Why This Might be the Best Thing to Happen to Anusara Yoga.

Via on Feb 10, 2012

Surfing a Tidal Wave in the Ocean of Grace.

I’m riding a big wave on the yoga ocean here, along with so many other Anusara yoga teachers and students, and others in the yoga world who have seen yet another famous teacher rise to power and then stumble in the thick of it. (John’s not the first, didn’t ‘ya know?)

And yet, along with so many other emotions and thoughts:

I’m filled with hope and optimism!

I think this might be one of the best things to happen to Anusara. It has the potential to actually save Anusara yoga from losing itself within one man’s vision. Not that it was a bad vision at all, but yoga is about union and expanding perspective, so it’s only right that the vision of Anusara continues to evolve.

The community of Anusara yoga teachers especially has come together in a stunning way, and though people disagree on how they feel about the “scandal,” many of us agree that re-organization needed to happen, oh, two years ago at least. And so, though I do wish John had followed his own advice on brahmacharya and “walked with the integrity of God,” his mistakes could be the liberating force that frees Anusara yoga to rise to the next level.

In fact, in a letter John sent to all the licensed and certified teachers, as well as the communication we’ve been getting from the teachers on the committee reviewing John’s actions, we’ve been told that the restructuring of Anusara as an organization has already begun. The teachers who are a part of this initial committee are: Noah Mazé, Desiree Rumbaugh, Andrew Rivin, Todd Norian, Suzie Hurley, Betsey Downing, Ellen Saltonstall, Denise Benitez, Martin Kirk, Deb Neubauer, and Jimmy Bernaert.

To put my own view into perspective, John Friend has been my primary yoga teacher for the past six years. I have learned a massive amount of excellent teachings from him, to the benefit of my own life and the lives of my students—for which I am grateful. And though I think someone’s personal life should remain personal, I also think the ethical conduct of any leader should be above par when viewed in the context of what the community considers appropriate.

The key to the gem hidden in the icky mess here is “community.” It is the community that will come to the spotlight now. This is how we move forward.

I think it’s important to say that John Friend has offered a tremendous amount of good to the yoga world and Anusara yoga has been a major influence in the innovation of modern yoga. And now it appears that Anusara has grown beyond his reckoning—and hopefully beyond any damage his personal choices could do to this immensely transformative and empowering school of yoga.

And yet, months before this whole ethical exposure thing happened, I was considering dropping my license as a certified Anusara yoga teacher.

At the moment, I’m glad I hung in there and didn’t resign. I truly believe this big tidal wave in the ocean of Grace is going to have some wonderfully bright ripples to balance out the waves of disappointment and pain.

It’s happening right now, as a matter of fact. Anusara yoga teachers are talking with each other like never before. The kula (community of the heart) just got a whole lot stronger because we’re no longer relying on one single person to lead us.

Why was I thinking of leaving Anusara? Because the system of organization at Anusara, Inc., and some of the policies I had to agree to abide by as a certified teacher weren’t serving me personally or the way I want to serve as a teacher.

But you know, this isn’t all that different from any other organization with a broken system. Say, aspects of our government, or some corporations.

Specifically my issue was with the fact that it takes a rather long time to get an answer on anything that needed to be run by John. And too many things needed to be run by John.

It looks like this will change now, and that John will have more time to focus on where he wants to go with his own practice and teaching, rather than trying to govern all of Anusara. I don’t envy the workload he’s had these past years. He is an excellent teacher, and—once he has had time to process and heal and deal with some personal issues—I think he is going to be an even better teacher for this experience.

The wonderful thing about this sad and somewhat shocking exposure is that it gives Anusara yoga a chance to define itself beyond the man who founded it. We have the chance to create an organizing body that empowers all the exceptional teachers of this school of yoga, and serves the students in an even better way.

Personally, and I know I’m not alone in this, I would like to see the teachers have more freedom and voice. John promised us this in his response and I applaud it.

John, you taught us that when someone breaks trust, to forgive but not forget. That a person who has acted in questionable integrity can earn that trust back, but must go through a series of initiations in order to prove they have changed what is necessary and again deserve our trust. I am heartened by my belief that you will regain our trust over time as well as with your actions now.

The first thing I’d like to see in the process of re-gaining trust is a swift and skillful restructuring of Anusara as an organization with the power in the hands of the teachers—and an assurance that you, John, are going to take the time you need to pause, feel, and choose what is most life-affirming. I will watch for the actions that prove it is happening.

