Power Yoga: A Call for a Delicate Approach to Guiding the Practice

Power Yoga is an umbrella term for a style of yoga that features a vigorous form of vinyasa. It is meant to be physically challenging. It is arguably, not for Every Body.

My background as a practitioner of yoga is varied. My training began with Ann Green, world athlete and owner of Bliss Ann Green Yoga in Barrie, ON. The classes were rooted in the Hatha Vinyasa style of yoga, often taught with a unique twist. I transitioned shortly thereafter to Modo (formerly Moksha), and had the opportunity to practice at 7 different locations across Southern Ontario over the span of 5 moves in 10 years.

In 2013, while living in Waterdown, I practiced at a locally owned studio, The Yogashala and fell in love with the Anusara based instruction of the owner and one of the other instructors working there. When the time and space opened up three years later for me to take my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training, I decided to follow in the footsteps of these instructors whose teachings had a lasting impression on me. I spent a month in Nicaragua with Kimberly Waugh of Radiant Life Yoga School, building a teaching foundation in Hatha Vinyasa, Anusara inspired yoga.

I have been teaching yoga for three years now, and my teaching experience varies from large classes in large gyms, intimate classes in cozy yoga studios, therapeutic classes in a clinical setting, and tropical classes at resorts in the Caribbean. During this time, I have continued with my personal practice, regularly attended other instructors’ classes, and become very clear on my authentic teaching style and how I want to share this practice with my community.

I have recently started to reintegrate power yoga into my personal practice and have come to realize just how much has shifted for me over a decade of showing up to my mat. Sometimes it is hard to notice what has changed until we are faced with something so nostalgic, it pulls us back into experiences that feel like they belong to another lifetime.

The day I showed up to a yoga studio for the first time, I felt like I had lost most of who I was. I was 19-years-old and going through one of the most emotionally challenging seasons of my life. Yoga was a suggestion offered by an acquaintance at the time, and it was a welcome distraction from reality. I stepped into the hardest classes, and pushed myself until my sweat and my breath drowned out my thoughts.

I don’t remember at what point I realized I was missing out on what yoga really was, but it took time. It isn’t easy coming face-to-face with the work we must undertake to heal ourselves; we are first asked to acknowledge the pain that lives inside of us, and for those first few months, I wasn’t ready to go there.

Now, my life’s work is around understanding the mind-body connection and the delicate interplay between mental and physical health. It shows up in how I care for patients as a chiropractor, and it is woven deeply into how I teach the yoga practice. It is important to me to offer an accessible practice, one that honours all bodies and all states of mind. “Come as you are.” That is my manifesto. I am still uncovering my own blind spots on a regular basis, and attempting to integrate the lessons into my classes to make them feel as safe as possible for those people who show up because I know what it feels like to enter into this space vulnerably.

Coming back to my mat for power classes has been somewhat triggering. Messaging such as “Go deeper, go further, push harder” can be damaging both from a physical injury standpoint and a psychological one. We have so many other areas of our lives where we are made to feel like we are not doing enough; should our yoga practice be one of them?

In yoga, we encourage people to find their edge, that balance between effort and ease – the sweet spot. I think sometimes we assume that that edge is something we haven’t accessed yet so we offer words of encouragement about dropping deeper into the pose, lowering that lunge one inch, engaging those muscles 10% more. But what if our edge is behind us? What if finding the edge involves backing out of the posture, and coming back to steady breath?

Competing with our neighbours is something we could all benefit from moving away from. I would argue that even competing with ourselves is an idea that should be recycled. You don’t need to be better than you were the last time you stepped onto your mat. Your ability to do the splits might look the same in 10 years because of your anatomy. Just because you can do a headstand, doesn’t mean that you should; I am a prime example of this. I grew up as a competitive dancer, and my body can do all of the magazine-worthy asanas, but I choose not to practice headstand because it doesn’t feel good for my neck. Omitting what doesn’t feel right in the practice requires more discipline than some of the most advanced postures because it asks us to let go of the need to be more. Come as you are.

Language is important and as instructors, we should be intentional with our cues. I try to offer posture options not as a hierarchy from “basic” to “advanced” but as equal alternatives. I will congratulate you for coming out of a pose when it stops feeling right for you – you haven’t given up. You are listening to your body and this skill will serve you well both on and off your mat. I want to teach you how to tap into your intuition, so you can be confident in the choices you make even when they go against what is being suggested, even when they stand in opposition to what everyone else around you is doing.

So how do we empower people instead of power over people with Power Yoga? Let’s use that tapas, that heat, to ignite a fire in our bodies, but also use a broader lens to understand what that means for each person. Let’s use that energy to create a positive space, but leave behind the shame and guilt that comes from not doing or being enough. Let’s invite people to come as they are, and guide them to knowing that that is and forever will be, more than enough.

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