Time for a Grown-up Discussion on Anusara. ~ Christina Sell

Via elephant journal
on Apr 18, 2012
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Warning up-front and in plain sight:

I am going to make fun of some things and speak directly to some things and if you are in an overly sensitive mood this post may not be for you.

I recognize people are in various stages of a grief process, processing their feelings, observations and experiences at different rates and not every post can land perfectly for everyone. All right, that being said, here goes.

At dinner last night I was talking with a friend about my reflections from the experiences of teaching in different communities. Some of the context of the discussion had to with the various delights and difficulties involved in teaching yoga in the midst of the dismantling of the structures of Anusara. Has anyone come up with a PC way to say it? “The Scandal” sounds dramatic and inflammatory. “The recent events” sounds vague and evasive. “Anusara Yoga’s recent growth opportunity” is funny and certainly holds a kernel of truth. but all things said and done is a bit ridiculous and perhaps condescending. Anyway, what to do…

A few things are on my mind relative to all of that. Yes, I know I said I wasn’t going to talk much about it anymore, but this has more to do with my movement forward as opposed to my commentary on what I think happened or didn’t happen.

On the first day of our teacher training, when we were discussing some personal feelings that folks had in the room relative to the current events with Anusara (Oooh, now there is a way to say it… current events…), a trainee made a comment that involved a criticism and a generalization of certain things in her experience of Anusara yoga. Many people shared the experience she was describing and we talked a bit about it.

After we explored it a while and had moved onto another topic, when this woman raised her hand and said, “I just need to say that I do not want to be negative or critical, and I hope I didn’t offend anybody, and I am sorry if I hurt anyone’s feelings, etc.” It was as though some fear came up for her  after-the-fact and she felt she needed to cover her tracks a bit.

A similar thing happened when I was teaching the Spring Intensive in San Marcos in March. I posed the question to the group, in all sincerity, “How much time will have to pass before we can say something critical without prefacing it with “I am really grateful for all I learned but….” or “I really respect everyone’s decision to stay but….” or “I think Anusara is really great but….”

Someone in the group sincerely answered my question, saying, “Two years, at least.”

I said, “Let’s do some work on that for ourselves—I can’t wait two years. That is too long for me. I do not  have that kind of time.”

I launched into the same discourse in March that I did in Athens during the teacher training because I think its essential that we get clear here on a few points:

There are as many varied experiences of Anusara as there are people involved with it. Some of those experiences share a lot of content and some have almost nothing in common. Everyone was looking at and participating in the same thing from sometimes radically different perspectives and therein lies the interesting and difficult part of the conversation.

If we get fundamentalist about this, if we insist that ours is the only true perspective, if we dedicate ourselves to convincing others that their experience is wrong, ignorant, misguided, confused, lacking insight,  negative, vindictive or in any way less than ours, we are in pretty unsavory territory.

So, the first thing I propose is that we each look at our own experience very courageously, lay it all out for ourselves to see and then validate it for ourselves. I mean it! Validate it for ourselves to such a degree that the fact that anyone sees it differently poses no threat to the truth of our own truth. It is very difficult to do this as we are trained to seek validation from others in all kinds of ways.

I also think that part can be healthy at times. I am fan of sharing, processing with people and ending the isolated perspectives that secrets generate. But we need to do both, in my opinion. At least 50-50. So I am not saying it is all an inside job but I am saying we have to meet the outer world at least half-way in such matters.

In my experience, the more I can validate and “make real” my own direct experience in any situation, the more I am able to allow people to have their full truth. I can allow their perspective to be valid as that—their perspective, true in its own way just as mine is true for me. Simply put, I am less prickly. It’s just the way that it works.

All right, so all that being said, I think the second thing we might consider is that we could confront the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” strategy as being appropriate in situations of hurtful gossip and a good tool from childhood lessons regarding playing well with others, but not always applicable to the complexity of adult life. It’s also bit useless in the face of sorting out ethical considerations, distribution of power, interpersonal conflicts,  boundary setting, professional affiliation and so forth. I mean, the thought behind that is great but honestly, its a bit limited as a way to live.

No matter how wonderful something is, it is never perfect. No matter how bad something is, it has seeds of greater possibility.

The dark is contained in the light and the light in the dark. We know this from our philosophical studies. So, no matter how much we love Anusara yoga, or loved it or might love it in the future, it is a completely ridiculous notion to assume that it could ever be flawless or without shortcomings or ways to grow and improve. Get real. Seriously. We have to grow up on this one.

