What the F*!@# Am I Going to Do about My Formerly Anusara Bio?

Via on Jul 12, 2012

Anusara yoga has imploded.

You never want to hear the name “John Friend” again.

You are proud of your training, but you’re worried that if you mention “Anusara yoga” in your bio, your students will Google it and start looking at you funny. It’s not really an issue with your regulars (they love you and have seen you through the last five months), but do you really want your new students to associate you with the biggest yoga scandal and the biggest yoga jerk of the decade? Even worse, do you want to funnel students to John Friend, or to the company, Anusara Inc., that he owns and operates as his exclusive, dysfunctional fiefdom?

Recently I set myself a task: re-write my yoga teacher bio without mentioning AY or JF by name, but in a way that still honors the 12 years of training I received. I also wanted the bio to acknowledge the intensity and value of the painful transformation we’ve all undergone. This was a nightmarish task, near impossible, but it was, as they say, AFGO—”Another F*#%ing Growth Opportunity.”

I was inspired in this quest by the following suggested bio, written by Matthew Remski for Brian Smith, a Buddhist teacher who once was a student of disgraced pseudo-Buddhist “spiritual teacher” Michael Roach. I think it’s brilliant. It doesn’t mention Michael Roach by name. It doesn’t even diss him much, which is pretty incredible considering that Roach is accused of contributing to the death of his ex-girlfriend’s husband. It simultaneously honors and takes responsibility for the role that Roach played in Smith’s life. And it honors Smith’s decision to move on, which was probably excruciatingly painful and confusing for him.

“I am the son of a Baptist minister. I became a scholar of religion to understand the nameless pressures and ecstasies of my childhood. But after many years I realized that my scholarship had stripped me of faith and wonder. I wandered through my middle years chasing empty consolations. And then I met a man my age, from my culture, who truly believed all of the things I remembered from childhood, but had since merely studied in books. I fell in love with his strange passion: I felt it rejuvenate a buried vitality and hopefulness. But gradually, I saw that like myself he was wounded, perhaps beyond repair, and that mirroring his life was not getting me any closer to the truth of my own. I realized that I had followed someone else’s dream in order to wake myself up. My entanglement with him showed me the necessity of finding my own path.”

I especially like how this bio is humble. Those of us who teach practices that touch on the spiritual would do well to acknowledge that we don’t have all, or even most, of the answers. I have very few myself. But I do have suggestions.

Here are eight examples of how you can re-write your yoga teacher bio to honor your past, acknowledge your present transition and embrace your future.

Mix and match to your heart’s content; no need for attribution. If you feel like it, send me what you ended up writing. If not, don’t.

1. “I recently transitioned from affiliation with a specific style toward a more eclectic, synergistic approach.”

2. “After many years of seeking an external source of information on my yoga experience, this year I made the decision to empower my own perspectives first.”

3. “After many years of working with a specific teacher, this year I was blessed to be reminded that we are all, regardless of our position as yoga teachers, mere students on the path of life. I have chosen to expand the roster of teachers who inspire me, looking first to myself.”

4. “This year, some very challenging circumstances have guided me to re-examine many of my assumptions about what I teach and who I learn from. My teaching has evolved away from being an expression of a particular method or teacher, and toward being a fuller expression of my own heart.”

5. “This year, challenging circumstances rocked my yoga community as I and my colleagues discovered that our ethics were radically different from those of our primary teacher. Unexpectedly, this series of events has inspired me to expand my yoga horizons and find my true voice.”

6. “2012 has offered me and many of my colleagues the chance to reconsider our relationship with our primary teacher and the method we all taught and practiced. The disintegration of one system opened our eyes to the possibility of a new paradigm, new opportunities for collaboration beyond the structure of a particular method or style.”

7. “X years in the yoga community have taught me that even in a spiritual community, the only constant is change. In 2012 I witnessed the falling away of an old paradigm, one that I cherished, but that did not ultimately serve me or my students. While I mourn the passing of something important to me, I relish the opportunity to rediscover my roots and grow some new blossoms on the tree of my yoga.”

8. Finally, here’s how I did it:

“I grew up on a sheep farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas. I attended Bryn Mawr College and later earned a diploma in acupuncture. I’ve studied Hatha yoga and how to teach it for over 12 years with Amy Ippoliti, Christina Sell, Noah Maze and many others. I have studied yoga philosophy and history with Douglas Brooks of the University of Rochester, and meditation with Paul Muller-Ortega, formerly of the University of Rochester.

