I recently received this question:
Hello! I am an E-500 RYT and teach many styles, including my favorite yin and yin yang classes. For years, I have broken out in a sweat when I do toe squat, which is a tough pose for me, and then ankle stretch. In the last year, it's gotten easier, and I no longer sweat all over, just my hands. I find this so interesting! I know those poses target all the main 12 meridians, so it's a doozy. A few of my other students have the same reaction, but not all.
Can you educate me on this reaction? I've been telling my students I would go straight to the source and ask you! Thank, K.
Breaking out in a sweat while in Toe Squat is not a normal reaction to the pose. While it certainly is not unheard of, it probably is important to understand why this might be happening. Unfortunately, I can’t see you while in the pose: I can’t tell if you are struggling to stay in the pose; I don’t know how long you are staying in the pose; if there is a lot of muscular tension in your body; if you are using the simplest and most common options to make the pose more accessible. It would be good if you could give a more complete description of your experience and have another teacher watch you too and offer her observations.
However, let me speculate a little (and appreciate that this is all just speculation!) First - pain: Pain can make people break out in a cold sweat. Sweaty palms are often a sign of anxiety or pain. Does this pose hurt your feet or toes? If so, modify the pose or skip it! [See Toe Squat for some options.]
Next - anxiety: If you feel that this pose is affecting you on an emotional level, start to notice that. Is your breath different than when you are in other poses? Is there any tightness in your shoulders, neck, jaw? This pose can affect the lower body’s 6 major meridians and thus their organs. There may be a strong Kidney affect happening and the Kidneys are the home of anxiety and fear (as well as wisdom.) If you are experiencing lots of emotions, this may be pointing you towards some deeper issue: try doing the Flow for the Kidneys more frequently and see if this improves matters. Also, use this as a chance to really be present and watch your fear, watch your reaction to the emotion, to the pose. Don’t try to change it (unless it is painful) but completely climb inside the experience.
Finally - muscular tension: if this pose is a struggle to get into and stay in simply because you are not that open yet, it may be that your muscles are engaged in order to help you stay in the pose. Chronic tightening of the muscles can lead to increased heat in the body and thus sweat. This does not normally happen in a Yin Yoga pose because our general rule is to be where you can relax, but again, notice if you are tensing up while staying in the pose. Tension can arise for many reasons such as to protect the body against damage or pain. Does the sweating occur right away or only after a period of time? If the latter, it may be muscular tension developing the longer you stay in the posture.
My advice: again, without seeing you it is very difficult to prescribe anything definitively, but - I would advise that you don’t stay in the pose so long. At the first sign of sweating or discomfort, come out. You can take a break, do another pose and then come back into the Toe Squat later, but again for a shorter duration.
Remember too, that not every pose is available to every body. This may be one of those poses that you may never be able to safely and comfortably do. Try to distinguish between tension or compression and see if you have reached your ultimate edge already. (See Limits of Flexibility.)