Anusara Yoga is a modern style of yoga practice that originates directly from a traditional yogic philosophy. In the ancient texts of yoga, particularly Vedic scriptures, like the Bhaghavad Gita, and the conceptualized organization of yoga theory in Patanjali's "The Yoga Sutras," the premise of yoga was to directly align the practitioner with the Divine. Through rituals and prayers, careful and consistent study, the early yogis studied the principles of yoga as a way to find wisdom and self-actualization.
It wasn't until later, as the evolution of yoga emerged, that the physical body was introduced into the yogic philosophy and practice. Tantra Yoga was a practice devoted to cleansing the mind and the body. The yogi learned that the physical existence was connected and related to the non-physical realm, but their worldly ways interfered with that alignment. Through breath and movement of the body, a Tantra Yoga student cleared the self of obstacles that distracted from the direct connection to the Supreme.
Anusara Yoga is derived from these Tantric traditions. Established by John Friend in 1997, he incorporated the ancient teachings and intentions of yoga with the style of yoga he had been practicing, Iyengar Yoga.
B.K.S. Iyengar was known for customizing Hatha Yoga, an evolved post-modern state of Tantra Yoga, into a collection of 200 yoga poses accompanied by various styles of breath work to enhance healing in an individual. These yoga postures were designed to develop a strong, healthy mind, body, and spirit. A particular feature of Iyengar's style was introducing alignment and precision to the physical yoga practice.
John Friend created the Anusara style as a modern take on health-oriented yoga: it includes roots in classic spiritualism and the precision physical work established by Iyengar. Anusara Yoga emphasizes a set of Universal Principles of Alignment that is grounded in the Tantric philosophy that all things are good. In fact, the Sanskrit word "Anusara" means "flowing with Grace." When one flows with nature and the natural conditions of the world around us, the individual can move through the obstacles and hinderances that detract from self-actualization. This is done through careful focus on physical poses, asanas, to bring alignment in the body, mind, and heart. As a result, the practitioner experiences an opening from within, greater blood circulation, physical strength, a peaceful mind, and an overall healthy well-being. Anusara Yoga is designed to center you and to bring you balance.
How is Anusara Yoga different from other styles of yoga? Let's look at Ashtanga Yoga as an example. Ashtanga Yoga, also a post-modern style of yoga that was developed from the earlier traditions and philosophy of yoga, has a different form. Pattabhi Jois was the originator of the practice. With its Sanskrit word meaning "eight limbs," the Ashtanga practice, developed sometime in the 1940's, focused on strength, flexibility, and stamina. One of the main differences between Ashtanga Yoga and Anusara Yoga is that Ashtanga is a systematic practice. That is, a student moves through a specific set of yoga poses each time they come to the yoga mat. The intention is for the yogi to cleanse the body, mind, and spirit with a devoted yoga practice that can be considered highly physical and challenging.
The study of Anusara has a different mode of practice. The yoga poses in this style are not fixed. This means that the practice is not entirely focused on mastering the yoga poses in a specific sequence. Instead, the student is instructed to make proper usage of the alignment principles that fit their personal needs. Anusara is a holistic yoga practice; it favors the individual's unique development: who and where they are in the present moment. Rather than casting a specific set of techniques onto an individual, the Anusara student uses the principles as a guideline for personal growth.
Vinyasa Yoga is another style of practice that steeps from the ancient philosophy of yoga. A derivative of Ashtanga Yoga, the practitioner is not obligated to a standard set of fixed poses. In contrast, Vinyasa Yoga features a freer form of moving. An instructor may take students through various sequences of postures each time they come to class. A primary component of Vinyasa yoga is that one moves fluidly from one pose to the other accompanied by breath work, or Pranayama. In some cases, this style may be more fast-paced, which may miss the element of focusing on true form and alignment in each pose. Although a popular and useful style of practice, Vinyasa Yoga may lack the grounding qualities featured in the Anusara style.
As mentioned, Anusara Yoga has laid the groundwork for moving with grace, to flow and follow the heart. This can be very important and relevant in our livelihoods today. The practice of Anusara is based in self-awareness. The practitioner is able to see themselves as they are in the present moment. In this slower moving practice, the student builds a greater awareness of how and who they are in the world. They can take note of the things that bind and block their progress, the elements that have held them back from growing and changing. Through careful and mindful movement into structurally aligned yoga poses, the yogi makes shifts in their physical bodies, thinking, and emotional well-being.
The Anusara instructor is trained to guide their students into a safe physical depth in order to break through these obstacles, to encourage a greater capacity for openness that starts from within. A regular practice in this style is designed to make the body stronger and more flexible. It also enhances the natural healing process in the body when faced with injury. Further, Anusara can help to align the imbalances that take place in our bodies, too. When the body and mind are free from these impractical abnormalities, we can move with a sense of grace and ease. The individual has the capability to experience peace, joy, and happiness.
In a typical Anusara Yoga class, the student will be met with intention of goodness; that all things are inherently good and we are all connected. This stems directly from the non-dual philosophy of Tantra Yoga. The yogi approaches the practice with an open heart so that they can see and feel the beauty in all things, including themselves, and experience the love and inspirational transcendence toward the Divine. This foundation is set through an invocation at the beginning in of an Anusara practice. The students and teacher join in song to call in the energies of centering and devotional connection we all have with the Supreme. Then, as the class progresses, the students are encouraged to focus on their breath as a guide toward their aligned-focused yoga postures. Modifications and variations of poses are offered so that all yogis, new or old, can access the teachings from the instructor.
Anusara Yoga is open to all levels of practitioners. If one is looking for a mindful, holistic style of yoga that involves breath work, yoga asanas, good instruction, with an intention of changing the body, mind, and spirit, then Anusara Yoga is a practical place to begin. With a continued and steady practice, a student will not only experience the physical improvements that come with the practice, but further develops a deeper connection to the inner workings of their mind and spirit. With this new found awareness, the yogi can build bridges toward healthy living.
The world we live in is not fixed and it is certainly something that we cannot master. Due to the many faculties, complications, and challenges of the physical world we live in, we must find ways to move and flow amongst the uncertainties of daily living. We know that there is more than one solution to the problems we face today. We are in need of many tools to deal with what goes on outside. This is what Anusara ultimately teaches us to do. The practice is designed to guide us with grace and ease through the obstacles of our lives. It gives us the necessary tools that reflect who we are and what we do in this life. This method of yoga teaches us to slow down and to pay close attention. From this self-discovery, we learn how these basic principles, when put into practice, can be the foundation for continual growth and maturation. Developing these skills play a critical part in managing how we see and face the life we lead. Anusara Yoga is a path; it leads us to a place of groundedness, fortitude, clarity, and the ultimate connection to the Divine.