Karin Fellman: Founder and Owner of Hot Yoga University

Karin Fellman, founder and owner of Hot Yoga University, photographed at Hot Yoga University in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Karin Fellman, founder and owner of Hot Yoga University, photographed at Hot Yoga University in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Karin Fellman
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Every day, Karin Fellman and her Hot Yoga University bring peace, confidence and strength to those who walk through the yoga studio’s doors. The 53-year-old Tempe resident has created a sanctuary for mental, physical and emotional restoration, melding encouraging messages into each challenging workout that increases muscle-building, fat-burning and flexibility. The studio also offers sleep-based meditation, and with 45 classes per week, there’s a yoga offering for anyone, no matter the skill level.

Fellman talked about how yoga has changed her life and why she wanted to open her own studio, and lets readers in on how they should prepare for a class. Hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video, too.

What brought you to Arizona?

My family moved to Arizona in 1961 when I was 6 months old, and I was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts. My dad broke his back in an accident while working at machine shop, and after that couldn’t find work in Massachusetts, so my aunt said, “I hear there’s lots of opportunity for machinists in Arizona. Why don’t you move out there?”

He bought a Rambler station wagon and my mom, dad, brother and two sisters piled in, and we began our journey to the West. I attended Supai Elementary School, Coronado High School and Scottsdale Community College on an athletic scholarship for basketball and softball.

How did Hot Yoga University get started?

Hot Yoga University got started three years ago after my husband Roy got laid off from his corporate job of 30 years. I have never seen that look of uncertainty in his eyes, in the almost 33 years we have been married. He said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” and I said, “You’re not going to have to worry, we’ll do something together. We will open up our own yoga studio.”

It was as if God was speaking through me, the words came out so effortlessly, Roy looked at me and said, “OK.” And we just moved forward on it from that moment, building HYU totally on faith, and we never looked back.

How did you first get into yoga?

I began my yoga practice in 2001. It was my daughter Samantha’s 18th birthday, and we wanted to do something new and fun together, so we decided to take a yoga class. There was a yoga studio down the street, so we went there. As soon as we walked into the yoga room, we realized it was hot yoga, even though there were no signs. We put our mats down and waited for the class to start. The class began, and it got hotter and hotter, and we thought we were going to die, but we didn’t, of course. It was that day I actually came alive.

After the class was over, I was dizzy and had a hard time getting up, it was such a challenging workout. I was pretty competitive back then, having played team sports my entire life, but I had never felt that completely spent like I did on that day. I left everything I had on the mat. When I got home, I thought, “Wow, that was amazing, I am definitely going back.”

At the time, I was eight years into a corporate job, and all I could think about while I was at work was going back to the yoga studio. Spending that time with myself each day began to change my life. I eventually quit my corporate job to become a yoga teacher.

What was your career evolution like up until that point?

I really believe everything you do in life takes you to the next place. As a kid and even a young adult, I played team sports year-round. It was in that environment I learned about the different individual roles of each teammate and how each was an intricate part of the success of the whole. In the 13 or so years I played sports, I experienced every role as a player, from coming off the bench, to being the leader. I definitely enjoyed the role of being the leader the most.

I met Roy while attending SCC, and we were married in 1982. Two years later, our daughter was born, and two years after that, our son, Jonathan. I really enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, and I helped out at the Catholic school they attended running the Art Masterpiece program and coaching the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams.

When my kids were 8 and 10, I got a part time job telemarketing. Being very competitive, I very quickly worked my way up the corporate ladder. I can still remember the CEO telling me, “You may climb your way up to the top and then find you don’t like the view,” but I was so eager to learn and grow, I assured him that wouldn’t happen. That was my life, and I really loved it until I stepped into the yoga room.

From that moment, my life began to change. I began to feel like I didn’t really belong in that career, which was very unsettling, since I had invested eight years of my life into it. The more time I spent in the yoga room, the more I felt like I was finding myself again for the first time.

Being a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend, I realized I had somehow lost myself along the way. The yoga room kept drawing me back to myself, and it was very healing.

