I took a couple power yoga classes with alternative teachers recently, due to social reasons. Yes, yoga is like a social activity for me now. Some people go clubbing or go for coffee with friends; I go to various studios for yoga classes with friends whom I haven't seen for awhile. I also try to attend classes of people who have newly gotten their teacher training certifications. It's my way of showing support for fresh new teachers and racking up karma points. I used to get disappointed if people don't reciprocate the favors, but now I've learned that karma is not about how others returning the favors; it's about how I feel about my own chosen actions, which should be a reward in itself.
Anyways, there was one class that was nothing like Ashtanga but I really enjoyed it, and another that I honestly hated. I was wondering why I had such adverse reactions to certain power classes even though I really appreciate the teachers' enthusiasm and efforts. The initial criteria that come to mind are the sequencing of asanas, the pace and rhythm with which the teacher takes us into poses, and the clarity of the teacher's instructions. After today's gorgeous Ashtanga class, another answer dawned on me: I am addicted to the generation of prana in yoga classes.
To me, if there's no linking of breath to movement, it should not be considered as a yoga class. I guess many of the new teachers, especially those with fitness backgrounds, are too eager to challenge the students, making them hold a tough pose for what seems to be an eternity, or sequence the poses in a way they might as well label as circus or bootcamp training. It's nice that the class challenges the muscles, but the fact that I cannot breath with my movements through the asana sequence they designed bugs me like crazy! I noticed in today's Ashtanga class that the strong ujjayi breathing carried me through tough poses/vinyasas and half way through the sequence I felt energized by my breathing, and had higher energy than at the beginning of class! I think sometimes a teacher's enthusiasm can uplift the entire class (like my rocket yoga classes), and for today's case my own breathing helped me build up more energy. With the power class I liked, I'm not sure if it was the teacher's Anusara training or his martial arts background, but even though he broke his class up into different segments with pauses in between (where I learned to get into a handstand with assists, woohoo!), he seemed to pay a lot of attention to breathing and energy flow in the warm up and cool down sequences.
So, I guess the verdict is that I'm a breathing/prana junkie. For my friends who are not fans of Ashtanga, or who love power classes for the sheer challenge on the muscular body, I'm guessing they haven't really experienced a really good pranyama practice yet. I also appreciate that one first needs to be able to comfortably get into a good proportion of the poses in Asthanga before being able to enjoy an ease of rhythmic breathing, and that takes a good period of dedicated regular practice.
p.s. For my personal record, my heels lifted a millimeter off the ground for kurmasana today for the first time. Woohoo :)