Elena Brower @ Vira Yoga (NYC)

I took my first Anusara class recently at Vira Yoga, NYC’s premier Anusara yoga center. Elena Brower is Vira Yoga’s co-founder, and, judging from the turnout at her packed midday Tuesday class, she’s one of NYC’s most popular Anusara teachers. Ms. Brower has made it–blogger at Huffington Post, has Adidas as a sponsor, taught yoga to thousands in Central Park, successful studio, etc.

I had my doubts about Anusara (what does “heart-centered” mean? Is John Friend, founder, a money-grubbing megalomaniac?), but a non-Anusara teacher that I love—an intelligent, critical thinker—came back humbled, energized, amazed after a retreat she took with John Friend. Bah humbug, I thought, but I’ll try it.

Elena’s students were regulars and adored her. She commanded the room. To me, the neophyte, she taught a great, well-rounded class—chanting, skillful asana & alignment, and philosophy.  Elena’s pacing was effective, and she adeptly wove her alignment cues with her philosophy cues, making things (difficult poses, finding bliss) seem attainable.

She mentioned her work with the Handel group, an executive coaching firm. Elena seemed to say that, to be happy, you need to face your fears, hold close to your center, and stop worrying about crap all the time. On her blog, Elena gets into surprising detail about her inner life and work with the Handel Group. I don’t know how a yoga teacher hooked up with an executive coaching firm, but I like it. One of my genius teachers from grad school, Ron Heifetz, was an executive coach. Sounds fluffy but this guy turned 100 of my type A Ivy League classmates into feral blobs, Lord of the Flies-style; then he held up a mirror and said, “Watch.” Ugly. We learned a ton.

Anyway, throughout the class and the poses Ms. Brower reminded us to keep energy and effort pulled into our midlines. Later she tied this physical instruction into her more philosophical advice to stay close to one’s center. (She was much more eloquent than I am.) Leading up to then apex pose, Elena suggested that we “fall into” eka pada koudinyasa. She said it would be fun. It was. I had never felt so light and powerful in that pose than I did in her class.

Eka Pada Koudinyasana

Based on my stringent research of attending one class, I have decided that, despite having worldwide headquarters in Texas, Anusara isn’t a cult. It’s yoga, firmly rooted in the thousand year tradition. And, I get why Ms Brower’s students dig her. She was skillful, honest, and generous with herself. She didn’t call it in. She read the room. Her 10 minute savasana was just what I needed, even though I didn’t know it beforehand. I would like to return–since a few days later some of Ms Brower’s words still stick with me. But I won’t go often–it is expensive ($20/class), crowded, and, well, I’m not still not comfortable putting my support behind a yoga that is trademarked.