Anusara Teachers’ exodus.

Via Walk The Talk Show
on Feb 12, 2012
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A conversation with Bernadette Birney: on Anusara, Authority, Dissolution & Creation.

An inside view of a bumpy path.

The below wet-ink conversation with Bernadette Birney concerns “the John Friend / Anusara yoga situation.”

Bernadette is an Anusara yoga teacher, and announced her resignation just today. Her letter, and (a senior Anusara yoga teacher) Noah Mazé’s letter, are at the bottom here (shared by direct permission).

We just did this conversation via skype. I’ll leave the time stamp in, and BB doesn’t like to cap stuff…but in the interest of getting this up quickly, here ’tis.

It’s all rather raw, both grammar-wise and heart-wise.

~ Waylon Lewis, ed.

Bernadette Birney: what a day. what a week.

Waylon Lewis: Yah, hard to know what to say. I’m not even really involved as are you and so many others and yet I’m burned out and continually a little sad, depressed, about stuff.

bernadette birney: yeah, i know what you mean.

[2/12/12 4:10:55 PM] Waylon Lewis: I think everyone out there who isn’t like you or other teachers in the know just wants to know something basic: what’s been going on over the last day? Tons more teachers seem to be leaving.

[2/12/12 4:12:18 PM] bernadette birney: Well, I believe that John Friend teaching at “The Dharma of Relationship” was just too much. I know that it was for me. Many of us were working to prevent that from happening.

[2/12/12 4:12:40 PM] Waylon Lewis: Clearly. But he agreed not to teach that, right?

[2/12/12 4:12:47 PM] bernadette birney: No.

[2/12/12 4:12:56 PM] Waylon Lewis: Oh.

[2/12/12 4:13:01 PM] bernadette birney: He insisted on teaching asana at the event.

[2/12/12 4:13:05 PM] Waylon Lewis: That’s nervy.

[2/12/12 4:13:14 PM] bernadette birney: Yeah.

[2/12/12 4:13:16 PM] Waylon Lewis: Oh I heard he wanted to teach asana but not the lecture aspect.

It’s probably hard to unplug from being loved and go off, as he’d said he would do, and practice and work on himself. So even if the feedback he’s getting is critical, that’s a positive for him–clearly he seems to need a push to work on himself.

[2/12/12 4:14:30 PM] bernadette birney: Yes, I believe that’s true. It was entirely inappropriate for JF to be teaching anything to anyone at this time. He needs to take a sabbatical and get help. I had great hopes that we could help him and the community but he wouldn’t let us, and ultimately we had no power

[2/12/12 4:14:52 PM] Waylon Lewis: So is there reallllly room within Anusara for you all to take the reins

[2/12/12 4:14:57 PM] bernadette birney: no

[2/12/12 4:15:01 PM] Waylon Lewis: It seems like no: many of you have decided to leave and form a new tribe? I mean you all have been so closely knit.

[2/12/12 4:15:46 PM] bernadette birney: I had hopes that we would actually be able to reform from within, but the Interim Committee was impotent. JF owns the corporation and invested no power in the committee. I do have hopes of aligning to become a part of something that is greater than just me.

[2/12/12 4:16:36 PM] Waylon Lewis: Well, you’re pretty great.

What I’ve been primarily interested in, here, having seen this sexual craving play out with varous spiritual teachers and yoga teachers over the years is how can the Anusara community and more generally the greater yoga community and more generally the greater “mindful” community, spiritual communities, learn from this?

(If we don’t learn from this, history tells us we’ll repeat this)

[2/12/12 4:18:28 PM] bernadette birney: Well, I actually have an answer. We must turn away from the guru model that still dominates in many yoga traditions.

We must learn how to invest in our own power and authority rather than conferring it onto the teacher.

Yoga is always about power. An unethical teacher misappropriates power. A good teacher gives it back to you. And that applies to every kind of misuse of power, not just sexual.

[2/12/12 4:20:24 PM] Waylon Lewis: Yes! Love that. Right on…Beautifully put.

Hold on for a sec, it’s 4:20

Sorry, joke in poor taste considering the various allegations.

[2/12/12 4:21:39 PM] bernadette birney: i don’t offend easily. (:

Waylon Lewis: And the guru model isn’t the whole root of the problem. As you say it’s about seeing the guru (or wisdom, goodness generally) within. We are not fundamentally lacking, and the guru or teacher is not fundamentally perfect.

[2/12/12 4:23:11 PM] bernadette birney:

One of the things I’ve observed is that I have been a part of a community that keeps quiet. We are have been so busy conferring authority onto JF that we forgot our ability to use our voices.

