In our ongoing series on yoga in the United States, this month’s column looks at the roots of “power yoga,” a term widely used in America to describe the style known in India as ashtanga yoga. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois introduced the Indian ashtanga practice to Westerners as early as 1964. In the late 1980s, Beryl Bender Birch and Bryan Kest both coined the name power yoga to describe the American version of this practice at the same time, but not together. Birch had studied under Norman Allen, and Kest studied under David Williams, both among the first Americans to train with the Indian master in the 1970s. Birch and Kest later studied under Pattabhi Jois himself.
The practice of power yoga consists of specific series of moves and combines three yogic concepts: vinyasa, tristhana and internal purification. Vinyasa refers to breathing and moving in a flowing system from one posture to the next; for example, the traditional sun salutation consists of nine vinyasas. Tristhana refers to three places of attention—posture, breathing and the focal point for the gaze. Internal purification refers to “burning away” desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and laziness, to allow the inner light to shine.
Typically, when you attend an American power yoga class, you can expect the instructor to lead you through a flowing series of asanas in a physically demanding style. Experienced power yoga instructors can modify moves for beginners, but not all classes cater to new participants. Since power yoga is a widely used term that was never trademarked, individual teachers may lend their personal interpretation to classes. If you’re interested in the original power yoga or ashtanga yoga, check the teacher’s training background.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is alive today and leads the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India; he also has two centers in the United States, in California and Florida. To learn more about power yoga and ashtanga yoga, see www.ayri.org, www.power-yoga.com and www.poweryoga.com.
Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is IDEA’s body-mind-spirit spokesperson and a contributing editor. She’s a certified yoga and Pilates teacher, a body-mind skills specialist and an award-winning author based in Palm Beach, Florida, and Zurich, Switzerland. Her books include Pilates Fusion: Well-Being for Body, Mind and Spirit. Contact her at www.shirleyarcher.com.