On Stepping Down as Anusara Communications Liaison. ~ Jessica Jennings

Via on Mar 20, 2012
Photo: whatnot

To my yoga community—those who stayed in Anusara, those who left, those who were never part of it, and those who are working to save it:

The last few weeks have been some of the most exhausting, exhilarating, stressful and intense of my life, and I am grateful for the experience. I am tired but feeling good about having been part of this ongoing process to create an Anusara that is worth belonging to—one in which true power is in the hands of the teachers, and many opportunities exist for the larger community to participate in the process.

I know we have a long way to go. I know it will be an uphill battle. I know there is a large possibility that the hard-won commitments to an ethics investigation with real consequences and a true separation of the yoga school from Anusara, Inc. may dissolve once lawyers create actual documents. But still, I am honored to have been part of the progress thus far.

Here is my story:

In 2000, I met John Friend, the creator of the principles I had been learning from my teachers at City Yoga in LA.  This started me on the path to becoming a yoga teacher. These principles continue to be an unfolding gift for me to this day. What I learned about the principles of alignment helped my own knees and lower back, helped me feel as if I was part of a wonderful community whose intention was to serve, and helped me feel confident that I could always help students get out of pain.

Along the way I observed practices reflecting beliefs I could not align with.

In 2003, I was excited to witness Anusara’s first big public photo shoot. When I saw the models John chose, and I looked around at all the different kinds of bodies in the room that were not represented, I thought,

“We have different ideas about inclusivity.”

A few years later, when I was trying to help resolve a conflict in another city, I wrote to John Friend about it. I suggested that we could create a Kula Committee in each city, that this committee could assign neutral moderators to help people find workable solutions to the conflicts that naturally arise in a business, and they could be available over time to oversee progress. When I saw that John chose instead to work it out himself, and because of his inability to follow up ultimately the problems continued, I realized,

“We have different visions of how people could be given power in this organization.”

A few years later, when I saw how difficult it was for teachers to go to the next level by developing books and DVDs, I realized,

“We have different views on how Anusara could grow.”

So when the recent events occurred, while I was disgusted and saddened, I was not shocked that John Friend and I apparently have different definitions of healthy boundaries. I tried to see if there were any opportunities for beauty in this situation, and when I posted a request for suggestions for a new structure, they poured in. I saw how many of us were dedicated to asking John Friend to step down as leader, and yet wanted the yoga school to remain, and I knew that Anusara would continue in some form. I wanted to try and help make it a better organization than it had been in the past.

My choice to stay was not because I felt I needed to be licensed on either a professional or personal level, or because I condoned John’s actions in any way. I stayed because (as I wrote in the letter from the steering committee), I believe that the yoga system and alignment principles that I have been studying and teaching for years have great value in the world, and I want to maintain the integrity of this system. I want students to be able to learn this system and teachers to continue to be able to be certified in it. I often think of our newer teachers, and of future generations of teachers and students, and hope that they too can receive the gifts from this system that I did.

And I wanted the new Anusara to have a structure that would allow power, information, and vision to flow from the outside in and then out again, with a group of elected teachers serving as the focal point and many groups with real power creating a web of connection between towns, and from towns into the center and back out.

My feeling about Anusara had always been that we lacked pathways to pass information on in an organized way.

What I wanted was to change this by sharing as much information as possible with the community right now, to help people understand the process, and to support people in their own struggles as they tried to figure out what to do. I suggested a Communications Liaison position to the steering committee as a step toward this, and they agreed.

Working with the steering committee meant there were many urgent email strings happening at any one moment, conference calls, always three fires and several more that we could prevent if we moved fast enough; we negotiated with John (relying mostly on Ross for this part), and with Michal, and then with Wendy; always with the calm, wise guidance of John Watkins. The steering committee stood their ground.

For much of it, things were so tenuous and ever-changing that nothing could be said publicly, without creating more confusion and possibly more anger. Michal left when she realized—understandably—that the nature of her business investment had changed. The teachers were going to be taking on the name Anusara, and John Friend had agreed to go through an ethics process that would involve rehabilitation, an approval process and possibly a certification process in order to be reinstated as an Anusara teacher, with no pre-determined endpoint as to when he could return.

So we ended up with a verbal agreement with John Friend and Anusara, Inc. to work toward our mutual goals: to save Anusara in a form in which people would want to stay—and one in which people might even want to return. What the final deal will look like, we don’t know. What I hope is that the Interim Leadership Team will take the next steps and get it down on paper with lawyers and business structure people; that their Communications Liaison will always be looking for opportunities to communicate with the community even before decisions are made; and that the structure I and so many had been thinking about for years with Regional Kula Committees will arise to create a web of connection and communication and power.

