What is Power Yoga? And why should you care?

Power yoga (a.k.a “Power Vinyasa Yoga”, a.k.a. “Power Flow”, a.k.a. “hot Power Yoga”, a.k.a “Baptiste Power Yoga”)

Power Yoga, the most popular style of yoga practiced in the United States, can be difficult to define and has more names than someone running from the law.

When I think of a Power Yoga practice, I think of an amped up class (think loud music), done in a hot environment (90 degrees F+, but not Bikram hot), characterized by lots of movement (or “flow”).

I have a lot of experience with Power Yoga.  After completing my first 200- hour training with the founders of CorePower Yoga in Denver—now the largest power yoga teacher trainer in the United States—I taught power yoga for several years.

A power class has a heavy emphasis on standing postures because using your legs a lot gets your heart rate up—a key component of Power Yoga, cardio.  Beryl Bender Birch, who coined the term (along with Bryan Kest), told About.com’s Ann Pizer:

Power Yoga was simply a name, the name I came up with in the late 80’s to let people know that this ashtanga yoga practice – unlike most of the yoga taught in the 70’s – was a serious workout…

Ah ha.  So Power Yoga is another name for Ashtanga Yoga?

Hmm, sort of but not really.  In Ashtanga you do the same groups of postures each time you practice.  They are broken down into six series and you must complete one series fully before going on to the next.  Power Yoga varies from class to class.

The important phrase that Beryl picked up on is “workout”.  The creators of Power Yoga wanted to make the practice more accessible to everyone,  (Ashtanga is tough stuff,) yet make it more athletic, sweaty and hot—who doesn’t want that?  They removed yoga philosophy from the practice and made it primarily physical.  Gone was the Sanskrit, Aums, and meditation—in was the “feel the burn” mentality.  Uh oh.

Besides Beryl, Bryan Kest and Baron Baptiste (who calls his practice “Baptiste Power Yoga”) are credited with founding and popularizing Power Yoga.  When you listen to them talk about the practice and read what they have written it is obvious all of them understand the philosophy of yoga on an intimate level.

Power Yoga is directed at creating the highest level of energy, vitality and freedom. The only way to do this is to work with yourself, not against yourself. By working hard sensitively, we create an environment that’s healing and that honors each individual, an environment that respects our boundaries and works within him or her. In this way, we create an atmosphere conducive to natural expansion and growth. We’re not interested in pushing past our edge to get to a place where we’ve been brainwashed into thinking we need to be in order to have happiness!

Bryan Kest

Yoga is ultimately a journey into truth: truth about who you are, what you are capable of, how your actions affect your life.  Truth is the only medicine that ever “cures” us; it is the only means by which we can live at our full, incredible potential.  Baron Baptiste

 I’ve Got the Power!

If all of the founders of Power Yoga understand that yoga is intuitive and focused on revealing the truth [spoiler alert:  The Truth is You are Incredible Exactly as you are right NOW] then how did Power Yoga get so Type A—frenetic, aggressive, over-the-top.  Ohhh, should have been two spoilers alerts.  Yes Power Yoga can be EXTREME.  As Baron says, “You can use power for good or for evil.”  (Or was it “With great power comes great responsibility”—I always get those confused.)

Factors for the Frenzy

Who is attracted to Power Yoga?

In my experience, competitive, athletic individuals are drawn to this practice—bringing their tools of competition with them.  Only, yoga is not competitive.  I have taught classes where we were in the closing sequence of the class—usually a quieter moment and there were people doing push-ups.  (Someone grunting next to you can be unnerving in Savasana.)

Who is teaching Power Yoga?

Beryl, Bryan and Baron all had a significant background in various styles of yoga.  They’ve studied, reflected and learned about the practice over a long period of time before ever arriving at the place where they taught Power Yoga.  Contrast that to a lot of Power Yoga teachers whose only experience is Power Yoga.  It’s the challenge that comes from being a copy of a copy—something gets a little distorted each time.  How to address this?  Choosing a teacher who has heard of, or even read the Bhagavad Gita can help.

What intention are you practicing with?

When we start to pay attention the physical practice becomes yoga.  When we stop paying attention the yoga stops.  I like to move it move it with the best of them, but I am always trying to focus on the breath and the experience.  Gregor Maehle adds, “One of the greatest traps in physical yoga is to get identified with postures and preoccupied with the body.”  “To perceive awareness that witnesses [being in the posture]—that is yoga.”

It’s a workout—right?

It’s ok to come to the practice because you want to have a fantastic looking butt.  Start there.  And while you’re at it, maybe tune in to what you hear inside of you.  It might just surprise you.   And btw, yoga is freakin’ hard when you do the postures properly.  I’ve seen grown men sweat buckets in Tadasana when they are fully engaged and active in it.

More is Better

Deeper, harder, faster—words helpful in describing drilling a well for water—not so much in describing the physical practice or how it should be done.  Being ambitious is something to be avoided in the practice of yoga.   Always doing more can lead to injuries.  So relax, take some rest and think about bringing balance to your time on the mat.

I fully believe yoga has and was always meant to evolve.  Power Yoga has introduced millions of people to this practice that can affect their lives in a positive manner—and that’s amazing.

Personally, though I started out as a Power Yoga Teacher, today I teach Vinyasa Flow Yoga.  (Rooted in Bhakti!)  Just like yoga, I evolve as a teacher as I gain greater clarity and understanding about my journey in this world.  “What is Vinyasa Yoga?”  Great question and the topic of my next post (hint, it’s as challenging as any practice you’ve ever done—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually).  I’d love to hear about your experiences with Power Yoga.

Kate Saal Sacramento Yoga Teacher

Sacramento Yoga Teacher Kate Saal teaches Vinyasa Yoga classes daily in East Sacramento at One Flow Yoga Studio.  She’s challenging, fun, inspirational and loves to move.  You can find her on Google+.





Check out these relevant posts

Kate Saal

Kate Saal, yoga teacher and educator founded One Flow Yoga® in 2010. She teaches students how to build a modern yoga practice rooted in tradition. Known as a practical, inspiring guide, she shares how to live in a meaningful and fulfilling way.