July 30, 2010

“Yoga Mogul” John Friend’s response to Sunday NY Times Magazine feature article.

Update: here’s my interview with John Friend, the first granted in response to the NY Times Magazine feature:

Update: The below response has been picked up by other blogs. So John has granted ele an exclusive interview. That interview will go into some more depth, and be offered on elephantjournal.com shortly. ~ WL.

Anusara yoga founder John Friend’s response, below, to The Sunday New York Times’ generally-positive, sometimes-critical feature (photos above & below via NYT) is offered on elephantjournal.com’s growing forum in full with the personal permission of John Friend. If you choose to use this on your blog, please excerpt and link here.

Click here for more articles and our video interviews with John, the founder of Anusara Yoga who we affectionately call the “Yogi Cowboy.” ~ Waylon Lewis, ed.

Follow John Friend on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/anusarafriend

John Friend’s response to the NY Times article

July 28th, 2010

Dear Friends,

Blessings of love to you from Europe, where I just completed a magnificent 6-week tour of Denmark, Germany, France, England, and Italy. It is marvelous to witness the luminous evolution of Anusara yoga in Europe in just the last five years. This growth in the sophistication and excellence of our yoga school in Europe directly reflects the outstanding efforts of our certified teachers, for whom I am grateful.

As you all know, last Sunday the New York Times published an in-depth piece on Anusara yoga and myself. It is my understanding that it is the largest article on yoga ever published in a major newspaper. It is deeply honoring to have such an extensive article published in the New York Times on yoga, particularly Anusara yoga [the style of yoga that John founded ~ed.]. For me, it is another clear sign that Grace supports Anusara.

The overall public response to the article reflected on the Internet has been positive, and given the great scope of the Times readership we can assume that in the least the publicity will positively expand Anusara yoga’s name recognition. As is often the case with major journalistic stories, the article includes positive as well as some negative points about both Anusara yoga and about me. At best, one might say that the article was “balanced” journalism. Yet at the same time, an obvious over-emphasis in the article on Anusara’s apparent business and commercialization focus might—in the worst case— turn someone away from yoga entirely. This negative reaction is due to the irony that today when a business is strictly money-making, commercialization is applauded and the corporate mogul is praised for his acumen. Yet when a business is also part of a spiritual endeavor, the same level of success can be seen as suspect.

In helping to create this article over the last few months I met with the author several times and gave her unprecedented journalistic access to my business and personal life. My hope was to not only present a great story about Anusara yoga, but to present the greatness of yoga in general so that it would spread Light around the world. I made every effort to work with the journalist and the fact-checker, so that Anusara yoga was represented honestly. In some instances I was able to clarify and correct, while in other instances, my efforts for clarification were ignored and sometimes even argued with. I believe that there were several instances in the article in which information was twisted in order to make the article sensational and juicy.

I have absolutely no problem with others publicizing pieces of information or stated opinions that are not positive about me, if they are true. I take full responsibility for my actions and words, and I am open to having my faults pointed out to me. I don’t claim that I am faultless or that “everything is good” in my organization.

My central point with the fact-checker and the journalist when verifying the story was to only print what was true. Unfortunately, that did not happen. So, I am proud and deeply appreciative of our community members for responding in a dignified and honorable way to this article by speaking the truth of their own direct experiences and also for clearly noting some of its falsehoods.

I certainly understand that no article will ever be able to convey the full truth or greatness of Anusara yoga. However, there were several significant falsehoods in the article that I want to directly address:

1. FALSE: Anusara yoga is primarily designed as a business to make a lot of money.

The truth is that I started teaching yoga in the 80’s in order to share my love of Spirit with others. (Back then no one thought of yoga teaching as a lucrative business enterprise!)

The primary purpose of Anusara yoga has always been to help bring more true happiness, health, and divine beauty to the world.

I left a well-paying finance job in the late 80’s to teach yoga full-time, which was an enormous financial sacrifice, in order to work in the field that I loved most.

Fortunately, Anusara yoga became increasingly popular, and so I began hiring people to help me serve the growing numbers of students and teachers around the world. With my business school background I have always run the company in ways that are sustainable, and are in alignment with my yoga philosophy and ethics. The business is designed to fundamentally support the yoga school and community, not the other way around. Furthermore, I believe my integration of yogic principles into my business practices is one of the key contributing factors in the tremendous success of Anusara. I live by my yoga principles in everything I do—my personal relationships, my leisure time, and my work. It is not like I practice yoga philosophy only on my sticky mat.

Yoga is my life.

Although revenue for Anusara has steadily increased over the years, so have related expenses. I now have 20 employees and a lot of overhead, so annual profits are low, and yet we are financially solid and everyone is happy, which cannot be said by a lot of other small businesses these days.

Although some say that Anusara is “commercial,” it is worth emphasizing that in 13 years of business I have done almost no paid advertising in newspapers or magazines for Anusara yoga. Anusara’s tremendous growth has been almost entirely through word-of-mouth or by third party free advertising. The quality of our services and products speaks for itself, and that is what has given us an ever-expanding, positive reputation in the yoga industry.

Another important point to make clear here is that no one is barred from taking class or advancing as a teacher in Anusara yoga due to financial restrictions. If someone cannot pay for services or products at that time, I either offer a scholarship, a donation, payment plan, or work-trade. No one is turned away from Anusara yoga based on their current inability to pay. Again, the focus is on helping people, not on making money.

