I Still Love Anusara Yoga—Nothing Changes.

Via on Feb 18, 2012

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.

About Jeannie Page

Jeannie Page is a reformed .com management professional who has made a dramatic shift in her life, a shift to follow her bliss and to get into alignment in order to be a force for good in the world. Martha Stewart’s Blogger of the Month in Whole Living Magazine, Jeannie is also the founder of The Yoga Diaries and also maintains her own blog The Awakened Life. Jeannie, and details about her current book project, can be found on Facebook here and on Twitter at @jeannienpage. Jeannie's Spanish Facebook page can be found here. Jeannie also previously served as the Spanish Language Editor for Elephant Journal. Click here for the Elephant Journal en Español Facebook page. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________ Jeannie Page es una profesional de gestión reformada quien ha hecho un gran cambio en su vida, un cambio para seguir a su felicidad, para entrar en la alineación y ser una fuerza del bien en el mundo. Ella mantiene un Blog a Despertando a la Vida. Jeannie, y detalles sobre su proyecto de libro actual, se pueden encontrar en Facebook aquí y en Twitter a @JeanniePageES. Jeannie también fue la Editora del Idioma Española para Elephant Journal. Haga clic aquí para la página de Facebook de Elephant Journal en Español.

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27 Responses to “I Still Love Anusara Yoga—Nothing Changes.”

  1. West says:

    Good BLOG and I fully support you and your endeavors! I too have trained under a Yogi who spent many years studying Anusara and now I teach using many of Anusara’s Principles. I am teribbly upset with what JF did and believe he should severe all ties with Anusara, the business, for the sake of keeping the Practice alive. I too will continue to Teach and Practice Anusara, just like you. Namaste my friend.

  2. SQR says:

    "Respecting the teachers on both sides of this coin is in no way a contradiction for me."

    -This is an important point… if I were a member of the "kula", I would want to avoid burning bridges. Despite all the arguing about copyright, licensing, etc., Anusara's principals have helped a lot of people in a lot of places. I hope that doesn't stop because of this stuff- the people trying to figure out how to move Anusara and/or it's principals forward may need each other.

  3. SQR says:

    "Respecting the teachers on both sides of this coin is in no way a contradiction for me."

    - Important point… you know, despite all the scandal, licensing and turf disputes, the Anusara principals have helped a lot of people in a lot of places. I'd hate to see that stop. The folks trying to move Anusara and/or it's principals forward may need eachother.

  4. btn says:

    I agree, I think this is the most fair and balanced review of the situation. I think that Anusara is a form of yoga and teaching s that are bigger than any one person. I understand the betrayal and pain of the teachers that resigned and the teachers that are standing by to see what happens. For Anusara to continue to flourish and perhaps, even survive – all of us are needed to continue our community and our practice.

    As for John Friend, I hope he finds his Way. I suspect that what has happened to him is a combination of loss of perspective and untreated mental illness. The line between genius and insanity can be very fine. I hope he takes his time off and his therapy , very seriously. I would like to see him be healthy again and happy.

  5. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Great one, Jeannie. Thank you so much!!!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  6. Annie says:

    Beautiful, thoughtful and deeply appreciated. You have put my entire experience with Anusara Yoga into words much more eloquently than I ever could. Thank you so much!

  7. Justin says:

    Truly beautiful, Jeannie. Xoxo.

  8. Tara says:

    Jeannie, thank you for your smart and intelligent perspective. I'm a fan!

  9. myriamsofialluria says:

    I love this Jeannie. Your perspective mirrors mine very much, and I am but a 2 year Anusara student. While I was heartbroken at first, I suddenly developed this very deep and loving compassion for John. I cannot even begin to imagine the humiliation he has experienced in the public eye, and while I offered him unconditional love and support on his page and the Anusara page, I also held him accountable. I'm coming from a Christ consciousness. In the end , what I believe he needs most is love and compassion, and he needs to be forgiven. Hopefully the hand of God will transform the man John was and a shining new spirit will emerge.

  10. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    xoxo

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  11. Scott Newsom says:

    If this was only about John Friend I might go along on this ride with you. Its not though. Amy Ippoliti and Elena Brower have only started to expose their own complicity and the group dynamics that allowed this behavior to continue over a long period of time. Until the Kula itself fully exposes the dynamics that allowed this to continue and take all means necessary to prevent it happening again, they will be participating in the same dynamics and thus will remain unrepentent and very untrustworthy. I am glad to see at least some of the Kula moving in the right direction, but they have a lot of work left to do. Yes, withhold judgment – and that includes the judgment that John and the Anusara Kula have earned forgiveness. Yes, stay attentive and conscious of how this unfolds and yes, continue the beautiful practice that saved me in a period of darkness too. Just note that the holding accoutable part is wider than what is happening with John and that it is far from over.