[2/12/12 4:23:26 PM] Waylon Lewis: I’ve been meaning to write about my view of this matter, since some group of our readers seem to mistake my interest in not attacking but being clear on what is wrong and how to go forward and improve as support for John.

[2/12/12 4:23:44 PM] bernadette birney: No, no teacher or human is going to be perfect–not even the one within!

[2/12/12 4:23:56 PM] Waylon Lewis: Exactly. Anusara and many other communites are rather worshipful, dumbed down by the charm or charisma of their leader instead of awakened and inspired by it.

[2/12/12 4:24:18 PM] bernadette birney: My problem with JF wasn’t that he was human–it was the lack of transparency, and the fact that his actions did not reflect his remorse.

[2/12/12 4:25:06 PM] Waylon Lewis: Exactly. But you’re rather mature. I think many made the mistake of putting him on a pedestal. We have to stop doing that to our teachers. Every yoga conference I go to, I see a lot of dumbed down worshipful googly eyes aimed at every celeb yogi.

Transparency and honesty and genuine interest in waking up is vital. We have to look for teachers like that—and even then we don’t worship them. From the Buddhist pov, the root of the problem here is theism. Buddhist talks a lot about non-theism. And it’s useful teachings, since Buddhists like everyone else are suckers for rock star spirituality.

[2/12/12 4:25:25 PM] bernadette birney: As a community, after jfexposed, we needed to clean the wound, dress the wound, heal the wound. Instead, too many people wanted to sit around singing kumbaya, sending love and light.

[2/12/12 4:27:10 PM] Waylon Lewis: …and, too many wanted to attack the wound and throw salt on it.

Neither approach—defensiveness/ignorance or blame/anger helps heal a wound. At all.

{} Bernadette: They did not get that we needed to hold JF accountable for his actions, for his own good, and for ours. Compassion is not always warm, fuzzy and cuddly.

{} Waylon: Yes! Tough mother love is anything but warm, fuzzy, cuddly, just ask my ma!

[2/12/12 4:27:35 PM] bernadette birney: Yes, it’s prevalent in the community, and I get it. Who hasn’t at some time or other just wished that somebody would just tell them what to do?

[2/12/12 4:27:59 PM] Waylon Lewis: Not I, frankly. I always found the atmosphere around the Buddhist teachers I grew up around to be really silly and ridiculous.

[2/12/12 4:28:47 PM] bernadette birney: Well, I am a tortured soul who wishes it every now and then, and then gets really pissed when someone actually dares to tell me what to do. (:

Good on ya for yer good common sense.

[2/12/12 4:30:04 PM] Waylon Lewis: Well in Buddhism we’re trained to disagree with the teacher if his/her advice is stupid or dangerous. And we’re trained to always keep critical intelligence, because that’s what true friendship/loyalty/devotion looks like.

That said again we’re trained in all that because we fuck up devotion and get theistic like everyone else…it’s human nature. Heroes are easy to put up on pedestals. And then we tear them down, like it’s their fault they aren’t perfect.

John was never perfect.

[2/12/12 4:32:08 PM] bernadette birney: That is very much in keeping with the tradition in which I am reared. To be perfectly honest, although I have loved and admired JF, the teacher of my heart, my true teacher, has always been Douglas Brooks–who adamantly refuses to sit above his students, and instead raises the bar on the conversation among friends.

John was never perfect. I don’t fault him for that.

[2/12/12 4:32:49 PM] Waylon Lewis: But let’s not transfer our idolization to anyone. We can study with masters like Brooks without looking up to them.

[2/12/12 4:33:01 PM] bernadette birney: I fault him for fucking it up so royally after he fucked it up.

[2/12/12 4:33:07 PM] Waylon Lewis: Yes! I was just im’ing with Jeannie Page who I respect and often disagree with (and she’s always right in those cases, seriously) and was saying same thing.

I said “I just think if he had been encouraged to open and clarify rather than defend and lawyer up from the beginning this could have been better for all. He could have been a great example of accepting blame, responsibility, and exhibiting enthusiasm for waking up here.”

[2/12/12 4:34:03 PM] bernadette birney: one of the hugest problems in the Anusara organization is that there has only been a one-tiered power structure.

So, when it all blew up, we were all sort of trained to wait for somebody else to fix it because most of us were waiting to be invited into somebody else’s conversation about what to do instead of taking the initiative to generate a conversation ourselves.

[2/12/12 4:36:01 PM] Waylon Lewis: Well this is a great conversation…this is the conversation I wish we could all explore. Non-theism. Protected by our ongoing critical intelligence, dropping hero worship, we can cut the likelihood of future such situations.

