Known for his upfront, street-smart teaching style, sprinkling his explanations with four-
letter words, and teaching in cargo shorts, Bryan Kest is one of the original spiritual gangsters, and yet he comes from an elite lineage.
The Detroit kid was told by his father at age 14 that if he didn’t take up yoga, he’d be thrown out. Initially he studied under David Williams who famously introduced Pattabhi Jois to the West. Then Kest was off to Mysore at 19 and could do all the strength positions in series 1-6 within six months. Even though he learned a ton, he didn’t like the strictness of Ashtanga. "Not allowed? What do you mean I'm not allowed. But I feel like doing it,” he once said to Jois when he wanted to go into splits.
True to his nature, he developed his own version of hatha, Power Yoga, and took a lot of heat for “Westernizing” the practice from the Ashtanga community who tend to be a tad strict. Others really enjoyed his Detroit style. By his own admission, people have yelled at him and walked out of his class, while others leave love notes in his shoes.
These days, Kest is one of the unlikely and idiosyncratic Kings of LA yoga. People are drawn to his honesty, his ease, and probably his flouting of the ancient traditions. Kathleen Kraft caught up with Kest recently before he comes to New York in December to teach several workshops at Pure Yoga.
Kathleen Kraft: Why do you think Power Yoga resonates with so many people?
Bryan Kest: Because I make it accessible in philosophy and physicality; that means I speak English, not Sanskrit. I interpret the esoteric into the practical, and I use poses that are approachable, so everybody can do them. I encourage people to take these poses to their own level and make them as challenging as they like.
KK: An example of a pose you would not teach?
BK: I would not teach a headstand or handstand, or putting a leg behind the head because they are not accessible to many people.
KK: Sometimes you swear in your workshops—F-bombs and all— or talk about using THC. Some find this off-putting…
BK: I’m just trying to be honest. I have to be myself.
KK: What is the value of your online TT? Can it be as valuable as studying in person?
BK: There are things that we can do online but not in person, and vice versa; there are challenges and benefits to each format. One thing is for sure: the online format makes it more accessible to more people in more places. It also allows people to do the training at their own pace. And, it creates a community across the world, via our private Facebook group.
One of the challenges is that personal attention is somewhat more limited, however we are able to achieve it through our group Skype calls.
KK: You were one of the first to put your classes online, before YogaGlo. What inspired that?
BK: I realized 20 years ago, as the Internet was evolving, that it would be the most amazing format to get yoga out to as many people as possible, and that it was my job on this planet to get yoga out to as many people as possible, so they can benefit from it.
KK: Who was your first yoga teacher and what impact did he or she have on you?
BK: David Williams was my very first yoga teacher. Training with him was the foundation of everything; he taught me that yoga is not a stagnant practice, but that it can be a dance with fluid movements. This appealed to me as a young person who needed to move. David's Ashtanga class was the first Vinyasa yoga class in the country, and although I do not teach Ashtanga yoga anymore, I keep its fluidity and connectivity in my teaching and my personal practice.
KK: Who is your biggest inspiration or influence--professionally or personally?
BK: I would say, S.N. Goenka, the founder of Vipassana meditation. Vipassana has been the foundation of my practice and my teaching since 1989. I really didn't understand yoga until my first Vipassana meditation. Before that, yoga was just a physical practice; I didn't understand the practice inside of the physical practice, which makes the physical practice so much more
rich and fulfilling.
Kest will be teaching at Pure West from December 9th - 11th.