Popularity and celebrity often go hand in hand, and this can be a curse. Such was the case for John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga. At one time one of the most popular yoga styles in the United States, Anusara has been under a cloud since 2012, when Friend was accused of mismanaging funds, having affairs with students, and engaging in other unethical practices. This is a shame, as the style combines spiritual beliefs with physical movement to create a yogic practice that celebrates the individual, focuses on positivity, and allows one to express his or her highest manifestation of goodness. Thankfully, the Anusara School of Hatha Yoga (ASHY) was formed at the time of Friend’s downfall; the purpose of this organization is to expand on the beauty of Anusara and continue its teachings in the yoga community.
Anusara’s roots are divided between Tantric philosophy and Iyengar-style principles. Because of this, a clas will be focused on the correct alignment for each pose, but will also display an emphasis on the celebration of personal energy. Tantric belief is non-dualistic, meaning that there is no difference between the creator and the creation; therefore, Anusara classes celebrates the individual as a unique expression of the Divine. A class will be developed around a ‘heart theme’ that attempts to tie one’s life events to an asana series; these will culminate in a ‘peak’ position before the class cools down the body with forward bends, twists, and Savasana. While the physical demands of an Anusara class are not that different from other vinyasa styles, but Anusara challenges its teachers to integrate their own experience and learning with the demands of asana; this in turn inspires those taking the class to do the same. The emotions of the class can thus feel more light-hearted, than in other traditions, with a focus on experimentation and play.
It can be difficult to find an ASHY class these days, as the organization has been in transition for the last several years. To be certified as an Anusara studio, three or more Anusara classes must be offered each week. Because so many former Anusara teachers, including luminaries such as Noah Maze, Amy Ippoliti, and Desiree Rambaugh, have broken with this tradition, the number of teachers advertising themselves as Anusara teachers has fallen by two-thirds its former number. Thus, those wishing to practice this style of yoga will have to either comb through community studios to find a class, or practice at home with a book, video, or online class as a guide.
In 2012, after allegations against Friend caused the organization around Anusara to splinter, a core group of practitioners instituted a board of directors to oversee the curriculum and to ensure that there would no longer be just one person at the helm. In 2016, ASHY filed to become a non-profit organization, and the work within ASHY continues in order to re-invigorate the community that once formed around the principles of this style. Will Anusara yoga be able to turn around the decline of the brand? Only the future will make that clear. Hopefully, the beauty of the style will re-surface, either within ASHY or through a further fusion with other yoga styles. In the end, the brand is less important than the principles, and the laughter and love of Anusara is too important to be lost from the “yogaverse”.