After the Storm: a conversation on the advent of the Yoga Coalition with Emma Magenta.

Via Walk The Talk Show
on Mar 6, 2012
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Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis.

After the Storm: a conversation on the advent of the Yoga Coalition, with ex-Anusara Yoga teacher Emma Magenta.


We did this conversation on a sleepy weekend morning over skype chat. Here’s the Declaration of Independence via the Yoga Coalition, and a subsequent interview conducted by elephant friend Melissa Smith. ~ ed.


Emma Magenta [waiting for me to ask my first question]:

‘Kay, you ready?

Waylon Lewis:

Sorry, watching this old musical Top Hat that my mom loved.

Emma Magenta:

“Puttin’ on my top hat…polishing my white tie…”

Waylon Lewis:

Wow! Nice! Yah my grandma was Ginger’s personal secretary…my ma’s scrapbooks are full of photos of them being fabulous stylee ladies.

So. My first question is, could you kind of sum up everything that’s happened over the last month or so for those who may not be in the “inside baseball” yoga scene. You can be as personal or general as you like.

We just want to keep this accessible.

Emma Magenta:

Hah! Wow. Well, okay: on Feb 3rd, an anonymous website leveled some serious accusations at Anusara yoga founder John Friend.

After looking into the matter, I and many of my colleagues came to the conclusion that the accusations were at least partially accurate. Personally, I did a lot of soul-searching about whether I could align with John Friend’s [JF’s] actions. After many days of negotiations with JF, I and many of my colleagues further concluded that JF was either unwilling or unable to take responsibility for his actions, and we resigned.

In the aftermath of this big, heart-wrenching decision, a few of us who had resigned came together to share our feelings of loss and heartbreak. We decided we wanted to initiate a conversation with the wider community about what might be next.

And so the Yoga Coalition was born.

Waylon Lewis:

The anonymous person behind the web site is now known, but his reasons for taking John Friend down or exposing him are less known. Do you feel the information there was trustworthy? I mean, in my interview with John Friend I published 10 pages of legal docs re the pension fund controversy, and that then seems to have faded off on the list of things John did wrong. The anonymous source told me personally that the pension thing wasn’t illegal or malicious so much as incompetent and irresponsible.

As an aspiring journalist, my interest in the unvarnished truth early on was mistaken for defending John. But as Carol Horton said herself, my interview was the first time John publicly admitted to the affairs.

The affairs now seem to be the main issue. Is that true, from your perspective…[are the affairs] why everyone’s resigning Anusara and now forming a new, community-directed Coalition?

BTW, I’m not fishing for being backed up. If I’m mistaken on the above, call me out on it.

Emma Magenta:

I felt the website was untrustworthy. When I first saw it I was horrified and dismissed it.

However, I made a few phone calls (John himself was among the people I spoke to) and came to a different conclusion. That’s the most I feel I can honorably say.

Waylon Lewis:

A fair number of colleagues and friends of mine on the outside of the Anusara yoga community have shrugged and winked at the groupiness around John for years. The show-offiness. The clubbiness. But everyone including John seemed so happy and sweet and positive, it didn’t seem like a bad thing.

Now, all that idolatry has turned into tearing him down. Why so extreme?

Emma Magenta:

It’s a great question.

Waylon Lewis:

It seems love/hate. It seems immature. I’m speaking generally, not about you and Birney or Amy or anyone in particular.

Emma Magenta:

I think that anytime you have an organizational leader promoting one set of ethics in public, and living another set of ethics in private, a kind of disconnect, or lack of integration occurs. Then when people find out about the disconnect, there’s a feeling of betrayal.

That feeling of betrayal was then exacerbated by John’s reaction to the revelation that he had been living in a way that was not in accordance to Anusara ethics.

For a lot of us, the issue was not so much what JF had done. Rather, the issue was how he responded after his actions were revealed.

That’s why I didn’t resign ’til Feb 12.

Waylon Lewis:

That part I agree with. I think John’s reactions to all of this have made things worse. But it’s got to be interesting to see your own community rise up and tear you down over having affairs.

And the affairs seem to be what this is all about at this point. Unless there’s inside stuff we on the outside don’t know about, about the affairs or other stuff? It seems to be about the power differential and having affairs with married women.

