Monday, December 17, 2007

An Interview with Baron Baptiste

Barnes & Your study of yoga began when you were a child. Was it always something you enjoyed, or did you feel that it was a chore when you were younger?

Baron Baptiste: When I was a kid, I used to go to my parents' yoga studio and retreat center all the time, so back then, doing yoga was very normal for me. It was pretty fun, actually. As I got a little older, though, I started to feel self-conscious about how different I was from all the other kids. They got to play baseball, and I was doing sun salutations; they got to have bologna sandwiches, and I brought banana and honey on whole wheat. So like most teenagers, I rebelled and headed out into the world to see what else was out there besides yoga.

It didn't take long, however, for me to realize the precious gift my parents had given me by instilling in me a seeker's heart and the knowledge base to make yoga my life path. Within a few years, I returned to a dedicated yoga practice, not because it was my heritage per se, but because I saw for myself the incredible magic it can do.

B& You've become quite well known for the energy and athleticism you bring to yoga. How did you develop this unique personal style, your interpretation of the ancient art form.

BB: I never set out to "develop" Baptiste power yoga; it was more of an evolution, a natural progression of studying, researching, practicing, teaching, and just living my life as authentically as I can. For many years I was a student of the traditional forms -- Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, Raja, and so on. I've also studied traditional forms of fitness, martial arts, and have trained hundreds of professional athletes for peak performance. Over the years, I combined what I thought was the best of the best from the East and West and left out everything else, weaving it all together into one all-inclusive practice.

B& The highly intense power yoga that you teach at your studios and Bootcamps has been criticized by some yoga "purists." What is your response to that?

BB: I've been around the yoga world a long time, and believe me, I've seen every so-called angle of "pure." To tell you the truth, I would so much rather be authentic than pure!

To me, the real path to power is living in your truth, moment by moment, day by day. This style is what works for me -- it is what feels right in my bones and what makes my heart sing. Where is the power in rigidly following dogma, or taking contortionist poses that have no proven health benefit, or blindly following a guru, if none of that resonates for you? Like I say in my book, one of the greatest mistakes people make when beginning a yoga practice is embracing tradition over intuition, when all along, the true answers to what they need were right there inside them.

B& You say, "Everyone can do power yoga. Everyone." I myself was intimidated by the idea of attending one of your power yoga classes, but when I got there I found that I loved it and felt great afterward. How does it feel to know that you can empower people in such a way?

BB: I feel so blessed to be able to bring power yoga to people. It is incredible and continually inspiring for me to witness the amazing transformations that take place in my students' bodies, their spirits, and their lives. What an amazing gift they give back to me!

B& I thought one of the most important sections of the book was when you explain the seven most common mental mistakes people make when they practice yoga. People doubting their intuition, pushing themselves too hard, disregarding the small steps that are part of the process…most of us are guilty of these at one time or another. Do you ever find yourself slipping back into one of these mental mistakes or is your brain hard-wired against them now?

BB: For the most part, my brain is kind of hard-wired against them, but I have to confess that I still make some mistakes from time to time. Thankfully, though, the response time has gotten shorter; it takes me a lot less time to notice when I've slipped into one of these mental mistakes and to come back to center.

B& Your approach to diet is so sensible -- you stress eating mindfully and cleanly. Can you summarize the aspects of your cleansing diet for us?

BB: It's pretty simple, really. As you mentioned, it all comes down to eating mindfully and cleanly, according to what works for our individual bodies. It's about making conscious choices about what we put into our bodies based on whether they will cause "pleasure" (feelings of vitality and radiant health) or "pain" (feelings of guilt and/or bloating, indigestion, and long-term weight gain), a principle I refer to as learning to "eat from cause." It opens the door for readers to learn commonsense things like activating their intuitive eating mechanisms, why their bodies thrive from water-rich foods and what they are, and why trying to fool mother nature with artificial low-fat foods only makes you a fatter fool.

B& You write in Journey into Power that even during an activity like weight lifting, you can still be practicing yoga, through your breathing, your posture, your concentration. How do you go about bringing yoga into your everyday life?

BB: One of the things I love about power yoga is that it offers real-life, practical tools that we can use in our lives off the mat, as well. I use the principles of my yoga practice in my everyday life all the time. For instance, I have three young boys, and if ever there was a place to practice non-reactiveness, parenting certainly is it! My seventh "Principle for Stepping Up to the Edge" is to remember that we are the sum total of our reactions, so when one of them acts out or does something I don't like, I remind myself that right then and there is an opportunity to unhook from the automatic response of getting annoyed or frustrated. Like I say in my book, it's all yoga!

B& Is there anything you would like to add?

BB: To the readers, I want to say I hope that the program laid out in my book has the same profound impact on you that I have seen it have on me and thousands of my students. Remember, within you is already your most radiant, authentic, beautiful self; all you need to do is take the Journey into Power to reveal it!

Baron Baptiste is the author of

Journey into Power: How to Sculpt Your Ideal Body, Free Your True Self, and Transform Your Life with Yoga
Buy this book at Barnes & Noble