I recently had the pleasure of experiencing one of the most traditional yoga classes I’ve ever attended with Anand at the Ananda Yoga Centre.
Over the decades, many classes have been offered using the name “yoga”, but few provide the true essence of this ancient science.
I attended a Hatha yoga class, which was at times physically and mentally challenging, but always nurturing for the body, mind and soul. I spoke with Anand after class and he had a lot to say about the rise of so-called yoga classes which have little to do with the true essence of yoga, but first I wanted to know how he came to be in Dubai.
Anand comes from a yoga family. Most particularly, one of his brothers is a monk who became attracted to the ‘ashram life’, spreading the word of yoga. He went to college to study to become a school teacher, did his Masters and then trained in computer science. He used to visit his brother at the ashram and help out in ways such as serving food and one time the teacher training course was about to start, so he joined. Although he hadn’t really practiced yoga before, he was always active and he seemed to have a talent for teaching. That was back in 1996, the start of four years in learning.
He became interested in yoga therapy, too, and just as he finished his course, a colleague of his brother who was teaching in Dubai, called him. He moved to Dubai in 2001. It just happened, in the same way as his yoga journey. He jokes that Dubai is like a part of India. He started his yoga institute four years ago, prior to which he was teaching everywhere in Dubai.
Anand hates being asked what style of yoga he teaches. He believes that there is only one yoga, the traditional method. Yoga is a science of body and mind and is perfectly written in the ancient texts and is not open to modification. The great masters, the gurus, never modified anything.
They simplified it but kept it traditional and retained the true essence of yoga.
Yoga teaches how to change your life to peace and health which only comes from doing traditional yoga.
“It should work on physical level, energy level, mental level, intellectual level and spiritual level. Only then does it become yoga,” he says.
The class I attended was an intermediate level and I asked whether this was a typical sequence. Anand is adamant that although the content changes depending on the level and time of day, the class needs to proceed in a certain order to prepare the body and mind for what is to come next. We started in easy cross-legged for mental preparation, chanting followed before we moved onto a cleansing technique, in this class it was pranayama or a cleansing breathing technique.
We spent a little time on warm up exercises – not so long that we became fatigued, but just enough to prepare our muscles and joints for the asanas. The Sun Salutation further warmed us up. Our first series of asanas (postures) were on the floor, but this could change depending on the time of day/level of student, followed by Savasana, something I normally save for the end of class, but a great way to allow the body to assimilate the benefits of each series of postures.
Words of wisdom: Anand believes that if you have health, you have wealth.
Anand explains that you have to stimulate in the postures before you can appreciate the benefits of Savasana, one of the most difficult postures. We practiced a series of standing postures towards the end of class and finished with meditation and some more chanting.
Hatha yoga allows you to hold postures. The whole body needs to be worked – muscles, joints, internal organs which people don’t think about, just muscles and bones. This only happens when you hold asanas for long enough. The stillness of the body leads to stillness of the mind. You don’t have to be distracted with what’s coming up next. You have time to focus on the present and move more deeply to gain further benefits. You can be in the present. Relaxation happens when the mind is focused.
Anand doesn’t use music which further helps maintain focus. There were periods of silence so that we had the time to feel instead of constantly listening to the next set of instructions.
Throughout the class Anand explained the benefits of each posture thoroughly. He believes that this is how you encourage people to practice yoga. There are often parts of a class that a student doesn’t like or want to do, but Anand is convinced that if you educate them of the benefits, they will learn to embrace every part of yoga. He will not change to accommodate trends.
“I cannot change because I know it works,” he said. “I am very strict, it gives you everything, it gives health and if you have health, you have wealth. You think better, you have clarity of thought; when you are at peace, relaxed, your mind opens up, creativity comes.
“When yoga is practiced properly, it is not just about stretching and strengthening, but lots of things happen on the inside that you cannot see.”
Anand’s brother runs a yoga school in India. He believes that it is a very committed job, not just about learning something then teaching something. He advises would-be teachers to go to India and learn the science of yoga. It is the only way to truly put time and commitment into it. The one month course is just the start. You need a very strong base. Away from distractions. You need to feel India. Simple living, maximum effort.
“I wish to share the knowledge I have of traditional yoga. Something I want to do for the world. Some people who started coming to my classes 15 years ago are still with me. I know how it works so I want people to get the full benefit. I would rather have smaller classes doing yoga the proper way. I want to teach people to live in peace in this stressful world.
“This is important. People can’t sleep, they have acidity, physical problems. Where are they coming from? Stress and tension. Relaxing the mind is the real medicine,” he explains.
Swami Govindananda (Anand’s brother) will be leading a week of retreats, yoga classes, lectures, meditation course, chanting, Satsang and all things yoga from this Friday, April 22, 2016.
For the full programme, visit www.yoga-ananda.org/workshops–events.html.
Advance booking and payment is required: Call/SMS – 050 5944308 OR email [email protected] or at ANANDA desk.
If you are an aspiring yoga teacher, Swami Govindananda runs teacher training courses in India, certified by Yoga Alliance.
For more information, visit www.sivanandapeetham.org.