Being 14 is never easy. It’s an undeniably awkward time when any teen can feel caught between enjoying childhood and forming an adult identity. But being 14 and getting shipped to an island halfway around the world to live with your father is tougher than what many deal with, which was the situation Bryan Kest found himself in almost 40 years ago.
“He scooped me up and brought me to Maui basically because my mom couldn’t control me,” says Kest of his father, Rohm Kest.
Bryan stayed on Maui for a total of six years, first living with his father. Like many, Rohm Kest had visited Hawaii and fell in love. Unable to work due to severe back pain, Rohm Kest moved to Maui, where he found yoga with David Williams. Williams, now a legendary yogi, was the first person to bring Ashtanga yoga to the world outside of India. At the time, Williams was promoting Ashtanga as a way to help those with physical disabilities, which attracted the older Kest. When he brought his son to Maui to live with him, Rohm saw an opportunity.
“He said I had to do yoga or I had to get out of his house,” says Kest.
As a somewhat delinquent teenager in 1979, the younger Kest was out of options, marooned on Maui. So, he tried yoga. Every day, for six months, Kest was forced to do yoga. After six months, though, nobody had to force him.
Kest clearly remembers the day when his mindset changed. He was outside and felt a wash of emotions. “I felt strong. I felt supple. I felt amazingly peaceful and calm,” he says. He traced this bliss to his daily yoga practice and thought, “This was the ultimate exercise.” Kest had found yoga – something that became a lifelong passion – but living on Maui was a mixed experience.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio and raised in the suburbs of Detroit, Mich., Kest was distinctly not local to Hawaii. Although he lived all over Maui including Kihei, Makawao, Hana and Makena, he found it difficult to fit in at times. “I was an outsider. I never really did break in,” he recalls. “I think I went to Maui High School one day, and the whole school stopped and gave me stink eye.” He eventually earned a GED attending Maui Hui Malama, an alternative education school that still serves the community in Wailuku.
Despite not always fitting in with his peers, Kest still benefited from his surroundings. “For some reason, Maui is really this vortex for spiritual knowledge,” he says. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he saw an influx of “hippies from California,” who brought both innovative and ancient ideas to which Kest was exposed. “It was a beautiful, beautiful thing,” he says.
Kest not only learned from yoga and the people around him, but he also learned from the simple act of living in paradise. “I had a ball for six months, and then reality set in,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you are. You still gotta deal with yourself.”
This lesson permeates much of Kest’s ideology. While he acknowledges different locations have different energies that can limit or inspire an individual’s creativity, ultimately the ability to thrive is internal.
Eventually Kest left Maui and finally settled in Los Angeles, where he founded Power Yoga in Santa Monica, Calif. Kest’s style is influenced by his background in Ashtanga and includes meditation. His classes can be very physically demanding, though Kest’s goal isn’t to push practitioners beyond their limits, but rather to have them acknowledge their boundaries.
“The goal of yoga isn’t sticking your legs behind your head,” he says. “The goal of yoga is enlightenment.”
Power Yoga is intended for all levels, though Kest recognizes that some are put-off by the name and think it will be too physically demanding. He even toyed with the idea of renaming his style “Grandma Yoga” to help make clear that his classes are for everyone.
“The truth is the pose doesn’t even f***ing matter. What matters is the mind,” according to Kest. Anyone can take class with as much modification or rest as needed and still benefit from it as long as the mental state is addressed.
Inspired by guru S.N. Goenka’s donation model for Vipassana meditation, Kest decided to make all Power Yoga classes donation-based. His studio, Santa Monica Power Yoga & Meditation, has no set prices for any of its classes. Kest rents studio space to different instructors who teach in their own styles and keep whatever donations they receive.
Power Yoga isn’t exclusive to Santa Monica. Oahu locals Dorian and Lehua Wright learned the Power Yoga style from Kest and brought it back to Hawaii as Power Yoga Hawaii. Power Yoga Hawaii was the first studio to successfully bring Kest’s donation-based model of teaching to the island of Oahu. They now run two locations in Honolulu, a donation-based studio on Piikoi Street near Ala Moana and another by UH Manoa. Kest notes that the density of donation-based studios in Honolulu is far greater than in his home of Los Angeles, and encourages students to try donation yoga.Other donation-based yoga classes on Oahu include, but are not limited to, Yoga for my Homies at Leahi Park and the North Shore Yoga Co-Op in Waialua.
Ever on the move, Kest travels approximately six days out of every month to attend and teach at yoga trainings and workshops. He was most recently on Oahu in March 2018 as one of the headliners for Wanderlust, a four-day yoga festival that has been held annually at Turtle Bay Resort. For more information on Kest’s schedule and Power Yoga, visit his website at poweryoga.com.
Julie Zack is originally from Northern California, but has lived all over the country. Currently she’s living and working in Honolulu as a yoga instructor and writer. Her works can be seen on Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Waikiki Menus and more.