If you would have told me a few years ago that my “workout” today would almost exclusively consist of a thing called “power yoga” I most certainly would have laughed at you, while thinking—“yeah, right.” Prior to joining my local hot yoga studio almost two years ago, I was completely ignorant of yoga in general, much less something known as “power yoga.” Since I didn’t know, my guess is that others might be confused about this thing called “power yoga” as well… so let’s shed some light on the subject of this beautiful workout.
Anyone can practice. Young man can practice. Old man can practice. Very old man can practice. Man who is sick, he can practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice. Except lazy people; lazy people can’t practice Ashtanga yoga.
–K. Pattabhi Jois
Power yoga first became popular in the 90’s in the United States. This form of yoga descends from Ashtanga Yoga, of which Pattabhi Jois is considered the father, and focuses on flowing through various standing and floor postures while linking breath to movement. A traditional Ashtanga practice follows the same set sequence of poses, while power yoga is more fluid and the poses can flow in a variety of sequences. Both Ashtanga and power yoga are considered forms of Vinyasa yoga, which focuses on this linking of movement to breath.
I must confess, when I first began practicing yoga I thought very little about the importance of inhaling or exhaling with specific poses. I soon learned that this “breath” made all the difference. Breathing through these postures, with specific inhales and exhales, allows deeper expressions of the poses and a calming focus of the mind. Let’s break this down for a moment—when you exercise and exert yourself, your breath is coming from your autonomic nervous system; it’s involuntary and you aren’t necessarily controlling your panting breaths. Your mind is thinking 1,000 different thoughts and often races from one thought to the next—”when will this exercise end?,” “My muscles are so tight, I can’t take one more step,” the list goes on and on. In yoga however, the breath or prana, is considered the “life force” and helps to focus and calm the mind though intentional breaths that take our thoughts away from “I can’t hold this pose one more second,” to a focused breath that allows a deeper expression of the pose. This can result in stretching a bit deeper, reaching a bit higher, or twisting a bit further.
I also must tell you, a couple of years ago I never considered any form of yoga to be a “good workout.” Goodness, how wrong I was! Power yoga is just that—powerful—and it moves quickly. Power yoga is by far one of the most intense cardio workouts I’ve ever experienced. There is something to be said for shifting your body weight from standing to down dog, and everything in between. Because power yoga incorporates vinyasas, or specific sequences of poses that flow from one to the next, every muscle group is sure to receive a great workout. Typically, a portion of a power yoga class will flow at a rate of 1-2 breaths per pose. There are many modifications for the poses and props to be used, which makes it a great workout for all levels. Trust me, no one is going to be looking to see how deeply your knee is bent in Warrior 1, or if you have that Half Moon pose perfectly mastered yet… in the words of my yoga teacher, “don’t do it because it looks good, do it because it feels good.”
Power yoga is a great way to increase flexibility (what we all think of when we hear the word “yoga”), as well as to improve posture and balance through a slower-paced series of standing postures. These poses are great for working on coordination and muscle strength. Power yoga can be practiced in a heated room, or it can be kept cooler. One of my favorite aspects of hot power yoga is the rinsed out, energized feeling this heated practice provides. Talk about a detox of all those nasty toxins we carry around in our bodies each day! I usually leave a power yoga class feeling relaxed and calm, but also like I can conquer my entire to-do list before bed. Ha! Whether or not I actually conquer that list is another story…
Power yoga is a powerful tool for stress and anxiety management, and the mental benefits of this practice are just as great as the physical. For me, the mental benefits of yoga have actually outweighed the physical benefits. While yes, I’ve gained strength, muscle tone, and endurance from power yoga, the greatest gift from this practice has been the ability to better manage my OCD. And for me, this is huge. Stay tuned for an entire future post dedicated to the powerful mental and emotional benefits of yoga!
Live well, by design.