    • Hi Scott, I completely respect every word and you may prove to be correct. I still stand by what I say. My practice is with my local teachers, not with John Friend, and many of them are also expressing distaste over what has happened. But they, like me, still believe very much in the practice. I come down to this: whether my teachers stay or go (I will respect either) and whatever they choose to call themselves, they are still my amazing teachers and I will still continue to practice with them. For most of us at the local level, this is not about John Friend at all. It's about the practice and our community and I intend to continue with and in both, regardless of the name.

      • Scott Newsom says:

        I don't disagree with you either. I just don't see this perspective and anywhere near the whole story. Thanks for your post and your response. I'll keep practicing too – with my Anusara-inspired instructor, who trained directly with John for 10 years and still has a picture of him on her Puja. I will also watch my own boundaries very closely. Namaste' Scott

        • It's a great and totally valid point, Scott. Thanks for raising it. I guess time will tell how this all unfolds. I suspect there is still more to come. I just feel like for us as individuals, it's more important than ever to turn to the practice, our own practice. :)

  12. Emma Magenta Emma Magenta says:

    I really admire this article, and resonate with a lot of it. Keep on truckin.

  13. myinnermystic says:

    Jeannie – superbly written article. You make so many strong, powerful arguments and observations. One statement that you made that especially resonates is this: "what matters most is the practice, our practice." I am with you on that. I am one of the many who have never studied with John Friend. He has never personally touched my life, only indirectly through the lineage of Anusara yoga. The people who have touched my life are *my* teachers, all of whom are Anusara teachers. And what matters most in my life is my practice and what I'm working through with my body. Nothing will change that. I will continue on this path.

  14. Vaughan says:

    I keep hearing apparent yogis talking about non-judgement, non attachment to outcomes etc etc whilst at the same time believing themselves justified in feeling abused, disgusted, and angry with this man called Friend. I also keep hearing how wonderful and profound his teaching of tantric yoga is. Mmmmm. Maybe take this opportunity to erase everything you think you know, and begin a fresh new enquiry into what Yoga might actually be or mean. Each person, as I see it, is wholly responsible. It is never justified to hold another responsible for how you are feeling. And it is just a feeling. Taking it all so seriously, particularly fleeting emotional reactions, is a recipe for suffering, not Union. It’s a cosmic joke, folks, as always.

    • Hi Vaughan, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate hearing different viewpoints, always. Just to be clear, I do not in any way feel abused. As I said, my connection to John Friend is very limited. But it is my right to feel disappointed by his behavior. It is also my right to feel sad for my community, as this has been a very difficult two weeks for the community at large. It is a very tight-knit community, all around the world, and what we most do not wish to see, is the community break apart. Also, John Friend in no way makes the claim that Tantric philosophy is his, nor do any of us. It is centuries old and has recently had a rebirth here in the west, and as I have studied it with Tantric scholars (not John Friend), it has resonated more and more. As for what yoga means, well yes, we know the word means "Union." But as to a yoga practice, I believe that just as with any form of spirituality, it is something very personal and means something different to everyone. For me it has changed my life in beautiful ways and brought me from a dark place and back into the light. I am very clear what the yoga means to me. And having practiced lots of different types of yoga, I am also very clear in the fact that for me it has been Anusara that has resonated most strongly with my spirit. That is not the case for everyone, nor does it have to be. But it is the case for me. I am grateful to all of my teachers, and the wonderful community who have supported me along this path.

      • rocks sink says:

        You have so much more study to do-there are multiple sanskrit meanings of the word 'yoga' and the the word union is very often misused. the root 'yuk' means 'to yoke' and there is a very deep tradition of joining daily life to the ethics of behavior. If you want to understand yoga, tanra is fun, but read Patanjali. HE TELLS US IN NO UNCEARTAIN TERMS WHAT IS RIGHT LIVING. You suffer from a common case of western misunderstading of the teaching and think that asana and Anusara are yoga. Not even close.

        • Thankfully I am not suffering at all. I'm happier, more aligned and more filled with light than I've ever been, and that IS due to the yoga (and no that does not just mean asana). I am currently in a 7 month Immersion and we are studying in depth the ancient yogic texts (among them are of course Patanjali's Yoga Sutras- though being a Tantrika, we do interpret it from a Tantric vs. Classical perspective), directly with academic scholars, the foremost experts in the fields of Hindu and yogic philosophy. I know what I get from the yoga and I know what it means in my life. I only wish that more people could experience the bliss that I have found through yoga.

  15. Atsuko says:

    Thank you posting very deelpy thought! It touched my heart very much.
    I love that your thought, especialy this part as follows ; 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.
    I completely agree with you!
    Beautiful!

  16. hillary says:

    perfectly said.

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