I can remember attending meetings at work, and that little voice in my head was saying, “You shouldn’t be here, this is not where you belong.” It ended up getting louder and louder, and the CEO was right. I didn’t like the view, after all, and resigned in 2004. My next adventure was a nine-week Bikram yoga teacher training in Los Angeles at the Bikram Yoga College of India.

I returned to Arizona and started teaching right away at my home studio, the Yoga Institute. It was a small little studio in Old Town Scottsdale. Then, for a couple years, I branched out to a studio in Tempe. I was hired to manage the Yoga Institute and continued to teach full time and run the studio, for about eight years. It was such a blessing, because it gave me the opportunity to learn how to run a business.

Roy got laid off in 2013, and the universe’s timing was perfect, because I felt I had kind of maxed out with what I was doing at the Institute. Bikram yoga is one style and the same every day. I was doing the same thing for almost 10 years, and I was really ready for a new adventure.

Recently, I completed a 100-hour yoga nidra training with Kamini Desai, who has a Ph.D. It was so refreshing to be a student again. I learned how to facilitate yoga nidra, which is a very cool sleep-based meditation that is gaining popularity. I just started offering it at the studio, and it is getting rave reviews.

Why are you passionate about hot yoga?

I think because it has changed my life so much. I have always been very calm and peaceful, and I really thought my life was great, but it wasn’t until I began to spend time on my yoga mat, looking at myself in the mirror, did I realize that I was storing a lot of tension and stress in my body. It was so liberating, and I was so grateful, that I wanted to help others find that same peace.

How did you create the structure for Hot Yoga University?

I knew I wanted to offer a variety of class styles and that we would also periodically change the sequences so the students can move their bodies in new ways. I feel we have a great mix right now. Hot 27 is our traditional hot class for beginners. This is a basic class inspired from my days as a Bikram teacher. We do one posture at a time, you hold it to the best of your ability, and you receive the full benefits. It is a meditation in motion, so that’s nice. You can focus on yourself in the mirror and do the best you can, and we offer a relaxing Savasana rest period at the end so your body can assimilate and integrate the benefits of the practice.

Hot Yasa is our vinyasa with music. It is a beautiful balance to the Hot 27, with more flowing movements, up dogs and down dogs, and arm balances, and it is more of a challenge. You can really open up in this class. Where the Hot 27 is more structured and more fixed with sharp movements, the flow is more flowing.

I created Iron Yasa, our 45-minute vinyasa flow class with hand weights, to fulfill a need for students who wanted to become stronger. My students would go to the gym and lift weights and then come to class to receive the mind, body and spirit benefits yoga brings, and I thought, “Let’s put it all in one place.” I created a sequence where they can receive the yoga benefits and, as an added bonus, get the muscle-shredding and toning and metabolism-boosting benefits of weight training.

Our newest addition is Yoga Nidra, sleep-based meditation. It is so important to make time to go into the stillness, and it is also very challenging to get to that place of stillness with the thinking mind being very active.

Yoga Nidra is profound relaxation that drops us below the thinking mind. It’s easy, and anyone can do it. Simply close your eyes, relax, listen and begin to disconnect from the thinking mind and reconnect to the feeling body. Yoga Nidra helps with stress, insomnia, anxiety, addictions and habits, and it also can help you to create the life you want by setting an intention before and repeating during the meditation. Another huge benefit is that a 45-minute session is also equivalent to four hours of sleep.

What do you advise for first-time hot yoga students?

I would say don’t eat too soon before class, and come hydrated. You want to be able to focus on your practice and not be playing catch up with hydration once in the room. Wear comfortable clothes that don’t absorb the sweat. Have an attitude of gratitude, and do your best.

Who is hot yoga good for?

I think yoga is good for everyone. We have students as young as 10, as long as they can sweat, and seniors in their 80’s. It helps with stress release, it helps with maintaining your weight, it helps with losing weight, it helps with rehabbing old and new injuries, and it is a very invigorating practice.

