Less than one year ago I wrote a piece about how I felt that I was “Made for Anusara Yoga.”
When I wrote that piece I could never possibly have imagined that for the past two weeks, I, along with my beloved kula mates, would have been riding the roller coaster of conflicting emotions, confusion and uncertainty as we’ve watched this Anusara story unfold dramatically and tragically before our eyes. However, what strikes me is that having just re-read this “ode to Anusara” that I previously wrote, every single word is still true for me. Every single one.
As a writer for Elephant Journal, for better or for worse I was one of the first people to hear about the scandal and I, like many, was plunged immediately into a deep sense of sadness, disappointment and betrayal. I too sat on the edge of my seat, clinging to my laptop, waiting for the next piece of information that would emerge. What would this mean for this wonderful yoga practice that has changed (and truthfully saved) my life? What would become of the beloved kula who have truly become my family over the past few years? What would happen to all of my incredible teachers who have worked so hard to get where they are, teachers who truly care about their students and the greater good of the world, teachers who teach from the heart everyday.
Do not get me wrong. Before any skeptical readers jump to the conclusion that I am perhaps a “blind follower,” I must state that from the onset of this crisis, I was one of the more critical voices (Waylon can vouch for that!). As was my reaction to similar indiscretions of politicians gone by, I too was disappointed, angered and disgusted by John Friend’s alleged improprieties. And truth be told, I’m a liberal person (I live in San Francisco after all!), I don’t really care all that much what John Friend does in his private life. It’s frankly none of my business nor my concern. But what I do care about is integrity. For me this crisis was always one of integrity. By John violating his very own code of ethics, a code to which he held others, this to me was the biggest breach of integrity. He betrayed the trust of his fellow teachers, his students, and the enormous community that looked to him as a leader (whether right or wrong for us to do so.) Simply put, I felt that John proved himself to be a hypocrite.
But beyond that, I felt that John had become somewhat deluded by and abusive of his position of power, and as is often the case with politicians who are asked to and expected to step down, I felt that these grievous mistakes on John’s part rendered him unfit to lead and that he too should step down.
This was my truth from the very beginning.
What worried me initially was that I saw a lot of what felt to me like a lack of discernment and a desire to “sweep the whole thing under the rug,” from both John and from the community at large. This disturbed me. I think Bernadette Birney put it best when she said, in her interview with Waylon, “Instead, too many people wanted to sit around singing kumbaya, sending love and light.” This really resonated with me and I greatly appreciated Bernie’s strength to emerge as a strong voice of dissent. Always one to be skeptical of any kind of religious or spiritual organization where people do not question authority and where people can follow somewhat “blindly,” I was worried that this was what was unfolding before me. This did not sit well with me.
When we began to see the resignations of well-known and well-established Anusara teachers (one of my own among them), although I was saddened for anyone to have to make this choice, and ultimately what it would mean for the community, I was at the same time relieved that I was not the only one who had a problem with what had occurred. It gave me comfort to know that there was critical thinking and discernment taking place and that teachers were finding the courage to speak out and stand in their truth: an action which is not at all easy within a community of so many adoring and loyal teachers and students. I greatly respected and honored the teachers that one by one began to speak their truth, however harsh and revealing.
Now I must state, that at the same time that I honor and respect those teachers who have chosen to resign, I also equally and fully respect those teachers who have decided to stay and stand behind John, as well as those teachers who have decided to take a “wait-and-see” approach. Respecting the teachers on both sides of this coin is in no way a contradiction for me. I feel very strongly that each individual, teacher or student, has to deeply explore their own feelings on this entire situation and ultimately has to stand in their own truth, whatever that is.
What has really struck me as an important point of agreement between both camps, those staying and those leaving, is that all seem to be in agreement about the intelligence and the power of the Anusara practice. It did not escape me that many of the teachers who were resigning, were very clear in their resignation letters that their method of teaching would not change, that although they could no longer align with the man behind the practice, that the practice itself was in no way in question. They would continue to teach the principles that they had always taught, regardless of what they called their classes.