Emma Magenta:

I forgave JF pretty quickly after I got clarity on what he had done. The thing that prompted my resignation was not that I couldn’t forgive him. I’m no angel, and none of the people I love are angels either. I’m well-practiced at forgiving.

And I’m very grateful in my life for having been, many times, forgiven by others. Others like my family and friends, and others in my yoga community.

It’s not that I couldn’t forgive John Friend.

It’s that I did not feel he was willing to accept responsibility and make amends.

I’d agree that it’s about the power differential and issues around sexuality.

The disconnect between Anusara ethics and JF’s actions leads me to believe that there’s a strong possibility that JF himself has not actually come to terms with his actions in those arenas, that in his own heart he’s not really clear on the ethics of his actions. At this point, this is speculation on my part.

Waylon Lewis:

Of course. But so for those of us on the outside, more or less, this is at this point is about John’s affairs and his subsequent lack of taking responsibility?

It doesn’t seem to be about pot or the pension or anything we don’t know about?

It’s about the affairs and his actions since the scandal broke?

Just want to be clear [what we’re talking about when we say John effed up].

Emma Magenta:

[And] certainly about his actions since the scandal broke.

Waylon Lewis:

There’s been a general sense of not knowing what this was about super-clearly…if there’s some secret horrible stuff.

If it’s the affairs and his attitude, I get it. If it’s more, that would explain a lot to me and some others.

I guess it’s just weird that it’s so unclear and folks are starting to say, “Is this all about having affairs?! Everyone has affairs. It’s not right, it’s not good, but it doesn’t seem worth all this hatred and anger and tearing apart a community.”

Okay, so John at this point is doing what? Taking a year to mend and work on himself? Is Anusara going to continue? I know Douglas’ call for its end must have been heavy.

Does Anusara have a future?

Emma Magenta:

I’m actually not that caught up right now on what JF is doing. As for Anusara yoga’s future, I wish I knew. I’m hoping for an outcome that harms the fewest number of people going forward.

Waylon Lewis:

Okay…so this Yoga Coalition, is it going to be a real community? Will folks get certified and trained through it?

Or is it just a sort of manifesto?

Emma Magenta:

Actually, we don’t know yet!

Yoga Coalition is simply the initiation of a dialogue. We are definitely hopeful that it will evolve into a community. While we don’t know whether folks will get certified through it, we do know that we don’t want to found another style of yoga. I would say it’s less a manifesto, because a manifesto is a definitive declaration, an exclamation point, if you will. Yoga Coalition right now is a question mark, rather than an exclamation point.

Because it’s a collective endeavor, you can assume that anything I say about Yoga Coalition is just my best representation of what everyone thinks, rather than a definitive statement on behalf of the Coalition.

Waylon Lewis:

Well, that sounds fun and inspiring and hopeful, but having served on the board of a wonderful food co-op, it also sounds like interminable meetings, disorganization and inaction.

Emma Magenta:

I love that you mention that your food co-op involves interminable meetings, but that you also call it wonderful. I think that Yoga Coalition has already demonstrated that we’re capable of swift, decisive action. However, now that the intensity of our foundation has abated, we’re hoping to slow things down so that we can fully evaluate the feedback we’re getting.

One of the things I’m most excited about is the opportunity to evolve and take action as a collective. Obviously, it is more complex to function as a collective than it is to function as an individual. History is littered with examples of collectives that didn’t work. However, in my own life and in my community, there are plenty of examples of collectives that do work! And in my experience, one of the best instruments available for human evolution is relationship.

Waylon Lewis:

Well, our food co-op went out of business, crushed by big corps like Safeway, King Soopers, Whole Foods, Sunflower…[as well as internal incompetence issues]

As a poli-sci nerd, I wish you all the best of luck.

Emma Magenta:

We’ll take it. We need all the luck we can get.

Funny about your food co-op. I’m from Kansas, and in Lawrence, Kansas, which I visit every year when I go home to my dad’s farm, there’s a collective food co-op called the Merc, which is absolutely thriving.

