Peace, Love, and APY Yoga

December 5, 2011  

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by Logan May
ljmay@smu.edu

“Breathe. This is the one hour out of your day that you can be completely in control.”

Kurt Johnsen, Founder, American Power Yoga/Photo Courtesy of AmericanPowerYoga.com

A tall, lean man paces the area of the small, dimly lit room. Yoga mats are sporadically placed in three rows. Women and men breathe deeply as they stand tall like tree stumps with their hands together palm to palm. The instruction inhales. “In your nose, out your mouth,” the instructor repeats to the class. The faint sounds of upbeat songs play in the background of the yoga studio. Water bottles and towels cover what would be empty space on the hardwood floor.

Kurt Johnsen, founder of American Power Yoga (APY), began his yoga journey when his mother died of a sudden heart attack. As he stood in the hospital with his sister, they began to meditate. It was then and there that Johnsen found his calling. He combined several yoga practices with the idea that our minds are our greatest tool. “We are in charge of our happiness, he says. “Peace comes from within.”

The room is filled with a spectrum of yogis: beginners, like myself, who can barely touch their toes, all the way to experts who can stand on their heads. I decided, instead of simply watching Johnsen in action, I wanted to discover for myself the challenge of APY. I was in way over my head. (No joke intended.)

“Let’s begin with our legs wide, our shoulders down, and our hands high,” Johnsen says. “Heck, why not do a handstand while you’re at it.” The class mimics his action. What is different from Kurt’s class than any other class out there? Humor. Johnsen knows that most of the participants in his open-level classes are beginners with little experience. He keeps a positive outlook and constantly reminds the class that it is okay to fail. In fact, he wants his class to fail. “Without failure, we cannot see what we can truly accomplish,” he says.

Now, I know what you must be thinking. Check out this guy, just another tree hugging, peace loving, and organic eating yoga instructor. Before I took one of Kurt’s classes, this was also my general perception of yoga instructors. I was more than pleasantly surprised when I left the hour session. The people surrounding me in the class were laughing, having a good time, and genuinely enjoying the experience of yoga. Too often it seems that we find ourselves with creases in our brows and stern looks on our faces from the stresses of life. “No one is bad at yoga,” Johnsen says. “You just have to try.”

“Once you find a studio that you love with instructors that really care about you, it just feels right,” says Mike Jackson, APY assistant studio director.

Sage Anna, American Power Yoga Instructor/Photo Courtesy of AmericanPowerYoga.com

Mike had never taken a yoga class in his life until Kurt’s wife introduced him to APY. “It’s an experience I will never forget,” Jackson says. He started his first yoga class the way most beginners do: shaky knees, unsteady breaths, and defeated pride. He insists that Kurt Johnsen’s style of teaching will change non-believers into dedicated yogis.

As I struggle to hold a warrior’s pose in the middle of class, Kurt gently straightens my arms for me and pats me on the back. He never points out anyone’s flaws and he invests his time into each person. “You’ve got it,” he says. “Smile! You’re doing yoga!” Glancing around the room, the energy is contagious. The sweat pours like crazy. The 85-degree room is not for the faint of heart. “Everyone wants to do their best because Kurt brings out the best in us,” Jackson says. His presence at the beginning of class is the exact same at the end of class.

“I got addicted to yoga because of his class,” Karine Carrier, APY yoga instructor says. “This is the best place on Earth.” Carrier began practicing yoga a few years ago but felt unfulfilled and incompetent after each class. Determined to find a great studio, she made her way to APY and never looked back. “This is yoga that anyone can do,” she says.

Kurt consistently offers modifications as well as intensifications for each pose. His goal is for everyone to push it to the limit, and see if they fail or not. “If you fail, that’s okay,” he says. “And if you succeed, man, that rocks.”

The hour- long class seems like only a few minutes long. The structured breathing rhythm designed for the class grantees extreme focus on each pose. Each movement is fluid so that transitioning from one pose to another is natural.

Then begins the meditative stage of the class. The dim lights are now pitch black. The only sound is the deep inhales and exhales. Each person lies on his back, in total relaxation. This is Kurt’s real time to shine. He slowly and quietly speaks. His words flow together so eloquently and straight from his heart. He encourages each person to take away the stress they have. For most, stress is like a leach. It drains you and just doesn’t seem to go away. Just breath. Keep your focus on the good in your life. Deep inhales and exhales.

He ended the class with this: “How will you leave here today? Be kind, be generous, be calm,” he says. “Love you guys.”

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