This leads me most importantly to the practice itself. When the scandal first broke, the most common comment I saw from members of my community is that “Anusara is bigger than the man.” This spoke to me from the get-go. It is simply true. While I have taken two workshops with John and I myself have only had wonderful (albeit limited) experiences, my experiences with Anusara have predominantly been with the wonderful local teachers with whom I have practiced multiple days a week for the last four years. My introduction to Anusara began in Los Angeles when I was living through the darkest years of my life. Though I had practiced many other types of yoga in the past, it was somewhat “by accident” that I stumbled into an Anusara studio, having never previously heard of this type of yoga. It is difficult to express how grateful I am for that step, as I largely give credit to the path and method of Anusara Yoga (and to John for creating it) for delivering me from this dark time. As my journey has since taken me from Los Angeles and into the wonderfully integrated Anusara community here in San Francisco, I have heard story after story of healing through Anusara: stories similar to my own of overcoming devastating broken hearts, stories of overcoming drug & alcohol addictions, painful divorces, tragic losses of family members, chronic injuries, illnesses and so much more. It is clear to me that regardless of the current circumstances, the method of Anusara yoga is and will continue to be a gift to humanity.
While my heart has gone out to all of the teachers and the community over the past two weeks, for the very sad situation that is unfolding, I have been very clear from the beginning that nothing would in fact change for me. I am clear in myself that what I wrote in that previous essay still holds true for me, that the practice of Anusara has brought only powerful healing and beauty into my life and it is a path to which I am committed, regardless of what it is called. And I have said to my teachers, that whether they choose to stay or go, it will not matter to me. I will respect either decision for its own merits and I will continue to practice with my amazing teachers, the same as I have been doing for years now.
It seems poignant to mention that I am currently enrolled in the Anusara Immersion. This weekend is our sixth of seven weekends, and you can imagine there was a bit of apprehension and uncertainty heading into this weekend’s Immersion. But after having a very open and emotional group discussion about the situation, what became clear to me is that for most people in my community, John Friend does not affect them. Most of them have never practiced with him nor know much about him, nor do they really care. In fact several knew nothing at all about the current scandal. The practice was never about John Friend. Yes, John Friend created a powerful practice with an elegant and effective set of principles, but ultimately it is the thousands of Certified and Anusara-Inspired teachers who bring this practice to life, day in and day out. After moving through a deep practice today, with my Immersion kula, it is clear to me that the practice lives on and that, in the end, is all that matters. I have no idea what Anusara will look like after the restructuring, nor if my teachers will stay or go. But I know now that it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the practice, our practice.
I’d like to turn back to John Friend for some final thoughts. Though I have been very disappointed by his actions as a teacher and leader, this does not mean that I do not hold deep compassion for John, the man. To witness anyone having a fall from Grace is deeply heartbreaking and I will continue to hold space for him. Perhaps it is not so ironic that this weekend’s Immersion was to explore the Bhagavad Gita. As I read its verses all week long and after a rich discussion today with Tantric scholar Hareesh Wallis, talking about non-judgment, non-attachment to outcomes, and exploration of our shadow side, I am reminded once again what the yogic path is all about. We are all human and we all have a darker, shadow side, which through the practice of yoga we strive to bring to light and integrate into our whole. As a community, we mistakenly held John to a standard that was beyond that of a mere mortal. In the end, John Friend is a human being, just like the rest of us, and he too has his shadow side. Though (and despite any negative feelings) my heart breaks for him right now for the public humiliation he is having to endure, as a Tantric yogini I ultimately know that this will be a gift for John; it will likely be the most powerful opportunity for growth that this life has afforded him. And it will be an opportunity for our community as well, to heal, grow and evolve. One of the things that first attracted me to Anusara Yoga was its Tantric philosophy of always looking for the light in the darkness, and I fully believe that this current shadow that has been revealed will too be a gift, a gift that will lead to greater light.
In writing about my journey of healing with Anusara, I wrote that Anusara had allowed me to embody the Phoenix rising from the ashes. This image has been palpable and life-changing for me over recent years. It is my hope that this too will be John’s journey.