Waylon Lewis:

Okay…so what’s up with Elena Brower not being in the Collective? What about some other ex-Anusaraers? (I’m sure you won’t/can’t answer but have to ask)

Emma Magenta:

The Yoga Coalition evolved organically, among a people who were friends, acquaintances, or colleagues. When we started talking to each other, we didn’t make a list of who we should talk to–we just reached out to each other. It was actually totally organic, rather than strategic, so the list is kind of random.

We don’t even know yet what it’s going to be. Will it be something that a person joins? We dunno yet!

Waylon Lewis:

Well, can I join it? Or do I have to know something about teaching yoga or Anusara? Smiley face.

Emma Magenta:

…you will have to have something to do with yoga.

Waylon Lewis:

Well, thanks for all your kindness through this process. It’s felt a bit ugly, watching this, like seeing a bunch of people who built a doughy human into an idol smashing that idol beneath their feet…it’s felt a bit like “we created you, we can destroy you.”

I could name 100 teachers off the top of my head who are all fallible and human and have fucked up. All of them have been wonderfully silent. I bet 90% of the righteous angry commenters have fucked up hugely in their lives. We’re all human.

The Coalition feels like a first positive development I’ve seen in this whole process: constructive yet borne of wisdom and criticism and experience. So thanks and jolly good luck.

Emma Magenta:

While these are minor problems compared to what people around the world are suffering, I also feel that it’s deeply sad, and my heart breaks for the Anusara community.

Thanks for the good wishes–we’ll need them!

Waylon Lewis:

Yes. Hopefully the Coalition will enable everyone, as Benjy said in a comment. to get back to the good work of being of benefit and thinking about others. That said, this difficult time has shed a lot of light where there was little before, and that’s vital, too.

Emma Magenta:

Agree. I know I’ve grown from it.

Waylon Lewis:

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers, here, now?

Emma Magenta:

Just that the Yoga Coalition is excited to hear from people, and create something functional and beautiful!

Waylon Lewis:

Yay. Well thanks for your time and your good heart and smile, Emma. One good thing coming out of all of this is we’ve got to read you on elephant, and “meet” you as a community!

Emma Magenta:

Thank you, sweet Way!

Waylon Lewis:



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43 Responses to “After the Storm: a conversation on the advent of the Yoga Coalition with Emma Magenta.”

  1. Dawn says:

    Sorry – you are an 'aspiring journalist,' but you are watching a video while your interview subject is waiting for the interview to start, and the first piece of information you give us is about you (your grandmother) and it includes name dropping? I think your focus is off — . I really appreciate your website, but inserting your off-topic personal details in an interview about something entirely different is distracting, and it detracts from the seriousness of your interview.

  2. meangirlsyoga says:

    I think that it is very interesting that people who devoted so many years to Anusara took less than a month to not only completely turn their back on it, but to then form a brand new "coalition." That does not sound like "practicing pause" to me. It seems like this teacher, and many of the other former Anusara teachers, are using this situation to make bigger names for themselves, to call more attention to them selves, and not to the concerns and issues of the whole kula. The constant blogging and facebook posting, the constant drama between a few certain teachers does not seem to serve the kula, but to function as a clique that, if you do not act, agree, or submit to, you are not welcome to be a part of the discussion, or even welcome to listen to the discussion- in fact you are literally thrown out of it, by the teacher or someone very close to them. And that is something that these people say they don't want any more of- it is very interesting indeed.

  3. Thanks guys. Great interview!- Jeannie

  4. yogasamurai says:

    The problem wasn't what John was doing, but that the he was one man. The people who'd grown up under him had to remain content as his "dutiful daughters." Read Amy Ippolitti's embarrassingly self-revelatory re-statement of her resignation. It's like the revenge of King Lear's daughter, Cordelia.

    I was struck by the absence of spiritual depth and authenticity in this interview. There isn't any real hint of any spiritual insight. It's really just about reconfiguring a company whose founder got caught with his pants down – and damaged the "brand" that everyone – especially these financially strapped studios – is trying to make a living off.

    In other words, this isn't a spiritual crisis for these folks – though it really should be – it's just a "legitimation" crisis.

