Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rise to power: switching from bikram to power yoga

Some time ago I stopped going to bikram yoga because 1) it was too much of a time commitment to commute to Harvard Square, acclimate myself to the hot room, and shower afterward (3 hours total a day--and I found that I had to go every day to get full benefits), 2) it was getting too cold for 105-degree yoga to be pleasant, and 3) bikram is not great for my neck injury because I don't have full mobility in a couple of my vertebrae.

I have since discovered power yoga, another form of heated yoga marked towards competitive type A's who may not be ready for more authentic forms of yoga but who are tentatively embracing the ideas of workout alternatives to running and yoga as a form of relaxation/meditation. While power yoga doesn't drain me as much as bikram did, it is still a fairly intense workout and has an intensity level comparable to recovery day (as opposed to a training day) of running.

Power yoga is a flow yoga that takes place in a 97-degree heated room. Flow yoga seems to involve "flowing" through different positions, switching positions on inhale and exhale. (Bikram yoga, on the other hand, was static--you hold each position for ~30 seconds, depending on the position.) Each power yoga class is about an hour long and usually begins with a warmup of various things to warm up the back (rag doll, the downward dog/upward pushup combo), various things to get your heart going, core strength things, and leg stretches to cool down. At the end there is a long sabbasana where they turn off the lights and you lay still. At the beginning and end of every practice we all say "Om" together; I enjoy this very much. My first class was particularly fun because it happened to be a partners' class: the instructor showed us various poses including ones where partners do a double dog (one partner is in downward dog; the other one has his/her feet on top of the partner), somersaults over each other, and pair stretching. I was paired with a Finnish stranger who was somewhat larger than me; the experience was quite amusing. In general, power yoga involves headstands, handstands, shoulder stands, and other cool inversions I want to learn.

The experience of power yoga is quite different from that of bikram: 1) it feels much more like an aerobics class (or some sort of other group exercise class--I have never attended any group exercise besides bikram), 2) it is much less regimented (in bikram, instructors insist on the correctness of the pose; in power yoga you can do any variation), and 3) it is different each time. Power yoga, like most yoga, allows the instructor a fair amount of discretion on the positions for each class. Other differences between power yoga and bikram are that power yoga gets much more crowded (my mat was almost touching other mats on all four sides during more than once!) and the demographic is slightly different. I've seen fewer men at power yoga than at bikram, but the women who go to power yoga seem to be younger and more fit. It seems like a lot of them are runner or other kinds of athletes. (Power yoga seems to be less of people's sole workout, whereas there were people I'd see at the bikram studio every day.)

I enjoy power yoga more than bikram. Because it is more laid back and dynamic, I find it more relaxing. There are also logistic reasons: Central Square is closer, I don't have to shower at the studio for power yoga because I don't get as sweaty, and I do power yoga while still maintaining a good running schedule (instead of going to bikram every day).

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