Ananda yoga was founded in 1968 by J Donald Walters (also known as Swami Kriyananda) and the word “ananda” means “joy” in Sanskrit. The main goal of this type of yoga is to increase awareness and to raise consciousness. Three vital branches of yoga are used in this style – Hatha, Kriya and Raja. By combining these three branches, the student gets the enhanced physical, emotional, mental and spiritual qualities that are offered by Ananda yoga.
This form of yoga puts its focus on gentle postures that are designed to move the body’s energy to the organs and muscles, as well as to the brain in order to prepare for meditation. Meditation is vital as it provides the key to exploring and understanding the spiritual dimensions of yoga. Ananda yoga aims to bring the student to a state of calmness, so that they are able to find peace, inner strength and mental clarity.
The poses or asanas used in Ananda yoga are designed to relax the body and restore the mind to a state of calmness. This form of yoga is not about achieving the poses perfectly but rather about the state of mind during the pose and between poses. It is believed that physical symptoms such as tension, stiffness and muscle tightness all come from mental states such as stress and inflexibility. Physical ailments and disorders can also be caused by psychological states such as fear and anxiety.
Ananda yoga counters negative mental effects by combining affirmations with each pose. Repeating the affirmation like a mantra throughout the pose enables the thought to penetrate into the mind, and this promotes a gradual change in the student’s mental attitude. The physical aspect of yoga, and the body itself, is used to greatly affect our minds.
In Ananda classes, the poses are less strenuous than in many other types of yoga. However, some challenging poses are included. The poses in the class or routine are also structured so that the student’s life force is properly directed and to help them prepare for meditation. There is also a strong emphasis placed on the transition into and out of a pose. This is because the student should be moving slowly, consciously and gracefully. Stopping in between the poses is another aspect of Ananda yoga that must be recognised as these pauses allow the body to absorb and integrate the effects of the previous pose.
Basic poses are paired with affirmations that are intended to help the student to tune into specific energy flows and gain the psychological benefits.