For those new to this situation, we’re talking about this past week’s allegations concerning John Friend and Anusara Yoga.
Introductory questions for Amy. Her letter follows below.
Waylon Lewis: In lieu of an intro by myself, Amy, I thought I’d ask you a few questions to help provide context for our readers. First of all, thanks so much for being among the first senior teachers…I don’t know the proper term…who have resigned to come forward and share your story. What is your intent in sharing the details of your story and why you finally chose to resign?
Amy Ippoliti: Thanks, Waylon. I have actually been doing my best to write something for awhile since my departure from Anusara…but as you can imagine, things have been pretty full for me and my family. I’ve been on the phone non-stop answering calls from students and teachers ever since I left. My intent has always been to help people get a better idea of what is true for me so they can make informed decisions. People asked me for this information, you asked me, Waylon, and it’s overdue.
Waylon Lewis: Well, I appreciate that you’ve expressed concern that you don’t want to hurt anyone, but your letter below actually seems to clarify things. And ultimately what you and our readers care most about serving is the truth. So thanks for being brave and your leadership, and your upaya or skillful means in being the first to come forward in a detailed way, but doing so without hateful agenda.
Amy Ippoliti: I appreciate that, Way. I know it is long…
Waylon Lewis: It is long but in being detailed is actually helpful. It is hard of course but many like myself have (like you, earlier) wanted to wait to know what was going on in the Anusara community and with John specifically before knowing which way to go.
Amy Ippoliti: I get it. This has been such an intense 10 days—things are shattering, falling apart, people are melting down…it is stunning to see how deeply Anusara has been woven into people’s lives and to the point that some people are unraveling.
I just want to try and help. I know John must be in a lot of pain right now having in some way created this mess, but my heart is broken. I can only hope that as people process the impact of this event on their lives, they can put back the pieces in a new and fruitful way with lots of love. I wrote this with no intent to hurt John or anyone still choosing to stand with John in Anusara.
It is simply my truth.
Waylon Lewis: That’s beautiful. Thank you, Amy, for creating true peace—which can only exist with the basis of honesty and respect. Thanks for your letter.
Shedding Some Light.
“Taking back our light from those we’ve projected it onto opens the door to an unimaginable future.” – Debbie Ford
2012 has started out with a bang.
My partner and I began the year in Japan with some of the most memorable trainings of my life only to return to fly to Florida to be with a family member who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Disease has a way of bringing life into perspective, and this was an eye-opener for both of us on what matters most.
Please forgive me for not coming forward sooner with a more detailed narrative regarding my leaving Anusara Yoga.
I feel I owe those who have asked an explanation. Nothing here is meant to be derogatory or to further inflame the situation. I’ve spent much of the past two weeks supporting Anusara teachers and my students who are freaked out, angry, confused, and disconsolate.
This post is long, but I was in Anusara Yoga a long time, and I have a lot to say.
Given the complexity of my issues with John Friend and Anusara Yoga, it’s difficult to point at one particular incident or moment that triggered my awareness that it would be helpful to make my struggle public. I left as late as I did because I clung to hope for change. We had a long history with John, and respected him as much as we had learned to defer to him.
Given the hurt, an initial absence of facts, anger over the unavailability of information, and confusion in the Anusara community at this time, I want the important portions of my story to be shared. Why are so many teachers leaving and what has caused these rifts?
Most people look at Anusara as a yoga school. Then on a bit closer examination it appears as either a cult–that being the negative perception from afar, or as a way of life–casting it in an affirming light. Those who practice with varying commitments often admire their teachers, and so Anusara becomes part of their relationship to a larger yoga lifestyle. In the trenches, others, especially teachers, have wrapped their socio-spiritual identities into Anusara and made it a central force in their lives as well as a method for making a living.
Those that are the closest and been there longest have many more things to say…
In a nutshell, Anusara is comprised of a collective of teachers, but only one man takes credit. The school did not develop in a vacuum, and did not fully evolve through one person’s guidance. Like a living entity, Anusara has survived and flourished through the power of its community, and the ability of its many teachers to adapt in their respective settings. Did John Friend conceive Anusara? Yes. Did it evolve to its current state solely because of his guidance? No.