So many questions remain.

How will such an organization be funded if John isn’t teaching? Assuming he will be approved at some point to come back to teaching, how will the organization be any different from before? If there is real change, are we as a community ready to take on the responsibilities that come with power? Can we work through our own conflicts, can we run our own committees, can we find funding sources? Can we come to see doing seva as an essential part of becoming an Anusara teacher? Do we want to?

On top of being in the dark about what will happen, many in our community have expressed that they feel judged and attacked: those who left (how could you abandon us?), those who are staying and waiting (you drank the Kool-Aid) those who are working for change (you are getting nowhere and wasting your time).

My feeling is there was no single right choice.

As each of my friends resigned, I honored them. I knew they had become clear and were doing the right thing for them, as well as for our community: if real and lasting change happens, the people who left will have helped lay the foundation.

And without the people who stayed, those who sat in the discomfort of the unknown, some of whom gave us a whole day’s worth of energy by simply posting “thank you,” there wouldn’t be an Anusara to be fighting for. Their presence makes it clear to John and everyone that these negotiations are worth doing.

Stay strong in your choice. You can be confident that if you honored your highest truth, you helped. And maybe at some point there will be a different choice you want to make. Perhaps there will be a new kind of Anusara that will be worth coming back to. Or for others, that it’s clearly time to move on from.

The saddest thing in this transition is the damaged friendships. I haven’t been able to talk comfortably to many of my yoga friends. Most have left. They are angry and suspicious; they try and convince me to leave; they do not seem to understand or respect my choice. In these conversations I often feel defensive, sensitive and alone.

I hope that our friendships will survive these boundaries, once it is clearer what will arise from this; that connections will grow again like beautifully flowered vines climbing up and over walls. What we have in common is so much bigger than our different choices: we all cared, we were all hurt, and we all wanted change.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve you. I am also honored to have been around such extraordinary people as those on the steering committee, people able to be compassionate even while expressing their intense, heartfelt—and painful—truths. Learning how to do this might be the last great lesson I take from Anusara.

Thank you to the steering committee for putting your time and energy and hearts into this in such an inspiring way, and for being open to sharing whatever we could with the community.

It is time for me to move into a less fiery, intense, and public role: to focus on my prenatal teaching community and other endeavors that are my passion.

And if ultimately, there is a clear separation between Anusara, Inc. and the yoga school, and if John goes through treatment with professionals and an approval process to begin teaching again, then I want to continue to help create this communication web as part of the new structure—from every area kula in to the center and back.

I ask one thing of you as we move forward, my community: remember that we are all part of this ocean. Each of us is of course free to make our individual, unique waves. I love seeing waves that are big and bold and completely different and full of integrity. But please, never forget we are all part of this ocean. Your wave, or post, or speech in any form has a powerful effect on all of those who take it in.

No matter what barriers appear to be dividing us, whether we are resigned or waiting, angry or hopeful or patient, let us come from a place of compassion for each other. Let us reach out to each other, and listen to each other, and soften with each other. We are not that far apart.

 

Jessica Jennings, MS, is a yogi, a mom, and a teacher in Los Angeles. She loves to support prenatal yoga teachers who want to start classes in their neighborhood through the community Ma Yoga for Pregnancy, Motherhood & Beyond.

~

Editor: Kate Bartolotta.

 

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22 Responses to “On Stepping Down as Anusara Communications Liaison. ~ Jessica Jennings”

  1. Susan says:

    I've practiced yoga since 1980, when I fell in love with it after taking my first class with Mary Lil Humphreys, an incredible woman who has that true glow of a yogi, and still shines now, at the end of her life. My next teacher, Mary Lee Hawse, also taught Hatha, and I practiced and taught for years, before certification, only supervision, was required. After years of home practice and classes whenever they were available in our community, suddenly, new varieties and schools of yoga began to spring up. I loved learning Anusaura, Bikram, flow, kundalini, etc… but I never embraced allegience to a particular school or teacher. Yoga is yoga. Variations are variations. Teachers are teachers. Schools are schools. None of them are 'yoga'.
    My comments and feelings are not to discount or disparage any particular path or way that others choose, but simply to say that yoga is much larger than John Friend. I was saddened to see so much attention focused on him for many years, and even more saddened at the pain and grief created by what has felt almost like an idol worship. The coverage and writings feel confessional and almost sensational at times. I've not been involved, so I can't address what is needed, but it feels like making everything about a divorce personal and public….and though we can learn from each other, at some point, enough has been said.