    Truth is, this stuff happens in the secular world – and in corporate America, all the time. So probably no need for a spiritual "gloss" to explain it.

    But I would suggest that she not give any more interviews, and let the lady who's been designated the PR person do it. This group clearly needs "spin" control. Friend himself was really good at it, which is why he was the public face of the corporation. Now, there's really no one to do it, not at his level.

    Ladies — it's a lot easier to destroy an old power structure then to establish one of your own. The big question: You have the power now, but how do you constitute real AUTHORITY. That's a big challenge for women generally in our world – which is why most big organizations aren't LED by women – just MANAGED.

    Big, big difference between leading – and managing. John had a powerful leadership vision – and he was, and is, a real leader. The Yoga Coalition is a second-order oligarchy of senior followers – Lear's daughters.

    Unclear why you wouldn't just disband? It seems that Anusara has shot its Tantric wad. Or don't — but seriously, do better PR than this, while your casting about for a clue.

  5. Kelly Lowry says:

    meangirl — It is interesting, isn't it? But I suspect we mean different things by the word "interesting." Unless I'm mistaken, you are using it as a colloquialism, or a euphemism, or – gasp – as a pejorative.

    yogasamaurai — wow. breathe a little, mate. and read the list for Yoga Coalition. Justin isn't a woman.

    I know many of these teachers in the Yoga Coalition, but by no means do I know all of them, and I find all of this interesting, too. Here's why: they were brave enough to stand up for principles that are at the core of their beings, principles that brought them to Anusara and to one another in the first place, and they did this even at the risk of losing their livelihood by doing so. Remember, these folks pay the light bill by pedaling yoga, and the certificate on the wall was deeply woven into the fabric of their teaching, of their marketing, of their very yoga identities. By pulling that thread out of the fabric, some risked being left without the means to cover themselves. This is no small decision, nor is it certain to succeed and make bigger names for themselves. For some, it presented a very real possibility of not being able to buy food for their children or keep the lights on in their studios.

    I have no idea who either of you are because you haven't given us your name. Did you read the article above with an open mind and an open heart? Did you read Emma's stated reasons for resignation? Have you spoken with any of the teachers who are part of the Yoga Coalition? The teachers I have spoken with did this not out of narcissism, or out of self-aggrandizement. Honestly, for some of them, their names were already immeasurably large. You've misunderstood the single defining characteristic of why so many teachers resigned: they did this because their internal compasses compelled them to do so. They mean it. This IS their yoga. They are walking their talk. I think they are fantastically courageous, and that, to me, is interesting indeed.

    I write this with compassion for you, Emma, John, Waylon, for everyone involved in this ~

  6. yogasamurai says:

    More Yoga Women ON….THE…..MOVE! Woo Hoo!
    Better get started on that Yoga Coalition fund raising!
    Maybe you could co-brand?

    From Vanity Fair

    "Whose Yoga Is it, Anyway?

    Sonia Jones, lithe blonde wife of hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, has partnered with the family of the late Ashtanga-yoga master Krishna Pattabhi Jois to launch a chain of yoga studios and boutiques. That’s got many of Jois’s devotees in a distinctly un-yogic twist."

  7. Doug Keller says:

    This is not 'just about' the "affairs" and the actions taken since the 'scandal broke,' though if you want to isolate and dwell on that aspect, I highly recommend the article by Kelly Morris, "Teachers, Keep it in Your Pants.' Its in your magazine (–kelly-morris/) and makes a strong case that these 'affairs' are not so easily shrugged off. A second read (I'm assuming you read it once, at least) might lubricate your moral compass.

    This is 'about' an entire pattern of abuse of power, not just in terms of sexual relationships with students, teachers and employees, married or otherwise, but also in his treatment of employees, treatment of teachers with whom JF disagrees (see Amy Ippoliti's letter) as well as teachers whose actions and fortunes he sought to tightly control as 'certified,' which included capricious favoritism. He defied his own rules and process for certification, jumping the process and granting certification according to his own whim (this is backed up by Betsey Downing's reasons for giving up on him and Anusara — you might want to interview her). While the system and structure of Anusara may have looked good at first glance, the way he personally ran it led to disharmony and waste that has been expressed in many many ways by those who have been moved to finally give up and leave.

