In recent months we all watched the mass exodus of Anusara teachers.
Everyday new resignation letters appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. Many felt it necessary to distance themselves from John Friend and withdraw their support of him in the light of recent events.
But the question that remains is, where do they go after leaving Anusara?
Some have started to call themselves alignment based teachers, but many have simply chosen to call themselves Hatha yoga teachers. Many vowed to never again be defined by branded yoga…and thus began the backlash against the brand.
Myself, I belong to a “branded” yoga. I am a Jivamukti Certified Yoga teacher. It’s a school that sang to my heart, and still does. Being that I live in a small Canadian city, most students in my area haven’t heard of my “brand.” So I’m the lone ambassador, to which I feel an imminent responsibility to represent it to the best of my ability.
I’ve witnessed skeptics and mistrust of trademarked yoga, teachers reclaiming the tile “yoga teacher,” and vowing to never be part of a branded yoga again. I for one have always found comfort in the brand. I find is reassuring to know that anywhere I go in the world, if I attend a Jivamukti Open class, for example, I know what to expect. The teacher adds their unique touch to the experience but the core of the practice is essentially the same, as it was designed. There is a safety in the experience.
Often when my students travel they’ll ask me if I know of a good place to practice in Miami or Philadelphia. I don’t, so I always steer them to a brand. My advice will always be Google, “Jivamukti Miami,” or look for a teacher who is Anusara trained or Iyengar certified. Teachers from these “branded” schools will have minimum training which often exceeds Yoga Alliance’s minimum standards. Having the certification and using the brand means the teacher has been extensively trained.
We need only to look at the bastardization of Ashtanga yoga to see how a brand would benefit students. In smaller cities such as mine, Ashtanga has become synonymous with Vinyasa. Teachers claim to teach Ashtanga; it appears on numerous schedules, but when you attend the class, there is no opening sequence; no primary series; no closing sequence. Many times the inversions are omitted. To my knowledge there are only 1 or 2 teachers in the Midwest who’ve been blessed by Patabhi Jois to teach, but it proliferates the schedules of many studios, in any of its corrupted variations. Many teacher trainings offered at various studios claim to train you to teach Ashtanga yoga, but with what authority. Where is the lineage? Those of you from big cities will find this hard to believe, your biggest complaint being the breath count. You’d be appalled by what sometimes passes for Ashtanga.
Most “branded” yoga ensures the integrity of the teachings. They protect the teachers and the students. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of bad yoga out there. The entire yoga community was up in arms with the New York Times article earlier this year by William J. Broad, and although the article and book are sensational and flawed, I think he made us all take a good look at our teaching to see where we fall on the spectrum.
John Friend was not the first big teacher to fall. He won’t be the last. Don’t think that your ego can’t highjack your spiritual practice. It happens all the time. Anusara teachers are some of the best trained teachers I’ve had the privilege to learn from. I fully support all teachers who leave the lineage and withdraw their support from its founder, but I’m not sure if I think the brand wasn’t saveable. I don’t pretend to have the answers; I just ask that you not throw out the dharma with the drama.
Mary Farrell is a certified Jivamukti Yoga Teacher and owner of Blossoming Lotus Yoga in Windsor, Ontario Canada. She has joyfully been sharing branded yoga for almost a decade. Fiercely loyal to her brand although ironically and self-righteously she owns no Lullulemon. She is infamous for recently accosting John Friend in Barbados. www.blossominglotusyoga.ca
Editor: Mel Squarey