I always thought I was being led to live a “normal” and “typical” kind of life. I have friends with similar childhoods like mine and then I have friends that had childhoods that I now envy as an adult. I have yogi friends with much more “interesting” childhoods who were able to “create” their childhood experience. In their youth, they playfully sought out unicorns with their parents, crafted their talents with encouragement or in high school, ditched school and essentially ran away from home to travel with the Dead.
Now that I’m adult, guess what I want~ a playful life that I can co-create with spirit. As an adult the playfulness is even more satisfying due to the freedom that adults are granted! This is what Anusara yoga has allowed me to discover ~ the radical notion that we don’t have to settle for an “ordinary” existence. Every moment, no matter how mundane or challenging, is a chance to create more beauty and play in our life.
What makes Anusara yoga different? How did Anusara help me to create more beauty in my life? Within the beauty of the methodology of Anusara, we find the 5 elements of nature or the Mahabhutas ~ more on that later.
Let me first explain how the name Anusara came to be. The name Anusara came to be in large part due to Professor Douglas R. Brooks who pointed out the following sacred text from the Kularnava Tantra, 14.38:
Shakti’nipata-anusarena shishyo’nugraham arhati
By falling into the current of Grace, the seeker becomes capable of holding the Light.
The name “Anusara” mean “anu-” or “the individual” and “-sara” meaning “flow” or the individual “flowing with grace” or “following their heart”.
Now I’ll go ahead and point out just a few points that distinguish Anusara yoga from other schools. To be honest, you truly have to seek out a class to experience all that it has to offer.
Each Anusara yoga class harmoniously begins with the “Invocation”. When the chant is sung with sweet devotion, it brings the community of the heart, kula, together as one representing the bigger Spirit and it awakens our own higher Self. It brings the practitioner back to their essence nature that is always peaceful and blissful. The chant helps release any self-images, self-defeating stories and self-imposed definitions, stress, burdens and unites voices and attunes us to our unique vibration of Spirit.
The invocation is from the first part of the Niralamba Upanishad from the 12th-15thce.
Om Namah Shivaya Gurave
Listen to melody here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zf5G6_glwLQ
The first line of this ancient verse, Om Namah Shivaya Gurave, connects us to the auspicious nature of Shiva or the benevolent and intrinsic goodness, within everything and everyone. It helps us to remember Spirit or the auspicious nature within each of us. Om is the primordial sound of creation, particularly the sound made when the universe came into existence. Namah means “to honor”. Shivaya refers to the essence of Shiva, pure auspiciousness. Gurave refers to the Teacher (Guru) or “the remover of darkness” that illuminates and shares the teachings. In the invocation, the line is translated as: I honor the essence of Being, the Auspicious One, the luminous Teacher within and without. This first line is often more personalized and can be translated in relation to each practitioner’s philosophy. My personal translation is: I honor the light in everyone and my heart is my teacher. What would your interpretation be?
The second line, Sacchidananda-Murtaye, reminds us that our “being”, and all it’s layers manifested in every moment, at its core is pure Spirit and bliss. The 3 words that form Sacchidandanda are: Sat- the root for Satya which means Truth and the Sat is often translated to Being; Chid- or Chit means Consciousness and Ananda means boundless Bliss or Joy. Murtaye means to take form, like a Murti. The second line is translated as: Who assumes the forms of Truth, Consciousness and Bliss.
The third line, Nishprapanchaya Shantaya, reminds us that this peaceful Spirit is always with us and always flowing forth. Nishprapanchaya translates to “never not there” or “always present”. Within Shantaya, is the root Shanti, meaning peace. Shantaya means “full of peace”. The third line is translated as: Is never absent and full of peace.
The fourth line, Niralambaya Tejase, helps us remember that we are without the need of external support because we are each always radiant and luminous and at our core an infinite source, benevolent Spirit. Niralambaya means “free from all external support” and Tejase means “full of light” or “radiating brilliance”. The last line is translated as: Ultimately free and sparkles with a Divine luster.
A second hallmark of an Anusara yoga class is when a teacher weaves a heart-theme throughout class. A theme can range from one inspirational word, such as Bliss to more esoteric philosophical concept. Anusara yoga is rooted in the teachings of Tantra, a non-dual, life-affirming school of yoga philosophy, “that teaches us everything in this world is an embodiment of Supreme Consciousness, which at its essence pulsates with awareness and the highest bliss.” (Tantra Illuminated) Whatever theme is chosen, the teacher also tells a relatable story so the theme is anchored from a place of experience.
Along with the theme the teacher matches a “heart quality” or “feeling” which helps the practitioner to cultivate a certain “mood” (bhav) for their practice. The teacher skillfully chooses certain phrases for the “heart-quality” to help inspire the students practice. Through the power of words, the teacher weaves the “heart quality” into the postural and breathing instructions, as well as adding in phrases and stories throughout class. When the teacher themes a class with a “theme” and “heart-quality”, the practice affects all the layers of our being.
