Anusara apocalypse

Published on November 7, 2011 by      Print
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

By Sachie Alessio Heath

The Internet has been abuzz with reactions from the Anusara community to the news of the resignation of three of its master teachers: Darren Rhodes, Elena Brower and Christina Sell.  If social media is a trusted gauge, comments have ranged from sheer bewilderment (“But why?”) to the subtly disappointed (“I still love you!”), as if leaving Anusara is like getting a face tattoo.

In the West, with the branding of all that is yoga, a lot of us have grown really attached to the style of yoga we take, sometimes to the point that it becomes a part of us. We think we can typecast people based on their methodology of choice.  For example, there’s Ashtanga (“Vertebrae are for pussies”) and Iyengar (“PBS is fun!) and yes, Anusara, (“Well, the Universal Principles work because they’re universal; they’re like, true because they come from truth, and also. I love this kula SO much!”).

I joke, but kinda not.   And here’s the thing – it’s unrealistic to expect people to follow only one path of yoga forever or to fit neatly into a single asana box.

My most revered teachers don’t even label themselves, because they, too, have graced through a few different styles of yoga and consequently reject the pigeonholing that occurs with labels.  Teachers Without Borders, I call them.  As their student, I can’t imagine any label that could adequately describe the breadth of wisdom they bring to each class.

As a recovering perfectionist, I loved the structure of Anusara.  Everything was simply explained and contained within the framework of the UPAs and loops.  This, plus the community really resonated with me for a while, but I left in search of more.  More doesn’t necessarily mean better, or worse, evolved or unevolved, I just felt that there was more information out there for me to learn.  I realized that once I was immersed in a particular school of yoga, and deepened my search only with teachers within that school of yoga, I was only learning specific information that is contained in that particular label of yoga.  There is no system of checks and balances, if you will.  I had to step outside of the system, and even questioned everything I had ever studied, to really know what still served me and what didn’t.

My students eventually caught on to the fact that I wasn’t teaching Anusara any longer.

Some students bolted, as though my leaving was contagious, but I also gained more students.  I know people feel safe with labels — they know what to expect.  I chose to keep my reasons for leaving to myself because I felt it was a personal choice for me and I wouldn’t want to influence my students and their choice of practice.

I haven’t taken class from Ms. Sell or Elena.  I have had the honor to practice with Darren.  I cannot speak for the reasons they resigned their certifications, nor do I feel they need to explain themselves.  (That said, you can read about Elena’s take here.)   But I can say that I’m excited to see what they will bring the world next.  The qualities that have made them great teachers will endure (and maybe flourish?) without the paper certification.  I’m looking forward to watching and learning as they evolve and branch out and teach free of any brand.  Because, yoga is yoga — it has never belonged to anyone. Oh, unless you’re Bikram Choudhury, of course.

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

About Sachie Alessio Heath

Sachie Alessio Heath is a yoga teacher, actress, foodie, and action hero.  She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Josh, and their two adorable pit bulls, Sasha and Bruiser.   She loves learning and sharing knowledge, and also happens to have a preternatural talent for impersonations.  Follow her on Twitter and check out her website.

Filed under: Zombie Yoga and Tagged:

20 Comments !

  1. Don says:


    Nice post Sachie! It’s always good to explore different things and incorporate what resonates with you in what you’re doing, no matter what it is. I really enjoy reading your articles, keep them coming!

  2. Kendra says:


    Beautifully written and incredibly accurate. Thank you!

    Christina has a great new blog post that highlights some things that she and D plan to bring to the world of yoga next year —

    http://christinasell.blogspot.com/2011/11/few-things-on-horizon.html

    “So, to be clear, let’s all think “school, not style.” Think “trainings, not trademarks.” Think “affiliation, not certification.”

  3. karen says:


    I am coming on the tail end of this but I have to say… This is so right on! Thank you for expressing it!!!

  4. Stephanie says:


    Beautiful… i love this
    this is what i’ve felt recently, i’ve been confined to one single style that doesnt really fits me. i want to explore and i want to embark on this spiritual journey, but ive been condemned that its a wrong thing to step out of this certain style. i feel trapped and confused and this is the biggest dilemma ive ever felt. i love yoga so much, but being confined like that is not the in accordance with one of the ideas of yoga, which is freedom.
    thank you so much for writing this beautiful article… you really captured what ive been meaning to express for a long time and utter it in a beautiful words. i think labels and paper certification are overrated.

  5. Yoga aksesoris says:


    Thank you for the post. Yoga is about seeking to oneself, not style.
    I’m still surprise that you have 2 adorable pitbulls? I got one before and knew they are really adorable….

    • Sachie says:


      I have two super sweet, loyal, funny and well-behaved pit bulls. I should take then on tour to show people just how incredible the breed can be.

  6. Wade says:


    Sachie,

    Important topic, and beautifully handled. While this may be of specific interest to the Anusara community (to which I am forever indebted) it is universal. The barriers that separate us are our enemy. Whenever something that is intended to open us up has reached its limits, it can begin to become the thing that closes us.

    Keep searching and sharing. You are truly awesome!

