I’d never heard of Anusara yoga, until I signed up for its yoga teacher training. But the teacher, Bridget Woods Kramer, came highly recommended, so I decided to take a leap of faith and give it a whirl.
I was nervous and didn’t know quite what to expect. The first class started off with a gorgeous restorative pose and a short meditation. Dreamy. We dived into the usual sun salutations to warm the body. All going well. Until seemingly out of nowhere, the teacher announced: “Handstand!”.
Holy Crap. I can’t do a handstand! I wondered if she was joking and looked around the room for reassurance. Oh My God – half the room were hurrying to grab wall space in our mostly open-air shala – she’s not joking.
Turns out handstand is a “thing” in Anusara yoga and we practiced it almost daily. Despite this, I still very much need a wall…
The rest of the class continued as a slow-flow vinyasa class, with a lot of attention on alignment. The detailed alignment was totally new to me and was a complete saviour. I had arrived in Bali feeling a little bit broken after practising too much Ashtanga in India (with not enough alignment). My knees, elbows and shoulder all hurt when I practiced. But within literally a few days of practising the Anusara alignment (which comes from Iyengar) my pain had all but disappeared (with just my right knee continuing to be stubborn). I was absolutely gobsmacked.
I couldn’t believe how making such subtle adjustments to the pose made such an enormous difference to how my body felt. I started to really enjoy refining my poses, knowing I was helping my body out. The alignment cues of “hug the midline”, “spiral the upper inner thighs in and back” and “integrate the shoulders” became my practice mantras and I waved goodbye to pain.
Anusara is all about opening your heart. Whether it’s setting an intention for the practice, taking a moment of gratitude before coming into a pose, or presenting instructions that embody a heart quality (think “lift up with a warrior’s courage” or “bow down with humility”). Consequently, there were lots of heart-felt moments over the month, with our teacher sharing so many loving and honest stories that made our hearts pour.
We also shared huge amounts of joy together. For example, one of the students is a midwife and she kindly gave us all (including the men) a wonderful class in pelvic floor exercises. We all giggled as we rolled around on small paper balls and visualised sucking up strawberries into all sorts of places. Hecklers at the back of the class preferred to imagine aubergines. I winced at someone’s suggestion of a pineapple.
In addition to the physical asana practice, our schedule was packed full with chanting, meditation, anatomy, philosophy and heaps of breathing. Like loads and loads of breathing.
The breathing/pranayama class was a favourite for most people. We all adored our teacher, who never seemed to stop smiling and was always so grateful for life. He measured our lung capacity at the beginning and the end of the month. My upper lung capacity increased by 50%! The middle and lower stayed the same though – must do more breathing practice…
I really enjoyed our philosophy lectures in the afternoon. Although I’m not sure the rain God liked them much – the moment the lectures started (4pm), so did the heavens. Heavy rain thundered down on us so loudly that it was difficult to hear. At times we gave up and meditated on the sound of the rain.
When the rain had eased, we covered the history of yoga and the fundamental teachings behind each school of thought. I really resonated with the Tantric teachings, which advocate expanding our awareness through mindfully enjoying daily life. I liked the sound of this, so took it upon myself to practice a Tantric attitude to life and thought it best to start with a massage. I headed into Ubud and opted for the most regal sounding massage on the menu.
In true Balinese style, the massage room opened up onto a rice field. I tried to soak up the feeling of the massage, the sounds of the birds outside and the smell of the incense burning. After a delicious Balinese massage, I was given a body scrub with turmeric and then moisturised in yoghurt (as in actual yoghurt, straight out of the fridge, cold and natural-yoghurt smelling). Two hours later, the “King of Massages” was finished and the therapist ran me a bath, filled it with flower petals and brought me herbal tea and fresh fruit. So dreamy.
I was so relaxed, enjoying the whole experience and mindfully playing with the petals in the bath, when I started to notice the creepy crawlies on my skin. Now, in Tantra, nothing is intrinsically good or bad. So, in theory, the creepy crawlies are just as beautiful and as precious as the flower petals. BUT, flower petals don’t bite, and I wasn’t really sure where the creatures were heading. So I gently encouraged the millipede, ant and random beetle off my skin and onto the side of the bath. However, the millipede and the beetle seemed intent on returning to the water (the ant had discovered my fresh fruit). As I became fixated on making sure the bugs didn’t return to the bath, I started to realise just how many other bugs there were in the bath with me.
Realising I was fighting a losing battle, I freaked, jumped out of the bath and hosed my myself down in the power-shower for good measure. Sorry Tantra, I just don’t like creepy crawlies in the bath.
In the evenings, we practiced meditating using the techniques advocated by the latest scripture we had looked at in philosophy class that day. The meditation techniques ranged from simply repeating mantras, to multi-step visualisations involving imagining moving dots around your body, burning them, putting out the flames with water and then drying your insides with air.
So many people seemed to be really getting off on their meditations, often likening their experiences to taking various drugs. Having had no experience of either, I struggled to relate. My mind either seemed to be entirely focused on the latest complex technique, was completely blank, or was wondering off in a daydream.
Towards the end of the course we started practising teaching yoga to each other. I loved that our teacher encouraged us to find the beauty in our student’s poses, before looking to improve any faults.
For our final exam we had to teach a 90 minute class in groups of three (30 minutes each). My group decided to teach a backbending class that celebrated our month together. I took the middle section and themed the class on utilising the inner strength, self-confidence and courage we’d developed over the month (through all our handstand practice!) to go deeper in our backbends. As we arched back, we opened our hearts to the possibilities of the future.
I loved teaching the class and felt enormous gratitude looking around the room at so many supportive faces. Everyone did such a beautiful job of teaching their classes.
For our very final practice, our incredible and loving teacher asked us all to go back out into the world and be the light, and to shine full of love.
I can’t wait to start teaching yoga.