I am an Anusara-Inspired Yoga Teacher. I am proud of the title and it took me a good amount of dedication to get here. I had to open myself up to an open-dialogue of constructive criticism through a review of my class from a peer, and that's a good thing. In fact, I'm entering the process again for certification this year, and I am devoting most of my spare time and energy to it. The wisdom of Winston Churchill certainly helps me in this endeavor, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts."
In 2004, I was flipping through a Yoga Journal when I came across a vibrant article and spread on its founder, John Friend, and his relatively new school of yoga, Anusara Yoga. In 2005, I took my first Anusara yoga class and in all seriousness, the experience had given me a new perspective in my life. I did my first 200-hour yoga teacher training in 2006 at a Chicago yoga studio. The focus on alignment in asana with longer holds combined with heartfelt language, opened me up to a different kind of practice. My body and spirit were uplifted by the beauty of the words in which the teacher encouraged me to embody the bliss that is always within (anandamaya kosha—the bliss sheath), but sometimes hidden and covered up by the stuff that mucks our life up. I don't recall ever thinking that the teacher was somehow misleading us, because it felt right and good to me ~ call it intuition.
What is Anusara Yoga and where is its place in the spectrum of yoga? Prior to my Anusara practice, I tried everything from Asthanga to Yin, but attended mostly flow classes. Undeniably, I would leave class in an improved altered state. Two years into my flow practice, I tried my first Anusara Hatha Yoga class. The name "Anusara" comes from the Sanskrit "Anu-" the process of being in and "Sara" -the flow, which is taken from a verse in the 1000-year-old Kularnava Tantra: "Shakti-nipata-anusarena sishyo'anugraham-arhati". Therefore, "Anusara" [a-nu-sar-a] means, "flowing with grace,' 'flowing with nature' and 'following your heart". The name was the creation of Douglas Brooks of Rajanaka Yoga.
Class opens with a harmonizing chant to energetically connect one another and to spirit. The teacher demonstrates only a couple of poses, because for the entirety of the class, the teacher's focus is on the students' practice and walks around the class-room observing and offering helpful modifications and adjustments, rather than simultaneously practicing on their mat. During class, we interact with other students, not only on a physical level through partner work, but also at a subtle energetic level. Throughout class, the teacher weaves nuggets and wisdom to inspire movement from the inside-out. We act as gears in a Swiss time-piece, all doing our part to make our little corner of the universe flow with a little more grace and ease. Our attitudes co-mingle and our laughter spills out into the studio at times, which was not what I had encountered in any other class. Faces light up the room with each asana. The teacher might ask a student to demonstrate a pose. A student might shrink away, disliking all the attention.
The student will demonstrate the pose in their unique expression, sometimes modified, to the best of their ability with the teacher's guidance. We all clap after their demo so they know that we celebrate their progress or success (mudita, our joy in others success and happiness). After the demonstration, I have seen students laugh in shock, joyfully cry, be delightfully surprised by their ability to move in a new way ~ they experience and see a glimmer of their inner blissful nature. After the student demos a pose, they will often bow in deep gratitude. The best teachers know that the origin of student's demo is that individual's inner beauty, the bliss that seeps out and wants to shine, against the student's subconscious tendencies to resist. Imagine wearing your inner beauty as a garment in the form of a pose ~ yeah, that's Anusara Yoga, right there, and it is pure goodness. Class ends with a brief meditation, maybe pranayam and/ or long savasana and then a message or poem to carry one off the mat into the world. Anusara Yoga's approach and the elements of an Anusara Yoga class, was the vision and creation of John Friend, and it is refreshingly different and has undeniably helped innumerable people in various ways across the globe.
Prior to the founding of Anusara in 1997, John Friend studied extensively in Iyengar Yoga and was influenced by the wisdom of Baba Muktananda and Gurumayi Chidvilasananda of Siddha Yoga, who follow the scriptural traditions of Kashmir Shaivism and Vedanta. It is said that the Anusara Invocation (also known as the "Siddha Yoga Mantra", and it also occurs as a verse in the Guru Stotram used by Sivananda Saraswati's Divine Life Society) was "received" by John Friend from Gurumayi. Anusara Yoga further draws philosophy from the Bhagavad Gita, Shiva Sutras and other non-dual scriptures. At one point, Anusara's philosophy developed into a ecclectic system drawing from other philosophies and was later referred to as "Shiva Shakti". Anusara's philosophy continues to be grounded in a Tantric philosophy of "intrinsic goodness", yet honoring and acknowledging the darkness that surrounds it.
Anusara Yoga's method includes the intelligence of 5 Universal Principles of Alignment, the beauty of the Loops and Spirals, the 3 As of Attitude, Alignment & Action. These tools, offer students a way to move with a degree of awareness for safer, even therapeutic, and life-affirming practice. Anusara Yoga is about participating in the class, facing our biggest challenges and obstacles, returning back to the source of our nature which is always "Sat-Chit-Ananda" (Truth, Consciousness & Bliss). Ask yourself, what challenges you today? Can facing the truth of the matter, centering yourself and fully experiencing the present moment and recognizing your inner nature as always blissful help you through it? Can pausing and stepping back, and realizing the bigger picture (Opening to Grace) help at all?
Practicing on my mat, in this manner for years prepared me to cope with the heartbreaking separation and disassociation between the school and John Friend, in 2012. Many of the school's certified and inspired teachers resigned their license and were no longer affiliated with the school. On the bright side, the community for the most part, has stayed connected, forged through the years of collaboration and community practices. Some teachers have returned to the school, other former teachers are happy on their current path. In the upcoming year there will even be a gathering to reconnect all who are interested.
Anusara Yoga is now a teacher-led school with a new name, the "Anusara School of Hatha Yoga" or "ASHY". With the steadfast dedication of the teachers, the school is creating new plans and it has developed ideas including various levels of Anusara Teacher levels, new manuals, modules, future gatherings, and holds the occasional global online teacher meeting. The school continues to re-evaluate, revamp and grow in new ways under the guidance and care of a few big-hearted leaders who request the input of all the teachers to help plan the future of the school. This shift would not have happened without the transformational year of 2012.
Since 2007, I have earned hundreds of workshop and practice hours in Anusara, while simultaneously continuing to raise my family. I have traveled locally, and to destination workshops to study and practice with some Un-forgettable teachers. These teachers facing financial disaster, tension in friendships and other obstacles when the crisis in Anusara initially occurred in 2012, they forged their own path and listened to their hearts and acted according to their personal truth. Many teachers still teach and speak fondly of the method of Anusara Yoga.
I know that my time, energy and money was spent wisely, immersing myself in this methodology, loving every minute of it (and I still do) and being in good company with these wonderful beings of light, each being a beacon, exemplifying that when life does not turn out the way you expect it, continue to live with integrity even in the face of vulnerability and uncertainty.
This teaching shines a light into the darkest of corners ~ and for that, I am grateful. I will carry and honor this light, this experience, this shift. After all, Shift Happens.
Go in Peace and Blessed Be.
For more information about the Anusara School of Hatha Yoga, visit their website: www.anusarayoga.com