Why we do what we do at Apollo Power Yoga

For those who have tried practice at Apollo Power Yoga some things will have been apparent.  One is that, Relax and Restore classes aside, our practices are not easy.  Even in Relax and Restore classes, the length of time in some of the poses has an intensity that creates physical and mental challenges.  Another is that some of our students at Apollo Power Yoga are very strong and very capable at the poses and the practice.  Further, people notice from our timetable that we offer only three styles of class (Power Vinyasa, Power Pilates, and Relax and Restore) and we do not have classes for “beginners”.

The result is that some people are deterred because they feel they are not capable of practicing at the level at which we operate.  They may perceive that they are not good enough to participate in our classes.  They may want the classes to be simpler, easier and more accessible for the first-timer or the person just getting started with yoga.

And yet, we do not structure our timetable to offer a lot of really simple classes aimed at the person who has never done yoga before and who wants to have their hand held while they are guided through infancy and toddling in terms of their yoga practice.  Why do we not do that?

Why do we not run “beginners” classes?

For a studio that offers the style of practice we do, trying to incorporate beginners’ classes in our timetable is problematic.  If we do them on weekday mornings we get people saying they cannot come because that conflicts with work.  If we offer them on Saturdays we get feedback that these classes conflict with school sporting commitments or other activities that people are engaged in.  If we offer them in the evenings then the regular students, who have some command of the practice or who are very experienced, are inconvenienced because they want a free flowing vinyasa class not a simplified beginners’ practice.

What we do offer are workshops, run periodically, to give instruction in the fundamentals of power vinyasa yoga and we make these cheap to attend.  If people need extra tuition in the basics of our style of practice, these workshops are available to them as are private lessons.  We are happy to arrange private tuition to give students new to practice, or students who feel like they are stuck with respect to certain poses, extra guidance on a one-to-one or one-to-two basis.

We teach to the majority in the room with an eye for the more experienced who seek extension and an eye for less experienced who may need guidance as to the fundamentals.  It is something of a conceit that a brand new person to practice should expect the whole class to be slowed down and simplified to their level.  We do not teach to the lowest common denominator but teach in a way to include all – if they are willing to learn.

A student who began her yoga experience with us showed up very much in a beginner’s state.  She was not physically exceptionally strong but she had determination.  Her balance was untrustworthy but she was good natured when she lost balance.  She was unfamiliar with the practice but she stuck at it.  She had to modify a number of poses but did so effectively.  Across time she improved in all areas.  Then, her work moved to a different location, close to another yoga studio.  For convenience she started going to their classes.  When she came in to Apollo Power Yoga for a class about ten weeks later she said it would take five classes at the other studio to get what she got from one practice with us.  Even in the relatively short time that she had been going elsewhere to practice, her practice had gone backwards and she recognised that.

This is a reason why we don’t teach simple, beginners’ classes – they just keep students weak and deny them growth.  We consider they do students a disservice.

Be prepared to put the work in to get familiar with the practice

A major obstacle for many people coming to our style of practice is that they expect to be able to do everything in their first class and expect to be able to do the practice well.  Coupled with that is an unwillingness on the part of some new students to do the work to gain experience and acquire the skills of the practice.  Recently, we received feedback that a student who had been to just two classes, more than two years apart, was disinclined to return because they did not know the practice and it was too much to follow.

We want such people at Apollo Power Yoga but, if they are unwilling to apply themselves to learn, if they expect to be able to do everything without going through a learning process, they may just not be Apollo Power Yoga material.  There will be other pursuits that they can try where they will be perfect on their first try – or they will just never do anything because their mindset denies them access to new lessons, to new skills and to growth.

The message that I ask each of you to receive, and all new students to Apollo Power Yoga to receive, is that there is scope for you to practice according to your level of experience.  I encourage new students to get ten classes done quickly – not two classes more than two years apart.  Really, what would you expect to learn from two sessions done more than two years apart?  A new language?  How to play chess?  How to swim?  If a student starts classes I suggest they do so with a determination to get ten classes done quickly – in the first couple of weeks or maybe a month.  By the time they have those classes done, the student will have a familiarity for the practice, its structure, the names of many of the poses and they will be more familiar with and comfortable in the studio environment.