It complements any lifestyle and any workout. If you cross-train, run or hike, if you’re an athlete or spend all day in a corporate job, or you’re a stay-at-home mom or dad, it’s a great balance and a great stress reliever. If you’re very strong, it helps with flexibility. If you’re very flexible, it helps to build strength.

What are the benefits of a hot studio versus a room temperature studio?

I like hot because for me, I feel I can safely go deeper into the postures. Think of it like this: if you wake up in the morning and feel stiff, and you take a hot shower, you’ll feel so much better. That’s what happens in the hot room, and the added detoxifying benefits of the sweat makes it the perfect workout. Our body needs to sweat every day.

What temperature does the room get to?

It’s about 107 degrees, at 40 percent humidity. You’re going to sweat right away, but the students still want it hotter than that. You get used to it.

How does being in a hot yoga studio compare to doing yoga outside at the same temperature?

I would say the only difference is the added humidity in the room. You can do yoga outside in the heat and sweat, but the balance between the heat and humidity creates a perfect environment for a hot yoga class.

What tips do you have for practicing hot yoga?

Connect with yourself while you’re in there. Any workout you do, if you’re not connected with yourself, you won’t get the best benefit you can get. Try and stay present while you’re in the room, which is the hardest thing, because our minds always take us to other places. If you can be present to yourself on your mat, you can take that presence with yourself off the mat, and it can really change your life.

What tips do you have for staying present?

Focus on your breathing. Any time your mind wanders, simply go back to your breath, and follow it in and out. We have to train our mind like we train a puppy on a leash. The mind wants to stray, too, and we have to keep bringing it back to the present moment. Awareness is where the peace is, so we keep encouraging students to go back to their breath and to focus on being right here, right now.

What emotional or spiritual benefits does hot yoga provide?

It is very common for a student to experience emotional releases during and even after class. Our bodies are very wise, and as we work the physical body, the emotional body is free to let go.

I believe the whole goal of yoga is self-realization and enlightenment. Most everyone initially comes to yoga for the physical benefits, but there’s something that happens in the hot room. Although they may not quite understand why they’re being drawn back to the room, it is because they’re being drawn back to their source and their own divinity. They get a little taste of it, and they want to experience more.

Students love yoga because it is an opportunity to get to know themselves again, to experience their own divinity.

It completely changed my life, because I really thought I would retire at my corporate job. I remember the yoga class that I looked at myself in the mirror, and I didn’t really know the person looking back at me. I was like, “Who are you?” I knew who my business card said I was and who my big office and my paycheck said I was, but on the inside, it didn’t match up. I went on that journey to figure out who I was and who I was supposed to be, and it led me here. I know I can help a lot of people find that same happiness.

What kind of philosophy do you want your staff to have, and how would you characterize yourself as an instructor?

All my teachers are heart-centered, and I only bring in teachers who practice here at HYU, because if they are here, I know they like the vibe and will be able to share the message of love and compassion for the self.

I teach from a compassionately strong place, where I am encouraging, but I want my students to give their best effort. I tell them to do their best and not their most. Their best comes from an authentic place, whereas their most comes from the ego. I also understand each student comes from a different place, and sometimes just walking through the yoga room door is their best yoga for that day.

All my teachers have that same compassion to really look at each student and really think of them as not a number, but as an individual. Everyone has a different story, and I want my teachers to tap into that.

How would you say Hot Yoga University stands out among yoga studios in the Valley?

I think we stand out because one, I offer affordable pricing. I’ve been in the industry for 14 years, and I find it very overpriced. I found it that way even years ago as a student, so when we opened up HYU, I knew I would make it affordable.

You can drop in for 10 bucks, 365 days a year. I even offer special pricing for college students because I know they struggle already, and the added stress of how to pay for the yoga that will give them peace just doesn’t make sense to me. We are all part of the whole, and if one person suffers, we all suffer. My hope is to relieve some of that stress.

It’s also a clean air studio, so there is fresh air coming in all the time, which is important, so you’re not suffocating while you’re working out.