[2/12/12 4:36:02 PM] bernadette birney: Yes, you are so right. Instead, there was a lot of silence, and a vacuum of leadership.

Then there was spin.

Then there was huge manipulation of the committee, and a lot of divide and conquer games.

[2/12/12 4:36:17 PM] Waylon Lewis: Yes. It’s felt a bit like politics, instead of spiritual path.

Well so you’re all taking leadership now, so that’s great…a great gift to be forced to accept.

Ironically, the best politics would have been to just warrior up, open his heart and go on retreat.

[2/12/12 4:37:33 PM] bernadette birney: Yes, I sort of stepped up like an unlikely leader, I guess. I was so certain that somebody needed to do something.

He could have come out looking like a hero. He had very good advice from truly brilliant members of our community.

He just wouldn’t take it.

Hey, I’m being really frank with you because I respect your integrity. Thanks for your vote of confidence.

[2/12/12 4:39:54 PM] Waylon Lewis: Well you’ve been who I wanted to talk to, here, you and Noah…

…because it seems like too many of those in the Anusara community, or formerly in the community, have been largely silent.

And then on the outside, too many have been attacking, gossiping, blaming, almost enjoying this.

There have been too few like you who love and respect John but have fundamental obvious problems with what’s happened and are now offering your independent, middle-ground voices. Neither worship / defense or hate / gossip—just personal openness and wisdom. That’s the way to heal this wound and form a new, wiser, independent community.

The blessing of running something like elephant is I get criticized 100 times a month. It’s not fun, and some of the criticism is mean-spirited and full of projection…but most of it serves to wake me up and help me keep elephant on course.

For all of us, our spouses or best friends serve that same purpose. Real friendship is not support. Real friendship is honesty with love behind it, not hate.

[2/12/12 4:41:48 PM] bernadette birney: This whole time, I just went with my gut. I felt some kind of inner guidance the whole way. Maybe there’s actually something to this yoga thing. (:

[2/12/12 4:42:05 PM] Waylon Lewis: Well, you’ve put yourself out there in a sane way and in this context that’s leadership, and I and many others have a longing for some sort of sane touchstone right now, and very little has been offered by anyone.

[2/12/12 4:42:30 PM] bernadette birney: It’s tough, too, in the yoga world where calling for accountability gets condemned as judgement.

[2/12/12 4:42:48 PM] Waylon Lewis: Well there has been a lot of judgment and prejudgment that hasn’t been helpful, or even accurate. Discernment is what we’re all after, as Carol Horton has said.

Going with our gut is the theism-killer…the best way to be non-theistic. Listen to our own wisdom and power. That’s what we all have to emulate and continually remember…or we’ll find ourselves in such a situation once again.

[2/12/12 4:43:52 PM] bernadette birney: i still think that the method is hands down one of the most healing modalities out there.

My teaching is not going to look different tomorrow, you know?

[2/12/12 4:44:29 PM] Waylon Lewis: Hah. I interviewed Katie and she did it to me live on camera. It was intense.

I was a doubter.

[2/12/12 4:44:50 PM] bernadette birney: what, like shoulder loop or something?

[2/12/12 4:45:40 PM] Waylon Lewis: Oh, sorry, I was thinking Byron Katie’s teachings! Too much coffee.

You’re talking about Anusara of course. Yes, I’ve never been attracted to Anusara but I’m sure the teachings attracted so many amazing teachers and students for a reason.

[2/12/12 4:46:55 PM] bernadette birney: oh, she is fantastic. a few months ago i got obsessed with her and disappeared for days into her videos on youtube. she is out there doing really good work.

Yeah, the community is everything to me.

Even resigning was in many ways an offering of love to the community. Do you know what I mean?

Waylon Lewis: Well, Noah and a whole host of others including yourself (we’ll include your letter, and Noah’s, both with direct permission) left today.

How can this leaving be an offering of love to the community, as you say?

Where are we at? How can we heal and go forward, from your pov? What does your gut or wisdom tell you, personally?

[2/12/12 4:49:15 PM] bernadette birney: it was a call to us all not to slide back into unhealthy relationship. that was what i could see happening. The only way forward for the community is for individuals to reclaim their power, and to be unafraid to speak out.

[2/12/12 4:49:57 PM] Waylon Lewis: Yes. Who all left today? I’ve heard of maybe five.

[2/12/12 4:51:58 PM] bernadette birney: let’s see: Noah, Sarah Faircloth, Emma Magenta, Elizabeth Cronise, Lara Demberg Voloto. Some of these teachers are prominent and well respected.