Just like each of us who are wonderful people and love other wonderful people in our lives, wonderful does not mean,  never did mean, and never will mean, flawless. To require each other—smart, intelligent, discerning adults—to not see flaw and to not speak of flaw is more than a bit limited and limiting—it’s childish.

It will not allow for growth, development and maturation. The childish strategy will keep us trapped at its level of immature consciousness. I do not mean the word childish and immature to sound mean-spirited. I really mean childish in the sense we could trace that idea and ideal back to childhood where we believed in fairy-tale endings and princes on horses, and magic wands. During this time we lacked the ability to see things in their full glory like we can learn to do as adults.

Simply put, criticism is not the about the whole thing, it’s about the aspect of the thing being criticized. We do not have to generalize one flaw to the whole person or organization.  So when someone is criticizing something, maybe we could, within ourselves, just pause and go, “oh, they are not talking about everything, just about x,y, or z.”

The other thing we could do is to observe why we get so easily offended when criticism arises. Instead of asking people to stop speaking their truth, we could examine our own prickliness and dismantle it internally. Yoga can make us more sensitive, but it can also make us more resilient. The kind of sensitivity it is training in us is not the kind that means “easily offended” anyway. But that is another story.

The way I summed this up in my teacher training was to tell them I would like to make an agreement for the rest of the week we would be together:

1. We would grant each other the generosity to be able to share different perspectives without apology.

2. If our feelings were hurt, we would first look inward and see if we could gain clarity about why were so offended.

3. If we felt we needed to share it with someone, we agreed to speak directly with the person whose comments rubbed us the wrong way.

4. We would listen to each side of the story and agree to disagree at times, apologize if we did indeed make a mistake and that we would ask for help from others in the process when we got stuck.

5. We would agree to remember that everyone in the room had mixed feelings of gratitude, hurt, shock, anger and even boredom relative to the situation, and that we would not longer preface everything we said with “I love anusara…” or similar preamble.

The woman who made the comment was a champ because I took her comment and made it into a full-blown teaching lesson that went way beyond her sweet plea to the group that she did not want to seem rude. That is the way it is when we teach sometimes. Someone opens a door and we can walk through a simple comment into a much bigger teaching.

I have been that student more than once for my teachers over the years, and it’s always a bit wild to see what can happen and how a teacher can make a big point out of a small comment. Sometimes, we just have to take one for the team, like this woman did. She was a trooper about it, though.

I personally am not interested in a two to three year period of time having to go by before everyone is undefended enough to hear each other’s thoughts about things. I am putting the people who know me on notice. I am smart, intelligent woman who has opinions about things and whose job is to offer those thoughts and insights in service to others in the process of deepening our sadhana together.
Part of my job is to share that reflective process, not to not offend the group. Freedom is only freedom when we are free to agree and free to disagree,when we are free to praise and free to criticize. Of course, there are skillful means, so I am not planning on becoming some kind of crazy blurter or anything like that.

But in order to really teach and learn, we have to clear the field a bit and be less identified with our own feelings of being offended.

I am saying “we.” I am rarely psyched to be criticized. I prefer for everyone to think I am great and for us to have big love fests of agreement. I am big fan of preaching to the choir. Like any good co-dependent, I like to please people and have a good repertoire of adaptive strategies in place to do just that.

But I have to say, it’s tiring. This recent situation has just gone on too long, in too much scale to be able to preserve those strategies without breaking down and destroying my energetic field entirely.

Being PC all the times takes a lot of energy. It’s time to be honest.


Christina Sell has been practicing yoga since 1991. She is the author of Yoga From the Inside Out: Making Peace with Your Body Through Yoga and My Body is a Temple: Yoga as a Path to Wholeness. Christina is the 2012 Art of Asana columnist for Yoga International Magazine and a regular contributor to Origin Magazine. She is a faculty member on Yogaglo, which provides online global access to yogic wisdom.

Known for her passion, clarity and creativity, Christina’s classes are challenging, inspiring and dedicated to helping people of all ages experience the joys of yoga practice and conscious living. Christina is the co- founder and do-director of the Shravana School of Yoga and offers workshops, trainings and seminars locally, nationally and internationally.