Dearest Anusara yoga teachers and students, this is our time to come together and believe in the wisdom and method of this yoga more than ever before.

Anusara yoga is from the heart, consciously aligning with current of Grace. And, though it feels like we’ve just had a towering wave crash down on us, I imagine us now in a beautiful, pristine bay that has never before been discovered. Here we can grow who we are as a community—and as individuals—and make beauty.

My vision of Anusara yoga is a mandala of circles, all interconnected, with each of us supporting the growth of each other. I believe we can do it, and that our commitment to each other as a community can inspire and further empower the entire grand, incredibly vast and wonderful world of yoga as a whole.

~

Photo credit for yoga silhouette shot: Natalie Anfield.

Wave shot purchased by author via iStock.

 

About Katrina Ariel

Katrina Hokule’a Ariel is the author of Yoga for Dragon Riders, and singer/songwriter for her mantra album "Gratitude." She also has a sprawling yoga blog. She likes to do yoga in random places, cartwheel on a whim, and hug trees pretty much anywhere. Her life’s ambition is to be a sage-soul-singer-seeker-of-truth and use her considerable talents to help others realize how incredibly magnificent they are—that and curl up by the fire reading a good book. She describes herself as “part cat, part elf, and part hobbit,” though she occasionally admits that she is also human. You can find her on Facebook here

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23 Responses to “Why This Might be the Best Thing to Happen to Anusara Yoga.”

  1. John Watkins says:

    "My vision of Anusara yoga is a mandala of circles, all interconnected, with each of us supporting the growth of each other. I believe we can do it, and that our commitment to each other as a community can inspire and further empower the entire grand, incredibly vast and wonderful world of yoga as a whole." Exactly!

    • Glad to have you in the interconnected circles John. Thanks for appreciating my vision, though I think many others share it, for which I am grateful.

      • John Watkins says:

        Douglas teaches that the universe is infinitely expanding from every point, and thus you are the center of the universe. As am I. And everyone. If our Anusara organization is to replicate, at a fractal level, the tantrik cosmology, then it is just like that, infinitely expanding from every point, and every point inextricably interconnected and interwoven with every other point.

  2. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Either that, or it's time for the teachers of Anusara to circle the wagons … this is a watershed moment for yoga, but mostly for Anusara …

    For the sake of the kula, may Anusara come into a new age!

    [No I don't practice Anusara, but I look forward to seeing new, improved, more inclusive kulae everywhere!]

  3. G.C. Aloha says:

    Thank you for this wonderful, uplifting piece. With the defections of all of these wonderful, high profile Anusara teachers, and given my own misgivings about the restrictions placed on teachers, I have been in a state of indecision about where to do my teacher training and certification. I've been practicing Anusara yoga for nearly six of the nine years I've been a yogini, and while I love the teachings of Anusara, I've had doubts about some of the strictures in place. I agree that the organization has been in the hands of one person for too long–despite the fact that John Friend is an inspiring teacher and the founder and creator of this wonderful school of yoga. I'm so grateful for the teachers who are a part of this process of transferring power, especially my own teachers, Jimmy Bernaert and Noah Maze. This gives me great hope for the future of Anusara and opens me up more to the possibility of continuing on toward certification within my kula.

    • Thanks for reading – I'm glad you found the article helpful. I know that I had a lot of questions when I went through the certification process, even to the point of wondering if I wanted to continue. There are a lot of people, like you, wondering if they should keep going on the path of certification right now, and I'm glad you and others can feel a steadiness from the teachers who are a part of how Anusara will grow. Keep the faith, and the light strong. And keep questioning! It's only through your own questions that you will find the answer that is best for you—that was my experience anyway.

      • G.C. Aloha says:

        Thank you, Katrina. I had a good talk with Jimmy and Ruthie Bernaert today that I found very reassuring. And it's also reassuring to know that you had the same doubts when you did your Anusara training. I'm fortunate that I have until October to decide whether to enroll in my teachers' next immersion; hopefully, by then, I will have a stronger sense of what feels right to me. I see you have a Hawaiian name, btw–"Star." Are you from Hawaii? Do you live and teach here in our great state? Aloha and a hui hou.

        • Aloha and blessings,

          I'm not from Hawaii, but a friend who is gave me the name Hokule'a the very first time we met, and it felt like the name my heart had been seeking for a long time. Since then, my life has changed very much, all towards truly embodying my name, "Star of Gladness." And, yes, I legally changed my name to include Hokule'a. :)

          Thanks for your comment. I hope I can visit you in Hawaii someday!