And me, of course.

[Ed’s note: also just now: Michelle Synnestvedt, Anne Libby, Jonathan Shoemaker]

Update: Emma’s letter. “John has demonstrated his unwillingness to take any meaningful responsibility for his actions or work with the community to effect real change.”

[2/12/12 4:53:23 PM] Waylon Lewis: Are there more to come? Or is the next step that the teachers who have left and the community that’s left and the community and teachers who remain will just begin the process of healing, and John will go off and work on himself?

[2/12/12 4:53:34 PM] bernadette birney: oh yes. There will be many more to come.

[2/12/12 4:53:49 PM] Waylon Lewis: Just messaged with Noah, he invited me to share his letter. Everyone’s tired.

Many more teachers and students will leave, you mean?

[2/12/12 4:54:02 PM] bernadette birney: yeah, we’re all really fried. I’ve been in pretty much around the clock contact with a sort of fellowship of teachers for the last week.

[2/12/12 4:54:55 PM] Waylon Lewis: Again I’m not in the Anusara community but just dealing with this and knowing many folks concerned with it a bit has been exhausting…I’ve found meditation, dog walks and friends and baths and exercise, biking to be only saving grace!

[2/12/12 4:56:18 PM] bernadette birney: many more teachers. I don’t know about students, if they will leave Anusara. Mostly, students show up to practice with teachers they really love. My guess is that among students we’ll see more loyalty to individual teachers than to anusara. As opposed to leaving a tradition, they’ll just stay with their teacher.

[2/12/12 4:56:37 PM] Waylon Lewis: Right. Like a hair salon.

[2/12/12 4:56:43 PM] bernadette birney: I’ve turned a lot to friends, and to my practice.

[2/12/12 4:57:07 PM] bernadette birney: Yeah, like a hair salon. At least–i think that’s how it will go.

[2/12/12 4:57:30 PM] Waylon Lewis: Okay. Anything else we shoudl bring up or touch upon?

[2/12/12 4:58:31 PM] bernadette birney: just that it is a potent time. From all the dissolution will come creation.

[2/12/12 5:01:07 PM] Waylon Lewis: Okay. Thanks, BB. Deep (but not worshipful) bow!

[2/12/12 5:02:01 PM] bernadette birney: Ha! Thanks for creating an opportunity to open the conversation wider than it has been. Superduper appreciative of that.

[2/12/12 5:02:45 PM] Waylon Lewis: You bet. Hopefully there’s some point. It seems like I just get hated on lately (I know it’s a vocal minority) for trying to put constructive stuff out there. It’s possible to be constructive and critical, both!

[2/12/12 5:03:31 PM] bernadette birney: Hang tough, baby. It hurts but just keep walking your talk. The world needs more like you.

[2/12/12 5:03:52 PM] Waylon Lewis: Well, I’ll have children soon enough.

Now get outta here…step away from the computer!

 

~

 

Here’s Noah’s letter:

Dear Beloved Anusara Kula,

The time has come for me to transition away from my professional ties to John Friend. In this past week of sitting on the Interim Committee and devoting countless hours to a grueling process of attempting to envision Anusara Yoga’s future, I was hit hard by the realization that I simply have no desire for a role in this challenging but hopefully fruitful evolution. I am about to broaden my horizon, and I’m deeply excited to share this news.

I am and will always remain ever grateful for all of the teachings I have received from John Friend, and I wish him only love, and the very best of luck with his personal recovery and professional development. Anusara was founded on solid principles of alignment, and my deepest wish is that these principles will guide the organization and its community members for many years to come. I will dearly miss being in the great company of my beloved Anusara kula. Fortunately though, I will be just around the corner, endeavoring to live the teachings, do my practices, teach and live life with joy, integrity and accountability. I remain a certified Anusara Yoga teacher, despite the fact that I will be surrendering my license. Further, in an effort to serve all of my students who are counting on studying Anusara Yoga with me this year, and those who are enrolled in my programs throughout the world, I will fulfill my obligations to you and offer all scheduled Anusara programming through the end of 2012. These programs and teacher training hours will count for anyone accruing credit to become a licensed Anusara Inspired or Certified teacher; and I will encourage any of my students who endeavor to walk that path.

I am much less interested in drawing the distinctions of yoga methods, and far more interested in the value of what every method and every teacher offers. I am interested in, and more in love than ever, with YOGA!

