January 16, 2013

What Does Power Yoga Say About You?

I’m talking the dirty P word or Power Yoga—for lack of a better name.

The term “power” doesn’t do it justice, but I mean the type of yoga that is physically demanding and is often front-loaded with heavy doses of up dog, down dog, and lowering from plank. It is sometimes fast, often done in a heated room, and always sweat producing. A well-rounded power practice should include breath, movement, stillness, longer holdings of poses, and even breath retention and locks.

A safe and intelligent power class will make room for injuries with modifications, energy depletion with child-poses, and self-investigation with infinite options. This is the kind of practice where you meet your physical edge and get to make moment-to-moment decisions whether to hang on or let go. This is a practice where there’s no right or wrong. It’s all inquiry.

There are many different types: Ashtanga, Dharma Mittra, Baptiste, Forrest, Vinyasa, Jivamukti… No matter what particular power style you unroll your mat for, they sometimes get an unfair reputation.

Some say power yoga is dangerous and a playground for injuries and the yogis who gravitate to it are all Type A and don’t understand the subtleties of yoga. The folks who take power need to stroke their ego or they can’t handle slowing down.

“Really, isn’t a power yoga class all about being seen?” says the naysayer.  “These people aren’t doing real yoga.”

Recently, myself and a friend, went to a power yoga class in a nearby trendy, sexy, glossy, and crazy-busy yoga studio. Most yogis were clad in expensive yoga clothing, except for one shirtless guy covered with tattoos, and the teacher who stood in front of the room with the words Old Navy spread across white cotton. Over 90 yogis packed the heated room. I know because I counted them during a long holding of Warrior Two. I hadn’t yet settled into my practice. Don’t judge.

Eventually I settled in. The teacher in the Old Navy tee-shirt told us to fan our hands open in downward dog and gently shake our necks side to side.  She told us to breathe and let this be the doorway to letting go of an over-productive mind. “No thoughts are neutral, “ she said while weaving her body in between the sea of mats as she walked around the room.

At some point,  I forgot where I was, in a voguish yoga room with 90 other people, and was able to take my attention inside and greet myself with kindness and clarity.

When the class was over, with a slight chill from my wet sports bra, I felt the familiar yoga afterglow, as if I was rearranged in a slightly different but spacious and more forgiving way.

The friend I came with hated the class. She had her reasons. But it got me thinking… Why is it some of us love power yoga and what does it say about us as practitioners?

Here is what I came up with:

1. We like the scene. Or, at the very least, we are not thrown off by lots of sweaty people close together. Sometimes our mats are only one palm distance away. It’s community. Some without shirts and some without showers. Before the class begins, some fidget, gossip, meditate, and, once in a while, a beautiful face will smile our way.

2. We need to get physical to soften our bodies and minds. The way to tame the three-eyed bitchy monster is through a boat load of sweat and sensation. It’s then we can drop-in, breathe and let go.

3. We like being told what to do. Well, at least for one hour during the day. As the teacher calls out downward dog and instructs us to press down through our hands and heels, we are no longer responsible for what happens next. We stop being in charge. This gives us permission to let go and ride out the journey.

4. We respect the power of breath. It is an honor to stand in a room with others and share in the audible ocean of breath.  It reminds us that we are all in this together.  It brings us focus and clarity.

5. We value continuous challenge in our bodies and to be as strong and connected as we can in the moment. We learn about ourselves, not only our strengths, but also our vulnerabilities. We accept both. We seek to empower ourselves from within.

6. Heat is merciful. The sequencing of strong poses, warmth of the room and sweat all serve to open up our resistant areas in a safe manner.

7. Backbends, twists, hip and shoulder openers are easier and less prone to strain when the body is warm.

8. Power yoga is our elixir. It raises our energy and makes us feel alive.

Power yoga rocks. Let the doubters have their say. All I know, is that on the mat, we return to the dirt and diamonds of ourselves.  To get there, some of us require a vigorous connection to our physicality. For some yogi brothers and sisters, it is the gentle doorway that leads them there. Either way, we are all practicing yoga. We are all doing the real thing.


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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