Anusara Yoga 101: Exploring The Heart-Led School & Controversies Of Its Founder

Last Updated:

Anusara Yoga is a style of modern postural yoga founded by John Friend. A physical approach to yoga rooted in tantric philosophy, it has many similarities with Vinyasa Yoga.

In this article we’ll take a look at:

  • What is Anusara Yoga?
  • The main principles of Anusara Yoga
  • Its founder, John Friend, and the controversy surrounding him
group of anusara yoga students in class

What is anusara yoga?

Anusara Yoga is a contemporary form of Hatha Yoga focused on alignment. The word Anusara translates to:

  • Flowing with grace
  • Opening to grace
  • Going with the flow
  • Following your heart
  • Aligning with the divine

Anusara is pronounced ahn-yoo-sah-ruh

Anusara Yoga was founded in 1997 by American yoga teacher John Friend. The brand became popular through a significant following throughout the United States, Asia, and Europe.

In an Anusara class, you can likely expect:

  • A physical and spiritual approach to the practice of yoga
  • An alignment-based approach to vinyasa flow
  • Light-hearted classes that are focused on positive
  • Use of props to ensure that classes are as accessible as possible
  • Language-based around the style’s philosophy – the Universal principles of alignment
man in a lunge twist in a yoga studio

There is no physical set of postures like there are in styles such as Ashtanga and Bikram Yoga, but countless poses are included in the various classes. The majority of all classes end with savasana and or meditation.

At the beginning of each Anusara Yoga class, an invocation prayer is recited.  Typically the invocation is chanted three times with three om’s. The invocation is:

Om Namah Shivaya Gurave
Saccidananda Murtaye
Nisprapancaya Shantaya
Niralambaya Tejase

The English translation of the invocation is:

I open my heart to the power of grace
That lives in us as goodness
That never is absent and radiates peace
And lights the way to transformation

The philosophy behind the method

Anusara Yoga draws on the principles of non-dual tantric philosophy believing that all things are connected.

woman with her hands on her heart in a flowr field

Universal principles of alignment

Anusara Yoga is based on the Universal Principles of Alignment.

These principles are the underpinning of all of the postures (asanas) within the practice. Although Anusara Yoga is an alignment-based physical practice, the Universal Principles of Alignment are guidelines on mind, body, and heart alignment.

The practice is about finding optimal holistic health and well-being and Anusara Yoga provides tools for self-inquiry and finding center. It is a very spiritual style of yoga.

While Anusara Yoga is generally taught in a Vinyasa flow style, it is inspired by John Friend’s Iyengar background and includes some longer holds.

Holding poses allows for more teaching and explanations of the alignment principles, allowing teachers to bring in spiritual teachings.

It’s not just about the poses

“Yoga is about awakening. Yoga is about creating a life that brings more beauty and more love into the world.”

— John Friend

Anusara is known as a “heart-centered yoga practice.”

While there is a focus on finding alignment in the physical practice, the body, mind, and heart approach combined with tantric philosophy makes this a spiritual practice in how we connect with supreme Consciousness.

woman opening her heart in a ansuara yoga posture

The initial step or principle of Anusara Yoga is to “open to grace.” 

The foundations of this are set by making an intention, practicing present-moment awareness, and using the physical practice to expand the heart.

This method of “opening to grace” includes the three A’s. They are:

  1. Attitude | This facet of the methodology is about using the heart are the driving force behind every action that we make.
  2. Alignment |This aspect of the practice is concerned with acknowledging the tantric principles of interconnectedness between all living things.
  3. Action | Action is based on the idea of stability and freedom stemming from the natural flow of energy.

Who is Anusara Yoga for?

Anusara Yoga is a practice that is designed for students of any level. 

However, while this is not a fast-paced, overly dynamic style of yoga it does demand a certain amount of agility. Generally speaking, because of its focus on alignment and slower pace.

Anusara Yoga is a great style of yoga for beginners, as well as for a more spiritual approach to a yoga practice compared to other asana styles.

anusara yoga class in childs pose

Benefits of Anusara Yoga

Like all styles of yoga, there are a great number of benefits to practicing Anusara Yoga.

A regular anusara practice will no doubt make your body more flexible and stronger. The benefits of anusara will likely be similar to those styles such as Hatha Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga.

