Sunday, June 22, 2008

I Heart Yoga!

Review: Anusara Yoga, Julia Novina at Equinox in Back Bay (Boston, MA)

What it is: According to its founder, John Friend, via his website, anusara yoga's heart-oriented Tantric philosophy has become "one of the fastest growing hatha yoga systems in the world." Until last week, my exposure to this practice was extremely limited. I knew fellow teachers who trained with Friend, had a sense of its heart-centric approach to poses, and, while I acknowledged the system's legitimacy, I had little interest in trying it. For me, it seemed a bit redundant. Doesn't all yoga originate from the heart? Nice philosophy, I thought, but what makes the asana practice any more inspired or special when taught within this set of warm and fuzzy parameters? Put simply, I was biased, skeptical, and- ok, you got me- prone to some unbecoming yoga snobbery.

Then, I ate crow . . . kind of like the time(s) I told every sports fan in my immediate vicinity that Danny Ainge was a dunce, on course to ruining the legacy of the Celtics. Mmmm, as it turns out, crow tastes lovely- a bit like chicken.

Why you'll love it: I'll be the first to admit that one teacher's interpretation of a style of yoga is not an accurate or thorough evaluation of the whole system. A teacher, more than any other aspect of the practice, influences the experience of students within a yoga class. For the system of anusara, this is a very good thing, when Julia Novina is teaching.

I walked into class with few expectations. I was unfamiliar with the practice and the teacher (which, for someone who's life is inextricably linked to Boston's yoga community, is somewhat surprising). Both, however, turned out to be good things. I didn't know what I was getting- creating the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised.

From the first time Novina addressed the class, I recognized her maturity, intelligence, sincerity, and skill. (As a general rule, a seasoned student can tell the skill level of a yoga teacher within the first five minutes of a class, and that time frame is even more condensed for fellow teachers). My favorite quality of Novina's teaching was its level of confidence, clarity, and authenticity. I'm inclined to think that she might be a newer teacher (say, with less than 3 years of full-time teaching experience) but carries a natural air of experience and authority.

All too often, less experienced teachers intentionally or unintentionally ape more experienced teachers. It's understandable enough; any good student seeks to embody the qualities of his/her mentor; however, if taken too far, it can result in diluted, disingenuous, or mediocre teaching. Novina, by comparison, isn't aping anyone. She didn't seem affected; the doses of philosophy with which she peppered her class were original, tales taken from her own life, not hackneyed New Age cliches plucked from someone else's lexicon. Her emphasis on the heart was just as technical as it was metaphorical. Overall, the class enhanced my awareness of my heart as a physical and emotional power source and refined alignment points with which I hadn't realized I'd become lax.

Veteran yogis will enjoy Novina's no nonsense approach and willingness to integrate advanced poses. Newbies will appreciate her thorough instruction and steady sequencing. You won't leave feeling out of gas, but you will be challenged. More importantly, you will enjoy yourself, appreciate her watchful eye for the finer points of alignment, and, yes, leave with a lighter, happier heart.

Why you might not: If you're enamored with a faster flow or more vigorous approach, you might feel anxious to pick up the pace. Also, die-hard yogis who seek a kitchen sink approach to practice, wherein all body parts are addressed with equal emphasis, may want for a greater variety of poses, covering more ground.

Verdict: Give it a try! Your heart will love you for it.

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