Anusara yoga might only be 15 years old, but it is rapidly becoming the yoga practice of choice in the US and Europe. TOS talks to Anusara yogi Ross Rayburn who gives us
First published on 6 Feb 2012. Updated on 22 Feb 2012.
Tell us about your first yoga class. My very first yoga class was with Bryan Kest in Santa Monica, California. I had sustained a knee injury and a friend suggested yoga for rehabilitative purposes. He told me about Bryan’s class where I went, completely intimidated, having assumed that yoga was only for bendy people…which I wasn’t. I could barely touch my toes! The class was extremely challenging, but it lit a fire within that burns even brighter to this day.
What was your life like before that? Before my first yoga class I had been pursuing an acting career with moderate success – a few television and movie roles here and there – but to be honest, I’m so grateful ‘the big break’ never came, because it might have steered me away from this path which I can say unequivocally is what I was meant to do. Before acting, I went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where I studied political science, journalism and religion.
What has your life been after yoga?
Life since yoga has been a series of blessings. Sure, there have been some very challenging times; but the friends I’ve made, the teaching I’ve been offered, the growth I’ve had and the opportunities to bring light into people’s lives has been beyond anything I ever dreamed.
Yoga has exploded in the past two decades, and a confusing variety of traditions has emerged across a plethora of platforms. What is Anusara yoga, and why should we be doing it?
I love the question ‘what is Anusara yoga’, because I never answer it the same way. I suppose I could have a stock answer, but when you really understand Anusara yoga you realise it’s so rich, it’s a challenge to define it. It’s really so much more to me than just a style of yoga.
To be fully honest, there’s even a tiny bit of stress with this question. In answering, there are competing desires to be both concise and effulgent. So it’s always tricky to define it simply – knowing that people usually want a simple answer – and yet describe the overwhelming riches this school of yoga has given me.
Still, one of the great teachings in Anusara yoga is to know and express the fundamental essence of things in a clear, potent way. That’s a long way of saying that it’s a happy challenge to attempt to define this system I love. So here goes: Anusara yoga is simply one method of stepping into the dance of life. It is of course a Hatha yoga school, but more importantly it is a philosophy that says everyone has access to the beautiful and powerful energy flowing in and around us. We take this as a fundamental truth. The only question is how consciously and how astutely we, as individuals and communities, are synchronising with that essential flow.
The methods of Anusara yoga are both rooted in tradition and creatively evocative, all with the intention of achieving ever-increasing levels of consciousness, which invariably yields blessings in abundance. [We are then called upon] to use those blessings in the highest way. It’s very much a wave, one that we’re surfing with ever greater awareness and skill.
What’s the most pertinent advice you have ever been given with regard to yoga?
The most pertinent advice: breathe!
Is yoga better in Asia, or is it a myth that Asian yoga practitioners propagate?
I’ll go one better. Whether or not it’s a myth, or whether or not people are propagating it, I’ll state wholeheartedly that yoga in Asia is fantastic, and it’s booming! I love teaching in Asia and I definitely love my Asian students. They are of the highest accord and some of the sweetest hearts I’ve ever met. Of course we’re all human and have things to work on, yet I hope to spend more and more time here – not only because of the great yoga being done here, but also because of how much I grow when I’m here.
Early this year an article in The New York Times claimed that yoga can actually wreck your body. How do you respond to that? That article has made such an impact! I love that fact that folks in Asia are talking about it too! So many people ask me about it. I’m actually super-grateful it was written because it’s stirred up so much conversation.
My response is very simple: of course yoga can wreck your body if it’s done in ways that are harmful. For me, this is just common sense. Although I do understand wholeheartedly why so many people would be worried. It’s easy for me to say ‘common sense’ when I’m lucky enough to spend my time learning about what healthy yoga is. I’m sure I would have been more worried about what the article said if I didn’t know so much about how to practise yoga safely.
To be honest, when I first started teaching yoga I had no idea what I was doing bio-mechanically and people got hurt in my class all the time. And I hate very few things more than people getting hurt because of my class. It seriously broke my heart every time. Eventually, I met John Friend [the founder of Anusara yoga] and embarked on a very serious and still-continuing path of learning how to offer a safe, dynamic and fun class, but also with a spiritual context. To state the obvious: this is not easy and takes training.
Remember, though, that just because people got hurt in my class, they didn’t die. So I think it’s good for people to breathe and not be alarmed by the tone of the article, but instead to let it be a call for intelligent choices by both students and teachers. To say that in another way, the sky is not going to fall if someone takes a yoga class by a teacher who is under-qualified. At the same time, if a teacher is inspired to learn more, that’s great – and if yoga students in general are drawn toward healthy yoga classes, I’m for that too.
The best news is that the human body has an amazing indicator to give us a very clear guide as to whether they’re getting wrecked – it’s called pain. A yoga class should be a path for less pain during class, after class and over the course of your life. If the opposite is occurring, make a change – and give me or another Anusara teacher a call! Yes, I’m biased – guilty as charged!
Any advice to the first-timer?
My advice to the first timer is to have fun! Yoga is supposed to be fun. So, try out different teachers and find one that offers a class where you feel uplifted, challenged and ultimately inspired by how good you feel inside [spiritually] and out to do yoga, no matter what kind of day you’re having.
Who’s your yoga hero, and why?
My yoga hero is anyone who gets on their mat and gives it their all. I don’t really care who’s bendier or who can do more poses. It’s a great goal to have an advanced asana practice. But what I think is heroic is the person who sees the light when everyone else is cursing the darkness, the person who inspires and creates – the person who gets to the end of their life and looks back with the deepest contentment and the least possible regret.
Complete this sentence: if I wasn’t a yoga teacher, I’d be…