“When I took my first yoga class in New York City in 1995, I thought it was really strange and wonderful. It fit me perfectly! When we chanted Om, I thought, ‘Yoga has singing—I love to sing!’ When we reclined at the end of class, I thought, ‘Yoga has resting—I love to rest!’ Later, I was blown away to hear the teacher say that life is good, that we are all intrinsically good, and that yoga is a way to experience our goodness. ‘Amazing—I believe that too!’

“For over a decade, I taught a style of Hatha yoga that combined this philosophy of intrinsic goodness with a system of biomechanical alignment. I became an excellent yoga teacher: devoted to my students, well-versed in anatomy and yoga history, and skilled in guiding a class through the rise and fall of a practice. While I loved how affiliation with a specific method validated me, recent challenging circumstances taught me to seek a deeper validation from my own mind and heart. Earlier this year, I stepped away from teaching in a particular style, and toward a broader, yet more personal vision of yoga.

“This has been an incredible opportunity to unfurl my unique teaching voice, expand my repertoire of practices, and re-dedicate myself to my mission as a yoga teacher. I love to cook, eat, sing, and walk; I love to laugh and fight and make up with loved ones, be outside, read and write, see movies, go swimming, and jump on trampolines. Through yoga, I seek to celebrate and enrich these everyday experiences in my life and the lives of my students.”

~

Editor: Brianna Bemel

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About Emma Magenta

Emma Magenta is a yoga teacher and writer living in New Jersey. She grew up on a sheep farm in Kansas and attended Bryn Mawr College. She owns and operates South Mountain Yoga studio in South Orange, NJ with her husband. You can find out more about her on her website, emmamagentayoga.com.

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23 Responses to “What the F*!@# Am I Going to Do about My Formerly Anusara Bio?”

  1. Aron says:

    That just makes it sound kind of sketchy to me like you/he were being elusive about 'something'.
    Every tradition has it scandals. Own it.
    And besides. Even bad pub is good. None of my students care what style I am from and if they do they like Anusara. Those who know about the scandal usually dont care or are just curious or sympathetic.
    Just my experience though.

  2. Agamemnon says:

    Might I suggest owning up to the fact that you were trained in the Anusara system, but you made the brave choice to join a small group of visionary pioneers who collectively decided to release themselves from the rigid adherence to an exclusive system and all of it's dysfunction and doctrine so that they may exercise their freedom to explore and incorporate the broader teachings of the unlimited world of yoga. Whew. I know that's a run-on sentence but it could be tweaked a little. Vaguery is cowardice. It's another form of spiritual bypassing. When it makes you feel squeamish, that's when you know you're getting somewhere.

  3. G.C. Aloha says:

    While I think the Brian Smith bio is lovely, and while I think your mix and match statements are beautifully written, having myself gone through the Anusara blow-up–albeit as a longtime student and not a teacher–I still appreciate knowing the lineage in which a particular teacher has been trained. Personally, a teacher who was trained in Anusara but has distanced him or herself and opened up to incorporating other teachings and personal exploration is just the teacher I am looking for. You got a very rigorous training in Anusara, and you deserve to be able to advertise that. Further, those who are knowledgable about different schools of yoga will know that you were trained well in alignment principles but no longer align with the school's founder. Why not just be up-front about it and say that you were Anusara trained but have moved on to incorporate new avenues of knowledge? Those in the know will respect you, and newcomers to yoga who Google Anusara will see that you have moved away from a school that was scandalized.

  4. Ann says:

    In my perspective all of the comments make sense from various viewpoints, which is why in the business world some may use all of them – the value of using a functional resume versus a chronological resume if you're highlighting transferable skillsets for a change in career; and/or the omittance of actual client names for various purposes – ie Fortune 500 Multinational Telecommunications Corporation. You could try to personalize the resume in anticipation of who the audience is, or just write a general resume that resonates with how you feel. I find that people (as I have done), who are ashamed or embarrassed by any information on or off or the resume such as gaps of unemployment, only doom themselves by the energy they bring into how they talk about it – normally, when you don't feel bad about, other's won't either. But yes, I do love your contribution to this subject matter, the effort you've put into your own development, the generous offering for others in a similar position, and how you've shared a personal part of yourself and your experience. Great job!

