An Introduction to Power Yoga

Power Yoga Class
Power Yoga Class. Assembly/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Power Yoga is a general term used to describe a vigorous, fitness-based approach to vinyasa-style yoga. Though many consider it to be "gym yoga," this style of practice was originally closely modeled on the Ashtanga method.

The term came into common usage in the mid-1990s when a few teachers who had studied with Ashtanga guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois began to attempt to make what they had learned more accessible to western students.

They also wanted to move away from the rigid Ashtanga sequence, which is a set series of poses that are always done in the same order.

Power Yoga takes the athleticism of Ashtanga, including lots of vinyasas, but gives each teacher the flexibility to teach any poses in any order, making every class different. With its emphasis on strength and flexibility, power yoga brought yoga into the gyms of America as people began to see yoga as a way to work out.

Who Invented Power Yoga?

Two American yoga teachers are most often credited with the nearly simultaneous invention of Power Yoga on opposite coasts: Bryan Kest, based in Los Angeles and Beryl Bender Birch, based in New York. Both were part of the second generation of American Ashtanga students, in that Kest originally learned from David Williams and Bender Birth from Normal Allen. Williams and Allen were both among Jois's first western students.

 Kest went on to study with Jois in Mysore, India. Bender Birch, who had previously done Sivananda, Kundalini, and Iyengar yogas, worked with Jois during his trips to the U.S. in the 1980s.

Kest and Bender Birth both used the term Power Yoga to differentiate the intense, flowing style of yoga they were teaching from the gentle stretching and meditation that many Americans associated with yoga.

Bender Birch has said that when she started calling her classes Power Yoga, she still taught the Ashtanga sequence of poses.

Larry Schultz, who studied Ashtanga with Jois beginning in the eighties, also introduced a form of Power Yoga at his iconic San Francisco studio, "It's Yoga," in the early nineties. Schultz broke with Jois's method by mixing together poses from the first three Ashtanga series. Schultz later codified his approach into a style he named Rocket Yoga. 

Baron Baptiste is another well-known yoga teacher who has successfully established his own style of Power Yoga, Baptiste Power Vinyasa. Baptiste had also studied Iyengar and Bikram. Using the non-specific term Power Yoga gave each of these innovators the freedom to draw methods and poses from all their influences simultaneously to create something new. 

What to Expect in Class

Although Power Yoga classes vary widely from teacher to teacher, you can expect to find some intense flowing yoga with a minimal amount of chanting and meditation.

Gyms and health clubs, in particular, have taken up the term as a way to let their clienteles know that this is exercise. Prepare to work hard and work up a sweat.

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