Anusara YogaJohn Friend
Year Released: 2007
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I have to admit that I approached Anusara yoga with skepticism. Yoga is big business these days and several schools have marketed themselves successfully as trend-setters.
While Anusara yoga has gained popularity and attention (see, for example, the recent summer edition of Vanity Fair), thereís substance to back the hype. After listening to the opinions of some experienced yogi VFers, I bought my first Anusara DVD (Lauren Moneís Aligning the Upper Body) and took my first classes this summer. Iíve come to like the style very much.
For those who want a balance between the vinyaasa-flow styles of most classes nowadays and the iyengar stylesí attention to form, safety, and anatomy of movement, Anusara yoga seems like a good fit. Itís big on form and lighter on sun salutations than many styles. And it does seem to be grounded in sound kinetic principles. Iíve never hurt myself doing Anusara yoga. The tips on the placement of the lower back, shoulders, and pelvis during asanas seems helpful.
And now finally to the review.
ďAnusara EssentialsĒ by John Friend is a useful addition to most libraries. Those who dislike esoteric metaphors, beware. Thereís a fair amount jargon about finding your inner essence, letting your body become ďsparklyĒ and open, and so on. This fuzzy language is balanced, however, by precise instructions on form. The accompanying music is relaxing and at no point does the rhetoric spin too far from the pose at hand. I get Friendís point. Heís trying to bring practitioners through the alignment of the pose into a kind of larger spiritual alignment. A bookish, sporadic yoga student, I tend to have less patience for awkward metaphors. The instructions on form were so intelligent and articulate that I wasnít distracted as much by his flowery digressions. I found the practice relaxing but also insightful. I took away several tips on form that I can apply to my own practices.
ďAnusara EssentialsĒ is a 66 minute compilation of poses featured on ďAnusara 101,Ē which is 2 hours long. I have both and recommend the Essentials version to those who want an audio introduction to Anusara. I recommend Moneís DVD to those who are absolutely new to Anusara and donít have access to a local class.
The poses included on the Essentials CD include:
Downward facing Dog
Side Angle Standing Pose
Half Moon Pose
Intense Standing Hamstring Stretch
East Side Stretch
Supine leg stretch
Sitting forward bend
Sitting wide angle pose
Half spinal twist
Supine spinal twist
The savasana (final relaxation pose) is nine moments of divine relaxation. I enjoyed this practice and find it a handy addition to my instructional media. Recommended.
Anusara Yoga with John Friend (4 DVD set)
Although his patter continually gets more keyword oriented these sessions are pretty close to the mixed level workshops Friend tours with, except there aren't musicians playing live during practice. They were done as webcasts for Omega. No flow yoga year, no dancing poetry -- not by a long shot. Key poses are reached gradually, with lots of prep in a structure that is pretty typical of all-level JF instruction (I'd like to see some advanced stuff with the fancy inversions in another series) and his original group of certified anusarians.
I skimmed through all the DVDs and they follow a similar pattern. I started with The Dance of Yes and No. This one is all about arm balances. The lead-ins are thorough and even if you can't achieve the actual balances there's plenty of room in which to work. Friend and his assistants are very encouraging.
Next look-see in the series: Growing a Lotus. This production is a great counterweight to Erich Schiffmann's Lotus. Where Erich is all methody (as in acting): be in the pose, do it so it feels right; Friend is methodical/analytical: this leads to this, leads to that and here's why...
And, just as in Schiffmann's lotus practice, you don't have to do a full lotus, or even a half one. I have a knee injury and avoided the title pose with no problem. What both DVDs are really about is hip openers. I enjoyed working with this sequence this morning.
I think the chitchat is about 10-15 min. -- the practices run about 90 min.
And then: Lakshmi Rocks Me this morning. Its focus is backbends -- there's some great urdvha danurasana (wheel) instruction with clear demos of assists and working with a spotter.
I looked at Riding the Waves of Grace -- just a glance, no attempt to work with it. It's focus is hip openers, seated twists and forward bends, with some bits of pranayama included.
Over-all: No music during the practice itself (but itís so easy to add your own if you want it), good chapter points, clear photography. I did these in no particular order. They seemed to work just fine that way. The series is very instructional, but works and is intended as a follow-along deal. After all, these are real yoga sessions -- they're just filmed. All 4 DVDs run about 90 min. If you're really curious about anusara, take a look. There's a lot of talk in the beginning of the DVDs -- you might want to skip those chapters after the first time through (you should listen to his rap at least once though).
Iíve had a few years of anusara classes and two days with the man himself during his 2004 tour, I don't buy Friend's schtick all the way. I find him a little over the top with his drive to simplify -- sometimes things are complex because they're, well, complicated. But he does have plenty to offer to a balanced practice and he offers it with good humor.
And he does a great job of introducing the intermediate (and experimental/experienced beginner) student to empowering stuff like arm balances, while explaining how you can make your energy work for you.
Besides, itís fun to play with the dynamic between muscular and organic energy. (And you just might find yourself in astavakrasana:http://www.yogajournal.com/newsletter/myj_181.html )
If you're interested in anusara I think they're must-haves. If you want to just get a taste maybe you should just go for one and see how it goes. You can pick your focus: hip openers/lotus; arm balances; backbends; forward bends/seated twists/pranayama.
This review is clumsy and relatively unedited due to a wandering Internet connection in Argentine. But doesnít the effort count?
My background: I don't believe in assigning levels: I can do many advanced poses but I like to think of my practice as rooted in a basic matrix. I've been doing some stuff with yoga for over 20 years. I've had a daily practice for over 10 years, have attended class for over 6 years. I've done teacher training and teach yoga now and then.
I've been a regular exerciser for over 25 years (I'm in my 60s).
I think John Friend is an important voice in contemporary yoga. He's an alignment guy who makes it fun and understandable. As I said in my review below, I don't buy all of it. But he's smarter than most people you'll see on video and well worth a look.