Monday, February 21, 2011

Baron Baptiste’s Power Yoga: The View of Yoga in America Today

Charda Davis

Yoga: Theory, Culture, and Practice

Laura Douglass

February 21, 2011


In American culture and society today, yoga is viewed in so many different ways. In some practices the focus is on the breath or “pranayama” (breathing practice), while in other practices the focus is on the body or more of a meditative or religious slow-paced practice. As we discussed in class, yoga is presented in various ways in its three aspects of theory, culture, and practice. We can see by theories that there are physical benefits of (hatha) yoga such as practicing techniques to succeed in diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure, and asthma (Muktibodhananda, 1998). Other yoga theories may disagree and may have their own views, such as the Aghoris who coat their bodies in ash and allow their arms to rot by holding them up for many years, which so discipline of the body, or Bhakti yoga which portrays their practices by using devotional images of gods (L. Douglass, 2010). This is portrayed by the culture of yoga whether it is an athletic and more physically sustaining culture, such as the western view, or more of a lifestyle and meaningful culture, such as the eastern approach to yoga. The western view of yoga today is very focused on the physical state of mind and its’ practices are often more extreme, whereas some of the eastern views of yoga are more spiritual with an intellectual state of mind. This allows their practices to be milder and gentler allowing a “oneness” with divinity created by a deeper practice of breathing. The focus on athleticism can be seen at the Baron Baptiste’s Power (vinyasa) Yoga studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in Brookline, Massachusetts (and other affiliate studios found globally), the yoga studio I decided to visit. This studio’s sports or athletic approach to the understanding of yoga is valued by the American culture today because of the view of a more physical state of mind.


As stated by Baptiste Power Yoga (2005), Baron Baptiste was seen as a prince of American yoga named by the Yoga Journal in 2006. He is not only a power vinyasa yoga practitioner, but he is also an educator and an international best-selling author and presenter. As a child he was seen practicing yoga as early as seven years old. He was born into a very spiritual family, in which he was introduced to health, spirituality, and yoga the day he was born because both of his parents were yoga pioneers who introduced their practices in San Francisco (Rosin, 2006) His father, Walt Baptiste, and his mother, Magana Baptiste, founded the Yoga Philosophic Health Center in San Francisco, according to Rosin (2006) and were seen as the pioneers in the fields of nutrition, body culture, and fitness training (Baptiste Power Yoga, 2005). “Baron was bred to teach and educate” says Baptiste Power Yoga (2005). “He's a man of much life experience in life transformation, self-development education, yoga philosophy and practice” (Baptiste Power Yoga, 2005).

Not only has Baron continued the practices he grew up with, but he uses those practices to continue to “transform the face of American yoga” by introducing his sense of spirituality to the western (American) culture. However, Rosin (2006) stated that he “banished some of the Hindu and Hare Krishna associations and made yoga Christian-friendly, quoting Jesus and biblical scripture in his lectures and interviews.” He wanted to be seen as a coach, rather than a “guru” because he didn’t want to be followed; he wanted to be able to “converse” with his students, not tell them what to do, and wanted them to take away the aspects of his teachings that they found most beneficial and important to them (Rosin, 2006). His practices are known very well around the world and have been introduced to various populations of people from different backgrounds and different socio-economic statuses such as the Kennedy family, professional football players in the National Football League (NFL), people residing in the Fijian Villages, troubled teenagers living in California, low-income families living in Washington, DC, and over thousands of students around the Boston area (Baptiste Power Yoga, 2005). He has founded and directs three power yoga studios in the Boston area, which serves hundreds of students on a daily basis, as well as the general Boston community. He founded the Baptiste Power Yoga Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts and opened the studio with Maxwell Kennedy.

The Studio

The Baptiste Power Yoga Institute is located at 2000 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA. It is a rather small yoga one room studio that sits on a street corner. It is quite spacious on the inside with two bathrooms and dressing areas and multiple areas to place individuals’ belongings. It may be a small studio, but the organization of it is exceptional. There is a routine to the start of classes and the new students get thrown into the routine (with guidance) as soon as they walk through the door (S. Rubenstein, personal communication, February 16, 2010). Each student must have water, a yoga mat, and a towel to bring into the studio with them; this is a requirement to be able to take the class. These items are sold and are available to rent at the studio. They also have miscellaneous yoga gear that can be purchased. Students are also informed to arrive ten minutes before the class begins because no one is allowed in the studio once the class starts and students are told to practice yoga on an empty stomach (Baptiste Power Yoga, 2005). The classes’ instructors are exceptionally trained in Baptiste’s Power Vinyasa Yoga and take pride in teaching their classes.

The studio’s mission is “to empower people in finding true health and deeper spiritual connection, every day, one day at a time.” (Baptiste Power Yoga, 2005). Baptiste Power Yoga (2005) states that the studio values the individual and understand that every person moves at a different pace and so they adapt their practices effectively to the needs of the individual to “offer the most holistic and comprehensive Personal Growth and Teacher Training programs in the world” while still keeping their commitment to the creation of a positive impact on local and global communities. The studio provides all of its’ students with a clear curriculum that consists of a “strategic, but soulful approach that makes our process accessible to everyone, regardless of age, experience, or background” (Baptiste Power Yoga, 2005). The studio offers a variety of different classes and workshops to anyone and everyone who is interested at different levels, focusing solely on Baron Baptiste’s Power Vinyasa Yoga practice. Power Vinyasa Yoga, as described by the Breath & Body Yoga Institute (2010) (which is an affiliate studio of Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga) is a

dynamic combination of strength, sweat and spirituality. Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga detoxifies, heals, and electrifies. This accessible, challenging, and flowing form of yoga will lead you to a state of transformation -- it will sculpt, tone and hone the muscles of your body and your mind." Classes are based on a structure of 53 asanas in 11 series within a 90 minute class. Within the consistency of this proven structure, there are many modifications and variations that serve the needs of all experience levels. Get ready to take your practice seriously, but yourself lightly as you explore your edge, discover your strength, and awaken your spirit! The yoga studio is heated a comfortable 88-90 degrees.”