She is committed to bringing traditional practices and teachings to modern life. Christina is a devoted student of Western Baul master, Lee Lozowick and credits his Influence as the spiritual inspiration behind her life and work. For more information about Christina please visit her online at www.christinasell.com and www.christinasell.blogspot.com 


Editor: Kate Bartolotta


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57 Responses to “Time for a Grown-up Discussion on Anusara. ~ Christina Sell”

  1. el Carg says:

    Feel for all the teachers who are in the fallout.

  2. Devin says:


  3. I think the agreement you posed to your fellow teachers is a good reminder for any issue, and not just "the current situation." We need to be honest with each other, lovingly, and stop feeling the need to preamble every statement we make out of fear. Great advice.

  4. robert says:

    When we use methods such as non-violent-communication in our conversation we set the stage for clarity and understanding. In a way have an adult and professional exchange. When I begin a challenging conversation with an observation of the situation as I understand through my eyes w/o judgement, followed by how I feel, this instills in me that it is my experience to own. Once my perspective is out and my emotions are embraced and can then ask for what I need and want. My experience shows me that this not only keeps me in my experience it also frees my co-communicator to be in their experience. Surely you NVC and counseling professionals with such expertise can clarify my comment.

  5. Dale Elson says:

    Well said!!!

    Everything that I love about Anusara since I started practicing it, remains. Everything about the UPAs and the Anusara style of asana and sequencing, of setting a heart theme to lift and unify the mind, heart, and will during asana class, of using mental images to access otherwise opaque body actions, of emphasizing the disciplines of hatha yoga, of relentlessly looking for the good, the dance of yes and no, and everything else about Anusara that I love — remains.

    I never loved John Friend. I did, and do, respect him and admire him as the founder and teacher of this amazing yoga, but his painful and destructive behavior near the end has, in my mind, nothing to do with the validity of his yoga. The man is not the yoga, &vv.

    So for me, nothing has changed about Anusara, from a user perspective. JF got off the chain and hurt alot of people, and that pains me, but ANUSARA DIDN’T DO IT, JF did.

    So I’ll be alot happier when the Anusara org heals itself, regardless of what that means for JF, and gets on with it. In the meantime, lots of great Anusara teachers are teaching lots of great Anusara yoga (or yoga that’s asana content is either Anusara or built on that basis.

    So that’s my crazy blurt :-).

  6. lisa says:

    A wonderful enlightening read including a lot of lessons that can pertain to everyday life – validating yourself, searching inward for the source of one's taking offense. Thank you!!!

  7. keepinreal says:

    uughh another anusara blurb about nothing in particular. I really dig Chtistina's stuff about Yoga, awesome, but this isnt the Christine Sell i enjoy reading, feels muddy when normally its crystal clear….why not just come out and call John a wanker or not…the raw truth, stop beating around the bush! :)

  8. chris says:

    Particular to our search for faith is the age old story of the false guru's abuse and misuse of a student's spiritual confidence. Long winded explanations aside, we should begin to realize the answers have always resided within ourselves. Sexuality, from my perspective and respectfully offered, can be shared with care and reverence or it can be a bag of Doritos. No judgement here, but at the end of the day, we all choose the company we keep. Light on the path ya'll.

  9. Susana says:

    Brillant Christina.

    Thank you for reminding us to:

    First, resist the fundamentalist urge to insist one’s own perspective should be shared.

    Second, to know the veracity of one’s own experience enough not to be threatened by the diversity of views.

    And third, to relieve ourselves and each other from the crippling need to be apologetic for the expression of our own truth.

  10. Carol Horton says:

    Very interesting post in that it is a testament to the fact that the modus operandi of (pre-scandal) Anusara was to socialize people into repressing thoughts and feelings deemed insufficiently "positive," and consequently create a "community" on false pretenses. What sort of community is it that seeks to uphold group-think enforced by codes of silence? I would say that it's a highly conformist community driven by some set of underlying, unrecognized insecurities and fears.

    Of course, Anusara is hardly unique in creating this sort of dynamic. It can and does get much, much worse – not just in the history of Western yoga, but among human beings in general. We seek to escape from ourselves and the world by merging into a collective that will tell us who's who and what's what, and assure us that those answers are right and wonderful.

    I like communities that encourage questioning a lot more than those that provide pat answers. It seems to me that Anusara may be moving in a good direction if the sort of thinking and encouragement to action displayed in this post continue to gather steam.

  11. Annie Ory says:

    Excellent points Christina:

    When we talk out loud, it also allows our own personal perspectives to shift, flow and change. We hear ourselves, in relation to others, we listen, we reveal, we rethink and we come to deeper and deeper understandings. That rarely happens with only internal reflection. Both are required to truly stretch the mind. The more I read, talk, think, listen, about a subject, the more fluent I become on the intricacies of that subject.