    It occurs to me that perhaps EJ might consider establishing an Anusaura/John Friend section for those who need to process their experiences- a powerful, meaningful and necessary activity, without creating a JF/Anusaura focus for those of us who are interested in yoga in a broader and more ancient perspective (I can't think of another way to say it at the moment), to move on with our process and practice.

    Namaste',

    Susan

    • yogasamurai says:

      Really have to agree with you here. It's time to end this cycle of self-serving, self-reverence. A journalistic "quarantine" of some kind is needed. The more these Anusara folks talk, the more visible the deeper, underlying problem has become. Pretty soon they'll be posting their diary entries here.

      • yogasamurai says:

        The Anusara movement can practice all the "democratic reform" it wants. First it really needs to be "deprogrammed." There's way too much personal and collective drama, and naked megalomania here. Sadly, it's endemic to an enterprise such as this one.

        Disbanding the entire movement would be the biggest service to everyone in yoga. And if a couple of senior folks want to practice ritual self-immolation on the site of the "Neverland Ranch" in Encinitas, that would be a lovely gesture, too.

    • yogaboca says:

      Susan, I respect what you are saying. I loved hearing your story of how you found yoga and I agree with you that yoga is yoga and there is no one path that is the ultimate path.

      As far as asking EJ to have a separate section – - It sounds like all this attention on the JF scandal is disturbing to you. But I also think there is something we can all learn form hearing about their process.

      If it doesn't interest you, why not just ignore it and read something else. EJ has such a huge selection of quality content.
      I say live and let live!

  2. Hi Jessica,

    Yours is one of the best pieces I've read so far; beautifully and eloquently written.

    I too discovered Anusara at City Yoga in West Hollywood, so I felt a kinship to you as I read this. I now live in San Francisco and continue to practice with fabulous teachers here, but my teachers from City Yoga are so dear in my heart for getting me on the path.

    Much love to you.
    Jeannie Page http://www.elephantjournal.com/author/jeannie-pag

  3. Clare says:

    "Let us reach out to each other, and listen to each other, and soften with each other. We are not that far apart."
    Thank you Jessica Jennings for all you have offered in this process ….. Much love to you

  4. sara says:

    Of all the many pieces I have read in the last month, this was by far the most beautifully written and healing. All the best to you, Jessica,

  5. Great contribution, Jessica!
    Clarifying and uplifting.
    Thank you for your service as liason.

  6. Andi Bruno says:

    Thank you for all that you do for the community. Thank you for all your hard work and sincere effort. Blessings to you !!

  7. Brian Smith says:

    If anyone would like to find out how many Anusara Employees filed claims with the Texas Work Force Commission its free. Request in writing with name and contact info. or fax your inquiries to:

    Open records division -Texas Work Force Commission
    101 15th street room 266 Austin, TX
    78779
    Their fax number is 512-463-2990

  8. Jessica,
    Thank you for cultivating deep deep compassion to hear the truths through this process. Thank you for all the time you took out of your regular routine, thank you for the mental and emotional space you provided, thank you for keeping up your spiritual practices to source you.

    As an Anusara-Inspired Yoga Teacher who is nearing Certification, I appreciate the strength that you bring to The Principles of Alignment. My classes and community consistently communicate that this principles have transformed pain and suffering to acceptance and ease. This view and knowledge in my own body is what also keeps me strong.

    Thank you for communicating your transition and keeping the community engaged.

    I’m sending you love from Santa Barbara and the Carp Yoga Kula in Carpinteria, CA.

    Love, Meredith

  9. Jackie Prete says:

    Thank you Jessica, I am moved by your big heart. Thank you for your great seva to our community. I too have chosen to hold steady and see if we can really transform this organization from the inside out. It will take way more than committees. It will take a shared intention to heal, an ability to see the value in working through the maze of obstacles in the way of accomplishing the goal, some incredibly savvy business people, and a huge amount of patience. My classes, the practices, my students, my kula mates, and my dharma are helping me stay grounded right now.
    I too have seen many friends leave the community. I offer them my love and support. Without everyone's efforts there would be no Anusara to save or rescue. I believe that when folks look into their hearts and make a huge life changing decision like this that they need love and compassion, not criticism or judgement. Like I said earlier in this saga, either choice takes a lot of courage.
    I honor my beloved kula. I am praying for everyone affected by this huge Lilla. That means even folks I may not agree with.
    I send much love and respect to you, Jessica.

