Yoga is a practice that calms the storms of the mind to create mental clarity.
Ask a few random people what they think yoga is, and you’ll get a variety of answers. And, they are probably all right.
However, they may only be seeing one small piece of the whole because the practice of yoga is much richer than most people realize. Myself included. I attended my first yoga class at Santa Monica Power Yoga in 2007 because I thought it would be a great stretching routine to complement my running. I kept attending because I appreciated the calorie burn and how good it made my body feel.
As my yoga class attendance increased and my mileage decreased, I began to understand that there was much, MUCH more to this practice than some poses in a hot room.
Fifteen years later, I am still discovering the complexities and depth of this ancient practice. The fact that it makes my body feel good is the icing on the cake.
So what is yoga? Let’s break down some of the common beliefs:
Is Yoga meditating?
The practice of yoga includes meditation, but that is just one part (limb) of a yoga practice. What we practice and teach at 502 Power Yoga is the limb called “Asana,” the physical practice of yoga. We include meditation (dhyana) and breathing exercises (pranayama) in some of our classes. There are eight limbs along the path of yoga, and just as one climbs a tree, you ascend the limbs along your journey, and you must reach one limb before you can climb to the next. As one of my teachers once told me, the asana (poses) are the only part of yoga that can truly be taught, especially in a group class setting. The other limbs must be studied, practiced, and attained individually.
Is Yoga just stretching?
I don’t know why this is a misconception, but it’s the one I hear most often. Yes, there is a lot of stretching in a yoga asana class. Yes, you will become flexible if you practice yoga. But how you are stretching is the misunderstood part. In any yoga class—from gentle to power—you will be dynamically and actively stretching: Creating length in your muscles while simultaneously balancing, strengthening, meditating, and focusing.
I might get some crap for this, but yes, undoubtedly. However, if you’re looking for quantity over quality calorie burn, you’d be better off doing a cardio exercise like running or cycling. But one can burn up to 600-700 calories in a 60-minute class, depending on your body type, constitution, how hard you push yourself, etc.
But unlike cardio, in a yoga class, you will also get toned, strengthening not just the vanity muscles like your abs and your biceps, but also the less visible (but more important!) muscle groups like your hip rotators, the intrinsic muscles in your feet, and the tiny muscles supporting your shoulder blades. A well-rounded yoga asana practice focuses on healthy, dynamic movement, creating agility and mobility.
The reality is that most people get hooked on yoga because they like the calorie burn and they like how sore they are the next day. Over time, people realize that the benefits go far beyond the physical. So while it is a great workout, it is not just a great workout.
Is Yoga a spiritual practice?
As I said above, most people come to a yoga class because they want to get in a good sweat, stretch out, and tone their bodies. However, the practice of yoga Asana is deeply rooted in centuries of spiritual wisdom originating in ancient India, and it’s hard not to pick up on some of those things. The ritualistic format of classes could be likened to a religious service: We typically begin classes with an “om,” we bow to each other at the end, and it sure as shit makes you feel connected to a universal vibration.
I have never considered myself a spiritual person. I grew up Catholic here in Louisville but stopped attending mass as a teenager. I was disenchanted with the dogma and rigidness of the services, and frankly, how boring it all was. I found a new appreciation for spirituality when I began attending yoga classes. It allowed me to feel as though there were a higher being out there, it created peace in my body and mind, and it created a connection between me and the people in classes with me.
No one is going to force you to bow to Hindu gods or give up your existing religious beliefs. But I believe that if you are seeking a spiritual practice, you could find that in a yoga practice.
Is “Power Yoga” really yoga?
We think so 😋 Yoga is a profound journey of self-discovery that has been through many evolutions as it’s been adopted by and adapted to new cultural contexts globally. Power Yoga is a relatively modern form of this practice, but our aim remains the same as that of the ancient yoga masters: To calm the mind to be better humans.
Pushing 200lbs, I remember once struggling to run 8 minutes without stopping in Iroquois Park. At the time I was a caregiver to my parents: mom with cancer and dad with Alzheimer’s. The stress of this situation wasn’t helping my own health – I was eating my way into a size 18.