2. FALSE: Anusara yoga has watered down the tradition of yoga.

The truth is that with the integration of Shiva-Shakti Tantra (Kashmir Shaivism) and the Universal Principles of Alignment, Anusara yoga is one of the most sophisticated hatha yoga systems ever designed. In addition, the standards of our certification program are in many regards the most rigorous in the industry. Our curriculum, among the most extensive of any hatha yoga school, is directly supported by preeminent yoga scholars in the world, including: Douglas Brooks, Paul Muller-Ortega, William Mahoney, Carlos Pomeda, Mark Dyczkowski, Eric Shaw, Sally Kempton, Christopher Chapple, Christopher Tompkins and Harish Wallis. No other hatha yoga school in the world has such an illustrious and high caliber assembly of yoga scholars and professors supporting them.

3. FALSE: I ‘trash talk’ other yoga styles, and I have bad feelings with Iyengar Yoga.

The truth of the matter is that I find the good in all styles of yoga. I never negatively speak about other yoga styles, nor does any other Anusara yoga teacher.

At the same time, the truth is that some styles are physically-oriented, while others are more spiritually-oriented. Some styles are more sophisticated in terms of methodology while other styles are very simplistic. That is the context of the analogy that I spoke of in the article when I said that students can choose “fast food” vs. “refined dining” when choosing a style. (And I do eat fast food on a special occasion!) Of course, I think Anusara yoga is more effective than other styles of yoga—that is why I practice it! Yet, all styles have something positive to offer.

I left Iyengar Yoga because I have significant philosophical differences with Mr. Iyengar. Yes, Mr. Iyengar can be very tough, but I do not have a problem with his fierceness. I have never had ill feelings toward Mr. Iyengar or his family. I think Mr. Iyengar is one of the greatest hatha yoga teachers of all-time. After studying with him and his senior teachers for 10 years, I think Mr. Iyengar is incredibly generous with his knowledge and energy; he is a virtuous man; and he is an innovative yoga genius. As my students will confirm, I publicly honor Mr. Iyengar in almost every workshop I teach.

The article also claims that I have “distanced myself from Gurumayi.” This is unfounded. In fact, I privately invited the author to my “puja,” (my altar in my home) and my library where Gurumayi’s pictures are abundantly displayed. Gurumayi pulled back from public view in 2005 for unknown reasons to me, and I have not seen her since. However, even if I ever have disagreements about how the SYDA Foundation (Gurumayi’s religious organization) is operated, my love for Gurumayi is unwavering.

4. FALSE: Anusara yoga is essentially Iyengar yoga.

Yes, there are many similarities between Iyengar Yoga and Anusara yoga in terms of asana sequencing, emphasis on precise postural alignment, and discipline as a basis of studentship.

Yet, the truth is that Anusara yoga differs in two fundamental and significant ways from Iyengar yoga. Anusara yoga is based on Shiva-Shakti Tantric philosophy, while Iyengar yoga is based essentially on Classical Yoga (Patanjali Yoga Sutra). Tantra focuses on removing the differences between the world and Spirit, while Classical Yoga tries to separate Spirit and the world. Secondly, Anusara yoga uses principles of alignment universally as the basis of aligning the asanas, while Iyengar yoga uses discrete, separate alignment points for each asana.

In terms of fundamental philosophy and key methodology, Anusara yoga and Iyengar Yoga are distinctly different.

5. FALSE: Anusara yoga is a cult around John Friend.

The truth is that Anusara yoga was designed by me to be defined as a kula (close-knit community), not as a guru-oriented yoga school. I consciously named it “Anusara” (“following your Heart”), not “Friend Yoga.”

It is fundamentally composed of a community of yoga teachers and students aligned to the same philosophical vision and principles. The emphasis in Anusara yoga is clearly about community and not about John Friend. The statement that “John has his teachers proselytize” about Anusara yoga is a falsehood. All of our teachers enthusiastically teach the method, and let the results and the students’ direct experience speak for themselves.

Also, the statement that “men and women press hotel-room keys into his (John’s) hands at workshops” is flat-out not true. That has never happened. This statement was not presented to me by the fact-checker for validation, and if so, I would have said, “Hell no!” I would never publicly say that a student has offered me unconditional sex, even it were true, since that kind of Rock Star behavior is not something I support, and it clearly gives the wrong impression of Anusara’s ethics. The other anecdotal references intended to paint a particular picture of my relationship with the Anusara staff and Anusara yoga teachers are also so off the mark that I can only assume that the author may have skewed certain incidents to fit her predetermined assumptions about me and Anusara, or in an attempt to “balance” the story.

Of course, the Times story will have “legs” and will undoubtedly be referenced for a long time to come, which means some of the misrepresentations will be repeated again and again. If you practice Anusara yoga, then simply remain steady in the truth of your own direct experience of our yoga. Do not be swayed by rumors or comments of those that have little knowledge of Anusara yoga. Purely respond to what you know from your own experience of your Heart. In this way, we all represent the voice of our own truths.

Lastly, may we wish all yoga styles blessings of well-being and success. Any increase in yoga is good for the whole planet. All yogis need to unite as a global yoga community. If the yoga schools can not get along in harmony, then how can we expect world peace?!

Please focus on the light of your own teachers and community, and avoid getting involved in conversation about other styles that you know little about. If you have never practiced Anusara yoga before, then tell your local Anusara yoga teacher that you read this blog [on Anusara or elephant], and I will cover your first class as a gift. Then you can make your own opinion.

In any case, may you all be happy and have love in your lives.

Blessings of the Truth,


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