Monthly Archives: April 2012

Monthly Yoga: April, Anusara Yoga

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About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the fourth of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!

For the month of April, I decided to try Anusara yoga, a fairly popular and newer style of yoga that has appeared in the news quite a bit recently. As I mentioned a while ago, Anusara yoga has come under fire for founder John Friend’s misconduct involving drugs, affairs with students (some married women!), and various business issues. Attending an Anusara yoga class, however, has nothing to do with those allegations. I’m fairly certain that Blue Lotus Yoga, where I visited for the month of April, may refer to themselves as Anusara-inspired, perhaps in distancing themselves from this scandal, but this label (or any, really) never came up for the course of this class.

In fact, once I left the class, I realized that besides the aforementioned scandal, I knew very little about Anusara. It’s a form of yoga in the vein of Hatha yoga, founded in 1997 and unifying “a life-affirming Shiva-Shakti Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness with Universal Principles of Alignment.” Okay, that’s actually a bit vague. Some common attributes of an Anusara class include:

  • each class beginning with an invocation or centering
  • movements and action coordinated with breath
  • postures in keeping with the Universal Principles of Alignment, a set of guidelines in Anusara that are applied to ensure maximum strength and stability in the poses along with different focuses of one’s energy; it relies on the Three A’s of Attitude, Alignment, and Action (also a bit vague, to be honest)
  • adjusting students’ alignment, but not “correcting” or “fixing” it (I’ll address this one later)
  • no set routines, but reliance on solid sequencing of the over 250 asanas included in Anusara, plus finishing class with Savasana

There are other characteristics, such as instructor demonstrations and assists, that you would also find in many yoga classes. Overall, it doesn’t sound too terrible, and much of it is material you would find in most yoga classes. The main thing that I could tell that seems to separate Anusara from Hatha or other schools was the emphasis on philosophy, and things like different energies and “spirals” in the body. In the class I attended, we really didn’t talk philosophy, and I was glad for that because some of this stuff honestly sounds a bit bogus. Instead, I will address the categories I mentioned above.

Our class did begin with a short invocation. During the start of the class, the instructor talked us through a little bit of a centering and breathing exercise, and then we moved on to Surya Namaskara/Sun Salutation A. I was a bit bothered toward the beginning as the instructor sat in front of the class on a rug rather than moving about the room, but she walked around for the rest of class. She didn’t have her own mat, either, to demonstrate for the class, which I thought was odd—I’m so used to seeing instructors with their own mats, even if they barely get a chance to use them while teaching. This resulted in her both relying on a student for a demonstration of shoulder movement at one point and using the student’s mat to further explain it to the rest of the class.

In terms of offering adjustments for poses rather than correcting them, I’m not sure I see much of a distinction. Certainly an assist can help a student move into a deeper stretch, but how much adjusting can you do before you’ve “corrected” someone’s alignment? The only difference between the two seems to be the underlying intention. The instructor at Blue Lotus didn’t do this a lot, but she did continually tsk at the student in front of me, likely because her shoulders appeared tense. They weren’t, actually; the student simply had rather defined muscles, and the instructor seemed to want to force the student’s shoulders down farther than they could possibly go. In fact, I don’t know if this student was a regular student at Blue Lotus, but if she isn’t, I can’t imagine why she would want to go back. The instructor seemed to correct her alignment (or adjust, if you prefer) far more than everyone else’s. I cringed every time the instructor went near the poor girl!

Most of our class seemed to consist of lunges, either variations on a Low Lunge (Ashwa Sanchalanasana) or Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana). We did other poses as well, and ended in Savasana, but the lunges stuck out the most because I could feel it in my thighs when I left! To be honest, I did not get a strong sense of breath linked with movement for most of the class. This may be something for yoga practitioners that is sort of implied (remember to breathe!), but the instructor didn’t really emphasize it much throughout her lesson. I also didn’t get the sense that the sequencing was linked very well. Some of it honestly felt made up on the spot. I could be biased here; the instructor announced at the beginning that she needed to be somewhere else immediately after our class ended, and I think she was preoccupied as a result.

Overall, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything really special in this class; it moved much slower than I’m used to, which could be beneficial for some students, but I expected a bit more from an open level class. I’m not sure if this was because of the instructor’s preoccupation, my own preference for power vinyasa, or the Anusara style of yoga as a whole. So far for the year, I would say this class ranked as my least favorite. It wasn’t bad—the other students in the class appeared to be regulars and seemed to enjoy themselves. It just didn’t quite move at my speed, and I barely broke a sweat (remember, though, I do hot yoga—I’m a bit spoiled in terms of horrendously sweaty classes!). Rest assured, though, that taking such a class has little, if anything, to do with the current controversy surrounding the practice, and its fairly relaxed pace, at least in non-advanced classes, would make for a fine introduction to yoga for a beginner.

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40 Days Challenge: Week 1

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As I’ve mentioned several times, I’ve just begun breathe yoga’s 40 Days to Personal Revolution challenge. The challenge involves going to breathe five times a week for any class and attending one lifestyle or asana workshop per week; in addition, I am trying to follow some of Baron Baptiste’s guidelines for the challenge as outlined in his book of the same title.