Furthermore, the teacher can add gems such as mudras, meditations or inspiring quotes. A teacher can share a quote that embodies a chosen theme like Bliss, such as the following from Utpala, a great siddha master (c. 925 – 975) who wrote the Siva-stotravali: Garland of Hymns to Siva:
Making Yourself radiantly manifest, You make all things unfold; contemplating Your own form, You contemplate the universe. As You whirl in intoxication with the juice of the aesthetic rapture of Your own nature, the entire circle of existent things dances/radiates forth into manifestation. (13.15) (Tantra Illuminated)
Can you feel the Bliss welling up from the source of your being? Are you ready and excited to receive the beautiful gifts of your new extraordinary life? I thought so.
The power of the theme is lovingly practiced and usually enjoyed just as much by the one teaching it. One of my favorite aspects of teaching Anusara Yoga is getting excited about teaching a theme. Many times when I’m done teaching a class, I have inspired myself and leave with a sparkle in my eyes, just like the students. I feel full and complete, and everything seems just as it should be. Anusara teachers put lots of loving contemplation into their classes.
Anusara, was the first yoga that helped me cultivate a feeling of Gratitude through the practice. One of my first classes was themed around Gratitude. Before Anusara, I can truthfully say that I knew of Gratitude but didn’t know how to integrate it into my daily life. By practicing Gratitude on the mat, it infused my life off the mat. The little experiences that seem insignificant even bothersome become extraordinary ones. Shifting my Attitude and turning any experience into one of Gratitude and it becomes an awareness practice. Every moment is an opportunity to become an extraordinary one, filled with Gratitude.
Layered on top of the theming of the class, teachers impart knowledge of the 5 Universal Principles of Alignment or more frequently referred to as the UPAs. The UPAs are, “A unique set of concise bio-mechanical alignment principles applied to each asana. Anusara yoga teachers are trained to integrate these alignment instructions with the attitudinal heart theme in artful and varying ways, offering students a new experience of yoga in every class.”
This brings me back to point about how the methodology of Anusara, is inspired by elements in nature. Think of the 5 Universal Principles of Alignment as tools for your personal yoga toolbox. You can use the one(s) that work for you more or less! However, when you use all of them sequentially, it opens your practice up to a new dimension.
The Universal Principles of Alignment of Anusara Yoga:
1) Open to Grace and Set the Foundation (Akash-space)
2) Muscular Energy (Prithvhi-earth)
3) Expanding Spiral (Jala-water)
4) Contracting Spiral (Tej-fire)
5) Organic Energy (Vayu-air)
Attitude is everything, so Open to Grace is always first. We look for the auspicious or the good first, so we can continue on the path of true inquiry, acknowledging the shadow and the light, to know our higher Self. When we Open to Grace, we open to Spirit, the Cosmos, the great expanse or something “bigger than our self” so we may flow with the a greater energy. Next, we Set the Foundation, to transition into the more tangible earth element. When we remember Open to Grace and then Set the Foundation, they are in relationship together, and we are connection between Ether (Akash) and the Earth elements.
Next is, Muscular Energy, represents the Earth (Prithvi). We are essentially made up of the same elements that exist in space like the stars that have condensed their gas and dust molecules to form into matter. Matter and earth are hard, dense and solid. When we bring this sense of earthiness into our practice through Muscular Energy, we engage our muscles, we become steady, stable, and more integrated. Muscular Energy is like the banks of a river that direct the flow of water. Without the banks of the river, water would overspill and flood our lands.
Next is, Inner/Expanding Spiral, represents the Water (Jala). Water is expansive, fluid, a soft and strong force of nature. Riverbanks direct the flow of water in a quiet yet forceful manner. The water smooth jagged rocks and effortlessly moves around any obstacles in its path. Inner Spiral is like the water moving from the mouth of the river and flowing into the great expanse of the ocean. Inner Spiral is fluid, expansive and leaves no groove unfilled.
Next is Outer/Contracting Spiral, represents the Fire (Tej). Outer Spiral is the complimentary opposite of Inner Spiral. Fire is hot, quick and stinging. Outer Spiral is the stoking of the spiritual fire to know your Self. The fire’s flames lick the sky above and reaches high into the air that feeds it from all sides.
Organic Energy, represents Air (Vayu). Air is light, subtle, expansive and constantly moving in all directions. It is similar to water, in that it is fluid, and flowing, it is a soft yet strong force of nature. Air shapes riverbanks, sides of mountains and shorelines. Just as it shapes the land, it can also re-shape and beautify your inner landscape through the pranayama. Air connects us back to space again.
In summary, we first Open to Grace and Set the Foundation to set our practice on a path that takes us outside our perceived limited mind and body. We then create a safe environment through Muscular Energy, the engagement of muscles, integration, and a steady structure. We then create Inner Spiral, to allow the expansion to happen, allowing the energy to find its natural flow. We then create Outer Spiral, to balance that expansion through the complimentary opposite of contraction. Lastly, we let our Spirit express itself and shine out through our embodied self through Organic Energy.
When I attune to the nature’s elements and their qualities within myself, I flow with naturally flow with universal consciousness. Nature is extraordinary, and therefore, so am I.
Anusara yoga, works for me on all levels of being and has changed my once perceived common life into an extraordinary one.
Boons & Blessings~ Des