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Posted by Elizebath Bijoy Friday, August 17, 2012

It's fast, it's vigorous and it melts fat fast. So, why are yoga experts crying foul over the power yoga fad that has taken over city gyms?

Backed by the likes of Bollywood actresses Kareena Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut and Geeta Basra, power yoga is to today's urban Indian woman what aerobics was in the '80s. Practically every gym and fitness centre in the city offers weekly 60 to 90-minute power yoga classes to its members.

What is power yoga?
A poor commercial derivative of Ashtanga yoga, power yoga is essentially an up-tempo aerobic workout, where yoga poses are done faster and in continuation. Apart from temporary weight loss, it has virtually no health benefits. Since power yoga is a widely used term that was never trademarked, individual teachers usually lend their personal interpretation to classes.

But the aggressive and physical take on the traditional discipline has upset the karma of the normally tranquil world of yoga. Purists dismiss it as a "commercial, supermarket" version of the practice with competitive elements that contradict yoga's most basic principles. There have even been claims that, in encouraging beginners to try and push their bodies into quick movements and advanced positions, this and other sport versions are temporarily successfully and actually dangerous because they could cause injury.

It causes injury
"Power yoga is like any cardiovascular activity, which means that if you stop practicing it you will regain the weight you've lost," says Samanta Duggal, yoga therapist and director at Temperance. In her 20 years of experience, she has seen many cases of people taking up power yoga for quick results and instead sustaining injuries — usually to the neck, shoulder, toes, knees, hips and lower back. "Doing repetitive asanas and 100 surya namaskars with no emphasis on alignment is a sureshot way to injury. So, instead of progressing to better health, they actually regress!"

Bypasses core components
Many of these classes also bypass the core components of yoga — pranayama (with proper sequence and ratio) and yoga nidra (relaxation) at the end. The idea of relaxation is to allow the blood lactate levels to return to normal. If they remain high, they could set off the stress glands, making your power yoga session a stressful one. Stressful yoga — how contradictory is that!

Where traditional forms of yoga, as practiced by Lara Dutta and Abhay Deol, encourage mindful, breath-controlled movement from pose to pose, power yoga participants work up a serious sweat. "Power Yoga was simply a name I came up with in the late '80s to let people know that ashtanga yoga practice — unlike most of the yoga taught in '70s America — was a serious workout, designed to build significant strength and concentration as well as flexibility," says Beryl Bender Birch. He is one of the two American yoga teachers who nearly simultaneously coined the term. Los Angeles-based Bryan Kest is the other. Not coincidentally, both these teachers had studied with Ashtanga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Another name often associated with power yoga is Baron Baptiste who devised his own method in San Francisco,California.

Misnamed practice in India
In power yoga proposed by them, poses are followed up with strength training while synchronising one's breathing patterns to each Vinyasa (movement), with attention given to Tristhana (posture, breath, and focal point for the gaze).

But the kind taught in gyms out here is a different story altogether. "Power yoga here is a bigsham and a scam," says yoga columnist and teacher Shameem Akhtar, who's a proponent of Sivananda yoga. She explains, "Static poses are very difficult and fast-paced ones are for beginners. This may explain the peculiar culture of the misnamed power yoga in Mumbai, where people are made to do asanas faster, just to keep them happy. The flipside of this is they never reach the stamina that real power yoga — as the term is used in America."

Quickie courses, untrained instructors
Patanjali and Hatha yoga teacher Dharam Choudhry puts this scam down to lack of training. He says, "No certification or specific training is required before a person is allowed to teach power yoga." Quickie courses teach poses but not the nuances of proper alignment, intentional correct breathing or noncompetitive mind-set. "So, most gyms recruit power yoga trainers from the vast group of the unemployed young, who are figuring out what they want to do with the rest of their lives."

"One local trainer used to attend my dance yoga classes, copy the sequences I had personally created, and pass them off as his own," recalls Akhtar. The trainer now issues power yoga certificates to other 'trainers'.

Since the instructor does not need to invest much time to learn or teach it, they can tag the classic and glamourous label of yoga to any weak set of stretches. "So, essentially, it is like doing warm-ups for the entire work-out session! How can that be healthy?" asks Akhtar.

Traditional approach is holistic
Choudhry, who has been teaching Patanjali and Hatha yoga for a decade, blames this fad on lack of awareness. "Yoga has enormous benefits. It's a shame that most people here take on this commercial version of power yoga, which was invented in America to begin with, often don't get the maximum benefit."

Compare that to traditional schools of yoga that lay a good foundation for a long-lasting and all-round fitness and wellbeing. Says Duggal, "Whether it's Sivananda, Bihar, Iyengar, Vini yoga from the Krishnamacharya lineage, they all have a holistic approach."

If combined with the right diet, weight loss in traditional yoga is quite amazing and just as immediate. Besides, traditional and classical forms of yoga have long-lasting benefits on the body not only in terms of muscular tone, endurance and physiology but also your entire endocrine system.


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