After my very first yoga class one of the regular students asked me if it was what I expected.  I recall saying I had no idea what to expect so it neither conformed with nor was out of alignment with expectation.  It was surprising and challenging but expectation did not come into it.  The key is to drop your expectations – especially the expectation that yoga will be easy.

Be willing to be a learner.  Drop the competitiveness.

A shift in mindset is required on the part of the beginning yoga student.  The beginner must have sufficient humility and must drop their competitiveness so that they can appreciate the practice of yoga without the need to look good in doing the poses.  Some people who show up rather clumsy or awkward in their poses are turned off from the practice because they perceive themselves to be clumsy and awkward. They interpret that as not being good at yoga.  Yet, their clumsiness and awkwardness point to deficiencies in proprioception, body awareness and control, coordination, balance and core stability – these are all deficits that yoga will help such people remedy.  The inexpertness they perceive in their practice, rather than disqualifying them from practice, is the very reason why they need yoga in their lives!

As teachers we understand this fragile, overly self-conscious and judgmental state of mind that some new students experience.  We offer guidance in class, and address essential points of alignment for safety and stability, as well as methods to modify poses and simplify while the students are developing strength and mobility.  We reinforce what the new students are doing that is good and we encourage them in class and in conversation in reception before and after class so as to empower them to try and try again.  We do so well and train so as to give guidance to new students.  Are they listening?

In fact, a student who had practiced a few times elsewhere came in with a friend for a class with us recently.  After class she observed we were better than the other studio where she had practiced because we gave her individual guidance during the class.  That is part of our methodology – not to hover over you being dogmatic nor to leave you ignored as if you were part of the wallpaper, but to see you in class and give guidance, encouragement, alignment and motivation where necessary.

A factor at play in Apollo Power Yoga not running beginners classes daily or even several times a week is that students rapidly grow beyond the need for such classes.  One of two results follow if there are a lot of beginners’ classes.  First, people get stuck in those classes and stay at a beginner’s level instead of progressing and levelling up.  If the classes are dumbed down and if the teachers chew the students’ food for them, there is no growth.  Second, students, properly instructed, encouraged and inspired, quickly progress and then the beginners’ classes just act as a block on the timetable when students would rather participate in a more challenging practice.

You will learn quickly and the practice will reward you

Philosophically, we at Apollo Power Yoga teach up to our students and we treat you like you are intelligent and capable.  That means we trust you to find your way through the first few practices when the practice can seem a lot to take in.  But take it in you can!

I began yoga in a style called Bikram in 2008.  That practice had 26 poses, no sun salutations, no crow or side plank, no crescent lunge, no ujjayi breathing, different versions of some poses in the standing balancing sequence, different back bending poses with no bridge and no wheel, no core stability bar a couple of sit ups performed one at a time separated by other stretching poses, no pigeon, dragon or frog, no inversions…  It was a radically different practice from the style we teach at Apollo Power Yoga.

In early 2010 with about 18 months’ experience of Bikram, I went to train in Baptiste-style power vinyasa yoga.  The learning curve for me was super-steep.  The practice was, as I have said, radically different, the strength required was dramatically greater for power vinyasa yoga and I had to adapt.  Looking back, the Bikram practice had not really prepared me for power yoga at all.  I may as well have come to power yoga from having been a swimmer, a runner, a cyclist or whatever. They were dramatically different disciplines.

But I learned and did so quickly.  By completing that week of training in February 2010 I have been dedicated to power vinyasa yoga ever since.  If you apply yourself at the outset, you too, can have an enduring, rewarding experience of power yoga.  The years that follow the initial learning experience are worth it to get through the opening days when some things are mystifying and when your perception of your performance is low.

Our studio and our practices are about growth.  Growth is not possible without challenge.  Some people lose the desire to take on challenge and adopt the idea that they must be successful in what they do, they must be adept at what they do from the outset, and what they do must come to them easily.  If that negative and limited outlook holds them back from practicing with us that is a shame because there is so much for them to gain with us.

Over the years I have made many advancements in my physical practice.  I have grown in strength, especially core strength, and I have grown in mobility, particularly the mobility of my shoulders.  More importantly, I have learned more of myself and I have a better appreciation of my resistance, the factors that take me out and what it looks like when I am being reactive.  With that insight, I know how to manage my responses and show up better for others and, therefore, for myself.  The practices we teach at Apollo Power Yoga exist for you to grow in the same ways.