Physical benefits of the practice include:

  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased strength
  • Improved balance
  • Improved proprioception

Because this is a heart-centred practice, there are some additional benefits that come with the practice:

  • Compassion (for yourself and for others)
  • Joy
  • Gratitude

Anusara is a great practice for anyone interested in working with the heart chakra as well as those looking for a holistic practice embracing mind, body, and heart.

person raising hands to the sky

Anusara Yoga Poses

Anusara Yoga features many of the familiar postures that you may know, such as downward-facing dog, warrior poses, and backbends, such as upward-facing dog and bow pose.

In all of the poses, there is more of an emphasis on the heart than you might find in other classes.

Energetic loops

Another principle of Anusara Yoga which defines it in contrast to other popular styles is the use of seven pairs of energetic loops. The loops are located horizontally within the body and are said to further facilitate stability.

The seven energetic loops within the body are the:

  1. Ankle Loop
  2. Shin Loop
  3. Thigh Loop
  4. Pelvic Loop
  5. Kidney Loop
  6. Shoulder Loop
  7. Skull Loop
woman in a plank

There are also five universal principles of alignment which are often talked about during longer-held poses. They are:

  1. Set an intention & Open to Grace
  2. Muscle Energy
  3. Inner – Expanding Spiral
  4. Outer – Contracting Spiral
  5. Organic Energy

What’s the difference between Anusara yoga and Vinyasa yoga?

In general, Anusara Yoga is a slower-paced practice than Vinyasa Yoga.

Postures are often held for longer in anusara than they are in vinyasa, but sequences, like in vinyasa, are often creative.

Anusara – the brand

Between 1997 and 2012, anusara was incredibly popular.

Its founder, John Friend, was trained as a senior-level Iyengar teacher which influenced his alignment-based approach. He was a member of the Iyengar Yoga governing board for four years.

John Friend came up with the “Universal Principles of Alignment,” and this is what set Anusara Yoga apart from other styles at the time.

woman meditating by a tree

His approach was aimed at developing spinal mobility and core stability within the locus of a vinyasa flow-based practice.

Friend’s approach to yoga focused on tantric philosophy, which taught that “all beings are inherently good.”

Anusara can be considered a niche style of yoga due to its demanding and rigorous teacher training programs which happened over the course of years rather than months.

Anusara’s popularity coincided with a huge uptake in popularity within yoga in the 21st century, and Friend capitalized on this. One of his world tours was called “Melt Your Heart, Blow Your Mind.”

At the height of anusara’s success, it is believed that some 200,000 students from around the world were practicing Anusara Yoga. Friend trained over one thousand teachers who continued to spread his teachings.

In 2012 the tide of success changed for Friend as a scandal was exposed.

John Friend Scandal

During February 2012 a post on an anonymous website claimed that:

  • Friend was using drugs and having them delivered to anusara premises
  • Friend led a Wiccan coven engaging in sexual rituals
  • Friend had suspended employees’ pensions to fund the anusara center that was being built

John Friend admitted that he was having sexual relationships with female employees and students inappropriately.

Friend announced that he would take a step back from teaching to reflect on his personal life and the future of Anusara Yoga.

As a result of John Friend’s behavior, many of the leading Anusara teachers stepped back from their associations with Anusara.

woman in side angle pose

In late 2012 Friend devised a new system of yoga called Sridaiva, while senior teachers within the original Anusara system have formed the Anusara School of Hatha Yoga which continues to this day.

The current Anusara School of Hatha Yoga continues in a much more modest light than under Friend’s influence. It is now more difficult to find dedicated anusara classes.

Key take aways – Anusara Yoga 101

  • Anusara is a school of modern postural yoga based on Hatha yoga. It was founded by John Friend in the late 1990s.
  • Anusara means “flowing with grace”.
  • The school’s ideology is based on the teachings of intrinsic goodness which can be found within non-dual tantra.
  • The ultimate goal of anusara is to align with the divine.
  • Anusara is based on the alignment principles of Iyengar Yoga and the flow principles of vinyasa.

The main principles of Anusara Yoga are:

  • The three A’s | Attitude, alignment and action.
  • The Universal principles of alignment | Alignment of the mind, body and heart.
  • Energy loops | The seven energy loops of Anusara are ankle loop, shin loop, thigh loop, pelvic loop, kidney loop, shoulder loop and skull loop.

What next?

Want to find out more about the different styles of yoga? Check out How Many Types of Yoga Are There? 35 Styles Explained.

Photo of author
Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.