Some assume that John was my only teacher. That’s not the case. I have studied and collaborated with many teachers, and their teaching also flows in my veins. My students have always received a synthesis of what I know.
I will never regret my education in hatha yoga from John. If I teach asana well today, much of that can be attributed to the process I went through with him to earn the Anusara certificate that hangs on my wall. Being connected to John Friend and his magnetic personality introduced me to great beings and teachers I am proud to know, and so fortunate to have in my life.
John created a revolutionary hatha yoga system.
I have put the majority of my adult years into Anusara, sacrificed financially, sacrificed time away from my family, volunteered time serving on committees, and enthusiastically brought many, many students and teachers into the organization. In short, I’m not unlike dozens of other teachers who have made their own contributions. Those who know my work can attest to the endurance of my commitment.
Why did I leave?
Each individual reaches her or his tipping point—mine occurred on January 24th.
I have been struggling for a while, and almost left with Elena Brower. I just wanted to give John one more chance. I spoke to him directly for hours in meetings and on calls this past December. I worked tirelessly with Anusara to come to a workable resolution, and as I shared with John directly, I was appreciative of his efforts to try to make things work.
I’m stubborn when it comes to close relationships—I will stick around ’til the last shard of hope shatters. I did not leave earlier because I remained hopeful. Then I realized:
Sometimes the way to hold someone accountable is by not enabling their behavior any longer. Sometimes the kindest thing to do is to walk away.
Even though they might plead, cry, promise to change, pretend to listen or be convinced that all is well, I have lived long enough to know not to listen to words but to hold people accountable for their actions.
The past two years have been my most challenging.
Christina Sell and I were chosen to convey feedback to John that we had gathered at a dinner during the 2010 certified teachers gathering. John’s personal party habits were interfering with his teaching, his teaching was erratic, his behavior suggested he was using drugs, and concerns were expressed about his dating women who were students and employees.
John asked me privately to offer my opinion about his teaching at the gathering.
I told him in candor that I’d seen him teach better. Boom. He disagreed, and told me that I was alone in my opinion: that his teaching was better than ever. John started a crusade to prove me wrong. He portrayed my actions to others in ways to discredit me. I felt compelled to ask Christina and other colleagues to vouch for me in emails to John, so that I might regain his “good graces.” This was hurtful, and like any family member, I coped and longed still to love.
The politics of jockeying for favor became irrelevant when his assistant, Wendy, told me that production on products I had started with the Anusara team had been pulled because John was upset with me for a failure to align with his teaching.
My experience of teaching in Japan shifted in 2007.
During one of my workshops my then-husband started an affair with my host, the studio owner of Studio Yoggy. Our personal estrangement became professional, since this studio was the main source for Anusara in Japan. Four years later, after my students encouraged me to return, I returned to a different studio. I agreed to use this venue as an anchor for a group of trainings in other parts of Asia.
What I didn’t know was that John was involved in an exclusive agreement for Anusara with Studio Yoggy for any and all Anusara trainings in Japan. (He also dissimulated on three occasions to me directly about the nature of this agreement.)
This proved problematic for a number of reasons:
1. Teachers can teach anytime and anywhere they choose, they are not employees of Anusara (i.e., the organization does not have a right to enter an agreement on the behalf of independent yoga teachers);
2. Anusara opted to intervene to cancel my training in Japan since I failed to follow “protocol” that restricts teaching. The organization, however, has no legal right to control or restrict business.
3. Anusara would not “approve” my training because of their exclusive relationship with Studio Yoggy. This impacted not only me professionally but punished the students eager to study yoga.
4. John declined to consider the fact that the owner of Studio Yoggy’s refusal to allow my training was personal.
5. In conclusion: Anusara cannot control when and where a teacher works; its agreement with Studio Yoggy was rendered unenforceable.
