I recently co-created an online yoga teacher training course called Yoga For All: Creating Body Positive Yoga Classes for All Shapes, Sizes & Abilities. The intention behind this training is to create and promote more inclusive and accessible yoga classes. My co-conspirator and I are hoping to help yoga teachers gain greater confidence in their ability to provide effective accommodations, and broaden their student base to include diverse groups of non-conforming, disabled, and uniquely-abled bodies. We want to open the door for more possibilities on the mat as well as in our representations of yoga practitioners at large.
I recently co-created an online yoga teacher training course called Yoga For All: Creating Body Positive Yoga Classes for All Shapes, Sizes & Abilities.
When a Baptiste power yoga teacher inquired about how easily our training could be adapted into a power yoga class, I started thinking about role of power yoga in the Yoga For All model. In truth, neither my co-conspirator nor I were familiar with the Baptiste power yoga format–especially its capacity for inclusion of atypical yogis. If this teacher was ready and willing to slow down the asana or slow down the overall pace of the class then yes, the training could be easily adaptable. For the Yoga For All method of teaching to be truly effective, slowing down the pace of a class is fundamental. It ensures that everyone is able to explore their own personal experience on their mat.
While participating in a discussion with yoga teachers who teach to uniquely-abled, disabled, transgender, and larger bodies, my colleagues and I explored the ways in which we can make yoga more accessible to students with physical challenges and disabilities. One of the yoga professionals–who happens to be in a disabled body–answered by saying, “we slow that practice down to include all of us”. The simplicity of her answer was breathtaking. It was a metaphor for life.
The truth of the matter is, when we slow down our pace, everything becomes clearer and more focused. Slowing down allows everyone to catch up. This realization opened up the door for several critical questions: Doesn’t everyone deserve to be included in our yoga classes? Why are we in such a big hurry in our yoga classes? With the majority of us rushing through life, why must we rush through yoga? Why do we deem yoga to be more powerful when we speed it up, heat it up, and focus primarily on the asana? What happens when we slow it down and allow ourselves the time to feel the breath and our bodies? Where does Power Yoga even come from, and what are the images that are associated with it? How do all of these factors limit the scope of yoga back to the exclusive "fit and flexible" paradigm?
With the majority of us rushing through life, why must we rush through yoga?
I first heard the term "power yoga" from yoga pioneer Baron Baptiste when I took a class with him at the Toronto Yoga Conference. It was powerful asana and I was sore for an entire day afterwards. I loved it. It fed my ego to go hard and fast in a class. I could keep up with the others, which meant in my eyes that I was strong and powerful. I revisited power yoga a few years later when Bryan Kest, another power yoga pioneer, came to my hometown–Windsor, Ontario. My local yoga community was enthralled. Over 125+ people paid upwards of $80 to pack into a small, poorly ventilated space and experience 90-minutes of Bryan Kest’s mastery. We were lined up mat-to-mat and the heat was incredible from all the bodies in the room. I felt empowered by the strength of the asana but slightly sick because I couldn’t really breathe deeply. I felt like I was inhaling other people’s exhales. The guy with his mat next to mine was sweating on me. Every time he moved, I felt his sweat hit my skin and my mat. He had the most powerful ujjayi breath I’ve ever heard; it felt like he was sucking up all the prana in the room. This was an experience I wouldn’t soon forget. As I practiced my yoga in that moment, the most powerful part was not being distracted by someone else’s bodily fluids, but instead focusing exclusively on feeling my body. I liked the powerful practice, but I wondered how I could take this experience of feeling powerful, strong, and physically challenged to a group of people who weren’t as able-bodied. How could people with uniquely-abled and disabled bodies experience power yoga? It was from experiences such as this, that my quest for the Yoga For All method began. I wanted power yoga to include all of us.
The images of power yoga that we see in the media come from many different places. Mainstream media certainly plays an ongoing role in defining power yoga culture. Powerful images of able-bodied students doing acrobatics continue to grace the covers of most yoga magazines. Power yoga has been touted as the creator of the ‘idealized yoga body’ and the celebrated ‘yoga butt’; it has sold many a yoga studio membership along with many pairs of Lululemon pants.
But what if we changed our perceptions of what power yoga is? What if we made power yoga more about feeling powerful not only in your body, but also in your breath, in your mind, in your spirit and in your self-confidence? What if power yoga were about being the most powerful version of you?
How about we use the power of yoga to refine our love for our bodies? Can we find power in coming to the mat just as we are, slowing our breath and body, and feeling ourselves fully embrace the experience of yoga and asana–as opposed to moving quickly through it? These questions open the door to allowing more people on to the mat, especially when the images that support power yoga and asana are realistic and accessible.
There is indeed something incredibly powerful about sharing a yoga class with others–this is why so many people love to teach this practice and make it their own. Helping others discover their own innate power through their connection to their bodies and souls is power yoga at its finest. When we slow down the practice, we can focus on the sensations in our bodies, we can engage our muscles, and we can actually feel our bodies as we escape our thoughts in favor of our breath. Allowing uniquely-abled bodies to catch up and be empowered within the same space adds even more of that powerful energy and passion to the room. As we include more diversity on the mat, we inevitably connect to something deeper and greater than ourselves.
Helping others discover their own innate power through their connection to their bodies and souls is power yoga at its finest.
Power yoga does not exist in a vacuum; it is unrealistic to assume that there is only one type of yoga body or one way to experience powerful yoga. Yoga can be powerful in its applications of asana, and a yoga class can certainly be slow yet powerful if we let it. Yoga has the power to invite everyone to get to know themselves better. The true power lies far beyond the asana; it it is in the invitation to take a temporary leave from our physicality in favor of returning to our souls.
So maybe the question is less about where power yoga fits into the Yoga For All model, and more about redefining how we make yoga a more powerful and empowered practice for people of all shapes, sizes and abilities.