Why I thought Anusara® yoga was force for evil

I took my first Anusara yoga class recently (see here for my review of the pleasant experience), and despite initial doubts (see below), I decided that Anusara was harmless.

As background, from wikipedia: “Anusara yoga is a modern school of hatha yoga grounded in a Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness, that was started by John Friend in 1997…The emphasis of the school is on a set of “Universal Principles of Alignment” which underlie all postures, “heart opening” postures and the spiritual/meditative benefits of hatha yoga.”

Now, as a public service, I will explain why I harbored suspicions about Anusara, in hopes that Yoga Inc can improve its PR strategy with the outside world. To be clear, below are my ex-ante impressions, Anusara as it appeared to an outsider.

1) Yoga styles are proliferating like rabbits. In this mess, does the world need another type of yoga? Yoga is supposed to help simplify, not distract.

2) The motivation for establishing a new style like Anusara is unclear. One suspects the style is formed not because a superior path to enlightenment has been developed, but as a way for a charismatic yoga teacher to cash in on his popularity. For example, see Bikram.

Bikram Choudhury with two students. Btw, Indian people are not born this hairless. I know.

3) Anusara seems to be a cult of John Friend. For example, the Anusara webpage makes clear that John Friend runs the show—links to his blog and twitter feed are at the bottom of every page; his travel schedule is separated from other Anusara events; “About John Friend” is the first link in the “About Anusara” section; and to be certified, and stay certified, you must study with Friend directly. To the casual observer, Anusara=John Friend, not Anusara=enduring body of knowledge.

John Friend

4) Smells like a business, not a school. It takes some chutzpah, and commercial mindedness, to take an ancient discipline, rebrand it, trademark it, and then charge dues to practice it. The words themselves are proprietary, and teachers—who pay annual fees of nearly $100—must annotate the words to signal that “Anusara” is someone else’s intellectual property: Anusara-Inspired™ or Anusara®.

Anusara yoga greeting cards at 10 for $25.

5) The style seems derivative, not revolutionary–more marketing than innovation. Anusara appears to be repackaged Iyengar with some Hinduism on the side.

6) The words are incomprehensible to the layman. For example, from the website: Anusara yoga’s “highest intention…is to align with the Divine… awaken to the truth that this Divine flow is our essential nature.” I think I can spot the Tantric message here—but other stuff is, uh, harder to follow: “Everything manifests as a result of the dance of Divine polarities, the mystical marriage between Shiva and Shakti that is auspicious consciousness vibrating with Freedom and is full of the highest Bliss…”

7) The not-so-flattering profile of John Friend in the New York Times last year (“The Yoga Mogul”) didn’t help. At best Friend comes off as earnest but cheesy. The article ends with a story of Friend reciting “an ode to creativity” at a private “happening” in an LA loft, while a young woman in tiger face paint “danced and writhed on the floor.”

We ride the tiger. . . .
I taste her hunger
In the burning of my desire
There is no hotter fire.

Ouch.

(See his response to the NYT article here. He says: “…hav[ing] such an extensive article published in the New York Times on yoga, particularly Anusara yoga…is another clear sign that Grace supports Anusara.”)

The end. Please use this information for good, not evil.

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