What elephant journal Did Right [on the Anusara “Situation.” ~ Vivian Zalvidea Araullo

Via elephant journal
on Nov 8, 2011
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The sudden and public resignation this past week of some yoga teachers from the Anusara system shocked observers of the yoga scene.

It appears that YogaDork broke the story, and if that is correct, then kudos goes to her.

Even if I had initially dismissed the story as just another tempest in a teacup, jaded as I am by all the petty infighting in the yoga world (“My yoga is better than your yoga, Your yoga is not as spiritual as my yoga” etc., ad nauseam), this story kept tugging at my journalist instincts.

Here’s why: Yoga-generated revenue is expected to hit a whopping $3.3 billion in 2011, a conservative estimate reported by IBIS World Market research. It’s an industry that is still going strong even during an economic downturn, fueled by an estimated 16 million Americans.

Anusara Founder John Friend, dubbed the “Yoga Mogul” by the New York Times, is making lots of moolah thanks to seekers trusting him and his system to guide them to health, peace, maybe even spirituality and a sense of purpose.

If he’s won the trust of hundreds of thousands (by his own count), why then are some of his top teachers publicly deserting him? Even if the resignation letter was full of hearts and flowers, as yoga-speak tends to go, the fact is, it was one big spectacle bound to cause Friend pain and embarrassment. As one twitter observer asked, “Couldn’t this have just be done internally?” Indeed.

The whole thing had passive-aggressive written all over it. Something’s not quite right. Heck yeah, this is a story.

That’s when elephant journal showed its journo chops. It did its best to get the whole story.

After the public resignation story, elephant ran an open letter from another top Anusara teacher, a type of statement that people in the PR world might call “damage control.” With a lot of yoga-speak (unity, love, peace, unfolding mystery this and that, etc.), the well-meaning yoga teacher was essentially telling everyone in a nice way that they were all just gossiping and to shut up.

Really? You have famous teachers dumping their famous guru in public and talking about it is just gossip? Give us the truth! Or, if you want to say it in yoga-speak: satya (truth) is one of the yamas (ethical disciplines of yoga). It is yogic to seek and give the truth of the situation.

Enter elephant, seeking satya and scoring a real scoop: John Friend gives his side of the story.

In the transcript of the interview, I must say elephant had some alarming moments of sounding like a Friend apologist. I rolled my eyes at that poem-slash-farewell statement dedicated to the dumpers that elephant managed to fish out of the dumpee. Maudlin, but elephant’s market is probably poetry-reading types…so I guess that’s fine.

Did Friend give good enough answers? That should be left to the reader’s judgment. Were the questions hard enough? Yes, there were some tough ones in there, but elephant could have drilled down even harder.

elephant could have asked Friend about his recent venture with Manduka mats and how that benefits himself, his community, or the world in general in a spiritual and financial way.

In a way, Friend answered that question in his commercial for the mats, where he said: “You can certainly have an inner opening by a piece of rubber on your floor. Everything about this mat will lead to the very essence of heart.”

Any sane yogi knows the yogic path need not be lined with rubber mats.

While it is perfectly acceptable for a yoga leader to try and make a good living, aren’t they supposed to be held up to higher yogic standards? When does “making a good living” cross the line and possibly violate aparigraha? (Aparigraha, another yama, is non-covetousness, absence of greed for possessions beyond one’s need). Could this have been one of those dharmic reasons why the teachers publicly severed ties with Friend? Ah well. Just asking.

However, any critique of elephant’s interview is drowned out by the fact that it exercised due diligence and got the whole story as well as it could. It was first to fill the information vacuum, post-resignation, that was causing all the talk and speculation. It provided more than adequate coverage, that provoked (mostly) constructive, genuine, respectful thought and discussion. That’s the true job of journalism, and I admire good work when I see it.

Let me disclose that I am a supporter of elephant journal (I believe I give a paltry yearly sum) and am currently enrolled in advanced studies in the Iyengar yoga system, where I am the class laggard.

Yoga is no longer some fringe activity. It creates jobs, helps drive the economy and can make some savvy people wealthy. The people that lead this industry/business sector/spiritual movement/practice—or whatever you want to call it—need closer scrutiny on the financial and ethical fronts. Like any multi-billion dollar industry riding on the trust and pocketbooks of the public, it’s prone to abuse. So please look at it closely. Ask some hard questions, just like elephant did on the Anusara situation.