Then, my niece, Emilie Dyer, invited me to a free class at 502 Power Yoga. In the past I had used yoga successfully to stop smoking, so I figured it could also improve my overall health. At one point in my first class, I remember the instructor said to “kiss your knees;” I couldn’t do it. It really hit home then how big I had gotten. I’m going to have to work to get this off, I thought.
Rather than feeling intimidated by others at 502 Power Yoga, I was empowered by this community. I decided to take on the Sunrise Challenge in 2014, and also completed the 40 Days to a Personal Revolution program. Through these experiences, I gained insight into my emotional eating. I learned to be aware of what I was putting into my body and why. I gave up sodas and coffee, and today I only drink green tea, water and sometimes black tea. I have sweets as an occasional treat, and not with every meal as I had in the past. I witnessed these physical and emotional transformations slowly change my body. Over time, I saw cellulite on my knees diminish. I was able to do my first Flip Dog with Mimi’s instruction. I was inspired, and I fell in love with the community.
After some time, it seemed like my daddy was doing fairly well, or maybe it was me. Maybe I had learned to move with the universe instead of work against it. Yoga had become my retreat from all the drama of hospitals and doctors with my parents. I truly believe my yoga practice helped me stay calm throughout every situation and provided me the opportunity for self-care.
I can see how life has come full circle for me. The beginning of my transformation was the Sunrise Challenge in 2014, and more than a year later, after the 2015 Sunrise Challenge, I’m a size 8. My faith in God, my program of recovery and daily asana helped me physically and emotionally through those trying times. I feel those previous limitations fading behind me and conquering Iroquois Park is next on my list!
My first class at 502 Power Yoga was a Karma class. The room was packed beyond capacity, and the energy was high; you could feel the love when you walked in—which, when you’re new to this style of yoga, like I was, can feel overwhelming. My friend and I were the last two people to lay our mats down and I was ready to get my zen on and tune the world out — which is my default.
When class started and the instructor asked us all to generate hellos/give hugs/shake hands, I freaked out. She wanted me to what? No. I had come to do some yoga and stay in my own secluded world, not to meet new people or hug strangers. Not to mention, I was already sweating, as was most everyone I was asked to hug. Instinctively, I went directly to my friend and hugged her, but soon found I couldn’t avoid contact with other yogis any longer. I hesitantly shook hands and hugged two other already-sweaty people. I felt self-conscious for the entirety of my practice, worrying that the people I hugged were judging me for sweating before class had even started.
Coming into a class at a new yoga studio can be intimidating. However, when I started to meet new people at 502 Power Yoga, I realized that I was NOT alone. Instead, I was in this together with every other yogi in the room. I was connected to a room full of 30+ people—talk about powerful! Side note: The room is hot, full of badass yogis, and everyone is sweating. Nobody is judging!
In that same class, the instructor had us support our neighbors in Airplane Pose. I remember internally having a strong “Nope, nopeity, nope, nope” reaction to this; there was no way I was throwing off my balance to put my sweaty hands on someone else’s sweaty body. And then I felt another yogi’s hand on my shoulder supporting me, which gave me the nudge I needed, and I reached out to support my other neighbor.
Where can you go in your practice once you’ve moved past what is blocking you? For me, letting go of insecurities led me to become more consistent in my practice and made me fall in love with the Baptiste Methodology, which led me to taking the BIG leap to sign up for teacher training with 502 Power Yoga. Removing my rocks opened me up to following my passion and creating some pretty amazing friendships in a community that thrives off of supporting others.
It works that way; the support and community. You may come in feeling nervous, scared, or vulnerable, and then you realize we are here for each other. That support can move mountains (or fly airplanes in my case.) From that, strength in your practice happens. Growth in your life off your mat happens. Big things happen. The sweaty hugs are actually something I look forward to now.
Embrace the sweaty hugs and handshakes—it’s the beginning of something spectacular.
