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Real Yoga vs. Flow/Power Yoga

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Flow and Power Yoga are very popular at the moment and with good reason.  They are the most “physical exercise” like styles and are excellent for people making the transition from the gym to “real yoga”. 

Real yoga is any style that includes the traditional 8 Limbs of Yoga, which are:

Yama
Niyama
Asana
Pranayama
Pratyahara
Dharana
Dhyana
Samadhi
 

Flow and Power Yoga tend to emphasize the physical benefits of yoga, which are many and good to be had, but Real Yoga opens us to the bigger picture that the ancient Rishis mapped out in their search for enlightenment or Samadhi.

Flow and Power Yoga are recent concoctions and their short history stems from Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga – a very powerful style of yoga.

Nicky Knoff and I were in Mysore, India studying Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga with Sri Pattabhi Jois in 1989, at the same time as an American who went on to become one of the most popular Power Yoga teachers in the USA. 

Traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, as taught by Pattabhi Jois, is sequential and incremental.  With this system you learn one pose at a time and are only taught the next one, when you can comfortably do the ones you have been given.  If you find a pose difficult and cannot perform it, you are not allowed to progress.

Because Nicky and I had been doing Iyengar Yoga for many years before going to Mysore, and could do the poses of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Series, we quickly progressed under Pattabhi Jois's watchful eye and guidance.

The famous L.A. Yoga Teacher got stuck half way through 1st Series with Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana and Pattabhi Jois would not let him have any more poses, so after 6 months he departed in frustration and went back to the States.

About a year later we were surprised to see a video program on Power Yoga taught by “Yoga Master” (same L.A. Yoga Teacher).  He went on to become one of the highest paid yoga teachers in L.A.

What we saw with the Power Yoga program was that it included the strength building aspects of Vinyasa Yoga, i.e. Sun Salutations and Vinyasa but none of the challenging postures with no mention of anything beyond the physical.  It was a stripped down and diluted version of Ashtanga.

Flow Yoga is just another name for Power Yoga and both have proved to be very popular.  In some cities these styles of yoga dominate, especially when you include the many versions of Hot Yoga, which falls into the same category of the “physical exercise” approach to yoga.

Real Yoga with its 8 Limbs incorporates Pranayama (breath-work and not just Ujjayi), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal as a precursor to mind-work), Meditation (various techniques) and of course it is based on the ethical foundations of the Yamas and Niyamas.

Obviously Flow, Power, Hot Yoga have a valid place in contemporary yoga and have adequately proved this by their popularity.  But these styles of yoga do not convey the bigger picture, or provide the tools for enlightenment – the original and real purpose of yoga.

Here is an interesting comment by one of Nicky Knoff's student, “I enjoy an occasional flow-ey class, the movement element of it, the music, etc... it's yoga dessert. Too much fluff, not enough substance. Too much distraction, not enough opportunity to really connect with what is happening in your body on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. Moving between the asana without having the chance to really ground yourself and experience the integrity and energy of the pose doesn't give me the depth I need in my yoga practice.”

Skipping a stone across the water takes skill and it is fun, but there is no depth to it.  We can make a similar comparison about styles of yoga which skip the 8 Limbs of Yoga.

Flow, Power and Hot Yoga have a lot to offer, but there is more – much more and by including Pranayama, Meditation and the yoga philosophy of the Yamas and Niyamas you will discover that the ancient Yogis of India were doing more than just sitting on their asanas.

 
James Bryan
Program Director & Master Teacher

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