First let me state right off the bat, there is nothing inherently wrong with the practice of power yoga in and of itself. In fact, power yoga was actually the style of yoga that I did my first 200-hour yoga teacher training in. Coming into my first yoga teacher training, I was looking for a yoga practice that complimented running. In college, I was an avid runner and I wanted something that could give me the same intensity. Power yoga certainly provided me that.
Fast forward to now, in graduate school I have spent many hours studying anatomy and kinesiology and observing many different bodies. As I am sure you are aware, kinesiology is the study of movement, the study of how the human body moves.
For those of you who may not know what I mean by power yoga, this style of yoga is a high-intensity asana practiced at a fairly quick pace.
For me as a soon-to-be yoga therapist, my concern lies not in the concept or intention of power yoga but in the application of it in many yoga stuidos across the world and especially in the U.S.
In my experience, as a yoga student and a yoga teacher, I have recognized how easy it is for power yoga practice to become habitual, mindless movement.
For those of you that have had me in class, you've probably heard me say something like, "Yoga is not just about asana," more than once.
Given the pacing of power yoga classes, it's easy for us to get caught up in wanting to "keep-up."
When this occurs we are not only ignoring our bodies needs from moment-to-moment but more concerning, we become unconscious of utilizing our muscles to support our joints throughout the practice as we become caught up in "keeping-up" or proving something to ourselves or to others in class.
When we get into the groove of habitual, mindless movement, not engaging our muscles to support our joints, we run the risk of injuring our bodies.
More specifically, we run the risk of a repetative strain injurgy (RSI) and various other injuries. For the purpose of this blog post, I'll review RSIs. As the name of this condition implies, RSI's are caused by prolonged repetative movements that begin to compromise muscles and joints over time, thus resulting in straining.
The fact is, yoga asana is about mindful movement not mindless movement.
Secondly, one of the basic yogic principles is known as ahimsa (ah-him-sah), or non-violence.
Specific to the practice of power yoga, practicing non-violence would mean that you're moving in a concious and precise way. In fact, the word vinyasa means, to place in a special way. By placing your body in a special way, you're preventing injury, thus not causing yourself harm.
The second yogic principle that can be applied to this is the practice of aparigraha (ah-par-e-grah-ha), or non-attachment/non-grasping. When we push ourselves to "keep-up" rather than conciously choosing to listen to what our bodies need from moment-to-moment we are attached/grasping onto a storyline that often sounds like this, "I have to prove to myself that I can keep-up," or "People are going to judge me if I don't do what they're doing." The practice of aparigraha is to notice when those kinds of thoughts occur in the mind and to conciously let them go and bring your awareness back into the body and back to the breath.
There are two final points that I would like to highlight, one that I have already alluded to and one just as a general rule of thumb.
1) Just because a yoga teacher says to do a posture does not mean that you have to do it.
Let me repeat myself...
Just because a yoga teacher says to do a posture does not mean that you have to do it!
Maybe a particular posture doesn't feel right, if so, the teacher should be able to offer you a modification of the posture that will be better for your body. In the case that a teacher does not offer you a modification, come into a pose that you feel more comfortable with.
2) When practicing a vigorous asana practice (or any asana practice for that matter), it is important that you are engaging your muscles throughout the entire practice. Your joints will greatly appreciate it!
So...the next time you walk into a power yoga class, I hope you'll think about the points that I have outlined and utilize them in your practice.
Get your power yoga on, my friends!