    • Sachie says:


      Yes, Wade, it IS universal.
      I LOVE this: “The barriers that separate us are our enemy. Whenever something that is intended to open us up has reached its limits, it can begin to become the thing that closes us.”. YES.
      Thank you, as always, for your support!

  7. erica says:


    So perfectly written!!!

  8. Stephanie says:


    Beautifully said, Sachie. I would hope no one sees the benefits of believing/practicing only one type of anything in life.

  9. Amery says:


    Once again, a very timely post. Get out of my head!!!! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and your humor.

    Your friend, in Green!
    -amery

  10. Jane says:


    Thank you for this. My background being Anusara, I’ll always be thankful for the knowledge and skills I gained through this style.

    However, the ‘rubber stamping’ of the levels of certification and limitations of teaching to that style seemed to conflict with the philosophy of Anusara as set out on their website. So, is it supposed to grow and evolve or not?

    I fear that the Anusara name has become one more brand that we’re showing off on our products and clothes. Aren’t we trying to get rid of all that labeling?

    I would hate to think that the Anusara message is being overshadowed by corporate greed masked in flowery yoga speak.

  11. Steven says:


    “I realized that once I was immersed in a particular school of yoga, and deepened my search only with teachers within that school of yoga, I was only learning specific information that is contained in that particular label of yoga. There is no system of checks and balances, if you will. I had to step outside of the system, and even questioned everything I had ever studied, to really know what still served me and what didn’t.”

    I happenstance came across your site after learning about the recent changes within Anusara yoga, and hope this is not an intrusion.

    I have yet to meet anyone who processes information and experiences without filters–including teachers. When you wrote you were “immersed in a particular school of yoga” are you saying you lost yourself? (A not uncommon phenomenon in spiritual communities.)

    For example, ashtanga yoga (as taught via the methodology of BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois) is based upon the sutras of Patanjali, of which there are many translations with varying interpretations. The checks and balances in this system include dialectic for deciphering the sutras to refine one’s practice. (Given postural yoga, as we know it did not exist when Patanjali prepared his text, stable, seated meditation likely served as asana.)

    As a philosophical inquiry, yoga organically leads one to question underpinning claims within the system–ontological, cosmological, epistemological–so one may compare and contrast, for example, the Patanjali system with Shaivism, (as popularized in Anusara, if I am not mistaken).

    Comparing and contrasting begs the question: from what perspective or systems will one draw when comparing and contrasting different systems.

    Hence, when you wrote, “you had to step outside of the system, and even questioned everything,” what system did you step into that allowed you to step out of another?

    Our claims of pure, independent thinking are little different from the claims Western science has made that their system that is “value free,” albeit Western science rejects other systems if they cannot be proven according to their own.

    This is not to say one should not question any and all systems; rather, quite to the contrary: discernment permits choice—and Patanjali encourages discernment and choice accordingly—or so it seems when the sutras are read though my filters, or klesas.

    I may have completely misunderstood your letter and only projected my neurosis into what you were attempting to communicate. Please accept my apology if this is so.

    Still, I was struck by what I interpreted as a swing from deferring to a teacher (through immersion) to rejecting a teacher (or system) when the perception or experience was you were “only learning specific information that is contained in that particular label of yoga.”

    I have to wonder if the angst you and others feel (myself included) in response to what we perceive as branded yoga is due to a natural, aklistic desire for spiritual truth, and the disappointment that is felt when this desire is responded to unsatisfactorily.

    After all, yoga, even without a brand remains a label. And postural yoga (physical asana) is still very young—and evermore becoming gymnastic in its emphasis. Given its youth, it will be interesting to see how today’s asana practitioners will fare as they age.

    While BKS Iyengar serves as a living model for “intelligent asana” (not to mention a cogent, articulate man of 93), and he inspires me to reconcile whatever intelligence is available to me in this lifetime, if one where to ask him what kind of yoga he does, you can be sure he would not use his own name in its description.

    The commoditization of yoga is upon us. It seems many are looking for role models, and like young children imitating their parents, some attempt to behave just like their new(est) so called, guru. (I hope I’m not the only one!)

    In cadence with cultures and people who have done this for much longer than I, there is a verse from the Tao Te Ching that continues to resonate for me and, too, dovetails nicely with Patanjali’s careful use of language. Cheaply paraphrased, however: “Those who know don’t tell. Those who tell don’t know.” (And no, I am not referring to the stoic, strong and silent type.)

    I wish for you the best on this most interesting of journeys.

    • Sachie says:


      Hey Steven,

      Yes, you grossly misinterpreted what I was saying. In my effort to not make one style ‘better’ than another, I kept my statements as vague as possible.
      My disagreements with Anusara have mostly to do with the physical asana. I’ll leave it at that.

  12. » The Teacher Is Within » GoHuman Blog says:


    [...] few months ago, I wrote a piece for “Recovering Yogi” joking that Anusara — one of the fastest growing styles of yoga in the U.S. — was experiencing [...]


Leave a Reply

Asterisk (*) marked fields are required

 characters still available (brevity is a form of creativity!)