  5. Emma Magenta Emma says:

    Thank you all for your comments! Especially Agamemnon, who took the time to actually write his own suggestion. I think all these comments will add to the dialogue; I've certainly been enriched by them.

    I'm not ashamed of my time in AY, and I've been publicly outspoken on the AY scandal in a way that satisfies me, at least, that I'm not acting out of cowardice. Just to give you some insight into my choices: I decided I did not want to reference AY in any way on my bio because once or twice a month a student will approach me and ask me where and how I trained. In person, it's easy for me to say that I was trained Anusara yoga but the system has been discredited by the actions of the founder. However, I figure that if there are one or two a month that approach me, there are probably others who just check out my bio online.

    Therefore, my main intention is to avoid even mentioning the name, Anusara yoga, in conjunction with my capabilities, lest some poor unsuspecting student decide to check it out. I feel that any full description of how and why I moved away from AY is a lot longer than I want my bio to be, and I am concerned that a shorter description leaves the door open for someone to think that AY couldn't be so bad if it produced a teacher like me.

  6. googlert says:

    It just occurred to me that everyone has a default online bio in their life. Your living bio is the search results that come up when people enter your name in that little box. When your name is googled, this blog post will come up in the results and the searcher will be able to read the details about how you agonized over your bio. They will see what's missing from your web site and wonder why the whole truth was excluded.

  7. Emma Magenta Emma says:

    Yup. It doesn't bother me because I'm not ashamed of agonizing over my bio. And if they make it to this page they'll see why I did.

    • googlert says:

      As it should be. I just didn't know if you had considered that. I think it's important to carefully consider how you present yourself to the world, both in person and online. Sorry of my "agonizing" comment came across as pejorative. I really liked the article, F-Bombs and all!

  8. Sean Haleen says:

    John Friend taught me both how to be a great teacher and how not to be a great teacher. Both lessons are invaluable. I've taken the word Anusara out of my biography because I'm no longer a licensed teacher and have stopped really thinking about the scandal or paying attention to it (because it doesn't affect me and I don't allow it to). That said, I'm still known as teaching in the Anusara method and have no problem with that. Most anyone I've come across distinguishes the man from the method. I have no "worry" that I'll get odd looks if I identify myself as a former Anusara teacher. I'm not trying to cover my tracks like it seems many are.

    I keep quiet like most AY yoga teachers for two reasons. First, I simply don't care anymore. Second, any opposing views to the canon of rhetoric is decimated (I love how Emma just told a well loved teacher who slightly disagreed with this article to go %&*$ herself in a private FB group)… I'm prepared for more of the same for this post.

    • sarah says:

      Having read the thread you refer to, I would say that was an okay response from Emma. The "well loved teacher" didn't "slightly disagree". She actually said she liked the post, after making an odd and unprovoked attack on Emma's character and integrity. She has made many such attacks on others in that FB group. Emma just reacted as most of the rest of us would, without the flowery yoga-speak.

    • Emma Magenta Emma says:

      1. I agree that I learned many wonderful things from John Friend, including what NOT to do.

      2. I actually think that the attitude that "this scandal doesn't affect me" is profoundly misguided. It affects everybody when a yoga teacher abuses his students. It affects us as yoga professionals to have one of our own dirtying the pool. And it certainly should affect us as human beings to know that anyone is being abused.

      3. Distinguishing the man from the method is, in my opinion, a theoretical difference that does not actually reflect the reality of the situation. While JF is a human, and AY is a company and a style of hatha yoga, JF is the SOLE SHAREHOLDER of AY, Inc, and any dues you send AY, Inc, any props you give to AY, Inc or the AY method, are in effect an endorsement of JF. Accepting this theory sets JF up to abuse more students.

      4. I'm not interested in "covering my tracks". I couldn't if I wanted to, because I taught AY for 12 years and was pretty prominent in the AY community and certainly in my local community. I seek to remove JF/AY from my bio so that there's NO chance that someone could misconstrue my mention of him/it as an endorsement.

      5. I absolutely told someone to go f*ck herself in a private facebook group. I have no idea if she is a well-loved teacher, because I've never met her, nor has she met me. It was not in fact because she disagreed with this article–she said she liked the article! My "go f*ck yourself" was because she prefaced her compliment by saying that she doubted my honesty. When a stranger questions my honesty in an public forum, you can bet I'll have something to say about it.

