow practices can trigger and aggravate people with active trauma symptoms and/or anxiety.
            In these cases, interoception has to be titrated – it has to happen in small doses to be tolerable. So I would suggest that when someone is in the treatment stages, small doses of interoceptively oriented yoga interspersed in a big dose of hot or fast vinyasa, can be an excellent initial treatment strategy.

  13. I find that over time that I have gravitated to teaching this style of yoga. With a rebuilt right shoulder and a full replacement of my left knee I don’t need all the vinyasas. I dont’ need the hot and sweaty yoga. Personally I like to emphasize the breath. I like my participants to experience their bodies. I like your term of building resilience. A perfect description! I like to believe that the participants that attend my classes feel the same way. I am sure your students feel that way. Thanks for sharing this information. Namaste.

  14. Loved this article. May I quote you in my next newsletter with a link to you website? My mission is Dynamic Gentle Yoga. It’s exactly what you’re talking about, “slow, meditative yoga…which requires your mindful participation.” I offer post 200hr training in Dynamic Gentle Yoga teaching methods.
    I appreciate the science-based benefits that you bring forth: “develop brain structures related to pro-social behavior, self-regulation, and positive affect. Slow yoga trains the respiratory musculature, the vagus nerve, heart rate variability, interoception (which may be correlated with empathy BTW) and the relaxation response.”
    Resilience training. Yes. How to engage and fully disengage.
    I wasn’t sure what Venns means. “Venns a bit with fitness training.” School me, please.
    Great website. Asheville is lucky to have you.

    1. Hi RUdy,
      Thanks so much for writing and glad you liked the post – please feel free to use it and share with your students. We need more people like you doing this work in the world and spreading the resilience message!
      As for “Venns” – I think I made a verb out of a noun. 😉
      I was referring to my diagram (a Venn diagram) which shows the intersection of fitness and resilience – of course there’s an intersection and the science is still developing so we have no yet teased out what is specific to mindful movement and what is specific to exercise – I believe that is coming though.
      om shanti

  15. I only lived in Asheville a little over a year. I knew the first time I attended one of Kaoverii’s classes that I had discovered a gold mine of wisdom. I made sure to go as often as I could, while still interspersing my Ashtanga practice and following some other teachers that I loved. Along with my home practice, I was almost getting enough yoga. Are you still associated with Michele and the Inner Peace Yoga training? Did you know Michele from New Jersey? That is interesting, I never knew the jersey shore connection was there.

    1. Aw thanks James, that’s really sweet. And no I am not affiliated with Inner Peace but I do know Michele, but not from “down the shore.” 😉
      I hope you are enjoying your yoga practice!
      many thanks for the comment.

  16. I love all styles of yoga, including hot yoga….especially the Bikram method because of the stillness and methodical sequenced class. You do the same postures in the same sequence but every time it’s different and special. The sweat is simply a metaphor of release for me. The heat is just a tool, just like the teacher is a tool – to help me go deeper into a meditative state. It’s hard to find teachers who haven’t succumbed to society’s demands of a physical practice. It’s rare to find the jewel teachers who teach us “real” yoga and help students connect into the deeper dimensions of yoga and the subtle energies within the body, mind, and spirit – but those teachers are out there – in all styles of yoga….including hot yoga. You are one of the gem teachers. I still to this day remember taking your training in Atlanta. It was a very big “aha” moment to realize you don’t have to go deep physically to get the same energetic qualities that each posture provides. Often when you hold yourself back physically, your body – whether it’s your energetic body, mental body, emotional body, will open up and show you an insight. I still go back to practicing and teaching subtle yoga, whether I’m in a heated room or not. I practice mostly Bikram yoga, but I teach subtle / energy yoga….

    1. Thanks for the comment Amy, it’s nice to hear from you! And it sounds like you have really found your yoga groove!!

  17. For me- in my personal practice as well as my teaching…
    Gentility leads us home- to nurture and embrace our bodies and seek the Spirit within- to guide, transform and heal ourselves from the inside out!
    Thank you, Kaoverii , for all you do to help others!

  18. I have been doing slow meditative yoga on my own for some time now, focusing on every slow movement and breath even in my daily walk, and it has been tremendously helpful to my physical and mental health. Great article!

    1. Thanks for sharing Robert! Yes, we can take interoception into so many parts of our daily life. I agree.

  19. You know what they say, “Gentle is the new Advanced”. I too teach a variety of yoga types, my active flow is not hot or power yoga. In that class I give gentle options for those that want a milder practice & try to keep it active enough so most other students feel like they’ve worked enough. I am in Texas & my daytime & weekend classes are packed, my Gentle night class is full, but my night flow classes are smaller & I think it’s the same reason you talk about, they are looking to rush home from work & want to feel like they have sweated in a fitness class to fill the minimal space they have allotted for exercise, (I remember being at that place a couple decades ago). I just wasn’t ready…yet. When I am in Ashville visiting, among other states, I’m often disappointed that much of the yoga is hot & power. Most of my students appreciate the moderate flow where they feel they get a really good stretch & leave class feeling better instead of spent. Some still come for just the physical aspect of the practice but most eventually get that connection that keeps us growing, feeling awesome & wanting to come back for more. I have many generations in class but a lot of students between 40 & 70. If you’re teaching to a young crowd they may not be ready for you…yet. I’m so impressed with my older students & how well they connect to the yoga & the healing benefits I witness. For those of us that have been doing yoga for a while we can appreciate the benefits of the moderate practice & how much healthier that is for our bodies.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Lynne. What I am finding important and useful is helping students understand that there are two different skill sets they need to build. Some are starting to get it for sure. The neurobiologic research is confirming the need for PNS training. It is just going to take a little while for it to catch on with the rest of the culture. We are at the beginning of the bell curve here. But it’s happening, I see it! Lots to be optimistic about. Sounds like you have a great teaching practice going on. Congrats!

  20. Great article, K. You are one of the wisest (and most rockin’) yoginis I know. Miss you so much!! 😘😘

  21. Great article!. I wanted to suggest that you have the link to the course open a new tab rather than taking people away from your website. If you do your site yourself you need to use “target blank” in the code for the link. Hopefully there is a way to select this option when you add a link. If not, ask your web developer. (I manage my husband’s website.) He is quoting your article in a blog post he is working on.

    1. Thank you so much Joyce and please thank your husband for me for using my article! Would you please post a link here? And thank you for the tech advice! I really appreciate it.

      1. I just noticed that Rudy already posted a comment to you about quoting you. Here’s an excerpt from his blog post that shows how to do a link that opens a new tab or webpage: In her article Why I don’t take my yoga hot and sweaty, Kristine Weber of Subtle Yoga in Asheville, NC writes, “Studies show that slow, meditative yoga does something different to your nervous system than exercise – it helps to build proprioception and interoception.”  The code is for italics. Hope this helps.

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