Our classes are only 60 minutes, and hot yoga is typically 80 or 90 minutes. People are busy, so I created a sequence where they can be in and out in an hour and still receive hot yoga’s amazing mind, body and spirit benefits. It is also an energizing practice where they feel really good.

We also have four varieties of classes. Typically, a hot yoga studio will have one style, and that’s it.

We also offer 10 minutes of meditation after every class. I believe you have to go within, because there is so much external stimulation in the world. We have to find that time to go within, so every class starts and ends with a centering, and for 10 minutes after class, you can rest within your own divinity, your own presence, and just be. Yoga Nidra gives you a huge opportunity to do that.

What meditation tips do you have?

The thing with a sitting meditation is that it can be challenging, because the thinking mind takes over. We have more than 60,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot of thinking going on, but after a yoga class, especially Hot 27, where you’ve already been practicing a meditation in motion for an hour, it’s easier to drop into yourself and rest as you are. Focus on your breath and breathing in and out. Just see what comes up for you.

A lot of times, people will get insights into questions they have, and even resolve some challenges they have.

What are the biggest benefits and challenges to owning your own business?

The biggest benefit is the people who come in the door. Just being able to interact and make new friendships with so many awesome people is the hugest benefit. My students are just amazing.

The biggest challenge is that I want to give them everything I can give them so they have the best opportunity and best experience. As I learn new things, I want to give them all of that, but I find it challenging to share everything. I have to be very thoughtful about what sequences and postures I have in there, and it took a long time to figure out what kind of meditation I wanted. I am very happy with the way it is.

What are your goals?

My goal is possibly to expand, but since I’m just three years into it, I want to make sure this studio is everything it can be. It’s always evolving. We trademarked “Hot Yoga Evolved,” because that’s what it is. Hot yoga has to change, and I think this is the first example of the evolution of hot yoga, where we offer so many different choices.

I don’t really know what will happen next, I do have faith that my life is unfolding as it should, and when the universe reveals the opportunity to expand, I will go with the flow. If not, we’ll keep fine-tuning this one.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to become an instructor or open up their own studio?

I think if you have a passion to share your yoga, you definitely should act on it. We’re always driven from a place within, drawn subtly to and away from things, and when we feel the energy to do something, especially in the service of others, I say go for it.

To open a studio, it’s the same thing, but get some experience first. I was blessed with the wonderful opportunity to manage the Yoga Institute for eight years, I learned so much by listening to the students as they shared what they wanted in a yoga studio and also what they didn’t like. Even though I had no power to make those changes for them, when the time came for me to open my own studio, I knew exactly how I would do it. That education put me in a good space to open up a business. Plus, Roy has a background in finance, so he does all that stuff behind the scenes, which allows me to work with students.

Fear holds us back from so many things, from everything we really want to do. If your heart is in the right place, and your motivation is to help others, create a good plan, and the sky is the limit.

Why would you encourage people to take a class here?

My vision was to create an environment where everyone feels like they belong and that they make a difference in the world, and that every student leaves feeling better than they did when they came in. I really believe that happens in every single class, so I would encourage people to come in and give us a try and just see for themselves.

You don’t know what you don’t know. People might be turned off because it’s hot, but there’s something that happens in the heat. You will find yourself again, just like I did.

Come in with no expectations, do your best. and be yourself. See if your life changes, because it’s going to change for the better.

Learn about other Valley fitness professionals:

Learn more about BODI Gym owner Nikki Metzger here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about RPM Spin drop-saddle spin studio owner Rachel Meier here on Phoenix People.
Learn more Boot Camp Babes owner Marnie Wong here on Phoenix People.

6 thoughts on “Karin Fellman: Founder and Owner of Hot Yoga University

  1. If your heart is in the right place, and your motivation is to help others, create a good plan, and the sky is the limit.

    That is a wonderful statement.

  2. What a great profile on such a special lady. She is as kind, caring and authentic as she comes across in this article. Practicing with her and all of her instructors at HYU is truly a blessing!

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