What Does Power Yoga Say About You?

Via Anne Falkowski
on Jan 16, 2013
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Amazing Yoga Class Shots 15

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.”

CorePower YogaRecently, 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


About Anne Falkowski

Anne Falkowski has been teaching and practicing yoga for over 15 years. Currently she is obsessed with Forrest Yoga and can't possibly relax her neck enough. She writes for her blog and owns a yoga studio in Connecticut. Contact her by email


24 Responses to “What Does Power Yoga Say About You?”

  1. sarah says:

    Love me some power yoga. I need that physical challenge and only now am I realizing that I don't need it all the time. I like restorative as well and to me a great class honors both. Your yoga choice is personal and should complement what you need. Some people need to wring themselves out physically to be able to be quiet for the introspective. Some people need gentle opening. Some people are moody with their yoga and have to listen each day to what they need. It's all good no matter what you do on your mat.

  2. Anne says:

    I am totally in agreement with you.

  3. Linda says:

    At this point in my life and practice I have found a strenuous class is the best way to get out of my head. I need the challenge and focus to break the vice grip of my analytical judgmental self on my mind.

  4. devacat says:

    No question. At 60, I don't like the heat, but I teach an eclectric range, from yin to Dharma Mittra, and all levels love the mix.

  5. Cindy says:

    A great column, Anne. Yoga is for everyone, and for everyone perhaps a different type of yoga. (And I really enjoyed your power class when I visited your studio!)

  6. Kim says:

    "on the mat we return to the dirt and diamonds of our selves" Love it.

  7. lisa says:

    another great article, Anne…as i read i could so relate to it all. I began with bikram, hot core power, hot vinyasa, and now i do YOGA..sometimes power, sometimes gentle, sometimes just plain yoga. each class is what it needs to be for me that day….thanks for this great essay. ultimately yoga is what we make it… regardless of the asanas we practice.

  8. lbarna says:

    I love it … "community" … "share an audible ocean of breath" … to this, yes.

  9. anne says:

    It was great to have you. Thanks for the feedback.

  10. Janet Dodd says:

    This is so awesome to read!! It seems to me that in my geographical location, everyone is about "committing" to one style, one practice to be "real" or "valid". And no matter how I try, I cannot make one style right over another. I have experienced deep openings in Iyengar held poses, surrender in power flow classes, wild releases in Yin or Restorative moments, and healings in Bikram and Kundalini teachings. I am grateful for all of the above, but sometimes wish I had a background where i just had started out in one style, learned the language, did my YTT training there, and set up camp for a happy ever after life. No. Seems I'd rather end up a crazy quilt of unfolding….taught by a variety of amazing souls along the way…ver journeying on….sometimes feeling alone, sometimes feeling connected. Your article helps with the connected part!

  11. West Anson says:

    Why do some people seek/love Power Yoga and others do not? It is very simple….chemistry. When we workout our body immediately begins releasing the following chemicals.

    * Endorphins~giving us the “high”.

    * Estrogen~causing women to burn fat and men to burn carbs.

    * Serotonin~combines with Endorphins to reinforce the “high”.

    * HGH~Human Growth Hormone, no further elaboration needed.

    * Dopamine~same chemical released when we have a orgasm.

    When we are younger and/or more fit our bodies are able to produce those chemicals much faster and in greater abundance. Hence “Power” Yoga tends to attract what I call “adrenaline junkies”. Much like a drug addict, but in a positive way, needing their latest, more potent “fix”.

    Eventually, we age and our bodies stop producing those chemicals in such abundance and the appeal of that activity dissipates. Not always the case for some, including myself as I am 42 and teach/practice “Power” Yoga. People will naturally gravitate towards the activity the body instinctively desires.

    What I always tell people is “enjoy it”. Listen to what your MBS~Mind, Body, & Spirit is telling you. Eventually your MBS will tell you to do something else, so until then have fun…..but not too much fun. Namaste my fellow Yogi.

  12. livingfrombalance says:

    I too love power yoga. I normally HATE the heat. But there is something about a power yoga class that makes me feel oh so good afterwards. It makes it worth the crowd, the sweat, the humidity. I leave a different happier person than I went in. I Love this article and think everything you said is spot on!!