    • That well-loved teacher you speak of Sean, actually insulted Emma with a passive aggressive statement. She did not say that she disagreed with the article: that would have been very different. Just clarifying the truth. Also, it's funny that you say you "don't care anymore". Why are you reading this then? If you don't care, then you wouldn't have cared to post something here from a private group. Maybe we should could own that we DO care, for some reason, and that the processing and unfolding will and can take different amounts of time for all. The more we can care and understand and re-wire, the better off we might be in the long run.

  9. Ed Spyhill says:

    How will we refer to the system of Yoga formally known as Anusara? All the teachers who resigned no longer use the word. They no longer use the invocation. I'm seeing "Aligned Vinyasa" used by some former Anusara teachers. None of my former and current teachers use any term for the type of Yoga they teach. As a student of Anusara I'm frustrated that an entire system of Yoga has completely disappeared. It's like "1984", down the memory hole. I've searched for and found an Iyengar teacher a few more miles away (60 miles round trip, but worth the time) and I'm in the process of shifting to that Yoga school.

    It seems 95% of Anusara is/was Iyengar!

    Ed S.

    • Emma Magenta Emma says:

      Ed, I think your question is a very good one, and I wish I had a good answer for it. The loss of an easily-accessible network of teachers who were likely to have a similar teaching style is very sad. All I can say is that we, too, feel this loss, and I am guessing I and my colleagues will figure out a solution to this puzzle in the coming months.

  10. Harmony says:

    Here's a thought.
    Write a bio as a yoga teacher describing to the perspective students the kind of experience they're likely to receive in your class. Less about the farm maybe, andore about what you think is important in the practice and study of yoga through your many years. Seriously, why mention the great big transition drama at all? Your studio is no longer linked to the method. New students are going to come to you based on word of mouth, your already existing excellent reviews as a teacher, and out of flat curiosity. Trust yourself. Describe what you teach and how you teach it in your bio, mention your mentors (which you have), and end of story. Not lying. You're seperated from AY, so write a bio from a seperated place.

    • Emma Magenta Emma says:

      I totally thought about this, Harmony. I think it's a good idea, and in a few months/years, this might be what I end up doing.

  11. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Here's something you did not think of: align (no pun intended) yourself with The Himalayan Institute. Those masters are absolutely no strangers to alignment-orientation, the style is mild, yet they are changing with the times and morphing into new forms. Somehow you could transform whatever style you now teach, hold on to a good chunk of the chanting (or they half-chant/half-"rap" the Sanskrit).

    Whole populations of yoga students and potential yoga students could be attracted to a Big School of yoga again; one that has stood the test of time and outlived scandal from back in the day. One that caters to: the aging, the injured, the less-coordinated, the more spiritual (but not in a cultish/kula-ish way) … I am utterly sorry that Sadie Nardini will not own up to the Himalayan Institute as being a major part of her lineage, but there it is and it is quite evident in her teachings.

    Ditto Kripalu. I suppose Kripalu could serve as a similar kind of umbrella for those who know they are not very alignment-oriented in their teachings.

    Then, there are several healing-and-therapy-oriented schools, in addition. Whole articles could be written.

    Reinvention is not an impossibility and has saved the reps of teachers who have suffered as much loss-of-credibility – even if it were not due to this type of scandal ….

    • Emma Magenta Emma says:

      Thanks for the comment Vision. For obvious reasons, I'm pretty reluctant to align myself with any spiritually-oriented organizations at the moment. Plus I'm actually enjoying being independent for the first time in 12 years.

  12. Vision_Quest2 says:

    "I'll be frank: Most yoga consumers could give a shit about the yoga "brands," and as consumers with limited budgets, their chief concern is that you actually impart something of value for the $20 or more that they are shelling out for your class. So, make sure they really get their money's worth? Just serve humbly, without any hint of personal vainglory from this point forward. Just consider it "penance" for a job done so poorly for far too long."

    AMEN! And a BIG reason I have transitioned greatly to pilates and conscious dance, transitioning OUT of commercial yoga [I have a low-cost home yoga practice .... I came of age in the era when yoga teachers EXPECTED their students to have ongoing, serious, comprehensive home practices ... not just doing ye olde (insert challenging pose here) on the beach for a photo op ....]

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