6. Having canceled my August training, along with the rest of my Asia trip, Anusara’s influence placed my staff’s resources in a bind, and once again some 30 students were impacted since they blocked out time to attend this training.
7. Because Studio Yoggy had placed so many restrictions on progress for training in Japan, and students were so tired of being charged upwards of $7,000 for 100-hour trainings at Studio Yoggy, the Japan teachers came forward to John and spoke out. He finally acquiesced and opened the doors for our teacher training. Despite abandoning our family, we did make up the training over Thanksgiving, but had to teach one week at a time instead of the two initial weeks in a row we had planned resulting in not two but three trainings in Japan in a six-month period that created inconvenience for everyone (students and hosts).
8. It took way too much energy and effort throughout this episode to be able to simply teach yoga and serve students hungry for training. I suffered, my students suffered, and my staff suffered…seems like teaching yoga should be a lot easier..!
9. Where was my teacher in all this? John did not stand up for me, though I was loyal to him for 14 years. He knew that my teaching in Japan was an uphill battle, given my history with the owner of Studio Yoggy.
10. Not only was I blamed for not following “protocol” in Japan, my media products that had been waiting at Anusara for the past four years were intentionally delayed further since I was not being “cooperative.”
From John Friend: “However, when I felt that you were not being cooperative about the Japan situation I did not want to move ahead with your products.”
John heard me out and apologized for some of the restrictions in Japan after being told that it was improper for him to restrict when/where a person could do business. But this was the second time the products I had conceived (meant to be of service to the yoga community) were withheld from production intentionally as admonishment.
Much ado has been made about doing products with Anusara and how the 10% royalty is not a big deal. Actually—I really don’t mind that Anusara wants money. I told John that raising dues would be a great alternative way to raise capital for the organization instantly rather than wasting time and money on policing Anusara teachers for 10% on their books or DVDs sales.
John claims that because of the distribution Anusara offers, that the 10% more than covers the added promotion. There are some problems with this:
- As you can see from above…my products have sat in limbo for four years at Anusara and have been punitively restricted based on John’s view of my lack of cooperation.
- Delays on approval on products from John have resulted in the materials getting ‘dated’ and prevented access for the students for whom the materials were designed to benefit.
- John Friend attempted to force Darren Rhodes out of Anusara Yoga for making the book Yoga Resource independently. For months John and several others pressured Darren to make Yoga Resource an Anusara Yoga product. Darren refused because he no longer trusted John. John then forwarded the Anusara ethics committee a letter for review that would strip Darren of his affiliation ASAP with Anusara. The next day Darren resigned due to the irreconcilable differences between him and John.
- The organization benefits from the Anusara name being propagated in media products. Most companies pay teachers or sponsor them to spread their name, but Anusara is taxing their teachers.
- According to the legal advice I received, the organization can’t and should not unilaterally change the terms of any agreement after the fact…none of this was disclosed to me 12 years ago when I got my certification. A lot is invested in becoming a certified teacher. Harvard or any other institution of higher learning does not tell its graduates what they can or can’t do…and they don’t demand a cut of the earnings you gain from written/media materials. You already paid for your education. We are yoga teachers with a certification…we are not employees, robots, or franchisees of an organization.
I did my due diligence by consulting with different attorneys on the Anusara Licensing agreement. I know of very few certified Anusara teachers who have actually read the agreement or had it reviewed by attorneys before signing. All I can say is: read it if you have not, understand it, and know what you’re getting into.
When I pointed these concerns out to John, Anusara offered to enter into negotiation for a special contract exempting me from the “one size fits all contract.” This was thoughtful; however, it came with certain terms of sharing some of my assets for Anusara (e.g. contact list and exclusivity to Anusara, etc.) More importantly, I could not in good conscience sign something that my peers or students would not be privy too, nor could I stand by while other colleagues would be treated differently.
We were programmed to protect the Anusara ‘brand’ and ‘technology.’ We were also held to a high ethical standard. So I challenged John in December regarding the brand secondary to many rumors and allegations regarding his personal conduct. These rumors increased in frequency to such a degree that it was disrupting my trainings. Students were coming to me with concerns about his conduct. I had no firsthand or direct knowledge of his behavior, so I found myself apologizing for John.