  13. Anne says:

    Love the idea of a "crazy quilt of unfolding.,,,"

  14. Anne says:

    One of my teachers Yoganand says that we are all a product of our hormones. They directly effect how we experience our lives in any given moment.

  15. OleManJake says:

    Power Yoga is where it's at for me. Though, I admit I dabble in Yin Yoga. It's all good stuff in my book! Great article by the way.

  16. MatBoy says:

    I prefer to look at yoga as an opportunity to put together a personal practice, one that I do by myself, everyday. I do it on my own using parts of the tools I have learned from various forms of asana practice and meditation. If I am not honest about my practice and why I do it, it just does not lead to the things I seek. Personal practice and personal mastery: and only I know if it is working for me. I have gone through phases where I wanted/needed a stronger physical practice. At other times I needed to be more reflective and meditative. Power yoga also fit into a faster pace lifestyle. Now I take my time and constantly check-in to see f I am in tune with what is happening inside of me; the external form becomes less important. It's 'whatever works'. My practice, and my life, are mine.

  17. Anne says:

    MatBoy-I love the line-My practice and my life are mine. I totally agree. I also do a personal practice alone and it will vary what happens in this practice from strong to meditative. I think both are equally important. I agree with you that the external form is less important. My reason for writing this piece is that I have heard many people disqualify the vigorous practice as being less somehow. But you are so right-all forms are a place for personal mastery.

  18. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Please admit to me that power yoga actually does not relax you, rather than answering the leading question (usually posed by a power yoga teacher) … "Don't you feel relaxed now?" after class.

    Please admit this. Anyone. Have I been the only one to admit that I felt angry after nearly every power yoga class. And depleted.

    Well, it turns out that I am now too ill to consider returning to a power yoga class any time soon. When even my mat pilates class sometimes gives me uncontrollable upper leg cramps.

  19. lisa says:

    i can't say i've ever been angry after a yoga class..be it yin/gentle/restorative or at the other end of the spectrum, hot yoga, power, ashtanga, hot vinyasa, etc. i know for me, at age 47, though, my needs have changed from when i was 30 and first beginning yoga. my first class ever was super gentle and i was so bored i fell asleep and didn't come back to a class for 5 yrs. today, i would LOVE a class like that. and i used to do bikram and hot yoga classes 1-2 times nearly EVERY day…now, 10 yrs later, i never get into the high temps like i did…my body does not want nor need it. i take a variety of classes, including power classes, and feel much better as a result. there is no one type of yoga…or diet..or exercise..or lifestyle that is suitable for all. my needs change…a 30 min brisk walk has taken over my 2 hr runs, a diet of traditional foods has taken over my raw vegan diet, and my yoga classes are no longer all about sweating and getting a cardio/strength workout. listening to my body is key for me.

  20. Vision_Quest2 says:

    I have an answer for you from someone far younger than I am, as to why anyone in their right mind gets angry from doing power yoga …

    Okay, she's not American.
    But, on the other hand at 58 and newly diagnosed type 2 diabetic with orthopedic problems, I wonder if I ever was the target demographic for any kind of yoga (with the exception of the newly created–and retrofitted to the actual market– restorative yoga) since my counterpart who existed in 1979 …

    Incidentally, I am glad Dharma Mittra is considered power yoga on your list … I'd stumbled in to dozens of Dharma Style classes and wondered what all my anger was about (as did my teacher(s)) … that was the best thing that happened to me, I soon later discovered old school-influenced hatha which has influenced my home practice (home practice supplants or very heavily supplements classes for me and not the other way around) and made it come alive for me for the very first time

  21. […] body hurt so much. I felt unusually tight and weak, so instead of taking the more challenging, slightly heated power vinyasa classes at the studio, I initially stepped into the shorter, cooler classes when I returned; and at home, I […]

  22. @lisapapp says:

    Power yoga is an exercise class…not yoga as it was originally intended. Yoga is a philosophy, a spiritual practice, and a discipline of the mind.

  23. This is a great post. Thanks so much for sharing, like always. http://youtu.be/ihnPPo6gqWo