Power yoga is not at all what many in the west believe it to be, as it has strong roots in Vedantic, India. The physical aspect of yoga was never meant to stand alone, but to act as a support for sages who sat in meditation for hours and hours at a time, over long periods of time, eventually causing the seated posture to become one of great discomfort. Physical yoga, or power yoga was born as a way to strengthen the physical vessel, that it might more strongly support the spiritual aspirations of a yoga practitioner. Further, the sages (of Jnana yoga) that wrote important books like the Upanishads and the Mahabhrata also required a set of exercises that would relieve them of a seated, stooped posture that resulted from writing over long periods of time; thus physical yoga poses was born.
Power Yoga: Ancient Temples and Warrior III
Temples dating back to 950 AD still stand with etchings of yoga postures on their walls. Krishnamacharya, and other living yogis, which have furthered yoga practice in the west would never call themselves ‘power yogis.’ This is a term that westerners have given a more vigorous set of yoga postures which often cause them to become stronger and more physically fit. This does not eradicate the original intent of the asana, however.
It is true that stances like Warrior I, II and III, for example are also likely the outcropping of a form of marital arts from the times of the Vedas, but these postures were practiced with an intent to bolster meditative practice, not merely make the physical body strong and pliant. ‘Power yoga’ practitioners do experience greater strength and flexibility, though, and many people flock to modern classes taught by people like Baron Baptiste and Rodney Yee, drawing strength from Krishnamacharya’s original teachings. Indeed, a popular quote from Krishnamcharya immediately proves his deep connection with the spirituality of the practice and not just rote movement, “Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.”
You can see one of the progenitors of modern, power yoga in Krishnamachrya’s 1938 film practicing yoga. He has amazing skill, agility and power and it is easily seen by viewing this video. This youtube video is the first of a 6-part film that highlights some of the practices most challenging yoga asanas. You can definitely see how practicing to this level would enhance a meditative practice. It exemplifies health and vitality.
Power Yoga Evolving
Since yoga is always evolving, you can see different versions of power yoga in classes throughout the world. It is up to you as a practitioner to familiarize yourself with its history and stay true to its original intent. Adding meditation to your current yoga practice will only hasten your evolution: spiritually, physically and mentally.
Bryan Kest, another modern power yogi states, “the old fitness mentality is over! We are way past tearing ourselves to shreds simply to be more aesthetically pleasing. Power yoga is about working hard sensitively. It is about feeling good, not just looking good. The tone and shape you attain is a by-product. The focus here is healing and balance.”
While some power yoga sites will say that power yoga originated in the United States in the 1990s, they are very short sighted and have done little exploration of our human history to make such a statement. Power yoga has ancient roots and wise teachers. Beryl Bender Birch no more invented power yoga than Bikram Choudhury invented yoga through ‘hot yoga.’ Those yoga poses have been around for hundreds of generations. While we can augment a practice to fit our modern lifestyles the root message of mindfulness should never be ignored.
photo: go interactive wellness