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.
When I moved to Asheville in 2001, I realized I had a problem. I couldn’t figure out why people weren’t coming to my classes. I had done well teaching middle aged women 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 I couldn’t get that kind of following.
One day it dawned on me that 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 (perhaps unfortunately) you can’t train it with Netflix and wine. It needs active participation or 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.
[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