  12. Nick says:

    I wonder if this post is mourning the death and wanting a resurrection of sorts. Seems like even though you have severed your ties you still seem to be home sick, but no home to come to.

    This virtual arena is never a good one as it is ultra illusory.

    I may be way off here but I am quite frankly unimpressed with the discourse here. Like as an ex teacher, do you still market yourself as an Anusara teacher, is that too taboo, are you afraid that in two years it will morph into something it shouldn’t as a result in part of your actions?

    How about the class, do you do the invocation? The clapping, the god stories weaving though the class. Or do you just free style?

    I find it difficult to attend an Anusara class because there is a lot of teacher driven angst that comes out weaving about that I don’t want aligned in my energy.

    I felt for Todd N. who was the catalyst for me to become a yoga teacher. He was let down big time twice. I can’t speak for him, but I understand what he went through the first time which is a realization that perhaps the community you expect to have changes when you don’t want it to change.

    I have rambled here but hopefully I spark some cords. I am personally left a bit empty knowing the guy at the helm has no schedule posted and he has stepped down. Almost like he is like Sri P. Jois but he isn’t. John is alive. I would hate if he were to disappear like Gurumai.

    In summary, I see the end of Anusara and I see you write of it as if you were still in full force. Isn’t that a bit dishonest or do you need to remain relevant to fill your classes. I don’t mean to be blunt here but now is a perfect time for students to go try other schools using their principles.

    Om shanti.


  13. I too am getting a little tired of the endless commentary on the "current events" but somehow find myself continuing to read these posts. It's kind of like staring at a car accident—it's hard not too look, and you hope everyone is okay, and you feel this pang of sorrow mixed with relief that you weren't involved. I've always enjoyed your book and bog writing, and it all feels relevant to yoga, to me. This is life. We f*ck up, we hurt people, we begin to see ourselves and others more clearly, we try something else next time. We fall out of the asana, we bump our ____ (or the ____ of the yogi next to us), we figure out what went wrong, and try something else next time. I see a lot of growth coming out of this situation already from people on all sides of it, and my heart goes out to those who have suffered. It does feel alternately boring, upsetting and even amusing at times, but valuable wisdom is coming out of this that benefits the yoga community as a whole. Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

  14. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  15. Christina Sell says:

    Thanks, Prajna. How best for me to be involved has been an ongoing inquiry for me. I had a good friend once who said that since yoga sadhana is a razor's edge, we can fall off either side. So I get involved, I step away, I comment, I abstain, etc.–with various outcomes, positive and negative. Mostly I stepped back into the discussion because I really want to move beyond a certain level of conversation and thought maybe a contribution based on what I was experiencing directly as a teacher post-collapse-of-the-way-things-were might be helpful. And for some, it seems, it has been very helpful. For others, not. That's the way of things I suppose. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  16. prajahara says:

    What's missing is the acknowledgment of diversity in definitions — what comprises childish, offensive, nice, non-offending. Who sets the terms? By what standards? Because the Anusara culture had been led by, taught by and dominated mostly by middle class and upper middle class (professional/managerial class) white Americans, and because that culture suppresses conflict and strong criticism as a way of keeping the money and ambition moving forward, THAT is the culture to which Anusara — and most of yoga — defaults.
    Yet it is not my culture. In my culture, strong disagreements are expressed through strong words. These can include really scathing commentaries, jokes, derision, tales, and tidbits as well as sustained linear arguments. People just don't take themselves or one another THAT seriously on the way to some kind of truth.
    Not so yoga. Bring that kind of diversity into yoga culture, you get accused of "being mean." Self-appointed mommies and daddies weigh in, censor you, or remind you to 'place nice."
    It's infantilizing, repressive, and insulting.

