Baptiste Power Yoga
I knew exactly what yoga studio I wanted to attend as soon as I heard of the project, Baron Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga in Cambridge. I have heard that many athletes enjoy this hot yoga. Since I am an athlete I thought this would be the perfect match. I looked into the background by searching the website. I found out that when I attend the class I need to bring lots of water, a towel, my mat, have an empty stomach and fifteen dollars to pay for the class. I also learned about Baron’s background by reading his profile they have on the website as well about his father, the founder of Baptiste, Walt. I also read about the teacher that I was going to have during the session I was attending, Sharon. While looking into my teacher I read about how much effort, time and money goes into becoming a teacher. In order to be a certified teacher you have to apply to even get into the program where they teach you to be a teacher and critique the students, how to move their body and lead the breathing and other aspects of the class. Attending Baptiste made me realize about the history of Walt, Baron, its influences from culture, who it serves, my personal experience and comparing it to our class.
Walt and his wife Magana founded the first yoga studio in San Francisco in 1955. He had been practicing yoga his entire life before he decided to open a studio. When he was a teenager he use to call his teaching of people “sharing” instead of teaching. At first he used to just practice with people in his house in rooms that his father let him use, then his followers were actually the ones to get him his first studio space. His practice is influenced by the teachings of Hatha Yoga by Krishnamachar. “The main objective of hatha yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy” (Muktibodhananda, 7). This definition of hatha yoga clearly states the main purpose of Baptiste. Since the practice is not only about the spiritual health, but the physical health too, the practice takes place in a 90-degree room now. This helps people’s physical body sweat profusely and cleanse it while doing so. Walt and Magana taught their beliefs to their two children. Both of them still practice yoga and are well known yoga instructors. Baron continued in his parent’s footsteps by making yoga studios and teaching. Baron now runs Baptiste Yoga, the yoga his father started in the studio in 1955.
Since Baron has taken over many things have changed within the practice. Walt and Magana used more candles and did more spiritual practices whereas at the Baptiste studio it is not filled with candles and lots of spiritual aspects now. Walt tried to help people clear their mind since “the human mind is in disorder” (Krishnamurti, 26). All the spiritual aspects of Walt’s practice were designed to help the body and mind both. Now in the class with Baron there is less of an aspect on the mind, it seems to be more about the body. There is some chanting at the beginning and end of the class, but very briefly. However if someone is interested in the more spiritual side of things they can attend a workshop or boot camp. Here the people work intensely to connect to their inner being and spiritual self. They also learn more advanced positions. Baron has become famous for his teachings. He has created movies and books to help people practice and understand the practice. Baron has also worked with many celebrities and changed their lives through the practice. Another difference since Baron has taken over is the price change to attend the classes. When Walt first opened his studio it cost five dollars for a month. When I attended just one class it was three times as much as it use to be for an entire month. Not only that, but if you want to attend a boot camp or workshop it is thousands of dollars.
I believe that this style of yoga has been very westernized since its foundation and changed to fit in with American Culture. Walt use to practice much more spiritually than it is done today. In America spiritual rituals are not seen as the norm. I believe the hotness of the room is something that is westernized. America is based on people’s appearance. If you are sweating more while tightening your muscles and toning your body then you will lose more weight. Another aspect that has been westernized is how Baron is selling movies and books. America is not only about appearance, but money too. Baron uses his yoga practice as a way to make money and sell many books and movies. In the past people have never done that. In class we touched for a moment that in order to practice yoga you do not have to be in skimpy, tight clothes. While attending my class I felt like that’s what I should have been wearing. All the women in the class were in tight spandex pants or shorts and wearing either a sports bra or a sport tank top that revealed their stomach. This part goes back to America being very into people’s appearance. Lastly while I was at the class I realized that many people were pushing themselves to the most advance stage of a pose, even if they could not hold it. For example, when we were doing either a bridge or a wheel everyone tried to do the wheel. However they could not hold it for the long duration of breathes that we were doing it for and would fall to their mat midway. This relates back to America’s culture and how everyone tries to push themselves farther than they are capable of going. On their website it even states that Baptiste Yoga changes constantly to keep up with society.
