Talking Shop with Baron Baptiste
Over the years Baron Baptiste has studied Raja, Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Bikram Yoga, melding these styles together to produce his own vigorous, challenging heat-based vinyasa flow. He runs the busy Power Yoga Institutes in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia; has coined the term "Boot Camp" for his eight-day international yoga retreats; is featured in best-selling yoga videos and on ESPN; and is the author of Journey into Power: How to Sculpt Your Ideal Body, Free Your True Self, and Transform Your Life with Yoga (Simon and Schuster).
Yoga Journal: What was it like to grow up with yogis for parents?
Baron Baptiste: I grew up with a lot of teachers around—Swami Rama, Sai Baba, Muktananda. In the '50s back when my parents started, it was a very weird thing to be into yoga. People thought it was a cult. In school I was teased and called a Hare Krishna. For lunch I had wheat bread and a banana with a brown spot on it, while other kids had Twinkies and Wonder Bread.
YJ: Did you plan on following in your parents' footsteps?
BB: I never thought I'd be a yoga teacher. I got forced into teaching my first class by my father, who was leaving town and wanted me to substitute. I didn't want to, but I went and taught it anyway. During that class I tapped into something in myself. I saw that people authentically enjoyed it, and it touched something in me. My father said, "You know a lot, and you've grown up around a lot of great teachers. If you don't share what you know, you lose it. You have a responsibility." Those words combined with that first teaching experience resonated with me. He pushed me over the edge of the cliff, and instead of falling, I flew.
YJ: What is your own personal practice?
BB: I try to do something twice a day, sometimes it's just a little bit. The place that my life happens to be will determine its intensity—anything from restorative to high intensity vinyasa. I try to be true to myself each day and see what I'm moved to do. I don't have a mold or external blueprint that I follow, but in general I'm pulled toward vinyasa, heat-based movement moving energy through my body.
YJ: Why did you decide on the term "boot camp" for your retreats?
BB: I like the term because it leaves it open for anything to happen, and we can really go with the energy. That might mean waking up early and staying up late—sometimes we go 18 hours a day when the chemistry, the energy for learning, is there.
YJ:I've heard your style described a lot by others, but how would you describe it?
BB: At the foundation, for me practice is 20 percent mechanics and 80 percent spiritual psychology. As Buddha said, "Everything is mind." Rigid routines don't really work well for me. I like fluid practice instead. My style is based on being safe and opening the body from a place that is protecting the joint system. I do a lot of creative sequencing, and I teach people my philosophy, "To thine own self be true." You intuitively know what is right. I know in my own life when I doubt my intuition, it gets me in trouble. We all have a teacher within, and if you are really "in the now," you'll know when to push, when to surrender, and when to rest.
YJ: What do you think of yoga's popularity?
BB: A lot of people come to yoga initially because they know it's physical, but almost immediately, people tap in through experiences in their bodies. They feel calm, relaxed, and they become aware of a whole other dimension beyond the physical. They discover the whole other world of Spirit, and the power of the mind. The by-product of hard asana work is a stronger, more supple body, but that's just a by-product—a wonderful one because our body is our foundation and it's nice to have that foundation built on rock.