  17. Tal Raveh says:

    I personally am done with 'look for the good' and 'open to grace'. I'd rather look for the Real and open to Growth. I suppose that reflects a similar sentiment

  18. […] or share with others. Anything else is something else. I wouldn’t pay one minute of attention to a teacher who told me what I could or could not think or do. Why would […]

  19. I just left this comment on a similar article. I would imagine that Joh Friend probably has NPD, that helps me feel more compassion toward him and people like him. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH00019

  20. Katy Poole says:

    I enjoyed this article, Christina, not so much about the Anusara "scandal" or whatever but for the larger point that you make. It's something that has driven me crazy ever since I made the leap from academia and decided I wanted to share my knowledge with the yoga community. No one can take simple, direct criticism. This was weird for me being trained by great professors in academia who forced me to stand in the fire of criticism—which usually involved stating my point, listening to how everyone disagreed with my point, arguing it back and forth and then going out for beers afterward. (I never liked the beers but I enjoyed the ability that everyone had to simply "drop it" and have fun.) My spiritual Guru also forced us to stand in the fire of criticism. In expressing our displeasure or disagreement with anyone, he never allowed us to use the word "but"—as in, "I'll always respect John Friend as my teacher, BUT (insert blame, displeasure, disgust, etc.). He called this "sugar-coating." If you have something to say, say it. (Because if you really examine the truth, if you truly "respected" JF in this example, you wouldn't be leaving. You're leaving precisely because you disrespect him. So say it and let the chips fall where they fall.) The yoga community, however, is an entirely different beast. On the surface we all have to feign niceness to each other—the same kind of niceness that we girls used to show each other at the lunch table in junior high. And then behind each others' back we'd discuss how bad someone's hair looked or how their outfit the other day was soooo wrong. It goes on like this all the time in yoga. Everyone is so afraid to speak the truth—yet the gossip that circulates is far worse and I've heard more than my fair share of gossip about myself and others that I'm not that inspired by most of what goes on in yoga. I've even found myself afraid to speak the truth. So I found it really refreshing that you addressed this. Thank you. And may you continue to roar like the tigress you are!

  21. maggie says:

    SO thought provoking, as i've come to expect from you as a teacher, Christina. It's a relief to start to move the conversation toward how the Anu-saga can impact us as individuals- to look deeply, share honestly, and to check ourselves when we scramble to look outward for validation. A necessary reminder for all sorts of challenges & adversities in life.
    …I'm actually feeling totally over the misconduct or "wrongdoing", and am more interested on who steps up and actually improves themselves/the community of yoga because of this. You have done it again.
    Thank you for your morning musings, not muddy at all.
    I had to copy and paste for my facebook page:
    Freedom is only freedom when we are free to agree and free to disagree,when we are free to praise and free to criticize.
    But in order to really teach and learn, we have to clear the field a bit and be less identified with our own feelings of being offended. I am saying “we.” I am rarely psyched to be criticized. I prefer for everyone to think I am great and for us to have big love fests of agreement. I am big fan of preaching to the choir. Like any good co-dependent, I like to please people and have a good repertoire of adaptive strategies in place to do just that.
    But I have to say, it’s tiring. Being PC all the times takes a lot of energy. It’s time to be honest."

  22. […] I did not stay for one second longer or engage in anything but learning with teachers who perfumed the air with arrogance or irony. Many famous teachers are self deceptive power trippers and who cares. Come for the education. They studied where you did not. Then get out and use what you know to add to your practice or share with others. Anything else is something else. I wouldn’t pay one minute of attention to a teacher who told me what I could or could not think or do. […]

  23. Christina Sell says:

    Thanks, Maggie. You know, a lot of people have been sharing with me how the actual "misconduct" has become less upsetting than the way people are behaving toward one another in the aftermath. Its interesting territory to explore– full of all kinds of distinctions– about how, why, when and to what end we share our "truth". And, once again, different people come to different conclusions for themselves and each other about the process.

    Whew– I appreciate your support and kind words. Glad the post was helpful to you.

  24. Christina, your generosity of spirit shows in your honest considerate response to each comment in this article – it's refreshing. The egos of famous cult-of-personality teachers usually makes this busy mom/wife/yoga teacher/body-worker/YTT trainer indifferent to said teachers. I will be sharing your articles with my teacher trainees this August as I value teachers like yourself with experience-backed candor, and a well-informed tapestry from a diversity of learnings. Thanks for your willingness to share openly and a no-fear approach to shadow work. Rawness serves (often).

  25. […] I have been an active participant and supporter of the yoga and mindfulness communities, and an Anusara yogi for more than a decade, I was not surprised by these […]

  26. […] a malice that brewed up one Anusara class, anointed its gills with notes of rage and disbelief and pointed itself in a dangerous way at the […]

  27. […] fact, in the days since I have left the happy shiny land of the “yoga system that shall not be named” I have to say my practice is deeper, richer and more well rounded. To me that is a mark of success […]

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