Anusara Yoga Grand Gathering (Yoga Journal)

John Friend
Year Released: 2009

Categories: Yoga

Note: I received a free review copy of this DVD set directly from Yoga Journal.

This 3-DVD set was filmed at the very first Anusara Yoga Grand Gathering in Estes Park, Colorado. It features Anusara Yoga founder John Friend welcoming the crowd of 800 participants in an opening gathering, leading three master classes, and being interviewed on his thoughts about Anusara Yoga and life in general. During the Welcome Gathering, Friend talks about the growth and development of Anusara Yoga. Similarly, in his interview with Denise Benitez, he discusses Anusara as a method, including the association between Anusara Yoga and John Friend the man; he also answers questions about additional issues such as bringing the sacred into class, honoring tradition, and addressing suffering and despair.

The Master Classes feature Friend on stage teaching while one of his students, Tanya Beilke, beautifully demonstrates the postures. Each Master Class is approximately two hours in length, as it includes an opening talk by Friend, the Anusara invocation chanted by the musical group Shantala, long asana sequences interspersed with additional teaching from Friend, and an ending kirtan (chant), also sung by Shantala. Although Friend refers to savasana, the sessions conclude directly after the chanting. I have listed the Main Menus for each disc and have offered some further information for each of the three master class practices below. [Note: I have added approximate times for each segment in parentheses.]

Welcome Gathering (25m)
Interview with John Friend (48m)
Master Class Day 1
*Play All (1 hour, 54 minutes)
*Introduction (6m)
*Opening Invocation (11m)
*Warming Up (20m)
*Balancing (16m)
*Backbends, Hip Openers, Twists (26m)
*Forward Bends, Supine Poses (24m)
*Ending Kirtan with Shantala (11m)
Day 1 is a bit shorter and gentler. However, Friend still gets in a wide variety of postures, from triangle, side angle, half moon, and standing splits to pigeon, bridge, and wheel. For forward bends, Friend seems to particularly like pyramid pose, as he includes this in all three practices.

Master Class Day 2
*Play All (2 hours, 22 minutes)
*Introduction and Invocation (34m)
*Warming Up (15m)
*Standing Sequence (20m)
*Balancing (24m)
*Backbends, Hip Openers, and Stretches (36m)
*Forward Bends (20m)
*Ending Kirtan with Shantala (10m)
Friend introduces longer sequences and a bit of partner work (warm-up stretches and balance assistance) to Day 2. He adds plank/chaturanga flows to the standing series as well and has Tanya perform a handstand demonstration at the end of the standing postures. Friend also increases the challenge with both the balance work (standing hand-to-foot, side plank, boat, crow) and the backbends (cradle, lizard, pigeon, bow, bridge, wheel). Forward bends again include pyramid but also add a nice reclined leg series as well as a head-to-knee series.

Master Class Day 3
*Play All (2 hours, 43 minutes)
*Introduction and Invocation (23m)
*Warming Up (21.5m)
*Standing Sequence (27m)
*Twists and Hand Balances (14.5m)
*Backbends (48m)
*Forward Bends (7.5m)
*Ending Kirtan with Shantala (21m)
Day 3 starts of similarly to Day 2: Friend begins with partner stretching, performs a similar warm-up flow, and includes balance poses such as hand-to-foot, half moon, and a half moon variation during the standing sequence. However, this session adds more challenging one-arm balance work and an extended backbend sequence. During the latter, Friend provides detailed instruction for King Pigeon pose, using not only Tanya to demonstrate but also a member of the band, Benjy, as well as another audience member.

Throughout the practices, Friend does not devote much time to discussing Anusara Yoga's Universal Principles of Alignment, particularly the loops and spirals; instead, he focuses on joy, from enjoying the breath to enjoying the presence of each other. His sense of humor is ever-present, frequently soliciting laughter from the audience. (Surprisingly, the cameras rarely scan over the large gathering of people in the room, instead remaining trained on John, Tanya, and occasionally, the band Shantala.)

This DVD set is described by Yoga Journal as being for all levels of practitioners, but I'm not sure that I'd agree; although I don't think prior experience with Anusara is necessary, I do think that those brand new to yoga might feel a bit overwhelmed by the intensity of the long class sessions--really, they are more like workshops--and the challenge level of some of the postures. (Furthermore, Friend uses mainly Sanskrit terminology to cue the poses). However, no inversions are included in any of the practices, and Friend does encourage a spirit of playfulness, making these sessions accessible to a wide range of experienced yoga students.

For those who, like myself, have never had the opportunity to see John Friend live, I can't say that this set is just as good as being there, but I can say that it is the next best thing. Although the workshop-like format may not easily lend incorporating these discs into regular home practice, the exposure to Friend in this way is a unique experience and one that I would recommend highly.

Instructor Comments:
John Friend is an experience in and of himself! Here he teaches live; with few exceptions, he does not perform the poses himself, and he does not walk around the (very large) audience. He is warm and humorous, although his tendency to chat at length serves to break up the flow of the practice at times.

Beth C (aka toaster)