What an amazing week so far! I’m on day four (four days of yoga in a row—holy crap!), and I feel amazing. I will admit that today I had to fight myself a bit to go to class. I did make it, though, and now I only have one more day left to attend class, preferably tomorrow. The other two days I will use for home practices. I noticed that on day one I was totally pumped to begin; I attended a class in the evening so I could stay for the nutrition workshop afterward. Day two I still had the same momentum, but day three I had a little bit of trouble getting going in the morning. Today, however, I was just tired. I tried to bargain with myself (“Maybe I can go Friday and Saturday instead!”), but eventually I forced myself to go to class. I’m glad I did. Where I felt slightly rundown this morning, despite a decent night’s sleep, my energy has been crazy the rest of the day. If you saw my status on Facebook about feeling like a badass housewife, that’s why: despite any initial reluctance this morning, I cleaned, did the shopping, fixed stuff, did laundry, and wrote two blog entries, and I didn’t feel the need to slow down and rest once! I can already feel the difference the 40 Days challenge is making in terms of my energy.

The theme for week one, according to Baptiste’s book, is presence. The idea is to be fully aware and present throughout everything you do, whether on your mat or otherwise. I actually like the idea of being present and have encountered it before. It sounds almost deceptively simple. Of course your body is present in everyday situations, but what about your mind? How many times have you talked to someone and not really listened? Perhaps you wanted to be somewhere else, or you were worried or anxious about a later event. Being present is important in our distracting, technology-obsessed culture; we need a reminder to get away from the screens around us and just focus on what’s important, whether it’s friends, family, a task or assignment, or just the beauty of the world around us. I try to be present on and off the mat; it does me no good to be distracted in any situation.

One thing, however, that I’ve failed at thus far this week is meditation. Baptiste mentions starting and ending each day with five minutes of stillness in week one to clear your mind, and sadly this is something I’ve either forgotten or didn’t want to do. I’ll see what I can do to change this in the coming weeks, but despite feeling positive overall, this is one area where I don’t feel entirely confident. I am not really very good at clearing my head other than when I’m focused on a really intense yoga practice, but maybe this speaks to my need (and most other people’s) to be constantly doing something rather than just focusing on breath and stillness.

Another way my challenge has differed from the book is in terms of diet advice. On Monday night, I attended my first challenge workshop at breathe, called “Rev Your Metabolism/Boost Your Nutrition,” hosted by owner and dietician Cyndi Weis. Cyndi’s advice resonated with me a lot more than Baptiste’s. For starters, Cyndi actually has credentials in nutrition, unlike Baptiste, and the advice she gave didn’t veer toward wanting to change the diets of others. After all, food is such a personal thing for many, and what works for one person may wreak havoc on the body of another.

Cyndi discussed the idea of revving your metabolism by sprinkling your nutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) throughout the day to help you avoid crashing or feeling rundown. Carbs give you immediate energy, but proteins and fats, she said, are necessary for longer-term results. Her nutrition advice was in a similar vein in terms of not correcting others but helping the individual tap into his or her needs. Eating whole foods rather than processed ones (i.e. eat the stuff your grandma can actually identify as food) and eating a variety of colors (greens, reds, oranges, purples, browns, etc.) are some of the best things you can do for yourself. Minimizing processed foods should be common sense to most of us now, but sometimes we all need a good reminder (I know I do!). After shopping today, I have a fridge stocked with fruits and veggies, and although I’ve been a strict vegetarian for over a decade, it’s good to remember that even a supposedly healthy diet such as that can always use some improvement.

I am so excited for week two to begin. In terms of trying to set a routine, I think I’ve moved past any initial resistance, and going four days in a row (five tomorrow?) proves to myself that I can do it. Next week I’ll be learning about alignment in yoga, and the theme for the week is vitality. In the meantime, I’ll try to see if I can get myself to meditate at least once before the week is over!

40 Days, Yoga Controversy, and Inspiration

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My 40 Days challenge begins on Monday, and I am super excited! I have already begun mapping out which workshops I want to take and paired them with classes before or after they take place (hey, minimizes my driving from Point A to Point B–no sense in going back to Point B twice!). Throughout the challenge, I’ll try to give weekly updates and try to sync my activities with those that Baron Baptiste has discussed in his book on the topic. The first week is all about the concept of presence, which I’ll talk more about next week.

Truth be told, I actually began planning for the 40 Days challenge last week. Since its primary feature involves attending five classes per week, I began that last week with classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Yes, Easter Sunday! This was a benefit class at breathe, with donations going to their Off the Mat, Into the World challenge for this year. It was a great day of yoga alongside probably about 40-50 other people who all wanted to be there (or, as the instructor joked, had to make up some kind of excuse to be there!).

I’ll have a new monthly yoga entry fairly soon; I’ll be trying Anusara yoga this month (this weekend, in fact, if things go as planned). While the founder of the movement may have faced some recent controversy, I don’t think this reflects on the practitioners of Anusara-based yoga. I may be a “novice,” but to me, all yoga is good yoga. If it speaks to you, it must be doing something good, regardless of what others may say or believe.

And now, some inspiration for the upcoming week:

Y is For Yogini is full of a great mix of yoga and humor, but this list of Yoga Class Pet Perks (not Peeves) makes me smile. (This list is a good, and humorous, bonus!)

I am so excited to see Seane Corn in May, and this article she wrote about her days pre-yoga really sheds light on how transforming a yoga practice can be.

Think all yogis look like the ones you see on the pages of Yoga Journal? Think again! Check out these two amazing galleries of yoga for everybody–and every body!

Finally, a quote from Baron Baptiste’s 40 Days book that I really liked when I first read it. It resonated with me, and maybe it will resonate for you, too.

“Never making a decision is a decision unto itself. It is a decision to stay in a personal fog. Staying in the confusion is safe, because in the fog, we never have to face the mundane that comes with committing to a path. Everyone tries to avoid the mundane path, but that is the path that makes us grow.” (16)

Committing to the goal of completing the 40 days challenge may seem tedious or mundane, but it is certainly one that will bring results! I am so ready for Monday! How about you?