Have you looked at the schedule for Tuesday or Thursday evening and thought to yourself, “What’s Sustainable Power Yoga?”
With that in mind, as well as the upcoming Workshop, Downtown Desert Yoga’s resident Sustainable Power teacher Lorelei Alvarez sat down and answered some burning questions we had about Sustainable Power Yoga; what it is, where the idea came from, and how it differs from other Power classes. This is what Lorelei had to say.
Downtown Desert Yoga (DDY): What is Power Yoga?
Lorelei Alvarez (LA): Power yoga is an offshoot of Ashtanga Yoga. The concept behind Ashtanga was to move through a series of postures, linking breath and movement, to build intense internal heat, purifying sweat, develop core strength and flexibility, and a calm, clear the mind.
In Ashtanga, there are six series of postures that the yogi works through, from beginner level through advanced. The postures are always the same for each series. Power/Vinyasa Yoga is similar in terms of postures and goals, but more flexible in terms of which postures are used during any class. In these styles, the instructor often chooses the postures and sequences.
DDY: How is Sustainable Power different?
LA: In Ashtanga and Power Yoga, there is this idea of forcing the body to create certain shapes or postures, particularly in our image-drive culture. Often the focus is on pushing to achieve the “ultimate expression” of each posture.
If you google power yoga and look at images, you will see thin women creating intense postures and arm balances, usually with some beach or gorgeous sunset as the backdrop. I think that many of us see these these images and think, “I want to do yoga so I can look like that and do those things!” Or, we see those images and think, “I can’t do yoga because I don’t look like that and can’t do those things with my body”.
In many power classes we’re encouraged to work harder, push more, force these shapes, often unintentionally injuring our bodies in the process. Sustainable Power is different because we’re trying to move the focus away from image and toward building strength and flexibility in the body from a functional movement perspective. Functional movement is moving in a way that is healthy for every single individual body and honors each person’s anatomy. The pace is a little slower in sustainable power to give more time to focus on what that movement feels like in your own body, but the practice is still intense, building strength and flexibility from the core out.
DDY: Where did the idea for this class come from?
LA: When I decided to complete yoga teacher training, I’d been practicing yoga for about 10 years. I loved power yoga and my focus was really on strength and attaining as many yoga postures as possible. Although my body was strong, it was also broken in so many ways. I was in chronic pain from running and from forcing my body to make shapes in my yoga practice.
Our instructor, Shawn Cornelison, taught our training group a different perspective on yoga. His focus was completely on functional movement and letting go of a lot of the image-driven ideas about yoga. In some ways, this was a really challenging perspective for me, as it meant that I had to be very honest about what my body could and couldn’t do. I had to be okay with not forcing, not pushing, and just allowing my body the space to heal and move in a functional way. When I was able to embrace this completely, my body responded and I gained movement, flexibility, and most importantly freedom from chronic pain. I also didn’t lose strength.
So, the concept for this class came from that training and from the idea that you don’t have to force to be strong. In fact, forcing creates a whole lot of things that we don’t want in the body, like damage and pain.
DDY: What drew you to teach this class?
LA: I wanted to bring this concept to students of gaining strength, power, and flexibility, while embracing their own body and individual anatomy. I wanted to empower students on the mat so that they can understand that they don’t need to fight their bodies to make them look or be a certain way, or do a certain thing. They can gain power and strength in their practice by moving in a way that’s functional, while providing safe space to feel challenged in their practice. Maybe they can even embrace that those concepts apply equally on and off the mat.
DDY: How has your practice changed since creating/teaching Sustainable Power?
LA: My practice has gone from something that I force my body to do in order to feel like I’m “accomplishing yoga” to something that is a joy to practice. I only do what my body feels like each time I am on the mat, which often changes from practice to practice. I don’t push or force anything. I don’t need to. My body’s response to this has been amazing. I am no longer in pain, I am stronger, and I am much more capable of doing many of the more difficult postures with ease. I’ve also found that my practice has moved from a purely physical “exercise” to something that truly connects my mind, body, and spirit on and off the mat.
DDY: Beyond sustainability, what other themes or intentions do you incorporate into your classes?
LA: One main theme that I return to often is the concept of listening to our bodies. Our bodies will always try so hard to please us, but if we listen, they are always talking to us. Always telling us whether we’re taking care of them or not. To paraphrase Bernie Clark in his book, The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga, yoga can be a wrestling match with our bodies or a dance. If we feel like we’re wrestling or forcing, we probably need to rethink the way we’re practicing; see if we can find a way to move that feels more like we’re dancing. Yoga should never, ever hurt!
DDY: What is your favorite pose to play with in your body?
LA: That’s such a great question. Just a few years ago, I would have easily answered with a flashy arm balance – maybe crow or firefly pose. Honestly, my two favorite poses to play with now are Downward Facing Dog and Savasana. I have always had difficulty with Down Dog, and have a long history of forcing and pushing my body to create this shape; tight shoulders have never allowed for me to easily move my arms overhead without a ton of compensation. I find that this posture is actually one of the most complex postures in yoga, and yet it is often treated as a transition pose with little emphasis on functional movement.
Savasana also used to be a place where I fought my body to try to master stillness while my mind raced a hundred million miles an hour, thinking about all the things I should be doing instead of just lying there. I think Savasana is one of the most difficult poses for so many people because our monkey minds won’t allow us to just be still. Once I stopped forcing everything else, I found that stillness started to come more naturally as well. Now Savasana is my favorite part of the practice.
DDY: What is your favorite pose to teach?
LA: I don’t really have a favorite pose to teach, but enjoy guiding students through a practice that allows for each of them to be able to find functional movement while feeling empowered in their bodies, and in their practice. I love watching a student move through a challenging balance series, for example, and realize that they can do it with ease. I love the first time a student is able to take a crow after practicing for a while in a sustainable way. They surprise themselves with their own strength and power.
DDY: What would you say is the difficulty level of this class?
LA: Although this class is taught from a functional movement perspective, is playful, and builds strength and flexibility in a sustainable way, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily an easy class. Often students find moving in this way, and longer hold times to be incredibly challenging, particularly at first. Having said that, it is still accessible to most students who want a little challenge and want to build strength for a lifetime of practice.
A huge thanks to Lorelei for shedding some light on Sustainable Power Yoga and making the concept a little more accessible for all of us. If you would like to know more, or further explore the practice of Sustainable Power Yoga and how it could fit into your practice, join Lorelei and Maggie Johnson on May 27th from 4-6pm for a Sustainable Power Workshop. Click here for details.