We teach classes to a pattern

It is true that the Power Vinyasa and Power Pilates practices we teach have repetitive elements to them.  Our sequences are not identical but have a familiar structure while allowing scope for variations.  This is beneficial for new people to yoga.  Imagine going to a studio as a new person to yoga and finding each teacher taught their practices differently from every other teacher – different as to sequence, different as to the language used to convey cues, different as to intensity.  With a bewildering array of different practices and different styles and methodologies of teaching, learning would be incredibly difficult.  At Apollo Power Yoga we offer a consistency of practice and a consistency of methodology that empowers new students in learning and growing.

The consistency of the practice is not just an aid to learning the practice in the first instance but gives the chance for our students to gauge their progress.  By reflecting upon the incremental improvements that they make across time, students can observe how they have become stronger, more mobile and more focused and present in their minds.  That capacity to chart one’s progress is a useful aspect of practicing a style that is consistent in its sequence.

While teaching a consistent practice there is scope within each practice for each student to practice to their level.  Newer students need not do more advanced variations and extensions of poses.  In any moment there is the option and the freedom to practice as each student can, whether that be more or less expressive.  Consider extended side angle.  At any moment in that pose there may be a new person with their forearm resting on their front thigh and their upper arm resting along the side of their body as well as an advanced student working through the variations of bird of paradise and bound half-moon pose.

The practice we teach has the capacity to accommodate all levels of practitioner so there is, really, no need to run simplified classes confined to beginners.

Be inspired by the example of the capable students around you

The presence in Apollo Power Yoga’s practices of strong, mobile and able practitioners is testament to the effectiveness of the practices we teach.  I say to the new people who may feel intimidated by what they see others doing, “Do not be intimidated.  Be inspired!”  The example provided by the more experienced and able students demonstrates what is possible at some level for everyone who walks into our classes.

If you tell yourself that you are not good enough or that you do not belong because you do not have the same level of ability as someone else, that is your story.  Drop your story.  Be present to and appreciate the practice of which you are capable.  Use the example of others as guidance and encouragement to be all you can be.  Ultimately, the difference between the able practitioner and the person who feels they do not belong because their practice is more humble, is not the way their body performs but the way the students think.  Be a yes for yourself as you are and as you are not.  In that state of affirmation, see your potential and live into it.

We teach philosophical principle

It is not yoga unless there is philosophical principle attached to it.  The postures alone have their own benefits and in some styles of yoga, all that is taught is the mechanics of the poses.  We teach to the alignment of your mind as well as your body.  We teach you to have clarity rather than cloudiness of mind.  We teach you to value yourself and embrace “power” as the ability to be and to let be.  We provide you with reminders to dispel compulsive thought and disempowering perspectives upon yourself and your circumstances.

The philosophy taught in our classes helps break the habitual patterns of thought and outlook that dog and bedevil you.  Transform your perceptions and your experience guided by the principles we teach.  Our practices are not just an escape or a break from routine thought and stress.  Our practices and the principles taught in them, present the opportunity to completely rewire so as to be relieved of stress, self-loathing, feelings of not being enough and so forth so as to be whole, content in yourself and up to something big in your community.

We do what we do at Apollo Power Yoga because:

  1. A world without challenge is a world without growth and greatness. Embrace the challenge of our practices and, with a humble heart, learn and expand into all you can be.
  2. Beginners are welcome in all our classes and beginners will be given guidance, encouragement and direction. You do not need special classes for those who have never been on a yoga mat before.  You need an open mind, an open heart and a commitment to learning and growth.
  3. Consistency is a means to building a powerful experience. Our classes have a consistency of practice and a consistency of teaching methodology.  If you practice consistently then your knowledge of your practice and yourself will grow and you will flourish in the Apollo Power Yoga environment.  There is no two ways about it!
  4. Power vinyasa yoga is a vehicle for physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing and each practice teaches in to each of these elements. If you seek wellness in these holistic elements of your being, Apollo Power Yoga is the place for you.

Start where you are with whatever level of ability you have, and from there, the sky is the limit.  Strength and suppleness come with time as long as the spirit of willingness is there.