  4. Thanks for your comment! I agree with you about looking forward to new, improved and more inclusive communities everywhere. I hope that this will not only bring the Anusara community into a stronger connection, but also help us remember that we're connected to everyone who practices mindfulness in whatever way is best for them. The past few months have opened my eyes beyond the world of Anusara, where I've been focused for so long. I am grateful for the questions I've had about the organization, because it's helped me become even more respectful, open to, and accepting of other paths.

  5. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Thank you for sharing!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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

    I'm glad this has happened. I've had doubts about whether I was interested in committing to further commitment to Anusara. I'm looking forward to the 'new improved' Anusara that will be more inclusive and less restrictive. Thank you for this article.

  7. karman04 says:

    Katrina wrote – And so, though I do wish John had followed his own advice on brahmacharya and “walked with the integrity of God,” his mistakes could be the liberating force that frees Anusara yoga to rise to the next level. "Wish?" Sounds wishy-washy to me. There is no anger here. And yes, used in this context it does sound like she would rather not have to deal with this dirty thing. Thus, let's sweep it under the rug so that we can move on to the more pressing matters at hand. Your anger comes right through, Grace. Let it not be directed towards those who feel it too.

  8. Leslie says:

    Isn’t most of this an overreaction? John Friend has a right to be a Wiccan, Catholic or Jew. He has the right to smoke pot if it is legal in the state he is located in and took personal responsibility for the risk involved in smoking it where it isn’t. His assistant had the right to say no. As far as the sex goes. It was between legal consenting adults. Who knows what the status quo was in the marriages of the women? Workplace relationships are fairly common. Yes the pension plan is a bad thing but in all probability this is a case of wanting to deliver more than he was able. We all commit sins, acts of bad karma etc. but where is the forgiveness? Isn’t that part of the journey?

    • Hi Leslie, thanks for your comment. I definitely think there is space for people to have their own private lives and personal choices. So, if you just take the original allegations you could say that some things are not so serious – but that would depend on your perspective because others are deeply disturbed by them. Regardless, the issue is that it's much beyond those things, and there is a history of falsehood that I find to be the biggest transgression of trust and integrity.

      You can learn more here on my post Resigning from Anusara Inc.

      And Amy Ippoliti's post What Matters Most.

      Forgiveness and holding healing for everyone is super important throughout this and any transition. You're quite right on that.

    • warriorsaint says:

      Leslie: you took the words right out of my mouth. There was so much hyperbole in the last few weeks before I heard the details I had thought he had admitted to an addiction to child porn. The married women involved have not come forward to state they were raped so I can assume these were consensual relationships. And who WAS the person who put all this up on a website? I am a bit sheepish to admit that I do no share any outrage. John Friend is a mortal-not a God. He has weaknesses like all of us.

  9. [...] People come and go, money goes up and down… and sometimes communities fall apart and transform. [...]

  10. [...] Why This Might be the Best Thing to Happen to Anusara Yoga – By Katrina Ariel “I think this might be one of the best things to happen to Anusara. It has the potential to actually save Anusara yoga from losing itself within one man’s vision. Not that it was a bad vision at all, but yoga is about union and expanding perspective, so it’s only right that the vision of Anusara continues to evolve.” [...]

  11. Grace says:

    Where is the anger? Is this the only article about the situation that you have read? It must be. The anger is all around. It may not be in this article, but read a few others (the comments especially) and you will see the far more prevalent sentiment is to call for John's head on a platter.

    John is a human being who created something that grew beyond him. That's what it comes down to. I have seen few people trying to "sweep under the rug a behavior that has changed many lives for the worse", including John himself. He has no choice but to publicly acknowledge and atone at this point, and why? Because the community is demanding it.

    I know several Anusara teachers who are terribly hurt by this whole mess and not one of them is trying to minimize John's behavior. Most of them are, however, trying to look at how they can move forward and how Anusara can move forward.

    If Anusara is to survive it will be by the will of the community, not by John's will. A wonderful development (and about time). John is suffering and will continue to suffer. John is finally being held accountable and will continue to be held accountable.

    Rest assured, there is righteous anger and there will be atonement and ultimately, change.

  12. Hi and thanks for your comment. I totally respect your views. I didn't address John's decisions because enough other people are doing so, and it wasn't my focus for this article. I have stepped away from Anusara, Inc,. at this point.

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