This practice of yoga is said to serve anybody. On the website it says that age, size, fitness level etc. do not matter, that anyone can do power yoga. They say that you just have to be aware of your body’s physical condition, body’s alignment and spirit. Although the website says that it is doable for anyone I did not see this diversity in the class. Everyone in the class was small and fit. I would say that not one person in the class was even the slightest bit on the heavier side. The only diversity that I did notice was the age range. I would say that I was one of the youngest people there, but there were people who looked much older than me there, I would say in their fifty and sixties. The only other thing I noticed was the ratio of men to women. There were seven men in the class and twelve women. That is a pretty close ratio considering most people in America think that yoga is only for women.
While attending my class I got quite nervous right before it started. As soon as I walked in from the lobby after getting the low down of what was going to happen in class, I immediately felt the massive temperature change. By the time I walked across the room to put my bag and shoes in a cubby I was sweating. I also knew I was in for a very difference experience than I had ever had before while attending yoga. I went and placed my mat in the back of the room. When I got there people had been there for over a half hour getting use to the temperature in the room- they were just laying on their mats sweating. The teacher came over before starting the class and introduced herself (Sharon) and told me that if at any point I needed a break to just go into child’s pose. A few minutes later the class started. It was a very fast pace compared to other practices I have done. At the beginning we did a short chant. Then we did no other chanting until the very end. There were a couple instances where I had to use the child’s pose- warrior two and frog stretch. I sweat more during this yoga class than I did during soccer preseason. The sweat was actually dripping off my body onto my mat. My feet and hands got so slippery that they were sliding all around the mat. I looked around to try and figure out how other people were not having this same issue; I realized you had to put your towel on top of your mat. We only did a short mediation, maybe only one minute, then did the final chant. This yoga class was a great experience; I am hoping to continue to go after my soccer season is over when I have more time.
This yoga experience was different than the practice we have been doing in class this semester. In the class we have been doing our practice at a very slow pace. We also start the class with a much longer chant than we did at Baptiste. Another difference that stood out to me was the breathing. At Baptiste we would take deep breaths in and then sigh out. It seemed to get more of my air our and release any tension that I had from the pose that I had just been holding. This relates to Hatha Yoga Pradipika when Muktibodhananda says “you are stopping nervous impulses in different parts of the body (151). Here he is talking about how breathing stops these impulses, which is what I felt with that tension release with the sigh. Also, throughout the class we held all the poses for certain amount of breaths. We also did a clearing of the lungs exercise that reminded me of the deep hard breaths we did in class when we pushed the air out of our lungs to get the old air out. Clearly the temperature difference was a major difference in the experience I had. While doing the hot yoga I felt like there was a ten-minute span where all I was doing was wiping sweat off myself and drinking water. The last big difference for me was it was the longest time span I had ever practiced yoga. It was a ninety-minute class, in drastically hot temperature moving at a fast pace. This class was much more difficult and harder than the practice we do in the class. One thing that happens in both of the practices in the teacher going around helping people move into the correct pose. It may not seem like a big difference, but it is. The slightest more or less of a twist can completely change a pose.
Overall my experience at Baptiste was amazing. I learned so much about it’s history and how it started. I learned about its mission to be happy both physically and spiritually. I saw the connections and differences between this style of yoga and the practice we have been doing this semester. I realized a couple of connections to our readings and class discussions that helped bring together some of my ideas. I recognized how the American culture has influenced this practice.
Baptiste Website. http://www.baronbaptiste.com/index.htm
Krishnamurti, J. This Light In Oneself. Shambhala. 1999.
Muktibodhananda, Swami. Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Yoga Publications Trust. 1998.