And please, before you drink that kombucha, make sure it’s not just Kool-Aid.


A journalist for more than 20 years, Vivian’s reporting has spurred legislation, triggered the dismissal of cabinet officials, disqualified a political candidate, exposed a paramilitary cult, and wreaked other similar types of mayhem in the Philippines that eventually earned her a death threat. She is currently head of news production and executive news producer of the North America news production group of ABS-CBN, a TV network with headquarters in Manila, the Philippines. She and her group recently won two Tellys, an industry award that honors the very best local, regional, and cable television commercials and programs. She’s worked for ABC News, Japanese broadcasting giant NHK, CBS in San Francisco, and is now trying to land a volunteer gig as a yoga teacher.



About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive.


22 Responses to “What elephant journal Did Right [on the Anusara “Situation.” ~ Vivian Zalvidea Araullo”

  1. Dana says:

    I was all the way with you Vivian on until you started defending Elephant Journal. John Friend tried to use this platform as an excuse for why those people abandoned him. Remember Elephant Journal is just a way to make Waylon his mortgage. I’m surprised that someone like John would agree to post here.

  2. Vision_Quest2 says:

    I am waiting with bated breath for the documentary to come out on this … with a title such as Kula Unbound …

  3. JRM says:

    This is getting silly.

  4. elephantjournal says:

    Seriously: are you criticizing me for trying to pay my mortgage through my employment?

    Don't we all try and do that? You know I've paid myself so little over the past 3.5 years that I nearly lost my house, where we also work? That I continue dealing with anonymous comments such as yours out of devotion to trying to be of benefit, which the world needs (How many independent media forces focus on GMOs, yoga, meditation, compassion, bicycling, family, politics from a come-together society pov…). By living downtown I was able to get rid of car, biking 365 days/year, saving money and environment a bit: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/11/the-true-c

    Sorry, if you're saying publishing a magazine and then killing it so we could go online, paperless…as I did 3.5 years ago…and that this online publication is a good way to make money…please check yourself, reconsider.

    Running a new media web site is probably one of the dumbest ways to try and make a good living. That we're still in business, without any funding, is a testament to my willingness never to take off and, far more, to the volunteers who've come forward out of inspiration to support the growth of our mission: to be of benefit.

    I've made an average of $20K over the last 9 years (not that it's any of your business—I don't ask how much you make, how much you work, what you do). I reluctantly decided to put elephant magazine out of business rather than sell out, when it was national, I owned 100%, and could have sold it for millions (yes, I had offers). I would think you'd applaud that. I would think you'd applaud our striving to walk our eco talk as a print publication to the point where we were willing to go out of business…and then to walk our talk as an independent media force. We went online in order to be more eco, as we've explained more fully in other articles.

    And, last I checked, that's the reason most of us work, financially-speaking, to pay for food, family, and yes, mortgages.

    Again, I asked John various critical questions, unlike any other publication I've read, and though yes I do like and respect him (as well as Elena, Darren…), any genuine friendship involves critical questions as well as affection. I don't see a conflict between the two, and John to his credit was wide open about talking about any question or concern.


  5. This is getting really tiresome. Does anyone leave comments on the NY Times website criticizing Jill Abramson for wanting to pay her bills on time? If you have thoughts –pro or con– about the article, cool, share away! But random criticism of Waylon for wanting to make a living? Really? What does that have to do with the post?

  6. Mary Beth says:

    Waylon knows exactly how he is misleading his readers in supporting his lie about paying the writers here. You are just the latest in the line of Waylon enablers.

  7. Ben says:

    "could have sold it for millions" You truly are delusional.

  8. elephantjournal says:

    It was a national magazine, and yes we had offers. But you can call me whatever you like.

  9. elephantjournal says:

    As soon as we can get our ecosystem, as I'm calling it, going, I'll be happy to tell the lie to your accusation of my telling the lie? Problem? Ironically, we're broke.

