What Is Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga?

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Baron Baptiste With His Signature Bandana. Courtesy of Downy

It would be hard to find a better yoga lineage than the one boasted by Baron Baptiste, creator of Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga. His parents, Walt and Magana Baptiste, opened the first yoga studio in San Francisco in 1952. Early on, Baptiste was taken with the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar and Bikram Choudhury. By the mid 1990s, Baptiste had synthesized these teachings, along with influences from Ashtanga and T.K.V.

Desikachar (founder of Viniyoga and son of Krishnamacharya) into his own style of Power Yoga that also emphasized the importance of intuition. Elements from all these predecessors come together to form the foundations of Baptiste Power Vinyasa: drishti, bandhas, pranayama, vinyasa, alignment, and adaptability. Baptiste has said that his eponymous yoga style is focused on asana, meditation, and self inquiry and is intended to be adaptable to any level of physical ability. The the important aspects of the Baptiste method are summarized by the Five Pillars: breath, heat, flow, gaze, and core stabilization.

The 5 Pillars of Baptiste Power Vinyasa

1. Breath

The primary pranayama used in BPV is ujjayi, which is associated with a strong vinyasa practice. In ujjayi breath, you tone or constrict the back of your throat (as you would when fogging up a mirror) as you inhale and exhale through your nose.

This takes some practice but soon become second nature. It has the effect of slowing down the breath to make keep it deep and powerful during challenging postures. When the breath becomes short and shallow, it can trigger the fight or flight panic reflexes in the body. Keep the breath long and deep helps you stay calm.

2. Heat

In official BPV classes, the room should be heated to 90-95 degrees. This external heating of the room is intended to allow students to quickly stoke their internal fires (tapas) for a loose, sweaty practice. 

3. Flow

Flow is vinyasa style practice in which movement is linked to breath. Daily practice is encouraged. While there isn't a fixed series of poses in BPV, there is a pattern that most classes follow. Classes begin with several rounds of Surya Namaskara A and B, although there is room for some variation here. Then the teacher moves on to a standing series that includes vinyasa flow between sides. More advanced variations are offered in addition to adaptations for beginners. Classes often also include abdominal work, backbending, and hip opening. 

4. Gaze 

Drishti means looking at a particular place while doing yoga poses. It is an important part of Ashtanga yoga, where drishtis are taught as part of the alignment for each pose. In BPV, the gaze is not specific for each posture.

Instead, students are directed to fix their attention on any point that doesn’t move and to keep their eyes soft as a way to turn their attention away from what's going on externally in the room around them and bring their focus inward. 

5. Core Stabilization

Core stabilization is uddiyana bandha.  In BPV, this means the constant drawing in of the belly button toward the spine. This is done throughout the practice, but it’s not exactly the deep uddiyana bandha seen in Light on Yoga in which the belly is completely hollowed until the ribs protrude. It is intended to provide support by engaging the core for balance and strength.

Where to Practice Baptiste Power Vinyasa

There are two official Baptiste Yoga studios in Boston, Massachusetts. However, there are affiliated studios throughout the U.S. Baptiste has a very open program in which independent studios teaching his method can become partner studios. It may be that the hot yoga studio in your neighborhood is teaching BPV. Check the Baptiste website to find a studio near you. Baptiste is also active on the yoga festival and conference circuit, often appears in the pages of Yoga Journal and has written several books, including Journey Into Power, Being of Power, and My Daddy is a Pretzel for kids. Yogadownload.com offers BPV classes online.

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