Yoga is a holistic experience, offering an all-important mind-body-spirit connection, and it’s this non-competitive edge that makes it unique to other forms of sport and exercise. But if you’re looking to scale-up your practice then Power Yoga could well be for you as the intense, Vinyasa-styled fast-paced flows in a high-impact, energy-boosting, calorie-busting workout will take your practice to a whole new level.
What is Power Yoga
Power Yoga is largely attributed to three key people: Birch, Kest and Baptiste and was born in the New York Ashtanga studios in the late eighties. Beryl Bender Birch, alongside California-based Bryan Kest, wanted to make Yoga more accessible and attainable for sporty and athletic types who they had observed were less able to enjoy or make progress within a classical Ashtanga class.
Since the Ashtanga style follows a series of successive poses that require great flexibility Birch and Kest decided to adapt their sessions more specifically to appeal to athletes and runners who struggled with the advanced series due to tight or shortened muscles.
Birch, the author of Power Yoga, The Total Strength and Flexibility Workout, says: “You have to teach people where they are at… If you start with fitness… it gets people in the door”. According to Bryan Kest, Power Yoga helps to create the highest level of energy, vitality and freedom, but in adapting and making Yoga more of a rigorous and “attainment-oriented” class that potentially pushes people to the max, many yoga “purists” argue that Power Yoga dilutes, or has even lost, it’s spiritual roots.
Power Yoga teachers and enthusiasts would disagree. Yes ok it’s more dynamic than a traditional Hatha Yoga class, but classes can still very much retain the integrity and fundamental philosophy of a slower, more meditative style. In recent years Power Yoga has been hugely popularised by Baron Baptiste, the author of Journey into Power whose classes focus on discovering your true purpose within a robust workout, taking into account Asana for vitality and freedom, Meditation (Dhyana) - for awakening and presence, and Self Enquiry (Niyama) - for the discovery of our true potential.
Three central components form the basis of Power Yoga:
What to expect from a Power Yoga class
Yoga overall is one of the most beneficial forms of exercise to practice and each and every practice and class will offer something unique, whether on the mental and emotional level (calming the mind and reducing stress levels), or on a more dynamic and physical level.
Power Yoga works on building strength, stamina, co-ordination, fitness, flexibility and mental focus so you can anticipate:
- A high impact class, in which you’ll build up a sweat;
- A great fitness and physical training session; and
- A variation in content, sessions are rarely the same
As in all cases, classes will vary depending on the teacher’s training, experience and background. In a Baptiste Power Yoga class, for example, there is a systematic approach involving 53 asanas weaving together via the five classical pillars of Drishti (gaze), Ujjayi (breath), Bandhas (foundation), Tapas (heat) and Vinyasa (flow).
Other Power Yoga teachers will vary the sequencing without necessarily sticking to any particular format from one class to the next. One thing you can almost certainly guarantee from a Power Yoga class is a vigorous fitness-based, sweat-inducing Vinyasa-inspired workout that cultivates the Ujjayi Breath alongside foundational poses such as Downward Facing Dog, Chaturanga, Upward-facing Dog and Plank.
Some teachers will offer a super high-impact, powerful class which will make you sweat and work out. Others will focus more on the dynamic principles of Power Yoga but in a less rigorous way. As this is a flow-orientated class it’s unlikely that you will be holding the poses, perhaps only for a few breath cycles, and you will sweat - a little or a lot – depending on the teacher and the class. You’ll also quite often be practising to motivating yoga-beats inspired music.
Effects and benefits of a Power Yoga class
Power Yoga is not for the faint-hearted, think of it as a modified Ashtanga Yoga class with more flow, but minus the “series”. As a more energetic style Power Yoga is best matched to someone who is sporty, athletic, keen to work up a sweat, and is passionate about improving and maintaining fitness – as well as increasing and maintaining flexibility.
Power Yoga requires good fitness and stamina and would be less enjoyable for those who favour a meditative, mindful practice involving asana, chanting, pranayama and meditation. This yoga is for energy and vitality and is regularly promoted as the Yoga for Weight Loss. As a general rule it is not recommended during pregnancy.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of Power Yoga is that it provides a fantastic overall workout. So if you already enjoy practising the asanas and would like to speed them up, Power Yoga is perfect for you, and there is much to be gained from doing this type of class.
Some of the top benefits include:
- building strength and stamina;
- creating leaner muscles;
- burning calories and increased metabolism = weight loss;
- feeling a great sense of achievement after class, which encourages a positive outlook;
- increasing mental focus and concentration;
- improving stability; the flow of poses in vinyasa flow require balance and with this regular practice your sense of balance will improve;
- stress busting; how can you think about anything other than keeping up with the flow and pace of the class?!
- improving postural alignment as you flow through the sequences, you increase a sense of centre, alignment and co-ordination;
- detox – with the sweating comes the release of toxins which cleanses the entire system and creates a healthier body with less cravings for unhealthy foods, and a desire for healthy replacements;
- increasing cardio function – yes, have I said this before - it’s a dynamic workout!
- with regular practice your ability to manage stress in life will dramatically improve as your focus and sense of inner power becomes stronger;
- increasing energy levels through the concentrated flow of Prana, breath and oxygen.
Although some “Yoga Purists” are still dismissive of this yoga form, believing it has lost the essence and ethos of Yoga, and is simply a “gym workout”, it’s important to remember that the parameters and definitions of Yoga have changed since becoming a mainstream, multi-billion dollar industry.
There is most definitely a yoga style for everybody’s taste, level and preferences, and in the practice of self-enquiry and discernment, Vichara, have fun trying out the many different styles of Yoga until you find the form which suits you most, and if you have more of a penchant for fast-paced or high-impact exercise then Power Yoga is a great style to choose.