As a yoga teacher, I find far too many people try my class in order to “relax.” While yoga is very much a technique for releasing and relieving stress, very rarely is it designed to “relax” the body. Rather, yoga is a system for opening the body, both physically and energetically, in order to be more connected with your day-to-day life, career, loved ones and your highest purpose. If you want to get these benefits, you must commit to approaching yoga in a powerful way.
What is Power Yoga?
Power Yoga is a term often used to describe a vigorous Vinyasa practice. Need more clarification? I know, we yogis like to use a lot of strange words. Vinyasa is a word that means, “to place in a specific manner,” but it has a second meaning. This second meaning is a yoga movement connecting plank pose, chaturanga (lowering the body down like a reverse push up), upward facing dog or cobra, and downward facing dog … like so:
If you see “Power Yoga” on a class listing, expect to repeat this motion, perform warrior poses, and likely do some version of “core” work.
What are the benefits of Power (or Vinyasa) Yoga?*
- Anatomically, the motions both strengthen and stretch the muscles, which is hard to find in an exercise regimen. Other activities that focus on strengthening (contraction of a muscle) and lengthening (extension of a muscle) include Pilates and ballet bar classes.
- Cardiovascularly, the Vinaysa movement can be done at a fast pace. This increases heart rate and respiration, which can lead to weight loss or increased cardiovascular performance.
- Energetically, moving in a pattern with the breath can connect you deeply to your practice, allowing the entire sequence to be like a moving meditation.
You don’t have to go to a “Power Yoga” class to build a powerful practice. Here are some easy ways to make your practice more powerful even if you happen to be in one of those “relaxing” classes.**
- Focus on alignment cues. If you’re lucky, you will have a teacher who says things like “reach your inner thighs back and apart,” or “pull the front hip points up toward the floating ribs.” These things may sound silly, but they bring your focus into often forgotten (i.e., lazy or even chubby!) muscles.
- Pick “goal” poses and work toward them. Don’t be afraid to request these poses when your teacher asks for requests! We love that kind of thing.
- Use your breath. Sounds easy, but really try it. In a strong pose, such as Warrior II, inhale to lengthen the sides of the body, exhale to bend further into the front knee. This type of minute movement increases your focus in the pose.
- Incorporate “power sets” into a practice. Power sets are anything that increases cardiovascular or muscular strain during a class. For example, if your teacher gives the option to hold downward dog for five breaths, perhaps choose to do a few Vinyasas instead. Of course, listen to your body. The benefit of yoga is you can feel the pose and say, “Today it is appropriate for me to incorporate power sets,” or, “Today it is appropriate for me to rest.”
Here are 5 great power sets to try:
- Yogi push ups
- Start in plank pose with the shoulders and hips even, hands shoulder distance apart. You may choose to hold the pose and work it fully OR
- Inhale, lower slowly half-way to the ground, squeezing the elbows in so they brush the ribs
- Exhale, with a flat body, push yourself back up to plank
- You can do this at any point your teacher has you resting in downward dog, or you can opt for an extra yogi push up in any Vinyasa
- Shakti Jumps
- Start in downward facing dog. You may choose to hold the pose and work it fully OR
- Inhale high on the toes
- Exhale, look between the hands, bend the knees
- At the bottom of the exhale, spring the feet up into the air, like you are trying to lift your hips above your shoulder
- To prevent too much momentum from throwing you over, tighten the core and clap the feet together in the air
- Land with bent knees, and repeat as many times as you’d like
- You can do this at any point your teacher has you resting in downward dog
- Thigh burners (not a technical term!)
- Start in crescent pose, which is also known as high lunge or anjaneyasana.
- Keep the ribs and hips in line. It is natural to start to tip the hips back and ribs forward, arching the lower back. Do your best to engage your core and integrate it into the pose. This will also increase psoas stretch. You may choose to hold the pose and work it fully OR
- Inhale, straighten the back leg as much as possible, it’s fine if your leg does not reach all the way straight
- Exhale, bend into the back leg, allowing the knee to hover an inch or two off the mat
- Repeat this motion, or simply hold the bent leg as it hovers over the mat
- Warrior III Warriors
- Warrior III is already fairly intense on the outer glute. You may opt to simply hold the pose and work it fully OR
- Inhale, reach long with the arms and lifted leg
- Exhale, bend both knees, pulling the lifted leg in to touch the (now bent) standing leg
- Inhale, stretch back
- Repeat this motion
*A word of caution: It is very possible you will receive few or none of these benefits without the guidance of a qualified, dedicated teacher. I cannot stress enough the importance of seeking a teacher who has been trained in a program approved by the Yoga Alliance, who encourages mindfulness in class, and who gives extensive body alignment instruction even when moving quickly.
** About once per week, it is a great idea to let yourself relax in a Yin or “Gentle” class.