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
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, and

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
Contact her at