The NYTimes Encounter with Anusara
Who amongst the yoga community has not heard, seen, or commented on the recent NYTimes article questioning the idea of Anusara yoga and its founder, John Friend, as a corporate entity? For those who may not have known, the New York Times article – also the largest article on yoga every published by a major newspaper – left many feeling it cast a negative vibe on a beautiful practice.
While it has been months since the initial controversy arose after its publication in July of 2010, it would be so very un-yogi of us to not revisit a challenge to our practice, after giving ourselves time to heal.
The article cast what appears to be a negative shadow over Friend’s cultivation of a newly-inspired yogic practice, Anusara, which doesn’t center around chanting or Sun Salutations, but rather invites instructors to set a dedication in each class, providing for a unique sequence that never repeats.
Initial responses to the article “The Yoga Mogul” by Mimi Schwartz on July 18, 2010 came directly from the Anusara community itself. Practitioners, admirers, and yogis alike rallied in arms over blogs, tweets, comments, posts, rants, even good ol’ fashioned print newspapers all over America.
Only ten days later, The Yoga Mogul himself posted a searing response on his blog, ripping poor Mimi to shreds and saying how he is going to do whatever it takes to shove green in his pockets, no matter what stands in his way.
Whoa, sorry, no, that was Donald Trump’s blog.
Just kidding folks. As is typical of Anusara’s style and Friend’s eccentric personality, the reply was anything but dismal. In actuality, Friend’s response was kind, accepting, and incredibly comprehensive in knowledge and scope. His response not only highlighted differences between Anusara and other yogic practices (e.g., Iyengar), but addressed misconceptions in a straightforward manner, when he easily could have beat around the bush.
Closely following his response, influential yogi’s of our community such as YogaDork and Elena Brower soon came in on the wings of phoenix birds to offer similar sentiments of respect towards Friend and what Anusara represents to the modern yogi. Reaffirmation, if you will, that:
“Anusara is a path of service; doing what we love, lighting people up.” – Elena Brower
An Anusara yoga teacher who studied under Friend in 2002 in New York City, Brower is founder of Virayoga and frequent blogger and journalist through such publications as Yoga Journal and FitYoga. She also is a Global Trainer for yoga with Adidas and will be offering classes and discussions at Wanderlust 2011 in Squaw Valley, California. YogaDork is everybody’s favorite dork, a blog recently exploded within the last year as a community where yoga-obsessors can engage in open discussions, learn a thing or two, and ultimately just have fun. Both YogaDork and Elena Brower have been featured in a positive light in The New York Times.
And while I don’t like anyone dismantling or misperceiving something I find so yippity-do-dah, I can see the positive side of an article such as Schwartz’s and how it has a place in the development of yoga within the Western, modern world.
Celebrate Open Dialogue!
If anything, the philosophies behind yoga and the love it cultivates invites us to challenge what yoga means to us personally and where it fits into our lifestyle. These questions allow a better connection to what you desire to get out of your practice. However, we must remain open and accepting to the fact that there are as many interpretations to yoga as there are people in the world.
Whether they are rave reviews or faux pas, we must keep in mind that articles such as these encourage the growth of yoga by a) making it accessible, and b) stimulating discussion. Look at all the responses, articles, and thoughts drawn out of a single article! Confusion or questions with regards to yogis such as Friend only strengthen the love within our community, bringing us closer in our resolve that yoga isn’t a strict one-way path, but allows us to be playful and open to new interpretations of this 4000-year old practice.
While I am not in agreement with NYTimes article and personally J’ADORE Anusara yoga so much that I would consider a second yogi training in it, I am bubbled over with love for the excitement these articles generate! All these responses STILL pouring out only make me more steadfast in my suspicions that yoga is the best thing ever! Hardly any other way to say it…
Satori may be defined as an intuitive looking into the nature of things in contradistinction to the analytical or logical understanding of it. Practically, it means the unfolding of a new world hitherto unperceived in the confusion of a dualistically-trained mind…Logically stated, all its opposites and contradictions are united and harmonized into a consistent, organic whole.”
~ Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D.T. Suzuki
Now I’m not a spiritual leader or dharma aficionado (I’m not talking about Lost) by any means. I am a student, with blunders, mistakes, queries, confounder-ies, just like any other.
Yet I do know that opposites provide us with balance. A long weekend of roughing-it camping can be a blessed release from the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 (if I had one), yet we sink gratefully back into our sheets when we arrive back home and take thirty minute showers.
Who didn’t read this NYTimes article and reflect or assess their own practice, their own personal experiences with yoga, corporations, making money, or paying for yoga classes? Anything that makes me think is A+.
In a Yog-Ick! World, we encourage opposing viewpoints, questions, and invite inspection. As Mae West once said, “All news is good news!”
We must approach different viewpoints with the same way we approach the mat, with love and understanding in our hearts. We lead the way and question ourselves, we forever change, adapt, and grow.
I’m not as interested in perfecting Scorpion (though it would be nice), as I am in extending/receiving love and gratitude in the universe. Whether you’re a NYTimes author, Friend himself, or a plain ol’ yo-body, my arms are open.
Deanna Lee Meiresonne is a certified yogi, rock climber, writer, editor, earth-shaker, intrepid explorer. Creative, curious, cute, NINJA. Her work can also be found on www.deannameiresonne.wordpress.com, as well as www.broowaha.com/author/deanna-meiresonne, or follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DLMeiresonne for updates and flashes of sarcasm.