What I meant to say about Anusara: Duh.


Demos, demos and more demos.

When an entire school of anything – whether it is yoga or educational or even a cult-like community – collapses you can be sure it was not from one thing.

If one thing could tear apart a community, then a community wasn’t very strong in the first place. Challenges are meant to bring community together, not the other way around.

Let’s take the school of Bikram Yoga. The founder, Bikram Choudhury, has been a very bad boy. He’s in a dozen lawsuits and accused of sexual and emotional abuse. However, his school of yoga thrives today. The classes are packed and the teachers seem to be immune from the founders’ behavior.

In truth, I go to Bikram yoga regularly and my class has nothing whatsoever to do with the founder other than teaching his 26 postures in a sweat box.

Now let’s consider the school of Anusara. The founder was also a naughty boy and in far less hot water than Bikram Choudhury (In fact, the comparison is almost ridiculous). Yet the original school barely exists today. More than 1,000 teachers left, including the founder! What remains is currently in disarray, although some teachers are working to put it back together.

Why did it collapse?

Well, that’s the $64 million question, but one reason is this: the school had some systemic problems that had nothing to do with the founder. And let me add this: Duh.

Right? Because if the classes were packed, and if the teachers were thriving and if the studios were profitable, and if the students kept coming, then it would exist today just like Bikram Yoga. Again, excuse my American, but Duh!

I made some comments in this vein on a recent radio program and I think I have been misunderstood. My intention was not to “attack” Anusara. I loved that style and my teachers, and I even wrote a book about how much I loved it. How many other people can stand up and say they wrote a love story to a kind of yoga?

But truthfully, I did not go to my former Anusara class all the time. I only went once a week, because the other six times I practiced I needed more exercise. I am a very busy mom with a tight schedule, and most days do not allow me one class to listen and learn, and then another to get my move on.

Teaching Anusara had some requirements which contributed to this situation. To name a few:

  • You had to use a heart-centered theme with a non-dual pulsating approach tied to the Universal Principles of Alignment and the flow of sponda in the Universe. And you know I can’t make this stuff up.
  • You had to teach all five of the UPAs in order in at least 50% of the postures in every class.
  • You had to create a centering, or dharma talk in the beginning that stated the theme, the UPAs, and connect it to yoga. And it was recommended that you sing the little song three times.
  • Partnering, demos and props were not required, per se, but everyone knew you should do it.

All of which took time away from asana.

What I said on the radio show, was related to themes. I said a long opening of 20 minutes or more detracted from my experience of yoga. This was a regular experience for me, and I attended more than 1,600 hours of Anusara classes throughout the United States for more than seven years.  Once, I attended a weekly 90-minute class that had a 45-minute opening. FORTY-FIVE MINUTES!

The founder also recognized that his teachers needed help, and he was in the process of implementing some new rules around a 10-minute opening and set sequences which would bring more “move” into many rooms. Why would he have done this if the long opening and too much wasted time didn’t exist?

The bottom line is this: today the school of Anusara yoga is trying to stay alive without its founder or 1,000 or so teachers. Many of the former teachers are taking what was really great about the system and incorporating that with other yoga techniques to make their classes better, including shutting up.

I am an advocate of all yoga, Bikram, Power, Anusara, Vinyasa, Yin etc. On my website I state clearly that the best yoga is always the one you do. I would never “diss” a style.

But if we are to learn from history, then the collapse of Anusara had some very valuable lessons for us as teachers and students.  I said, it was not the fault of any one person, rather, we were all in it together and I stand behind this sentiment. As soon as we can step up and take responsibility for our part in it, the sooner we will be able to move on even if that means staying in what is left of the school.

Michelle Berman Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She is the author of “Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga,” and “Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga.” She is a Columnist for Elephant Journal and Origin Magazine, and a contributor to Teachasana and My Yoga Online. She is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance and teaches Hatha Yoga in Denver, Co. You can take her classes on www.yogadownload.com.