Millions of people around the world turn to yoga for its health benefits and potential for spiritual growth. Practicing yoga has become synonymous with personal development and for many it’s the key to physical and mental well-being.
In the United States, one of the most popular forms of yoga is called power yoga. Power Yoga was developed to cater to the needs of athletes who could benefit immensely from yoga exercises that are physically intense.
Power yoga requires practitioners to perform a flow of successive movements and is very demanding on the body, but ultimately results in much more strength and flexibility. Below we cover everything you need to know about power yoga including who founded/created this style, benefits, who shouldn’t do power yoga, and more.
Let’s jump into it…
What Is Power Yoga & How Did It Start?
Power yoga is a type of yoga based on the Ashtanga method; a yoga style introduced to the world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
Claiming to have learned the secrets of Ashtanga from his teacher, Jois sought to create a yoga regimen designed to purify people’s bodies through vigorous movements (vinyasas) and poses (asanas). The end-goals of Ashtanga is a calming of the mind and an increase in bodily control.
Two of Jois’ students, Beryl Birch and Bryan Kest, ended up running their own studios in New York and Los Angeles, respectively. Having come up with the concept around the same time, they are both considered to be the founders of the power yoga movement.
While yoga had already obtained a decent amount of popularity by the late 1980s, its reputation as being athletically-based was far from cemented.
While working as an instructor at her studio, Birch had noticed her more athletic students were seriously lacking in flexibility. Because of this, she used much of what she learned through her training to produce a new kind of yoga.
Although Ashtanga can be quite intense, its primary focus is on stretching and movement. Birch’s new method focused much more on the physical exercise component of yoga, comparing it to a workout rather than as a step on a spiritual journey.
The development of power yoga under Bryan Kest was slightly different. Kest wanted yoga to be as approachable as possible for everyone and sought to find a way to make it universally appealing. He believed the best way to accomplish this was to focus on physical fitness, which is an interest shared by many people.
Despite Birch and Kest being the pioneers of power yoga, its dramatic increase in popularity can be attributed to Baron Baptiste. Developing what he called Baptiste Power Vinyasa yoga, Baptiste was able to market the concept of power yoga as a highly competitive and athletically-centered practice.
The idea of power yoga went through many different phases of development and nowadays power yoga is a highly generalized term that can mean any number of things. That being said, there are certain commonalities that link all the various power yoga systems.
Power yoga is fixated on the physical benefits of yoga and skips discussions of meditation, spirituality, and body purification. Instead, power yoga sessions are highly flexible in structure and usually have the following characteristics:
- Very physically demanding
- Maximizes flexibility
- Focuses on building stamina
- Has a reduced number of poses when compared to other yoga practices
- Poses are held longer to build endurance
- Each power yoga session usually has a unique set of exercises
- Often done in a hot environment
- Sessions are generally accompanied by intense music
- Sometimes equipment like resistance bands or weights are used
What Are the Benefits of Power Yoga?
As the level of physical exertion from power yoga is very high, practitioners receive both the benefits of a serious workout and the invigorating effects of yoga techniques.
Qualifying as a full-body workout, power yoga is a great way to build muscle in core areas as well as in often neglected parts of the body.
Some poses can require a tremendous amount of body weight being placed on specific muscles, putting many power yoga routines on par with traditional workout exercises.
As power yoga puts many parts of the body into action which are usually sedentary, overall bodily functioning begins to improve as well. This includes a rebalancing of hormones and the lowering of blood pressure, with the expulsion of toxins being an additional benefit.
For those looking to improve their posture or lose weight, power yoga also provides ample opportunity to do both. The intensity of workouts and the associated muscle-building trims fat quickly while working out the muscles responsible for keeping you upright.
The benefits of power yoga also extend beyond the physical and can greatly improve mental health. Power yoga has the potential to improve sleep quality due to its intensity.
Stress relief is also significant, which not only improves general wellness, but can limit the negative effects of certain mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. In some cases, the benefits of yoga have even proven to rival the effects of psychotherapy.
Power yoga’s demanding nature also means that the mind becomes more focused and disciplined. Having to constantly move in exacting positions that are difficult and stressful hones your ability to engage in complex tasks under pressure.
Is Power Yoga Good for Everyone?
While the benefits of power yoga can be substantial for many people, the practice isn’t for everyone. As a discipline, power yoga is geared towards those looking to push their bodies to the limit and does have the potential to cause injury or other complications if not done correctly.
It’s not something for people looking to have slow, relaxing yoga sessions.
Those who are pregnant are highly advised to avoid doing power yoga. Certain positions can cause complications during pregnancy and might result in significant harm. As an alternative, there are many different types of yoga, such as prenatal yoga, which are designed to provide all the benefits of yoga without pregnancy-related risks.
There are also some conditions which could make power yoga potentially hazardous. Those with heart problems, diabetes, or carpal tunnel syndrome should probably give power yoga a pass as it can result in serious issues.
Similarly, people who recently underwent surgery or have physical injuries like pulled hamstrings should refrain from engaging in power yoga.
What Is the Difference Between Traditional and Power Yoga?
Traditional yoga finds its roots in ancient India as a major part of Hindu religious philosophy. The idea behind traditional yoga is that through physical and mental acuity, people can become more in tune with the universe and that barriers which cloud their minds will be lifted, ultimately providing a sense of enlightenment.
Traditional yoga goes beyond just physical movement. It’s primarily a mental and spiritual exercise designed to elevate practitioners to a higher feeling of existence. There are numerous schools of thought within traditional forms of yoga that dictate which poses are practiced and in what order.
Power yoga contrasts with traditional yoga quite a bit.
While both have the intention of maximizing personal growth and minimizing ailments, power yoga is focused on physical concerns.
Paying attention to breathing isn’t really part of power yoga practice and there’s no real standardization, so power yoga can vary considerably from place to place.
The primary purpose of power yoga is to enhance physicality and to provide athletically-inclined people a challenge. Spiritual enlightenment is also not an intended goal of power yoga, although it may still be a result.
How Do You Do Power Yoga?
Power yoga has no central set of rules, which makes it very diverse. However, there are common poses and exercises which can be found within most, if not all, power yoga styles.
Typically, power yoga begins with warmup exercises to prepare you for more rigorous activity down the line. Child’s pose and downward-facing dog are the most common warmups and are done to create a sense of grounding and to stretch out major muscle groups. Sometimes exercises are incorporated to enhance the flexibility of your spine.
For the main part of the workout, different poses are used to build core muscles. This usually involves a series of high planks, tricep push-ups, squats, lunges, body twists, crunches, and leg lifts. Sometimes people use weights in addition to normal exercises to maximize their workout potential.
As power yoga puts a lot of strain on the body, sessions are ended by a transition to a non-workout state. This almost always involves the use of the Savasana, better known as a corpse pose, in which the body is kept relaxed for several minutes and everything begins to calm down. Sometimes this is accompanied by other poses, such as reclined spinal twists, although it’s pretty normal for those to be excluded.
Power yoga is a great option for those seeking to physically and mentally push themselves. Having its roots in ancient practices created to improve self-awareness, power yoga has evolved into a very non-rigid, creative way to pursue a sense of fulfillment. While power yoga might not be for everyone, it can be a very invigorating experience that helps you build strength and flexibility.