  10. SRJB says:

    I have enjoyed the lively discussion regarding sexual misconduct by the CEO and the coven coverup on Yoga Dork. Many complaints about censorship by Elephant Journal have surfaced. Does the editor of this site have any feedback regarding the concerns piling up on Yoga Dork?

    • lala says:

      I agree. I felt the discussions (on EJ) in the early onset of this situation were tamped down by EJ and EJ contributors. In reading the yoga communities response as everything unfolded, I saw an attitude of "tsk tsk, don't be mean" being thrown around. When Elena Brower wrote her piece in HuffPo, I thought the heat she got was very much deserved. YD did the right thing and I don't think it was salacious or gossipy at all.

  11. Christy says:

    I really admire you Jessica. Thank you for your balanced and graceful words. May we all respect each other and offer each other compassion always. What a beautiful representative of Anusara you are!

    For those of us who want to stay with this elegant method and work at creating a more healthy organization, this article is really supportive. While I am not someone who feels that Anusara Inc and Anusara Yoga have to be sepearate (just restructured would do), I am hopeful that the voices around the world in the Anusara Yoga community will come up with a solution that is a worthy compromise and that truly does give most of the leadership power to the teachers in ways that offer clear pathways for feedback from the rest of the community.

    Thank you again.

  12. Anusari says:

    Jessica,

    As a former employee, I can only imagine the nightmare trying to help those people communicate might be. You might find yourself wondering if you were a serial killer in your past life to deserve such a thing.

  13. Jenifer says:

    This is a very nicely written piece, and I can completely understand your perspective and methodology. It is similar to many of my friends who are catholic, who seek to reform aspects of the church. I can't fault them — their faith, practice, and community is there, so why leave just because there are some bad things going down?

    I have to honor that good work. It is good work — no matter the ultimate result.

    It seems to me that Anusara is going to remain John Friend's — one way or another. I'm just an outsider, but when I read the letter from the ITC, that is the conclusion that I came to. I don't think he's going to give up his income that easily.

    Yes, many questions do remain. It will be interesting to see how it works out.

  14. chonying says:

    The way you people use language is really crazy.

  15. jack says:

    lawyers, steering commitites, panels, why.. not… just… teach your own truth. walk away from this debacle.
    sheesh.

  16. Susan says:

    I agree with most here that the movement and the comments have been deeply influential and meaningful. The experience, though tragic in many ways, also is a stimulant for growth. Having lived through my own version of this within 'the church', I do understand the pain, confusion, questioning, etc…

    I've read it here as it was presented as the primary material emailed in my subscription….though I suppose I could have changed that at some point, had it occurred to me. As a yoga practitioner of 30 years, I was interested in the experience/evolution/contamination of yoga practice in the US. However, it is important to understand that this is not the first yogi to be exposed as imperfect.

    I wrote because I think this preoccupation with perfection in leadership is a western phenomenon that we see in government, elections, and now in the world of yoga. In reality, very few leaders have been perfect, and most powerful leaders draw their power from accomodation to their woundedness rather than from wholeness. It is a paradox, but a lesson that is common to the majority of religions/philosophies.

    Perhaps my lesson is, as someone suggested, to change my subscription and receive different stories that those related to J F and affiliates.

    To be clear, I think that providing a forum for processing, letters, information, etc, is important for clarity, healing, community, etc. My objection simply had to do with the fact that, for a good while, every email I received from EJ seemed to be an internal processing/explanation/apology by JF folks….. all of which are important to those to whom it's important.
    It the content were in a clearly defined section, it would be easier for me to make choices.

    My cmments had nothing to do with the value or validity of the letters. It clearly is a painful turning point for yoga in America….and one that needs to be processed…

    Namaste'.

    Susan

  17. yoga bear says:

    I first started at an Anusara studio about a year and a half ago. I had no idea about John Friend or principles or of alignment-I was just interested in having a healthy back and more movement. I remember the great instruction that I received and how friendly and helpful the teachers were, which as a result, I was able to make seem real progress in my poses and movements. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, Anusara is not John Friend< it is made up of people who are doing good things and helping people get better. I am now doing different styles of yoga ( i have moved and I am not close to an Anusara studio) but I am forever grateful to the teachers at the Anusara studio that got me started and helped me cultivate a real love and passion for yoga

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