Anusara Yoga

This is a guest post written by: JC Peters about finding god in your own backyard through Tantric Philosophy and Anusara Yoga.

JC is a wonderful performance poet, freelance writer, and rogue scholar living in Vancouver, Canada, where she teaches and practises several different styles of yoga. Her homepage is: jcpeters.ca

anusara yoga

Here we are in 2009, and God is dead. Or sleeping. Or maybe having a beer and some barbecue in the backyard. Either way, the communities that do gather around the worship of a god in an organized way are smaller and smaller here in North America. Therefore, more and more of us are unmoored or perhaps liberated from someone else's idea of what God means and how to worship Him, Her, or It.

In many ways, of course, this is a good thing. Many of us walked away from organized religion to protect and affirm certain values that no longer fit with our understanding of these organized religions. This was incredibly liberating for many, of course, but we also lost something along the way.

As humans, we have a fundamental need or desire to believe in something larger than us, and, perhaps more importantly, to gather as a community around a common idea. When we lost God, we lost childhood friends, Sunday tea, mentors and authority figures that could listen to our problems and help us find a way. We lost some of the comfort and direction that community offered us. In my opinion, this is part of the reason so many of us here in secular North America have turned to yoga.

One of the best things about yoga, for me at least, is that we can get together in small communities and get to know each other. We can work on being better humans in the face of a difficult world, and believe in whatever works for us individually, that day, in accordance with what makes sense for us, rather than what makes sense for some frightening authority figure. Yoga's religion and philosophy are open enough for us that we can take what we need from them on any given day and leave behind whatever doesn't serve us.

Anusara Yoga is a style that can most certainly do this, but unlike other forms of yoga, it takes its philosophy from the Tantric idea that everything we experience in the world is a manifestation of divinity. It is a relatively new style of yoga that was developed in the 1990s by Iyengar-trained teacher John Friend, who advocates coming together in what he calls a "heart-centred community." Tantric philosophy, however, is very different from what we Western Judeo-Christians might know about, as well as from many different forms of yoga philosophies.

In the religious traditions that we might be more familiar with, there is a dualistic understanding of the world: there is Good and Evil, the Body and the Spirit, the Sacred and the Profane. The goal of Judeo-Christian and some classical yogic doctrines is to transcend beyond this world (the body) and reach the higher plane of the other world (spirit, god). This higher plane is seen as a location, a place superior to where we normally live, down here in this world. The Tantric philosophy that informs Anusara offers that there is no difference between these two worlds, and that no value judgment can be made between this body and God, who doesn't live far away up there somewhere but in your own blood.

In Tantric philosophy, God is right here, in your fingernails, in your skin, the hair of your toes. It's in your dog, your half-rotted apple, your Ikea bookshelf, the dead leaves that fall in autumn, even your toilet. The work of Anusara Yoga and Tantric philosophy is not to leave this rude body behind to find God elsewhere, but to simply tap into the spark of the divine that is always already right there inside of us, just for us, forever.

This idea, when it first appeared a long time ago within Hinduism and Buddhism, was revolutionary. Suddenly, communing with God no longer required an ascetic life, hours of painstaking meditation, or, to take an example from the Christian tradition, practices like self-flagellation. God is right here, right now: be grateful for it, live it the best you can.

I came from a Christian background (and live in a society with a Christian background here in Canada), and thinking about this philosophy and working with it in my yoga practice, I immediately lost a measure of anxiety I didn't even know I had. Suddenly, making a mistake, thinking the wrong thing, forgetting to meditate or not making the time for my yoga practice one day just wasn't that big of a deal. God wasn't this big entity watching me and judging me, doling out rewards or punishment based on my choices. Rather, my choice became a simple question: what is the more life affirming thing to do in this situation? Eating chocolate cake? Yes, if it gives pleasure and happiness, thus affirming life. Eating so much chocolate cake that it makes me sick? Not so life affirming. This is easy, and here I am, hanging out with God again. And the next time I make it to my Anusara Yoga class, I'll be with a fundamentally divine community of people that I can't help but love, and here we are, finding God again, in a way that works for us, or at least for most of us, in 2009. If God really is in the backyard with a beer and barbecue, then, we'll I'm going to get out in the sunshine and join in!

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