My Power Yoga experience: Flexibility not required

Be prepared to get your heart rate up

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photo of a woman in Warrior 1 pose.
For instructor Kealani Wong, teaching allows her to connect with her students through her circuit of poses. PHOTO: sippakorn yamkasikorn / Unsplash

By: Simran Sarai, Sports Writer

SFU Recreation hosted its fall trial sessions last week from September 19–23. Students and community members were invited to try out a variety of free classes to help them find an activity to partake in for the new semester. This was the first time I had ever attended trial week and it was a blast! I checked out Kealani Wong’s one-hour Power Yoga class on September 20 in Lorne Davies Complex, and had an opportunity to speak with the instructor about her passion for teaching afterwards

The SFU Recreation website describes Power Yoga as “an energetic form of vinyasa yoga, more based on fitness. It focuses on building strength, endurance and flexibility while working up a sweat.” 

Yoga has a rich and vibrant history that many people don’t learn before their classes — this has a lot to do with its appropriation by Western culture. Rina Deshpande briefly explains yoga’s beginnings in and its appropriation in her article for SELF magazine.

“Yoga is estimated to be at least 2,500 years old, originating in the Indus Valley Civilization,” Deshpande said. However, in western society, the practice of yoga has often been stripped down to focus on the postures, neglecting the spiritual and mental aspects. Deshpande highlights the stark difference between current practices of yoga and its traditional form. “The yoga I knew from my Indian upbringing — the spiritual philosophy embedded in everyday experiences — is no longer seen as yoga.” She added, “practices in the other limbs of yoga — such as purification of body, mind, and speech, controlling human impulses [and] the practice of breathing to control the life force within” are “forgotten in many forms of modern practice.”

Part of navigating yoga classes in western culture means recognizing the classes we take often do not reflect the full practice of yoga. In acknowledging and learning the traditional beginnings of yoga, we can take steps to ensure the classes we attend also respect the traditional practice.

I’m a beginner to yoga, so I expected this class to make me work hard, and it didn’t disappoint. No matter how much I tried to prepare myself for the hour-long session, I was still surprised at how fast-paced the class was. We circled through poses such as Downward Dog and Warrior 1 pose, transitioning from one exercise straight into the next. It felt like I had accomplished a fairly strenuous workout in such a short time. Best of all, I didn’t even have to bring any equipment: SFU provided participants with yoga mats. I do recommend bringing lots of water — this class is not a walk in the park.

There were roughly 20 people who attended the class. We sat on our respective mats and started off the session in the studio classroom with some slow stretches. The whole course focused on integrating mindful, deep breathing into our poses, focusing on making sure our stomachs expanded as we inhaled, and drawing them back in towards our spines as we exhaled. My favourite part was the last five minutes we spent focusing exclusively on deep breathing. It was so peaceful, I almost fell asleep! It helped me feel super energized after the class, which was needed after working up a sweat. 

By the time I had a chance to catch my breath, instructor Wong was already prepared for her questions. Wong decided to complete her yoga certification to become better acquainted with the practice of Power Yoga. “I wanted to just know more about it. I really enjoyed it [ . . . ] and I just kind of felt like there was a lot more to the practice than just the asanas.”

When asked what she liked best about teaching the class, Kealani pointed to a variety of factors related to collaboration and creativity. “I enjoy doing the practice, and I enjoy the creative freedom and expression to create my own practice, and then share it with other people. It’s kind of like I’m practicing my own sequences and I can express my own creative freedom, but I’m also guiding other people with that same sequence.” 

She also highlighted the joy she finds in watching her class participants better themselves. The only advice Wong had for anyone thinking about jumping into yoga for the first time is to “believe that you can do it. The only person that is limiting yourself is yourself.”