Yoga: Theory, Culture and Practice
Spring Semester 2013
My back made an audible popping sound on January 1st of last year. I was having dinner with my partner at the time and ended up rushing to the emergency room, which was only a couple blocks away from the restaurant. From that day forward, I regularly saw a back specialist, attended physical therapy sessions, and did a light asana practice every morning. I also participated in hot vinyasa yoga classes at BE Studio in Union Square, Somerville every single week. The pain I was experiencing at the time was physical; however, I soon realized that I was experiencing a lot of mental pain as well. It was if I had a gigantic mental block; school wasn’t going well, I hated my job, and I never spoke to my friends or family. This struggle stemmed from the self-sabotaging anxiety I developed due to my relationship. The yoga that I regularly practiced and therapy sessions that I attended led me to see my place in the world, future goals, and relationship a little clearer. I learned how to let go, and I eventually did for my own self. This process was complicated, but somehow I managed to go through it gracefully with what I learned through my practice. After moving home to Providence for the summer, I made my way back to Cambridge in the fall of 2012 and started every aspect of my life over. I wanted to begin going to yoga regularly again, but I wanted to try out a different local studio first. This is when I began attending classes at Prana Power Yoga in Central Square, Cambridge.
Prana Power Yoga was established by self-acclaimed “Super Mom”, Taylor Wells and her husband, Phillipe Wells ten years ago in Newton, MA. They later created additional studios in Winchester, MA, Manhattan, NY, Brooklyn, NY, and Cambridge, MA. A hot vinyasa flow is what instructors normally teach at Prana. In addition, restorative and unheated classes are practiced on occasion at a higher “workshop” price. In their teacher bios, both Taylor and Phillipe talk about how they once led superficial, seemingly happy lives, but didn’t feel like they were doing anything personally meaningful until they began to seriously practice yoga. Taylor opens up more about this on the Prana website, “I did a lot of stuff, got a lot of stuff, achieved a lot of stuff and won–a lot. But I wasn’t happy…” (Wells, pranapoweryoga.com). However, their expertise in time-management and leading businesses is still evident in how they run their studios. Taylor and Phillipe travel between all of their spaces and teach classes, lead teacher trainings and special workshops, do book signings, write a blog for the Boston Herald, and lead an unbelievably thorough social media campaign for Prana Power Yoga. While managing every single aspect of their business, they also raise five children. After learning all of this, it did not faze me why Taylor would call herself a “Super Mom”.
In a video for the Boston Herald, Taylor talks about waking up at four in the morning to begin her practice or head to her Newton studio to teach a pre-dawn class. This sense of discipline is most likely inspiring to those with busy schedules; however, it seems overwhelming to me. In our modern culture, we want to be able to do everything in a short amount of time; but with the distractions that pop up throughout the day, it seems nearly impossible. I think that developing a routine while allowing yourself to “let go” throughout the day, even when you’re not practicing yoga, is possible. However, I believe that it’s important to just let go and be mindful of your well-being when you can’t pursue everything all at the same time.
Prana Power Yoga’s goal is to provide a welcoming environment that will allow you to develop inner-strength and self-love. “You’ll experience a feeling of love, connection, belonging, acceptance, and good energy in our Prana community. We’re not about ego or competition, because that’s not yoga and it leads to suffering.” (Wells, pranapoweryoga.com) While eliminating outside pressure, one can become more mindful of their body and well-being. “Create The Best Life Ever” is a book that Taylor Wells also wrote to inspire her students. It is a collection of real life stories that she promises will help you make your goals in life more possible. The book is available in a section of the Prana website that is dedicated to selling books, inspiration cards, and yoga-inspired clothing. I found this to be extremely hypocritical of what they claim to be their beliefs. Is someone who is dealing with anxiety or body image-related issues supposed to purchase these products in order to be happy? This is a perfect example of how yoga is marketed to Western society. The idea that Prana Power Yoga is an ego and competition-free space is plastered throughout their social media and public campaigns for the studio. However, this is not what exactly what I first observed when I walked into the “Prana 2 Music” class in Cambridge.
Once I paid the fee for the class, I walked into an almost full room of women that were mostly wearing super tight tops and leggings. The space was lit by colorful lanterns hanging from the sea foam green painted ceiling, and had an extremely large window that faced Massachusetts Ave. in Central Square. It felt very welcoming and open, despite the suffocating humidity filling the space. It was hard to find a place to lay down my mat because it was extremely full in the room and I didn’t want to step on anyone. I settled for a place in the back so I could observe the rest of the students. I admit that I felt a little self-conscious and didn’t know what kind of reaction I would get from the instructor or other students if I made a mistake or went too slow. I try to keep up with the pace of hot yoga classes; however, it’s important for me take breaks and slow down due to my asthma and lower back pain. At the studio that I used to go to in Union Square, the teacher would always ask everyone if they had any injuries prior to class. Unfortunately, and to my surprise, this did not happen at the class at Prana that day. In addition, I felt a sense of “competition” within the class, which can turn people away from popular hot yoga studios like Prana. On the Prana Power Yoga website, blog, and in various videos, Taylor Wells also talks about body image and how Prana is a community that accepts everyone. Our modern culture is obsessed with body image, which is what yoga is now often associated with. Letting go of that mental block when you go to classes is extremely important if you’re new to the practice and don’t understand the way it’s represented in modern culture.
The instructor, Caitlin Green, came in and started playing some music that filled the space. I immediately sensed that playing music while practicing yoga wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel relaxed, in fact, I felt extremely tense during the entire session. It was even difficult to let go in child’s pose while Coldplay blasted through the speakers. I’m sure it enriched the flow and movement for some students, but the stress that I was bringing to my mat and trying to unravel that day only amplified within me. I was really surprised to see her waltz around all of the students without helping them with alignment throughout the class. She did not practice or demonstrate any of the poses herself; rather, she called some of the complicated names out loud instead. I had to look up from my mat and check out what other students were doing most of the time because I didn’t know what she was saying. I found myself struggling to keep up with the pace and music, so I occasionally had to escape into child’s pose instead. Although this class is advertised as being suitable for “all-levels”, I don’t feel like Caitlin did enough to make sure that her students were aware of alternate poses in case they were feeling pain or couldn’t hold the pose long enough.
After another oddly uncomfortable experience, I still want to keep giving Prana Power Yoga a chance. I left the class feeling rejuvenated and like my muscles loosened up. I was excited that I had something to write about, but I’m eager to go back and see what the other instructors are like. Going to studios that offer a variety of classes taught by around twenty different instructors can be hit-or-miss. I don’t think this particular class reflects what all yoga classes are like at this studio, just like how the one session I went to at BE in Union every week might not reflect what the other classes are like. I might have just been lucky to find an instructor who was fully invested in the student’s success and growth within the class. Although I did not agree with their methods of advertising and promoting living the “best life ever” by purchasing their products, I hope to give some of Prana Power Yoga’s other classes a chance. My experience at Prana reminded me of how important it is to focus on your own mind and body when you are practicing. He writes “…the aloneness of seeing in its purity, without any distortions introduced by the organs of perception, namely, the mind, the heart, and the senses” is the power of yoga (Ravindra 50). While eliminating outside pressure, one can become more mindful or their body and well being.
Ravindra, Ravi. The Spiritual Roots of Yoga: Royal Path to Freedom: Sandpoint: Morning Light
Press, 2006. Print.
Wells, Taylor. Prana Power Yoga. 2013. Web. 22 Feb 2013.