I will always aspire to keep great company, and am very excited to focus more on collaborating and teaching with my dear friends Christina Sell, Darren Rhodes, Elena Brower and Amy Ippoliti. I will keep you posted about these exciting offerings as we solidify our plans. The upcoming teacher development and Group Mentorship program, Good to Great, will also be a School of Yoga program, which I will offer with Christina Sell, and program hours will also work towards the Yoga Alliance 500 hour registry. Tracy and I have been working for many days and many hours on trying to help the current situation in Anusara. We leave you in the very best hands with the members of the Interim Committee.

I am proud of having been an Anusara teacher for the past decade plus. I am proud of what we have all created. I am so proud of you. I see incredible potential for what all of us can create. I will see you on the mat and in your house online! Live your highest truth, and keep it real.

Respect and with all my heart,

Noah

 

~

Here’s BB’s letter from this morning:

My Resignation Letter

Beloved Friends and Colleagues,

Just Thursday I wrote an open letter in which I urged you not to give up, and not to quit. Today, it is with a heavy heart that I sever my professional ties to John Friend. As for my efforts in achieving the right to the title Certified Anusara Yoga Teacher–they have been honestly earned. I own them. They belong to me.

In the aftermath of the discovery of John Friend’s professional and sexual misconduct, I maintained–right alongside my sense of heartbreak and anger– hope. It was my hope that the Anusara community could rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. It was my hope that we would move from opacity toward transparency. It was my hope that we would move in the direction of a new, healthy, power structure.

It was my hope that we would hold John accountable for abusing our trust when he decided to “heal” his students with “sex therapy”. The lack of a transparent investigation on this topic is troublesome to the extreme. I have conducted my own investigation, and have good reason to believe it is true. I have a high regard for the people who confirmed this for me.They are not yet ready to publicly come forward.

I have gratitude for what I learned from John Friend. I am also clear that the responsibility for my own integrity rests upon my own shoulders.

This signifies the end of my hopes for reform. I have lost confidence in our ability to set and maintain healthy boundaries within the organization. Without our ability to set boundaries, there can be only the façade of change, and no actual change. Following such a course, Anusara yoga will slide back into what I now recognize as deeply engrained, unhealthy habits. This saddens me greatly.

I will continue to teach the Universal Principles with passion. I fully expect that since this is John’s mess, and we are all experiencing the fallout of his poor choices, that Anusara will do the right thing by honoring all of my students’ programming hours.

I will continue to be a presence in the community that I have devoted myself to for over a decade. My ferocious love for you is–and shall remain–a constant.

With love,
Bernadette

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Comments

128 Responses to “Anusara Teachers’ exodus.”

  1. Harleigh Quinn says:

    However yoga is marketed as a way to get in touch with yourself, in touch with your soul, while dance is not. Yoga has a code of ethics, as does aikido, while dance does not.

    Yoga has the 8 limbs, yamas and niyamas, while dance does not.

    In all honesty, due to scandals such as this, among other issues, I feel yoga should not be taught spiritually AT ALL in the United States or anywhere else in the west.

    Egos get in the way, and we, unlike the tibetans, are unable to EVER separate ourselves from ego.

    Even in vipissana (which I actually feel is guided group hypnosis, and will never attend except to obtain my 500hr certificate) ego has been experienced to overtake self introspection.

    Yes, I really do feel that the spirituality aspect should be dropped from it entirely…..

  2. Katie says:

    You know, the funny thing is. When I started Anusara yoga, I didn't like myself, I was overweight, I had pain, I had a terrible marriage, and I was depressed. I just kept going to class. Years later I look at my life, I have no pain, I'm healthier, my marriage is back on track, and I'm a better mom to my kids. I even meditate and practice on my own at home. AND I laughed and cheered and had fun in my yoga classes and workshops. So who lost out? Not me.
    I still think John revealed that he's really and egoic phony baloney in his personal life. That truth sent a bunch of people into a tailspin. It doesn't mean that what I learned from him wasn't true and wasn't helpful because it was. Maybe your'e right, TAH, maybe the truth is that my life changed because I put my whole heart and soul into it. Yoga helped me do it and I had kind teachers (trained by the chief phoney baloney JF himself, go figure) who encouraged it.

    So anusara wasn't a sick system for me in my experience as a student. Maybe it was a sick system for the teachers who were directly involved with JF phoney baloney but that's their own crap to deal with. I've spent over 100 hours in John workshops, I absorbed what I needed and left the hero worship for others.

    I still think spiritual life can be a lot less serious and still be effective. I need to laugh once in a while. Is it so bad to cheer for another person who gets up into handstand for the first time? After my strict religious upbringing I will never go for one of those "serious styles" of yoga/spirituality. If I can't be playful, laugh, cheer, work hard, and turn inward with kind thoughts AND talk about God and spirit… then I'd rather be parasailing.

