Anusara yoga is a modern school of hatha yoga started by American-born yoga teacher John Friend in 1997. Friend derived his style from the Iyengar style of yoga and reintroduced elements of Hindu spirituality into a more health-oriented Western approach to Yoga.
The Anusara style emphasizes a set of Universal Principles of Alignment which underlie all of the physical asanas and are connected to philosophical aspects of the practice. According to the official Anusara Yoga website, the school’s ideology is “grounded in a Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness”. Friend states that the term “Anusara (a-nu-sar-a), means ‘flowing with Grace,’ ‘flowing with Nature’ and ‘following your heart,'” as interpreted from the Sanskrit anusāra, meaning “custom, usage, natural state or condition”.
Philosophy and principles
Anusara’s Yoga draws from classical Indian texts, such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita, and reinterprets them from a non-dualistic viewpoint known as Shiva–Shakti tantra. Anusara’s philosophy is then applied to more physical aspects of the asana practice:
The Three A’s
The practice of Anusara Yoga is broadly categorized into three parts, known as the Three A’s:
- Attitude, writes Friend, is the “power of the heart as the force behind every action or expression in an asana.” It is “the aspiration to reawaken to our divine nature, and the celebration of life.”
- Alignment, according to John Friend, is the “mindful awareness of how various parts of ourselves are integrated and interconnected.” Anusara’s Universal Principles of Alignment are refinements of this principle.
- Action, according to Friend, is the “natural flow of energy in the body, which provides both stability and joyful freedom.”
Universal Principles of Alignment
Anusara Yoga works with five major alignment principles. When assuming a yoga pose, Anusara practitioners make refinements on the pose’s alignment by performing the principles in order. Within each principle, there are further refinements.
|Opening to Grace||The practitioner intends to place him/herself in alignment with the flow of Supreme Consciousness. For asana practice, this includes having an attitude of soft-hearted devotion, and open-mindedness. Refinements of this principle include, “inner body bright”, “outer body soft” and “side body long.”|
|Muscular Energy||A drawing of energy from the periphery of the body into a central location in the body, called a Focal Point. Muscular Energy seeks to increase stability, strength, and physical integration in the pose.|
|Inner Spiral||An expanding energy spiral. In the legs it runs from the feet up through the pelvis into the waistline area to rotate the legs inward, move the thighs backward, and widen the thighs and pelvis. In the arms Inner Spiral spins the forearms inward from anatomical neutral|
|Outer Spiral||A contracting energy spiral. In the legs it runs from the waistline area down through the tailbone and out through the legs and feet to draw the pelvis and thighs closer together, move the tailbone and thighs forward, and rotate the legs outward. In the arms, Outer Spiral spins the upper arms out and away from each other from anatomical neutral, refining the heart-opening action of the Anusara Yoga practice.|
|Organic Energy||An outward extension of energy from the Focal Point through the core lines of the body to the body’s periphery, which increases expansion, flexibility, and freedom in the pose.|
Anusara’s alignment principles highlight three Focal Points in the body:
- Pelvic Focal Point, located in the core of the pelvis.
- Heart Focal Point, situated at the bottom of the heart.
- Upper Palate Focal Point, found at the roof of the mouth.
In any given pose, only one Focal Point is active, that being the one nearest the most weight-bearing part of the pose. Muscular Energy draws into the active Focal Point, and Organic Energy extends out from it. In a pose where more than one Focal Point is equally weight-bearing, the pelvic Focal Point becomes the active one by default.
In creating his style of yoga, John Friend noticed that there were further alignment refinements that corresponded to loop-shaped movements in the body. Looking at one’s body in profile, each of these loops has its origin in the vertical center line of the legs, trunk, or head, rotating toward the back plane of the body and looping either upward or downward and back in the other direction (down or up) along the front plane of the body. Each loop intersects with adjacent loops above and below it and has a right and left component. The seven energy loops are:
- Ankle Loop, starting from the center of the ankle bone, running down to the heel, under the sole of the foot and back up to the ankle.
- Shin Loop, starting from the center of the ankle bone, moving up the calf to just below the knee, then returning down the front of the shin.
- Thigh Loop, starting at the pelvic focal poin, running down the back of the thigh to just below the knee and back up the front of the thigh.
- Pelvic Loop, originating in the core of the lumbar spine, looping down the back to the pelvic focal point and back up the belly.
- Kidney Loop, beginning at the lumbar, running up the back ribs to the heart focal point and back down the front to draw floating ribs in.
- Shoulder Loop, originates at the upper palette, runs down the back of neck and shoulder blades, through the heart focal point and back up across front upper ribs and throat.
- Skull Loop, starts from the upper palette and drows over the back of the skull and down the face.
Vinyasa (Sanskrit: विन्यास; IAST:vinyāsa; vi-NYAAH-sa[needs IPA]) is a Sanskrit term often employed in relation to certain styles of yoga. The term vinyasa may be broken down into its Sanskritic roots to assist in decoding its meaning. Nyasa denotes “to place” and vi denotes “in a special way.” Like many Sanskrit words, vinyasa is a term that has many meanings.
Lori Gaspar (2003)  states:
There are four basic definitions of vinyasa: 1) the linking of body movement with breath; 2) a specific sequence of breath-synchronized movements used to transition between sustained postures; 3) setting an intention for one’s personal yoga practice and taking the necessary steps toward reaching that goal; and 4) a type of yoga class.
Maehle (2007: p.294) defines vinyasa as:
Sequential movement that interlinks postures to form a continuous flow. It creates a movement meditation that reveals all forms as being impermanent and for this reason are not held on to.
Vinyasa is also employed as a noun to describe the sequence of poses that are performed between Adho Mukha Svanasanas or Downward Facing Dog as part of a Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutation sequence. Though this is more correctly termed half-vinyasa as full-vinyasa returns to complete standing asana or positions.
Srivasta Ramaswami, author of The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga and a direct disciple of the legendary Yoga teacher Krishnamacharya, brings forth the essence of Vinyasa in asana practice in the following way,
“My guru believed that the correct vinyasa method is essential in order to receive the full benefits from yoga practice. The following quote, which I translated from Yoga Makaranda, perfectly captures this sentiment.”From time immemorial the Vedic syllables…are chanted with the correct (high, low, and level) notes. Likewise, sruti (pitch) and laya(rhythm) govern Indian classical music. Classical Sanskrit poetry follows strict rules of chandas (meter), yati (caesura), and prasa (assemblage). Further, in mantra worship, nyasas (usually the assignment of different parts of the body to various deities, with mantras and gestures) – such as Kala nyasa, Matruka nyasa, Tatwa nyasa – are integral parts. Likewise yogasana (yogic poses), pranayama (yogic breathing exercises), and mudras (seals, locks, gestures) have been practiced with vinyasas from time immemorial. However, these days, in many places, many great souls who teach yoga do so without the vinyasas. They merely stretch or contract the limbs and proclaim that they are practicing yoga…””
Ramaswami further goes on to add, “Just as music without proper pitch (sruti) and rhythm (laya) will not give happiness, yogasana practice without the observance of vinyasas will not give health. That being the case what can I say about the long life, strength and other benefits?”
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