Trash-talking yoga instructor makes class sweat

Photo: Brian Kest yoga class at Thrive Yoga - Brian speaking
Ganesha's playfulness matched Brian Kest's humor

Bryan Kest returned to Thrive Yoga almost a year after his previous workshop, this time for just an evening instead of a weekend. He drew a maxed out crowd, officially 86 paying customers, but we were packed in with just an inch or two between mats. Pretty good for a Tuesday night. (Yes, I know, why am I reporting on it now? That’s another story.)

Kest gives off this aura as an “average Joe,” with a streetwise attitude  and accent from Detroit, hardly what you’d expect from one of California’s leading yoga entrepreneurs. He refuses to call himself a yoga teacher or guru: “I am a yoga instructor; I can only guide you into a posture that will allow you to access the teacher within.” He then goes into his introductory lecture; I heard the same 60-minute message last year. He delivers it in a kind of stream-of-consciousness way, but he has a clear target: you, as a yoga practitioner have to wake up, take ownership of your practice and really understand why you’re sweating on the mat.

Photo: practicing yoga
Brian Kest had the class warmed up at Thrive Yoga

Kest has some catchy lines that drive home his meaning: “Some people bring their shit to the mat, and turn yoga into shit.” He then cites example after example of neurosis — from the  compulsion to attain a particular pose (“There is no health benefit to being able to put your leg behind your head.”) to the internal chatter of self-criticism that wells up in the head instead of mindfulness.

Kest also speaks against the dogmatism that has saturated much of today’s yoga: the search for authenticity, the perfectly-aligned pose, and the elitism that seeps into the shala. He does not say that Iyengar or Anusara or Ashtanga are wrong, but they can’t claim to be 100 percent right. He rarely gives any instruction about correct alignment, but trusts that the practitioner will know how far to take the pose and, above all else, not inflict any harm. Looking back on that evening’s practice, we did not have any really difficult pose. “Instead of Power Vinyasa Yoga, I’m going to call my style ‘Gramma Yoga’ because even your grandmother could do the routine.” She might not be able to hold the poses as long or as deeply as younger yogis, but the postures are within her reach.

You can listen to Kest’s lecture without going to one of his workshops or master classes. It’s sold on his website: Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga Talk for $9.95 as an audio CD (80 minutes). It’s a lot cheaper than his class, and it’s really difficult taking notes.  I recommend it as both an inspiring vision of what the essence of yoga is, and as an admonishment to keep your feet (or foot in a one-legged balancing pose) firmly planted on the ground at all times.

After the session, I was exhausted. I had had an early lunch that afternoon and then did not eat anything before the class, not even the orange in my office desk drawer. Big mistake. Two thirds of the way through the class, I had to back off because I siphoned the last drop of energy from my tank and I was running on fumes. Lack of food and profuse sweating will do that to you.