  3. Pranayam says:

    Oh, so you think he has a personality disorder and is incapable of being honest and incapable of accountability for blatantly wrong behavior.

    Personality disorders really do take a long time to get a handle on. Maybe it's good that she just sever her ties now.
    I don't know about the cancer metaphor it seems like more unnecessary drama to me.

    It's just truth, baby. Can you handle the truth? Or do you freak and turn it into drama?

  4. Jan says:

    I'm baffled by these resignations. It seems to reinforce the whole guru worship theory. They resign thinking that will separate them from John Friend. Is this because they saw their certification as a kind of allegiance to one man rather than to each other? A certified allegiance that can be successfully burned in effigy if he falls?

    Is it just me or does every resignation hurt the students and other teachers just as much as it sends it's intended message to John the man? Aren't the resignations complicating the problem at hand? If you need to move on, do it. Must it happen in a sudden manner? Could you simply have an interview etc. and share that it's something you are considering, then spend time discussing in a meaningful way all the things that you find troubling?

  5. Harleigh Quinn says:

    It seems that the obfuscation of truth is what's in question here, is it not?
    I feel maybe it might be best to identify what the truth, morally, is before stating that something IS the "truth".

    Again, I feel that there is more to the truth that what is being said. He may have violated ethics, but he couldn't have if people did not openly allow him to (openly, as in take him up on his offers, violate their vows, essentially not live in "truth" or "satya", as you put it.

    I am beginning to wonder if you know that satya is. It is only part of the first five of the first limb of the 8 limbs of yoga, per patanjali.

    I suspect the argument that will be returned is that Patanjali is outmoded and does not apply to the modern world.

    Is that the response you will return?

    If one cannot understand the cancer metaphor, and, to be honest, I have no idea where the truth line even applies in this rebuttal, it may be best to reflect before rebutting, then rebutting with clarity and transparency.

  6. Harleigh Quinn says:

    Katie, you are an anomaly.
    I have seen the opposite happen to many due to yoga, anusara or otherwise. I have watched people the previously made progress in interpersonal relations become self absorbed, self deluded, narcissistic, emotional vampires, with aloof attitudes and callous disregard for the result of their actions upon others.

    I am extremely happy that you are an anomaly within an otherwise broken, closed off society (ironic, as it is supposed to join others and make them more open, whether those they join to practice or not…)

    However, I still see this trend, even in your responses, of placing the blame entirely upon JF. Was he hypnotizing people to have sex with him? Was he drugging them?

    From what I can gather, no, that did not happen, therefore those that were willing participants in having sexual relations with mister Friend are equally as responsible as he is.

  7. Katie says:

    Wow, i didn't mean to give a testimonial. Now I have to offer a disclaimer. YES! Individual results may vary! Nah, I'm not really an anomaly though. That's just the work of spirit in a devoted person. Happens to people all the time. As I mentioned before not all systems would appeal to me given my past negative associations with spirituality- hence Anusara was the right fit for me but obviously not for everyone.

    Yeah…I can't seem to muster up much outrage about the sex part of the scandal. As you said there were willing participants on both sides. I do think it points to a much larger question about the integrity of John Friend, I'm think he dosen't have any. That's why I called him a phoney. I don't know him personally and I'm not professionally invested in the Anusara system so what would I be doing casting blame around? Students will move on, teachers will move on. The wisdom of yoga taught in the Anusara style will move on as well into many new forms, bad habits will be dropped, better ones gained. What will happen at the center of John Friend's world is still a mystery. As far as I'm concerned he's getting enough freaky ill will from other people. I'll let him sort that out.

  8. AES says:

    Go Bernadette!!! Thank you for being honest and real about your experience within the midst of the chaos. Thanks for taking a stand and understanding how this is about misuse of power and JF's continued inability to hold himself accountable in a real, wide-reaching way.

  9. […] For those new to this situation, we’re talking about this past week’s allegations concerning John Friend and Anusara Yoga. […]

  10. I'm not a yoga teacher, but I've been a student of John Friend's for over a decade. I've studied with a many other Anusara yoga teachers, and he is the best, although I have great respect for a number of others, including Betsey Downing, Todd Norian, Desiree Rumbaugh, and Sianna Sherman. I'm 57, so perhaps it is no coincidence that many of the teachers I choose to study with are older. They are more experienced and they have more of the kind of wisdom and compassion that can come from suffering, from screwing up and learning from it. (This isn't to say that younger people don't have any wisdom, but from what I've seen, it's of a different sort, except in rare cases.) And, I've stayed with Anusara simply because it's a good system, one in which I'm more likely to heal than hurt myself. It seems likely — and reasonable — that other systems could work well for other people. (After all,I would not dictate one religion, or one kind of diet.)