    His actions 'after' this 'broke' were not a separate or 'worse' issue. They simply reconfirmed the pattern of abuse of power and obvious sense of entitlement on his part that led to further lies, rationalizations, and the adoption of the attitude of the victim, when the obvious truth is that he was the perpetrator and central architect of this disaster that has led to so much pain for so many. None of this had to happen. And if you are too squeamish to 'pass judgement' on the morality of the behavior, at the very least you have to admit that much of it was just plain boneheaded.

    Please once and for all reconsider the false meme that this is just about the 'affairs' and the actions that followed the revelation of the affairs. There is a single pattern of behavior at work, both before and after, which taken as a whole presents a very strong argument that such a person, as Kelly Morris memorably put it, has no business being in the position of a teacher — much less a teacher of yoga, the central codes of behavior for which (yamas, niyamas and etc.) he has repeatedly, flagrantly and even systematically defied over the course of many years, and continues to defy.

    Please consider this once again, Waylon, because your own comments seem to miss the big picture and trivialize the situation.

  8. Ew ew ew says:

    But, Waylon, could you BE more of a weenie:
    "Okay…so what’s up with Elena Brower not being in the Collective? What about some other ex-Anusaraers? (I’m sure you won’t/can’t answer but have to ask)"
    No, you didn't have to ask. Your crush-favoritism is SO LAME! Why didn't they include your fav girl? Listen, don't worry about your girl — she's apparently supported by a rich boyfriend. She's fine. And if she suffers because of feeling left out, well, maybe one of the reasons she got left out was her complicty, her blaming, and her arrogance. So maybe that's her karma.
    Also, PLEASE stop it with the whinging "everyone's human; everyone fucks up" excuses. It's SO stupid. Yeah we all make mistakes, but some mistakes are bigger and more serious than others, involving abuses of power, breaches of ethics. Not ALL of us make THOSE mistakes. No, actually, most of us out here DON'T fuck up as badly as JF and his discplines did.
    Waylon, you're really, really coming off poorly in this. REALLY,, son. Wipe your nose, and grow up.

  9. Get off it, Waylon says:

    And again, Waylon:
    "Brother, I'd love for you to couple your powerful sentiments with the putting your name out there. Strong words behind anonymity?"
    Why this obsession of yours with trying to get people to out themselves on your site? Why this constant pressure on commenters to do so, why this endless implication that if we don't, we're somehow cowards? It comes across as sanctimony and bullying. Why do that, when it has been so well documented, as expressed by Doug Keller and others, that the Anusara disciples stalked and bullied people on the internet and in real-time? Why would you ever encourage people to put themselves at risk for that? That's irresponsible. That's being a poor host. What's wrong with you, Waylon?That's just fucked up.

  10. Hi Kelly says:

    sorry about the typos! ugh

  11. Oh, brother says:

    Brother? What are you guys, members of a …. cult? …..oh never mind

  12. Another perspective says:

    More than about "affairs," which are easy to minimize about insofar as anyone forgets that the affairs were with students and employess. The ethical problems are part of a larger long-standing pattern of workplace abuse on many levels. I also agree that Waylon is so queasy about passing judgments on his personal favs that he wants to trivilalize the problems in AY Inc. As such, he is guilty of the same bias and favoritism as John Friend. Bad yogi — no macro-biotic cookie!.
    I'm not a great fan of, but there's a decent article up about workplace bullying, which is pretty germane here.
    It may only be that the workplace bullying was so severe that people were so appalled, freaked out and traumatized that they don't want to come forward, are afraid of reprecussions. That would definitely support not pressuring people to give their "real names" on these posts. So — elephantjournal, have some common decency and respect around that issue.

  13. […] crutches were help and for John, it was Grandpa repeating words louder so he could be part of the conversation. Despite the loud talking at the table, the air was clear and the gents were at […]

  14. […] feel this is necessary. People from around the country and around the world have contacted us and asked, “Why is everyone […]

  15. […] editorial doors to more interviews (with Douglas Brooks, Amy Ippoliti, Bernadette Birney, others) and various articles, including many “I’m leaving Anusara and why” resignation […]

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