As seen from the description, this type of yoga is for those who can handle moving in a heated area and at more of a faster pace and at somewhat of a greater intensity. The studio seems to cater everyone in the community, especially to the students in the surrounding area because most of, if not all of their classes have student discounts and from my experience, many students attend these classes on a regular basis. The people who do attend these classes are from all different ages, different races and nationalities, and different genders. I am unsure about the socio-economic population of the studio’s community because in my opinion the classes are expensive, but to some people that I have talked to, their classes aren’t that expensive compared to other studios in the Boston area. Some of the classes include: “Hour of Power”,“Power Yoga Basics”, “Intermediate”, “Relax and Renew”, and “All Levels” (Baptiste Power Yoga, 2005). As one can see, these classes cater to and serve people of all different populations and this great diversity is another aspect of the studio that makes it amazing.

My Experience

I truly enjoyed the class that I attended at Baptiste Power Yoga Institute. I attended an “All Levels” class with Kate. First waking into the studio I was a little nervous because everyone looked like they knew the routine and this was my first time walking into that studio, so I had no idea what was going on. The staff, however, took me under their wing and guided me through the Baptiste experience. They gave me a little tour around the studio and set up my spot in the studio with my mat, towel, and water. They wanted to make sure that I was comfortable and I really appreciated this. My nerves at that point had calmed down. The ninety degree heat felt good at first, but then became too hot once we started moving.

We started in downward facing dog and went through the poses at a steady pace then the pace gradually increased. It was a continual flow throughout the whole practices. I was familiar with most of the poses so I was able to follow along without having to think too much about what I was doing. I got light-headed at some points, but that feeling went away completely after twenty minutes. What I liked was that Kate kept informing us that this was our practice and we can practice to the best of our abilities. She was very keen at telling us to sit in child’s pose if we need a break or to modify the poses to work specifically with our bodies. She told us to not pay any mind to those around us because everyone has different bodies and is at a different level. She walked around fixing postures and helping people with the modification of poses. She was talking the whole time. For the most part I feel that I kept up with the class pretty well for it only being my first time doing this type of yoga. Although Kate did mention breathing and keeping your breath, it wasn’t as structured as it is in our class practice. Our class is more slowly paced and we recognize our breath and breathing more, whereas the power yoga class is instructed at a faster pace and at points the instructor mentions the breath while we hold certain poses, but the breath is usual let out with a huge sigh. Similar to our class we ended with a deep relaxation.

After taking the class I understand why it is said to be for athletes. You sweat a lot! I felt absolutely amazing after it, like I had been at the gym for hours. What I noticed about the people was that the men had no shirts and shorter shorts on and the women wore tighter clothing, whether it was just a sports bra or a tank top and yoga pants or shorts. This is different from our class, in which we wear anything from jeans to sweatpants or looser clothing. Both practices follow a “present moment” practice, in which there is no goal that needs to be obtained. Although I noticed many differences between these two types of yoga practices, I really enjoy practicing both types. Power yoga I enjoy for more of a workout and hatha yoga gives me more of a low-key stretch while allowing me to be more aware of my breathing.

Culture and Theory

Baron Baptiste’s practice of yoga, I believe, is influenced by the culture in which I live. In the western (American) culture the focus, as I previously stated, is on the body. This culture, as we saw in class when we viewed different aspects of yoga, has a notion that the body is meant for sexual appeal, especially a woman’s body. Baptiste founded Power Vinyasa Yoga in the 1980’s, which was a time that society’s focus was leaning more toward the body, especially in the media. As I stated previously, it is different from the hatha yoga that we practice in class each week. As Desikachar (1999) states that vinyasa karma is a “guide for carrying out not only our yoga practice but also all the tasks of our everyday life”. In my opinion this describes for me that Power Vinyasa yoga help us to gain sense of a step-by-step progression that allows our body, mind, and breath to be balanced. This supports Barons methodology which “provides individuals and groups with a means to design new contexts and paradigms in body and mind - both on-and-off the yoga mat” (Baptiste Power Yoga, 2005). Not only is this practice for just practice, but it impacts our daily lives as well. This is different form hatha yoga, which focuses on the flow of prana throughout the body and the prana takes many forms in the body that are linked to practice and a successful practice leads to the breakdown of blocked chakras, making a clear path for prana (Desikachar, 1999).


My experience of the different ways that yoga is presented in America today has been a truly rewarding experience. Discovering a more intense and athletic type of yoga has allowed me to see a different view of the body and breath than the view I’ve come across in our class. Although I find both practices to be of importance, I do believe that each practice’s purpose is practical. I believe that people can benefit from each type of yoga for many different reasons. Many people disagree on what the “right” view of yoga should be and I think that every view should be accepted because each practice holds a deal of importance.


Baptiste Power Yoga. (2005). Retrieved February 18, 2010 from

Breath & Body Yoga. (2010). Retrieved February 18, 2010 from

Desikachar, T.K.V. (1999). The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International.

Douglass, L. (February, 2010). Relationship with Body. Lecture given in CSOCS 3452 Yoga: Theory, Culture, and Practice, Lesley University, Cambridge, MA

Muktibodhananda, S. (1998). Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust.

Rosin. (2006). Striking a Pose. Atlantic Monthly (10727825), 298(5), 114-119. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

S. Rubenstein (personal communication, February 16, 2010) provided background information about the Baptiste Power Yoga Institute.

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