    Just wondering: why do you read elephant, if you hate it and suspect me of my intentions, so much? ~ Waylon

  10. Well, I am "one of the writers," happily enjoying the forum elephant provides for my writing. If that makes me an "enabler" I guess I can live with that. Did you have any actual comment about this post? Or were you just hanging out in case someone had a positive comment about Waylon or elephant journal so you could tear it down?

  11. Ironically at the workshop I took with John Friend last weekend he talked of how he doesn't' even need a mat to practice…cement works for him. So why is he selling a massive mat???

  12. elephantjournal says:

    Manduka was created by a gent and a yogi, Peter Sterios, and has offered among the most "eco-responsible" mats out there. I don't know how many mats are bought each year, and later tossed…but Manduka lasts a long time, and is relatively eco as far as I know…so not really sure why it's wrong to sell a mat. And, as with climbing shoes etc, it helps to have an athlete or practitioner participate in the design of said process, so that their experience works to our benefit if we use said mat.

    That said, I practice at home on the floor, works for me. ~ Waylon

  13. Andréa Balt says:

    LOL. "Waylon enabler". Maybe Mary Beth wishes to be one too. Just send your meanie-greenie article to Elephant. It's that easy.

    You haters, we don't write to get paid. We write because words are eating us up inside. We don't care what Waylon does or doesn't do with his money. I don't understand this type of comments. What did the man do exactly? What are you accusing him of? Saying that he wants to pay his writers is not like saying that IS paying his writers. You might as well accuse him of NOT saving the world if he said he wanted to.

    From the tone of some comments it sounds like he could be a vampire sucking all our blood through… our words?

    If only all vampires could provide a platform for us to tell our story and connect with others.

    Why does money always come up in any controversial article? Why is your head shaped like a $ sign?

  14. Kate Bartolotta says:

    Love you Andrea! Xoxo

  15. I'm not questioning Manduka, as I have two of their mats and love them, however I am more questioning John Friend's selling points on the mat and why we really need a wider one especially in light of his comments.

  16. elephantjournal says:

    Well, there's two things here. One is JF's endorsement, which you've covered above, and one is the eKo, mat, which is not PVC (other companies have similarly eco mats, but not sure they last so long). We've had a good experience with the eKo. PVC mats are horrrrrrible for the environment—"no on vinyl, and that's final" as Umbra of Grist says—and horrible for us, particularly children. So yes, I'm a big supporter of more eco mats. That doesn't mean it's better to toss your current (PVC) mat to get an eKo—but it might be better to give your PVC away or donate it, and support an eco mat. The PVC mat will, as you say, essentially last forever—even when it breaks down, it'll keep causing havoc for us and our environment.



  17. elephantjournal says:

    My amazing single mother was the OG Waylon enabler—though she was big into discipline, too.

  18. That's what moms are for! I think you should put that on a t-shirt for her!

  19. I'm not sure either. But I don't think yoga teachers/leaders endorsing products they believe in is necessarily a bad thing as long as they are honest about it.

  20. Jason Gan says:

    OK, I had to view the YouTube video to bring some context to what is said. For those interested, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVm1OpLrAfc

    I find the video to be wrong on a few levels, even though I really love the Manduka BlackPro mat, and I would recommend it for Hot Vinyasa Yoga, as it prevents slipping, and it will never need replacing, so you save money and the environment in the long run. The video was probably intended to be funny but I didn't find it funny, because it looks like selling Apple Computers…
    Most of the time I practice sans mat, on hard floor. Traditional.

  21. Vivian Z. Araullo says:

    i own a manduka mat too. none of my teachers ever told me that i needed to buy a manduka, i just did because i was at that time into that kind of stuff–the manduka being the "cadillac of mats" as per its marketing. i've had my teacher say in class one day " "some of us are so attached to our mats as if they were a magic carpet that coud bring us special powers." that hit me straight in the heart–i experienced "an inner opening" in john friend speak–except it was a realization that the mat does not matter. i took one step away from being attached to things–something that we want to learn in the yogic path. why then is a giant famous yoga guru leading people in the opposite direction? makiing them more ATTACHED to something that does not matter? anyways, i now realize practicing on a bare floor is way better.

  22. Vivian Z. Araullo says:

    yeah me too. product endorsements are ok. now, the part about being honest–i really didn't see friend's sales pitch as honest…i have a post below explaining why not.