Once again, I asked John directly about the rumors, and he denied them all. He lied to me. I told him that if I continued to hear these reports, it would only detract from the brand he holds so highly. I stressed that I have no interest in staying or apologizing for him if these ‘rumors’ were to persist. They continued, and this time broke his own ethical standards – standards that the rest of us are held to so highly by him. Clearly, these rumors proved to be true—and more.
We all knew John was dating his employees and students. I called him out on that only when I saw it becoming a pattern in which the dynamics of power brought into question issues of consensuality. In fact, at one point, he changed the ethics code in the teacher training manual to make it more permissible for teacher-student romantic relationships.
I am all for alignment and cooperation. However, Anusara never disclosed in our agreements that we had to follow certain protocols, always agree with John, or conduct business a certain way prior to any training to be certified in the method. When challenged on rules or protocols, John would call us “uncooperative”.
There was a blurring between best business practices and the teacher-student relationship. On the one hand we were held to business controls and standards when convenient, and then those rules would change and be broken which John seemed to justify by being the leader of the kula. So I asked to keep communications regarding business separate from our student-teacher relationship in order to keep the two clear.
However, John replied:
“To be very clear, I hold the position that a teacher can not be disrespectful to me or not aligned with me and still be licensed to do business as an Anusara yoga teacher. I am both the CEO of Anusara and the leader of the kula, and my ethics in both arenas are the same.”
In other words, if he opted to unilaterally install a rule (even if it ran afoul of his own licensing agreement) you would be considered disrespectful if you pointed out this fact. This lack of disclosure and subsequent expectation for compliance to ‘protocol’ was not only restrictive, but set the stage for many disappointments and ‘in fighting’ in the community.
The organization’s solution in response to these grievances (from me and others) was to form a business committee. I was not encouraged.
It was an honor (at first) to be asked to chair committees and serve the organization. I spent countless hours to help move the brand forward, only to have our recommendations and comments fall on deaf ears. It’s not surprising that new committees were formed with the idea that they might have power.
Here is the vicious cycle of being on a committee in the Anusara organization.
- John forms a committee.
- The committee may or not have the expertise to handle the task.
- The committee member works tirelessly for free, creates a body of work or gives a recommendation.
- John does what he wants anyway.
- The committee member gets exhausted and gives up.
- John claims he had committee support or that he gave members a chance to contribute.
The yoga world is advancing at a rapid pace. When John “invented” Shiva-Shakti tantra, the implications were apparent. Instead of holding an open forum of yoga where diverse spiritualities were welcomed, John began to insist on further “alignment,” meaning we had to buy into his philosophy. The Anusara community became increasingly insular and isolated.
This is not how we began.
The Anusara agenda has changed, and is now in my estimation informed by the following points:
- Self-rationalization of behaviors toward the world
- Unresponsive to the world as a whole
- Establishing its owns rules, standards, and patterns
- Disconnection from society
- Required submission to the group versus truly welcoming input
- Belief in a healthy self-awareness when isolation is self-confirmation
- Unquestioning acquiescence: following blindly
- Submission and unconditional loyalty under the guise of gratitude, grace, and “studentship”
- People unwilling to be in “alignment” are marginalized within the organization and eventually excluded.
So there comes a point where you have to say “no,” both inwardly and with all the consequences that will follow from a public disavowal.
I can hardly be a role model for students, teachers, or the yoga world if I compromise my values and fail to convey my honest experience.
This is a sad, tragic story. But my choice to leave was a refusal to enable John to continue operating in unhealthy ways. One’s conscience demands that we recognize when complicity compromises our simple sense of decency.
Yoga teaches us to forgive, but it also teaches us to discern.
I’ve learned that to forgive too soon is to exacerbate the problem.
I will be part of the larger yoga community that includes the teachers and students of Anusara. We are members of the same family. If you’re feeling confused or concerned, reach out! Talk to your friends and do the work that you need to empower your understanding.