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.