I was trained in a small village in the very rural foothills of Northern California at a magical place called The Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation. I return back about once every year to further my knowledge for not only the classes I teach but for myself.
I started out VERY strict with myself. I followed the “Ananda way” for the first 3 years after attending my school the first time. Over the last couple of years I have started to recognize that an extreme of anything is often detrimental to the initial intention. My intention with learning and teaching yoga was to understand myself better and to understand the world around me in its truest form. I am at a place where I no longer strictly focus on the way I thought yoga had to be done, but instead I focus on my experience of each aspect of my practice and what my body and mind are asking me to do. What I mean by this is that if I feel like connecting two poses together (not the traditional “Ananda way”) as a flow, or if I feel like reconstructing the sequence other than how it was originally taught to me, that all of this is ok. The focus is not how I complete my practice. The focus is that I quiet my mind from these worldly distractions and practice being in my own stillness, my own space.
My practice is still evolving and I am proud of whatever form it takes. I am grateful to have the ability to share this experience with others and I’d like to go deeper into the traditional ways of Ananda Yoga. This sequence below is the way I was taught to formulate my personal practice sessions and classes that I taught. I appreciate its power immensely.
- The Energization Exercises: This is a series of 39 exercises used to physically warm-up the body and energetically to experience the body as energy.
- Asanas: Asana refers to the physical yoga postures commonly known from most westernized yoga classes. These postures usually include one of each of the following: a balancing pose, a forward fold (flexion of the spine), a backward bend (extension of the spine, a twist reflecting on each side, and a lateral movement of the spine reflecting on each side (side-to-side). I was taught that the most energetically beneficial way of sequencing is to start with a balancing pose, move through a forward fold, twist, and lateral movement to open the spine, and a backward bend to energize the spine and to draw energy towards the brain. Drawing energy towards the brain is said to benefit one in meditation as it takes much focus and energy. In Ananda Yoga, each posture has its own affirmation that is to be repeated by the practitioner. Traditionally, there is a short period of time between postures where one practices a “mini-meditation”. This is a time to focus on one’s experience of the previous pose on both body and mind.
- Deep Relaxation: This is also known as Savasana or corpse pose. I have heard many times that this is a favorite. In Savasana we practice stillness while resting the body in its anatomical position lying supinated, or on our backs. This is a time to rest the body, but not the mind. In Savasana try to keep your gaze gently lifted, this will help to keep you awake. For beginners and intermediate levels it is beneficial to have a guide during Savasana. Your teacher may use poetry, visualizations, readings or additional methods for you to keep your attention on. Try to keep your energy in the body, moving upwards towards the brain. Utilize your breath. One of my teachers at yoga school told me to be cautious when entering into Savasana as many people release their hard-earned energy out of the body as they lay down. This is probably due to the body position and its relation to how we sleep. Habits die hard.
- Meditation: Traditionally in Ananda Yoga meditation contains 2 preliminary techniques, a practice of releasing the breath, a mantra and finally time to enjoy our cultivated stillness. This is done with the Hong Sau technique. Hong, meaning “I am” and Sau, meaning, “Spirit”. This mantra is used to help one connect with our true essence.
So there you have it. The traditional way of practicing Ananda Yoga. I utilize this in my personal practice frequently. I am grateful that I am no longer so hard on myself about always practicing and teaching in this format. It is beneficial to both me and my students that there is a level of freedom and creativity in the practice of Yoga.