This afternoon I attended an Anusara Yoga tech session, where I learned about the philosophy and principles of this style of yoga. I first heard of Anusara yoga about two years ago, from an acquaintance who was in the process of becoming a certified Anusara yoga teacher. At that time, my acquaintance didn’t share many specifics about the yoga method, except to say that it was as much mental/emotional as it was physical, that poses were held for a little longer than in a typical Vinyasa (flow) series, and that she found the method very peaceful and rewarding. I was intrigued, and wanted to learn more, but didn’t know of any classes nearby where I could try the style for myself. So, the topic was filed in a back room of my brain; tucked out of the way, but still accessible.
So I was eager to attend today’s tech session – to learn more about Anusara, certainly; but perhaps even more importantly, to experience what this yoga style feels like from a physical and mental perspective. Happily, I was not disappointed by today’s teachings.
The instructor of the session today came prepared with three detailed handouts; which I SO deeply appreciate. The first handout described the philosophy of Anusara yoga, which basically can be summarized by the following statements: Everything in the world is good. (Including us.) Our highest intention should be to align with the Divine. The purpose of this method of yoga is to establish/cultivate a deep connection with the Divine – and in so doing, to awaken to our glory/greatness/ultimate freedom.
Clearly, I’m oversimplifying just a titch; but this is the basic philosophical perspective of Anusara. During this part of the class, I vacillated between feeling joyful and nervous; calm and unsettled; peaceful and restless. I do believe that humans are fundamentally good; that it is past experiences in which we get hurt (or learn negative behaviors) that cause people to act in unskillful ways. So the elements of Anusara that point to our innate goodness, our natural alignment to joy, etc. resonated with me, and quickly led me to the happy, calm, peaceful feelings. The points in the discussion where I felt “triggered” (i.e., nervous, unsettled, restless) were the times where the language of “Divinity”, “God”, “Shiva”, etc. was mentioned. I’m learning more and more that personified Higher Power notions just don’t feel good to me. Actually, even more strongly than that: these notions don’t feel healthy to me. Now, please don’t misunderstand: I believe that every person gets to choose the path that resonates with them; and God/gods seem to work for LOTS of people. So cool; my wish is that *everyone* finds a spiritual path that they feel a strong connection to. But as one of those fellow people in the mix, I also get to choose a path that resonates with me – and more and more, I’m realizing that God just ain’t it. And when I hear the term used amongst a group of people, my hackles get raised a little bit. But – at least I now have this awareness, so I can be on the lookout for it, and so I can realize that this is MY own issue to address; that I shouldn’t shut down in an experience just because a god or a God enters the picture. Dieties have a right to be there, too – just like I do.
The second handout from today’s class summarized the three “A’s” of Anusara yoga: Attitude, Alignment, and Action. In Anusara, attitude is everything. A person can have a beautiful pose, and/or a person can do and say all the “right” things, but if the intention, the attitude, is off, then the externally-facing pose/action is eroded. It’s easy for me to see how this core teaching of Anusara aligns with and supports “life in general”; and another reason why I felt near-immediate appreciation for and acceptance of this style of yoga.
The third handout from the session discussed the five physical fundamentals of Anusara – the five acts/actions every pose should take in order to be considered as performed in the “Anusara style”. The five fundamentals are:
- Setting an intention, and opening to Grace: Basically, consciously engaging an attitude/demeanor to be expressed in that specific yoga session; then surrendering body/mind/heart to that intention.
- Engaging muscular energy: Once the attitude (mind) is engaged, *then* working to engage the muscles to support the yoga practice. Engage mental muscles first, then engage physical/body muscles.
- Expanding the body’s energetic spiral: Once the muscles are engaged, “energizing” them with, well, energy – moving from the body’s core outward to the body’s extremities. (Often times, yoga teachers refer to this as “activating” muscles.)
- Contracting the body’s energetic spiral: After energy has been sent out, the muscles are “empty” – and are then able to receive energy from the outside-coming-in. (Many times in yoga, the teacher will say, “Inhale to lengthen, exhale to deepen.” Similar concept here.)
- Organic energy: This is the full realization of each pose, achieved after fundamentals 1-4 have been set in motion. It’s the most positive, happy, delighted expression of the pose that our being (mind/body/soul) can make.
After discussing the philosophy and fundamentals of Anusara for 45 minutes, we then spent the remainder of the class working into and out of various poses, following these Anusara guidelines and principles. And as we were experiencing Anusara twists, and Anusara bends, and Anusara stretches, I realized that much of the yoga that I was taught at my original yoga studio had a lot of this same flavor. I don’t know if my teacher there was consciously infusing “Anusara” into her session; but I think this helps explain why I felt such an immediate connection to this yoga style. It felt familiar, yet still challenged me; it supported me both physically and emotionally, yet still kept me engaged. This was a positive, rewarding, “happy” tech session for me, and I’m now excited to take a “real” Anusara class!