Power yoga is an Americanized form of ashtanga yoga, also known as astanga, vinyasa, or classical yoga. Power yoga is designed to build strength, flexibility, and endurance through a fast-paced, physically demanding series of postures.
Power yoga is pursued by experienced yoga practitioners who want a more strenuous workout and by athletes who want to balance their specialized training. Intensive training for a particular sport tends to cause tight muscles and uneven muscular development. Athletic training, even when it includes cross-training, can cause muscular and structural imbalances that may result in repeated injury. For example, although running develops strong leg muscles and increases cardiorespiratory capacity, it also disproportionately tightens and shortens the muscles of the backs of the legs, without working the other muscles of the body. Power yoga strengthens, loosens, and balances all of the muscles of the body. It can help to realign the muscles and restore range of motion to tight muscles. Thus, power yoga can help athletes avoid injury, while simultaneously building strength and endurance. Power yoga also emphasizes concentration, focus, and full attentiveness—attributes that are of particular importance to competitive athletes. Power yoga also incorporates practices that are designed to address specific types of sports injuries, as well as general pain that can result from overtraining.
Beryl Bender Birch, an originator of power yoga, formulated eight “axioms” to explain its purpose. To paraphrase:
Yoga's popularity has grown steadily in the United States and other Western countries since the 1960s. A 2008 survey sponsored by Yoga Journal found that 6.9% of American adults—15.8 million people—practiced yoga. Although the vast majority of yoga enthusiasts practice styles of hatha yoga other than power yoga, some components of power yoga, such as sun salutations for warming up, have been widely adopted by mainstream hatha yoga teachers and students. Power yoga has become increasingly popular among advanced hatha yoga students and teachers. Competitive athletes who incorporate power yoga into their workouts include swimmers, runners, climbers, cyclists, dancers, skiers, and amateur and professional golfers, tennis players, and baseball, football, and basketball players.
Ashtanga yoga is based on an ancient Sanskrit text by Vamana Rishi called the Yoga Korunta. The text was passed down to Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009) by his yoga guru Sri T. Krishnamacharya. Pattabhi Jois first began instructing Westerners in ashtanga yoga at his school in Mysore, India, in the 1970s. Two of those early students, Norman Allen and David Williams, passed the system on to their students, Beryl Bender Birch and Bryan Kest, respectively. Birch and Kest independently coined the term “power yoga,” to make the practice more appealing to Western athletes and others interested in challenging workouts. Birch began adapting power yoga to the cross-training requirements of skiers, long-distance runners, and other traditional athletes. Birch's husband Thom Birch, a world-class runner who used power yoga successfully as physical therapy for injuries, helped popularize the workout. Over the past two decades, power yoga has come to refer to almost any strenuous yoga routine and aspects have been incorporated into gentler forms of hatha yoga.
The three intrinsic principles of ashtanga yoga are vinyasa, tristhana, and internal purification. Vinyasa is the flowing movement from one posture to the next and the accompanying breath. In traditional ashtanga yoga, each asana is assigned a specific number of vinyasas. Vinyasas are said to heat the blood for internal cleansing and better circulation, eliminating toxins, disease, and pain from the internal organs. Sweating during practice then removes these impurities from the body and is therefore an important component of power yoga. Tristhana refers to the three foci of one's attention—posture, breathing, and the point of one's gaze or drishti. The postures purify, strengthen, and provide flexibility. Breathing is even, through the nose with the mouth always closed, and with the length of the inhale matching that of the exhale. Gazing at one of the nine drishtis—such as the nose, hands, thumb, navel, or feet—stabilizes the mind. Internal purification is the removal of negative emotions—the six poisons of desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy, and laziness.
Power yoga emphasizes asanas—the third limb of the ashtanga path—with emphasis on strength, flow, and focus. Pranayama or breath control, the fourth limb, is essential for generating heat and energy. The fifth, sixth, and seventh limbs—withdrawal from outside distractions, concentration and focus, and meditation—are also important components of power yoga.
Power yoga workouts begin with warm-ups called sun salutations, sometimes preceded by breathing exercises or simple postures. Sun salutations heat and loosen up the body, beginning with the spine, and simultaneously and sequentially contract and stretch opposing muscles. Sun salutations can constitute a complete workout on their own. There are two traditional series of sun salutations in ashtanga and power yoga. In general, three to five sun salutations are performed from each series. These can be modified to accommodate muscle tightness or injury. Sun salutations are usually the first asanas to be learned, along with simple finishing poses.
Surya namaskara A has nine vinyasas or positions:
Surya namaskara B has 17 positions. It is similar to the A series, with the addition of warrior poses.
The postures of the primary power yoga series are learned one at a time, beginning with the primary standing postures. Standing postures include triangle and warrior poses, side stretches, and balancing poses for generating power and balance. Seated poses for strength and surrender include forward-bending, half-lotuses, spinal twisting, bridge poses, back-bending, and other hip-opening poses. Once the primary series has been mastered, the intermediate and then the advanced series are undertaken.
A power yoga closing sequence includes shoulder stands, legs-up-the-wall, the plow, fish, and embryo postures, headstands, and lotus poses. Power yoga practice always concludes with relaxation in the corpse pose or savasana.
Power yoga is learned gradually, over a period of time. Typical recommendations call for practicing in the morning or late afternoon, for at least 15–20 minutes, at least four or five days per week. Power yoga should be practiced on an empty stomach— usually at least three or four hours after eating. Practitioners should be clean and well-hydrated. The practice area should be free of distractions. Power yoga does not usually require any props or equipment, other than a nonstick yoga mat. Although books and DVDs are available, power yoga is best learned in a class that is appropriate for one's experience and ability level, with a qualified teacher. Classes that cater to beginners usually modify both the pace and the postures.
Beginners often find power yoga very difficult. This is especially true for athletes who are physically fit for their sport, but are very tight and out of balance. People sometimes have difficulty staying with power yoga long enough to experience its benefits. Power yoga can cause injuries, including torn muscles, tendons, and ligaments. For these reasons, it is very important to choose a power yoga teacher who encourages beginners, uses modifications and workarounds for difficult asanas, and strives to prevent injury.
Women should not perform inverted postures while menstruating and power yoga may not be appropriate for inexperienced women during pregnancy. Some postures, such as the upward-facing dog and back bends, should be modified or eliminated after the third or fourth month of pregnancy.
People who learn power yoga and continue their practice on a regular basis often find it to be very beneficial. It can increase strength, range of motion, flexibility, and concentration. It can improve cardiovascular health and reduce tightness, tension, and stress. Power yoga can improve athletic performance, help prevent injury, and aid in rehabilitation from injury. Some athletes have found that by increasing their range of motion and reducing their fear of injury, power yoga enables them to train harder and longer.
See also Vinyasa yoga .
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The Hard & the Soft Yoga Institute, PO Box 119, Great Barrington, MA, 01230, (413) 269-6818, email@example.com, http://www.power-yoga.com .
Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, #235 8th Cross, 3rd Stage, Gokulam, Mysore, 570002, India, +91 988 0185-500, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://kpjayi.org .
Yoga Alliance, 1560 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 700, Arlington, VA, 22209, (888) 921-9642, email@example.com, http://www.yogaalliance.org .
Margaret Alic, PhD