From the ashrams of India to the studio down the street, yoga has been gaining popularity in every corner of the world. As with any evolving art, different schools of practice, or subsets, emerge. Different cultures and philosophies affect yoga and an ancient art becomes contemporary and reflective of the modern way of life.
In 1997, an American-born yoga instructor, John Friend, founded a modern school of hatha yoga called Anusara yoga. He developed his style from elements of another modern yoga school, Iyengar, and reintroduced Hindu philosophy and spirituality to the asana (poses). Anusara is a more health-oriented Western approach to the traditional hatha style. Along with creating a modern school of yoga, Friend also founded a private corporation called Anusara Inc. where all Anusara instructors must be certified.
In Sanskrit, anusara means ‘natural state or condition’ (anu means ‘atom’) and Friend has adapted anusara to mean ‘flowing with grace’, ‘flowing with nature’, and ‘following your heart’. The school’s ideology focuses on the Tantric principle of intrinsic goodness. The ultimate goal of Anusara yoga is ‘alignment with the Divine’ or ‘co-participation with the Supreme’. This fundamental enlightenment comes from celebrating beauty (in all its diversity, truthfulness, and honor) and the creative freedom shared by all beings.
As part of Anusara classes, Friend has ‘dharma talks’ with his students. These are simplified explanations of Tantric principles. He frames them in the American idiom of self-improvement; so naturally, his audience is primarily made up of American yoga students. Anusara yoga is most popular on the West Coast and southern California, although it has been spreading steadily across the country in the last few years.
The Universal Principles of Alignment connect all physical asana to the philosophical practice of Anusara yoga. When performing a yoga pose, Anusara practitioners refine their forms by performing the five principles in order.
Opening to Grace – The goal is to be aligned with the flow of Supreme Consciousness. An attitude of soft-hearted devotion and open-mindedness is essential. Friend has described it as: ‘inner body bright’, ‘outer body soft’, and ‘side body long’.
Muscular Energy – The goal is to draw energy from the outer edge of the body to the focal points, or central locations in the body. It increases stability, strength, and physical integration of the asana.
Inner Spiral - This is an expanding energy spiral. In the legs (from the feet up through the pelvis and waist) it rotates the legs inward, moves the thighs backward, and widens the pelvis. In the arms (forearms to upper arms), it spins the forearms inward.
Outer Spiral – This is a contracting energy spiral. In the legs (waistline down through the tailbone and legs), it draws the pelvis and thighs closer together, moves the tailbone forward, and rotates the legs outward. In the arms, it spins the upper arms out and away from each other.
Organic Energy – The goal is to draw energy from the focal points to the outer edge of the body to increase expansion, flexibility, and freedom in the asana.
These three parts categorize Anusara yoga:
Attitude – The aspiration to re-awaken to divine nature and the celebration of life.
Alignment – Mindful awareness of how the body’s parts are integrated and connected.
Action – The natural flow of energy in the body, which provides both stability and joyful freedom.
There are three focal points in the body. The universal principles of alignment highlight them. During a pose, only one focal point is active at a time. Only the one nearest to the weight-bearing part of the pose is active.
Pelvic Focal Point (located at the core of the pelvis)
Heart Focal Point (located at the bottom of the heart)
Upper Palate Focal Point (located at the roof of the mouth)
There are seven energy loops that intersect in the body. They help to further refine asana in loop-shaped movements. They are: ankle loop, shin loop, thigh loop, pelvic loop, kidney loop, shoulder loop, and skull loop. All energy loops have a right and left component.
Anusara yoga classes begin with three chants of ‘Om’ and then three rounds of the Invocation, and a final ‘Om’.
The mantra is said in Sanskrit:
‘Om Namah Shivaya Gurave (Hail to Shiva, the Teacher)
Sacchidananda-Murtaye (Whose form is Truth, Consciousness, and Bliss)
Nishprapanchaya Shantaya (The Singular One, the Peaceful One)
Niralambaya Tejase’ (The Self-Supported One the Lustrous One)