It was a sunny summer day in beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that I walked into my first Anusara class at Akasha Yoga Studio. My first Anusara Teacher, Neesha Zollinger, spoke a lot about opening to grace, about “lining up with the flow”, and about intrinsic goodness. We opened the class by singing the traditional Anusara Invocation, and once we began to move, we did so with precision, sensitivity, and highly refined alignment. At first, the unfamiliar alignment cues felt strange, but very quickly I felt myself plug into a form of yoga that felt more natural and joyful then any other.
Anusara yoga is one of the fastest-growing styles because it is an artistic, celebratory, and empowering practice. It is based on a life-affirming vision with an overall positive view of life. Anusara uses the Universal Principles of Alignment (an elegant set of very precise guidelines on physical alignment) which can be applied to both the asana practice and to living one’s daily life off the mat. In Tantric philosophy, we see that the body is the outer form of energetic embodiment. Therefore, the Universal Principles of Alignment are looking at the body from a perspective of Universal Consciousness, as opposed to just the biomechanical principles of the physical body.
The state of our physical body is in many ways just the surface manifestation of our consciousness. In Anusara yoga we not only line up our bodies, but more importantly, we align our attitude, our hearts and minds, with the great universal energy that pulses inside every single thing that manifests in our known reality. This universal energy, or Supreme consciousness, is life itself. Eternal and absolute, it is at the very core of our true nature as living beings. When we remember who we truly are, life unfolds before us in a seemingly magical way. Synchronisity and “good luck” surround us, and we walk our path with great enthusiasm.
During my first few classes of Anusara Yoga in Jackson, I very quickly began to recognize profound changes in my body and my life. I was hooked! I immediately signed up for the first part of the Anusara immersion that summer. While I knew I had found something amazing, I really had no idea how deep the rabbit hole would go…
Although I was already quite flexibile and strong before coming to this particular practice, certain advanced poses still seemed impossible. Anusara yoga greatly surprised me when I quickly gained the ability to do hand stands. Later on in my Anusara career (once I found my primary Teacher, Kk Ledford, in San Francisco) a wide range of previously impossible hand balances, binds, and inversions became accessible. Among these are visvamitrasana, koundiniyasana 1, Koundiniyasana 2, pinchamayurasana, and yogi dandasana, and that’s really only just a few! I also healed many of my old injuries and cured chronic pain in the shoulders, back, and knees. I know I owe much of my transformation and personal asana syllabus expansion to my teacher Kk’s continual stressing of the importance of alignment with particular emphasis on shoulder loop! *One of the seven energy loops within the body. “This loop originates in the upper palate and flows backward to the base of the skull and down the back of the body to the bottom of the shoulder blades. When you engage Shoulder Loop, the head moves back slightly and the shoulder blades move down the back. At the bottom of the shoulder blades, the loop begins arcing forward and upward as it draws the bottom tips of the shoulder blades in and upward, toward the heart. The loop continues forward and up to the palate again as it lifts the chest and opens the throat.” -JF
Needless to say, Anusara Yoga is now the only form of Yoga I practice. When I am teaching yoga, Anusara alignment principles and philosophy completely inform the class. But it will be a long time before I can officially call myself an “Anusara Certified” teacher. Even the first level of Anusara teaching called “Anusara Inspired” requires a great deal of practice, study, and training before one can even just apply to hold this title. The lengthy Anusara teacher certification process has drawn some criticism. In a recent Q + A, John Friend offers the following explaination.
Yes, our certification process is widely recognized as one of the most rigorous licensee processes within the yoga world. The criticism is that it takes much longer than the average certification process within the yoga world today. It is more extensive than most, and has a very high standard. Therefore, it is not as easy as most certification programs. Although it can be a challenging process, our certification represents a very high standard of knowledge and teaching skill within an ever-expanding yoga world today.
It is set this way to assure that all students of all levels are given an outstanding and uplifting, expansive experience at every level of being, and so that the vision maintains integrity with expansion. Understanding that the standard of certification is of the highest rigor in the world, we also offer another licensing category for those who are in process of certification and are fully dedicated to the practice, the teachings, and the community. The Anusara-Inspired level of licensing is empowering and encouraging as teachers move towards full certification. Thus, the process is supportive and not exclusionary.
For this reason, I highly respect Anusara Yoga Teachers, who stand out in a world of Western Yoga that regularly pumps out tons of unprepared “teachers” who have only been practicing for a couple years themselves, and have only completed one of the many fairly simple generic trainings available. A great teacher I know once described this epidemic as “learn it today, teach it tomorrow”. I can admit that several years ago, when I completed my first Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu, I may have been getting ahead of myself. Don’t get me wrong! Kripalu is a fantastic institution which I greatly love and respect. The experience of deeper study I had there was wonderful, BUT I’m just not sure my peers and I were really ready to call ourselves teachers afterwards. That is why the great idea of the ”Immersion” exists in Anusara. It is a 3 part series of deeper study of Anusara Yoga, and it is a prerequisite of doing the Anusara Teacher Training.
In conclusion, I must confess that the incredible amount of blessings and opportunities that Anusara Yoga has brought into my life, is by far more valuable than any physical experience or benefit. The philosophical vision of Anusara yoga is rooted in Shiva-Shakti Tantra, which is the first spiritual path that has ever made sense to me. My interest and devotion to this lineage has lead me to engage in deeper study of Kashmir Shaivism and meditation with world renowned teacher Paul Muller Ortega. Along the way, I have met some amazing people and gained some valuable connections. But most importantly, I have gained a sense of intrinsic self-worth. When you love and trust yourself, you recognize the same shining light of consciousness in the eyes of every other human being, and you see the world as a boundless playground of opportunity and delight.
I am infinitely grateful and so very blessed to walk this path. My only desire is to serve and share this gift with others.
Om Namah Shivaya! Jai!