February 21, 2012

A Plea for Balance & Compassion.

To all of us who have been commenting on the “Anusaragate” scandal:

Hi, I’m Benjy Wertheimer.

In the interest of disclosure, I have been connected to Anusara since 2000, and toured with John for years, playing live music for dozens of his events.

Thus one might say I am a member of the group “they” or “them.” I would probably fall somewhere between the cracks of the groups described by Elena – I had some of my own difficulties with John, concerns about the “detox/retox” phenomenon I saw (especially in recent years), yet was not close enough to see (and, in fairness, not open-eyed enough to discern) many of the highly questionable inner workings of John Friend and Anusara as they are now coming to light.

I am not beholden to Anusara or any particular system of Hatha yoga practice. I do think, from watching thousands of practitioners experience a great deal of benefit over the years, that the fundamentals of the Hatha yoga system of Anusara are really extraordinary and it would be extremely sad (and unnecessarily destructive) to “throw the baby out with the bath water” in the wake of this scandal.

And I want to make clear that I do not say this to disparage any other system of Hatha yoga practice out there. I think it is great to be alive at a time (and in a culture) where people have a wide range of systems to choose from, and to find an approach that resonates with us the most deeply.

As I said in my recent elephant post “An Open Letter to the Anusara Community,”

“I do hope there will be a forum in the not-too-distant future where the allegations can publicly be put forward succinctly, clearly and in as unbiased a way as possible (understanding that the charges cover very difficult terrain, spiritually and emotionally), and that John would be given the opportunity to fully and honestly respond to each and every one of them. In the meantime, it is not my place to stand in judgment. “

All that said, it saddens me greatly to see the labeling, ad hominem attacks, and generally vitriolic tone emerging from much of this discussion (on Huffington Post as well as elephant). I want to know the truth of the situation as much as anyone, yet it saddens me that many of the comments are feeding what I feel is one of the greatest enemies humans face: polarization.

As an example, these excerpted comments disturbed me greatly:

“emotionally retarded, over-priveledged (sic) white women who also happen to be “life-coaches” who teach “yoga”.”

“…these people were just insider rats who started deserting the sinking ship when they felt the stinking bilge-water rise to their knees?

This whole thing is disgusting.

And yet on their FB group pages, they just continue to stroke and back-pat one another, love love love, stroke stroke stroke.


(A note here: I would encourage thinking about the people on the FB group pages as humanly fallible, complex, and often confused people reaching out to one another in a very painful time–can’t we grant that much to each other?)

“mealy-mouthed and disingenuine (sic). She needs a good de-programmer.”

“Fuzzy, weird, narcississtic, intellectually flabbly (sic), untrustworthy people.”

“I think we have a pretty good idea what kind a person Ms. Elena is !”

“I don’t think it’s “we.” It’s THEY. I had know (sic) part in this, and many many did not. THEY put Anusara and JF up on a pedestal and demonized anyone who dare criticize. Now, When people rightfully criticize people’s ACTIONS, we’re accused of demonizing them, b/c that’s the long-standing black-and-white thinking within the culture.”

(Another note here: I agree that there has been–and likely still is–a lot of black-and-white thinking in Anusara, and I will be overjoyed to see that change.)

“What a spoiled brat sense of entitlement.

The AY folks need to grow and and (sic) learn to face the fires they’ve started.”

Please, folks. It’s not “us” and “them.” A lot of people–inside and outside of any particular connection to Anusara–are hurting a lot. We aren’t going to bring this to a more satisfying conclusion by labeling or demonizing one another. Yes, I think it’s critical to rethink the black-and-white model that was fostered in Anusara. Yes, it’s very important to get at the truth – leaving no stone unturned in the process.

And healthy, honest disagreement will definitely play a huge role in facilitating this quest.

But just as important–to me–is that we do so with balance, compassion and a recognition of our common membership in the larger human family. May we reach out to one another with a level of compassion that matches our intense desire to get at the truth.

With love and respect to all of us in this discussion,

Benjy Wertheimer


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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