Beryl Bender Birch is the best selling author of Power Yoga, one of the most successful yoga books available today, and of Beyond Power Yoga, the poetic and philosophical exploration of the 8-limbed astanga yoga method. She was named one of seven American women “innovators shaping yoga today” by Yoga Journal in 2000 and was featured in the 2003 Barnes and Noble book, American Yoga. She was the asana columnist for Yoga Journal in 2004.
Beryl majored in Philosophy and Comparative Religion at Syracuse University and took her first yoga class in 1971 in California. She then spent several years on the West Coast working as a biofeedback researcher and studying the physiology of meditation. Her early teachers, the Tibetan Buddhist founder of Shambala and Naropa Institute in Boulder, Chogyam Trungppa Rinpoche, and Munishree Chitrabhanuhu, the first Jain monk to leave India and come to the US at the invitation of Harvard Divinity School, shaped her life, her meditation practice, and her teaching style.
She began to teach yoga and meditation to skiers - both pros and recreational - in Winter Park, Colorado in 1974. In 1980, she moved "back" to the city of her birth, New York, New York, and was introduced to the practice of astanga yoga, by her teacher Norman Allen. (Allen was Sri K. Pattabhi Jois' first American student and the first Westerner to master the astanga series and bring it to the US.)
Beryl began teaching astanga yoga to a handful of adventuresome and ahead-of-their-time runners in New York City in 1981 at the prestigious New York Road Runners Club. She became the Wellness Director of the Club and slowly continued to grow the classes. She pioneered (along with husband Thom, a world class runner at the time, who joined Beryl as a teacher at the NYRRC from 1985 through 2001) the introduction of yoga to the traditional athletic community. "Thom was the most elite athlete and tightest person I'd ever worked with up to that point," says Beryl. "He was a great role model for all the injured runners that came to our classes back in the 80's and 90's. His status as a world class runner and successful use of it as a form of physical therapy gave a lot of credibility to the astanga system at the time, in the eyes of athletes."
Beryl and Thom were virtually the only teachers of astanga on the east coast for the entire decade of the 80's. Together they taught the astanga yoga method of asana, pranayama, and dharana (concentration) to tens of thousands of students. In the late 80's, Beryl coined the term "power yoga"(along with Bryan Kest on the West Coast) as a way for "western mind" to relate to the then obscure ancient practice of astanga yoga. The name came to her in a dream and she saw it as the perfect way to let people know that the astanga practice was a WORKOUT for the body, unlike much of the yoga being taught at that time in the United States, as well as the mind.
In l987, Beryl traveled to Feathered Pipe Ranch in Helena, Montana (along with Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, and John Schumacher), to meet and study with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the principle proponent of the astanga yoga vinyasa method. She and her husband, Thom, spent the next 6 months studying daily with Jois and following his tour of California. They continued their studies with Pattabhi Jois from l987-l990.
Beryl is the founder and director of The Hard & the Soft Yoga Institute (since l980) in East Hamptont. She now teaches yoga - the Middle Path of Jina Yoga (incorporating the classical astanga 8-limbed methodology) - all over the world, guiding and inspiring students of all levels with her down to earth style. She resides in East Hampton with her 6 Racing Siberian Huskies, Hopi, Nellie, Carmel, Cheaten, and Mo - and her new addition to the team, Troy, and with whom she competes on the New England Sled Dog Club circuit of sprint races in Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire in January and February.