    In my opinion, the idea that John should have cancelled the Miami intensive is absurd. For me and for many others, his cancelling would have meant losing the money we had already spent on plane fare, hotel, etc. In addition, although I don't regard John or anyone else as Guru, I still think he is a great teacher, regardless of subject (and as a graduate of Princeton University and Middlebury College, I've studied with some outstanding teachers.) I wanted to study with him or I would not have gone. (I'm an adult and could have chosen not to go, right?) As for teaching about relationships, well, doesn't it depends on what sort of teaching you're talking about? And what sort of relationships? There were lots of people in the workshop from all over the world, and many people from countries other than the USA saw things quite differently from people here. That is worth contemplating. I have never seen John be inappropriate with students in class, and as far as I'm concerned, his personal life is his business. Last, I would also like to see more hard evidence instead of a lot of speculation and jumping to conclusions, of which there has been, in my opinion, far too much.

    Last, I don't know much of anything about the Anusara committee, but what I know from being a school teacher is that committees hardly ever accomplish much of anything that is worthwhile.

  11. Katie says:

    Thanks, Ellen. Your comment was very well worded. I'm glad to hear your perspective as a long time student and as someone who attended the "controversial" Miami workshop. As I mentioned in another post I've also spent time in John Friend workshops. While I agree his style and approach are not for everyone nor should they be. He really resonated with me at the time. Like you, there has not been a moment during any of his workshops where I felt he was inappropriate. More importantly like you, I've found the certified teachers within Anusara to be the very best yoga teachers and among the most kind human beings that I have met. What I've learned from them has made all the difference in my own life as well.

    I do think you are quick to move past the issues of personal integrity with John that are at the heart of the matter. Obviously there is something to that or we would not see the resignations from the teachers. While John's words in class may be appropriate it seems his personal life is anything but. This makes him seem a bit phony in my estimation. He will have to make many steps in another direction to gain my trust.

    I think you bring up an important point that students and people from around the world see things differently. Truly I haven't been interested in what "others" think. I do, however, care about what the certified teachers think, those who know John best. This is why the resignations are troubling for me. It's like a reaction rather than an in depth conversation about their own thoughts and concerns.

    Like you, I don't have so much faith in the Anusara committee especially after Bernadette's resignation. Do you feel that outside arbitration or a private ethics consultant would yield better results than an internal committee?

  12. Panayama now? says:

    The truth is that John's been lying and he's been unethical and he's been uncooperative in the aftermath of those discoveries. And some people are reacting and getting pissed about it. Maybe you're one of them. Maybe your'e projecting your anger at John onto an annoymous poster on the internet.

    I don't need to moralize or bust out the yoga sutras to understand that.

  13. […] Waylon Lewis: First of all, thanks, Dr. Brooks, for [the below] letter and further context into what’s been going on and where we’re going [re: John Friend and Anusara Yoga]. […]

  14. Bethany says:

    Who didn't know JF was a player? Be honest. The entire time you were traveling the world with him, having day after day of transformational and beautiful experiences, getting your certification & making a life built on his practice you knew. Turning against him in such a public way is disappointing. Did you stop along the way to ask him why he acts the way he does? What he is missing in his own life to make him so careless with the hearts of others? His actions make me sad and the yoga community's high horse and hypocrisy is somehow even more disappointing. Women who have been hurt – seek spiritual guidance, therapy. Those who are involved in this slander, "it's not a reflection of me" campaign – please be honest with yourselves. You always knew. This yoga hypocrisy is just as ironic.

  15. Katie, I think there is a lot more about business than is really being acknowledged, except by Amy Ippoliti, and I think part of what has gotten confused is the separation between the business of yoga and Yoga. So I am not sure that issues of personal integrity really are at the heart of the matter. When politicians wanted to oust Bill Clinton, Mr. Shakti himself, what did they go after? His shenanigans with Monica Lewinsky. As I said to the group in Miami, I don't condone some of what John did. Plainly, he hurt his girlfriend by having sexual relations with another woman without being open about it. He acknowledged having betrayed Christy, and obviously (to those of us who were there) feels terrible about it. If Christy can forgive him, what's up with everyone else? Is that the personal integrity issue you meant? I'm pretty old school — I would just as soon not know about what people do in the bedroom. I am less worried about the teacher-student power differential than a lot of other people in this community because as I see it, the people involved were consenting adults, not children. If you're a student, don't you know there's a power differential between you and your teacher? Besides, I know a number of adult teacher-student relationships that ended in happy marriages. And last, none of this has any bearing on John as a teacher. It has to do with his personal life.

