Anusara yoga is an increasingly popular branch of the practice of Hatha yoga, with over 1,200 teachers and 100,000 students worldwide. Originating out of the Hindu spiritual tradition in India, Hatha yoga is one of the more physical forms, or paths, of yoga. It focuses on asanas, or body positions, in coordination with the prana (breath) to bring health and balance to the body.
Anusara yoga: John Friend's vision
The branch known as Anusara yoga was founded in 1997 by John Friend, who wished to promote his vision of true inner beauty and divine power. Anusara was in?uenced by the various forms of yoga that Friend studied throughout his life. He ?rst practiced Hatha yoga at age 13, and began studying Juan Muscariat's translation of the "Bhagavad Gita" and the principles of "Upanishads" (Hindu scriptures) at the same time. At age 16, he had what he described during an interview with yoga teacher Desiree Rumbaugh as a "transcendental spiritual experience." After a full day of Su? chanting, dancing and meditating, he experienced a thrilling sense of expanding into the vastness of the cosmos. In his high school he was ridiculed for this and earned the reputation of the one "most likely to astral project in history class."
After this life-changing event, he studied diverse forms of yoga with numerous yoga instructors. In 1979, at age 20, he began practicing a modi?ed form of Astanga-Vinyasa yoga with Robert Boustany in Houston. In 1989, he traveled to India to study with B.K.S. Iyengar, the father of Iyengar yoga, which became his primary focus. Later that year, he was introduced to the practice of Siddha yoga. He studied many other physical disciplines such as anatomy, kinesiology and physiology, as well as many philosophies including Buddhism, Taoism, Su?sm, Jewish mysticism, theosophy, Wicca and Freemasonry. All of his experiences molded the way that he approached his understanding and practice of Iyengar yoga.
From Iyengar to Anusara
Iyengar yoga is widely practiced in America. It is known for its precision in body alignment, holding each position for an extended period of time, longer than in most other Hatha disciplines. This leads to a slow moving, focused type of class. Many students who are elderly or disabled gravitate to this discipline, where they are well accepted and encouraged to use props such as straps, blocks, blankets and bolsters to facilitate proper positioning.
Friend built on Iyengar's foundation of acceptance and heralded Anusara as a yoga celebrating all of the diversities of his students. He believed that each body was a unique and magni?cent creation of the Spirit. He held that the body/mind was a divine gift meant to help one ?nd his own glory and worthiness.
Friend took philosophies from the Tantric yoga traditions, which are based on the worship of Shakti, to form Anusara's key concepts of alignment, attitude and action. Alignment was the intention to be interconnected with the supreme consciousness (opening to grace), drawing the body's peripheral energy (muscular energy) inward, expanding the inner energy (organic energy) outward, and balancing it with inner and outer energy spirals. Attitude, taken from the concept of Iccha Shakti, a Hindu principle of willpower, allows us to be open to grace, which awakens our divine nature and our desire to celebrate the essence of life. Action is the third principle, based on the Tantric concept of Kriya Shakti (the active power of Siva). It is the natural ?ow of energy in the body providing joyful freedom of movement in the framework of stability.
Flowing with grace
Friend took the word Anusara from a 10th century Tantric scripture that is translated as "?owing with grace." In this guiding principle of Anusara yoga, the movements are expressions of connecting with the inner self and tapping into a deep devotional feeling. The yoga postures (asanas) are practiced with a breath-synchronized movement known as Vinyasa, which energizes the heart opening, brings strength to the body and vitality to the mind.
Since its inception in 1997, Anusara yoga has experienced an explosion of popularity among Western yoga students, including Americans. It is an optimistic, uplifting practice that opens the heart to the intrinsic goodness in everyone. It inspires hope and energy by focusing on the nature of God as absolute good and free from any limitations. It promotes the ability of the individual to tap into this nature. It is a spiritual approach, but not a dogmatic one. Each person is encouraged to practice variations of the basic poses, honoring the creative freedom of the divine in all beings. Discovery of oneself in this positive light leads to a deeper sensitivity and heightened compassion for all people, and strengthens the core connection to all of mankind. The promise of Anusara yoga is one of attainable bliss and joy in your day-to-day existence, which seems to resonate with what many people are looking for in their lives today.
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