History Of Anusara Yoga
Anusara Yoga is the brainchild of John Friend. Friend discovered yoga at eight years old in 1968 when his mother read him stories about yogis. At the ripe age of thirteen, he started learning yoga philosophy from the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. He also started his Hatha yoga asana practice upon reading Swami Satchinanda’s book Integral Hatha Yoga and Jess Stern’s book Yoga, Youth and Reincarnation.
Friend started meditating when he began to study with the Theosophical Society in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. He later moved to Houston and studied with students of Swami Kriyananda’s Ananda Yoga Village and Kundalini master Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO Foundation. In the mid 1980’s Friend began to practice Robert Boustany’s Ashtanga-Vinyasa Hatha yoga, which he learned from David and (master teacher) Doug Swenson. Shortly after, Friend began teaching yoga full-time. After a few months of traveling through California to take a variety of yoga classes, he took the most interest in Iyengar’s methods.
In 1987, Friend grew his list of renowned teachers. He studied with Patthabi Jois in California. He also met B.K.S. Iyengar at a convention in Boston. He studied with many senior yoga teachers who taught diverse styles, but Friend mostly focused on Iyengar yoga. In 1989, he studied at Iyengar’s institute for a month, and in the next few years he earned two Iyengar teaching certificates.
In 1997, Friend founded his own school of yoga called Anusara yoga. Although it is relatively new compared to styles that have been around for centuries, its following is growing rapidly. Currently, there are around 1,000 licensed Anusara teachers as well as thousands of prospective teachers currently in training. In under two decades, Anusara yoga has found its way to 70 countries around six continents.
The Philosophy Of Anusara Yoga
Anusara, according to its website, literally means “flowing with Grace,” “flowing with Nature,” “following your heart.” Anusara prides itself on its nearly exponential growth, which is largely due to its philosophy, which seeks to have an incredibly positive influence. Anusara philosophy is about looking for the “good” in everything, which is based on the Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness. This philosophy entails the idea that that all in the world exists as an embodiment of “Supreme Consciousness.” Bliss eminates from such Supreme Consciousness.
Since 2010, the Anusara’s philosophy has been entitled “Shiva-Shakti Tantra.” Shiva and Shakti are two contrasting energies, so the philosophy lies in trying to find balance between them with the understanding that they must both exist simultaneously.
Anusara’s main intention is for the practitioners to become one with the Divine, thus propelling further into the flow of Grace and finding our human essence. The goal is to not to feel over or underpowered in the relationship with the Divine, but feeling oneness in acting with and experiencing the Divine.
Anusara believes that the universe is, by nature, good. The free will of humanity and our ability to make the wrong choices or mistakes is what causes an imbalance of our Divine nature. This phenomenon is what causes worldly suffering. Anusara yoga cultivates the power to decide what is beneficial in life and what is not, because despite the fact that everything is naturally good, there are many different levels of goodness. One of the ultimate goals of Anusara philosophy is that personal judgment will work with the world’s goodness to bring about good things and decrease harm and malevolence.
The Practice Of Anusara Yoga
As the translation of “Anusara” suggests, it is a flowing style of yoga. Although sequences are not set like in an Ashtanga series, there is a set of guidelines each Anusara class must follow:
- Anusara teachers must follow the Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness. Thus, they must look for the goodness within themselves and their students. Anusara yoga believes that the Divine exists within the students from the start, therefore teachers don’t try to correct their students’ alignment. Instead, they help students to find the goodness that already lies within.
- Each class starts with an invocation or a centering action that serves as reverence to the Divine Spirit
- Every Anusara class has what they call a “heart-oriented theme,” that connects the spiritual aspect of the class directly to the asanas. The theme is typically virtue-centric, and thus, reflects the Divine Spirit. The theme provides an attitude that is reflected through all of the elements in the class including asana and pranayama.
- A set of principles, aptly titled the “Universal Principles of Alignment” must be applied to each pose. The Universal Principles of Alignment includes the 3 A’s: Attitude, Alignment, and Action. The 3 A’s are a foundational concept within Anusara where every asana, according to the Anusara website, “is infused with a meaningful intention connected to the grand purposes of yoga, awareness of specific postural alignment, and balanced action between stability and freedom.” Two forces balance out each pose: Muscular Energy and Organic Energy. The concepts of Sprials and Loops also bring balance within each pose.
- Movement and breath synchronization are apparent in every pose
- Props are available to help students reach the fullest expression of a pose
- Variations are encouraged
- Anusara is for every possible student
- Demonstrations are used for helpful purposes
- Even though sequences aren’t set, there are guidelines for proper sequencing
- Classes end in Savasana or another closing meditation
- Students should leave the class feeling positive about themselves and the world
These guidelines are an all-encompassing description of what to expect in an Anusara class. Athough physical alignment and awareness are important to this style of yoga, they are just manifestations of the connection to the Divine. Because Anusara practitioners are encouraged to see the Divine in everything and everybody, they often become more sensitive, and are nicer people than before. Anusara heavily encourages its practitioners to take what they have learned on the mat and incorporate it into their every moment of life.
John Friend Scandal
Recently there has been some turmoil in the world of Anusara Yoga as John Friend has admitted to not following his own practice with integrity. He has been accused of adultery as well as stealing from his organization. The whole saga has been reported by many major news outlets such as the Washington Post and MSNBC. While many people are taken back by this, we here at Yoga Training Guide believe this is a great reminder to the community that no one is perfect and that students must not hand over their power to anyone. While abusing students and peers trust is not ok, this serves as a great reminder to anyone that we must practice what we preach.
Anusra Yoga Teacher Training
For those students who are passionate about their practice, there are many schools offering Anusara yoga teacher training programs. However many teachers have left the organization so make sure to check and see who is still offering these courses.
By Alex Zaglin