“The inner fire is the most important thing mankind possesses.” Edith Södergran
As we begin the new year, you may consider using Heat on and off your mat to kick start your resolutions and fuel your inner fire. Heat is one of the Pillars of the Baptiste Yoga practice; in the studio, the most obvious source of heat is the room itself. Power Yoga uses the warmth of the room to allow muscles to loosen up quickly, and your skin to detoxify itself through sweat.
But this isn’t just “hot yoga” it’spower yogabecause, with each movement of your muscles into the poses, you are generating heat within your body. This internal fire is encouraged byujjayi breath. Ujjayi breath is created by breathing in and out through your nose with the back of your throat constricted. This friction of the breath and the throat actually warms the air entering your body; if you’re like me and remember little else from grade school science, you might, at least, remember that friction creates heat.
In his book Journey Into Power, Baron Baptiste says, “The strong flow of power yoga fuels the inner furnace, and the breath fans that fire throughout your practice.” We are responsible for creating heat in our own bodies, and though 502 keeps the studio at about 90 degrees, generating our own heat is crucial in our practice.
Gaining a new kind of access to stiff muscles, or finding a new range of motion and flexibility in them, can help to heal old injuries and teach your body new muscle memory. And, if on your mat you can stay grounded in a pose in the heat of the moment, just imagine where that can serve you off the mat.
“Your Ass Looks Fat in Warrior II.” It’s all I could think as we held the challenging pose and my Drishti settled right on my rear end. All through the practice at another Louisville studio, I couldn’t resist checking myself out in the mirror as we moved from pose to pose. But not necessarily because I was checking my alignment—although that’s what I told myself—it was because I was concerned for looking good. And I was constantly being disappointed.
I’ve been uneasy with how I look for decades. At 11 or 12, I noticed the uniform skirts fit the other girls in my class differently, and after intense examination in the mirror and self-criticism, I determined what was “wrong” with me: Short torso. Wide hips. Huge ass.
These self-judgements have traveled with me through several decades, through many fashion trends, through pregnancy and childbirth (contrary to popular belief, wide hips do NOT help with childbirth), and now into a career where I live in spandex. Fortunately, my yoga practice has been a space to practice self-acceptance and appreciate my physical strengths. I know that I’m capable of so much more than your average mom-of-a-2-year old, but once that mirror is in front of me, I’m immersed in critical self-talk.
I don’t know a lot of other mommy’s (besides my yoga mama friends) who can do this!
This is why we don’t have mirrors at 502 Power Yoga. Some argue that a mirror is a tool to help you find alignment in a pose, but at 502PY we provide more valuable tools to help you find alignment:
Skilled instructors who don’t practice while they teach so they can see you and speak to what they see and assist as needed.
Assistants who move about the room to help with alignment and foundation in your postures.
Spacefor self-insight so you can create a pose for yourself and truly immerse yourself in their moving meditation without concern for what they look like.
Practicing without mirrors allows me the opportunity to feel as beautiful on the outside as I feel on the inside. For someone with image issues, this 60 minutes of going inside and feeling powerful goes a long way for my confidence. This empowerment causes me to make bold moves in my life, for example, that one time I opened a yoga studio.
The most beautiful I have ever felt in yoga was in a blindfolded practice–it was so liberating to drop all concern for looking good that I actually practiced with my shirt off for the only time in my life. I felt sexy, glowing, and powerful for weeks. Had a mirror been present for that practice, I would probably still be wallowing in a bout of self-pity, drowning my sorrows with pizza and cheez-its.
Every day I am bombarded with images of what the female body “should” look like and then catch my reflection in my mirror at my home and see the discrepancy. Then I roll out my mat, turn inward, and am reminded that I’m strong. I’m powerful. And in that, there is beauty.
What have you experienced in your physical practice or in your self-inquiry by practicing without a mirror? Do you feel like you’re missing your reflection?
#ProTip: If you really need a reflection of yourself, the spots up by the front window often act as mirrors when it’s dark outside.