    In addition, if people close to John knew he had this supposed substance abuse issue, why was there no intervention? I don't understand that at all and it makes me doubt that he had such a problem. Did John make business mistakes? Yes. Did he betray his girlfriend? Yes. I really think here is the kicker: is he the best Anusara yoga teacher? In my experience, unequivocally yes, and I have studied with Amy Ippoliti (multiple times), Betsey Downing, Todd Norian (multiple times), Noah Maze, Desiree Rumbaugh (multiple times), Deb Neubauer, Sara Rose, and many others. Is John the best teacher for everyone? Of course not. Am I capable of evaluating him as a teacher from a student perspective? Actually, I think so. First, I've been a teacher (not yoga, English) for over thirty years, and have had the good fortune to study with some truly outstanding teachers in a number of fields. Second, I can sense and move energy. (I'm happy to supply examples but this isn't really the place for it.) And I have never encountered anyone who can sense and move energy in a room like John can. Not one person has mentioned jealousy, but lots of yogis are very competitive. Even though the talk is that the outer form doesn't matter — and I believe that to be true — when you watch some yogis practice, you'd never know it. So you get some people who focus on outer form, or clean diets, or knowledge of texts, when those things are really not primary. What I mean is, someone can have an incredible asana practice, be married and faithful, never touch drugs or alcohol, be well-versed in tantric mythology, sequence poses like there's no tomorrow, and be good looking and intelligent to boot, and still be a very mediocre teacher. I have walked out on teachers who didn't create a safe space, and I've sampled but never returned for teachers who were arrogant or lacking in heart or spirit.

    I think one of the saddest things is that the frayed seams did not get mended sooner. I think while that cannot be one person's fault, John did acknowledge that he could have responded to some earlier situations better, he could have listened better. Perhaps at those points an outside consultant would have been good but it seems to late for that now. At this point all John can really do is take care of himself, which he plans to do by going on retreat and getting whatever help he needs. I hope he will come back to teaching and I for one will continue to study with him.

    I read a good commentary on the living meditation blog, written by Harshada Wagner, that points to some of the larger forces at work in this whole explosion. I think he's right that it's much larger than John, as John also said to us in Miami, and I think John has really become a scapegoat in my opinion. People are not taking time to sit with what is going on in themselves and in the world. It is a time when great growth is possible, huge change, but not if everyone just points fingers and takes sides. In America we are becoming increasingly polarized, and in the yoga world that seems to be going on as well.

    As Bill Mahoney pointed out during the Miami workshop, go to the Highest first, always.

  16. […] been easy for me to see the Anusara community changing so rapidly. It was really hard for me to see Noah Maze and many other beautiful teachers leave. I had to take a moment, and be honest with myself and realize I was holding onto some birds too […]

  17. Dr. Kamayani says:

    As an aside, can't anyone talk about anything these days without using the "F" word? I've been called a "dinosaur" or an "F%$%%$ing dinosaur" for this point of view. Told it's now "acceptable." My response: Only among those who know no better."

    Why do people speak about "theism" as if it were some quaint anachronism? Some of us believe in God. All the vedas and scripture upon which modern Hatha Yoga is based are all about God and God realization.

    I also see a great misunderstanding of the guru tradition. It's more than a tradition; it's a living reality. A guru is a "remover of darkness" (literal translation) because he or she lives in the light, is the light. A real guru is a realized being not some self-appointed expert.

  18. Steven N. says:

    Another flash in the pan wanna be guru suffering from unresolved narcissistic injuries. I am grateful for people like Jack Kornfield, who insightfully and sensitively write about the repeated insults people in similar roles as John Friend have committed against so many, so called, devotees.
    From a grossly pop psychological perspective, the term, "co-dependence" seems fitting not only for John Friend, but for his followers, too.
    It is amazing what happens when a spiritually hungry person and/or group of people meet a charismatic personality. . .
    Borrowing from the movie, Avatar: "this is sad, very sad."
    Unlike the microwave society we live in, were we have come to expect everything quickly, I hope Mr. Friend will take the necessary years (not months) to do the work he must do; to shed a few layers of his false self, his compensatory charisma.
    I suppose one way or another, the "opportunity" for everyone involved to grow has been, prima facie, opened wide.

  19. guest says:

    Ross, for what it's worth – though people found offense, I didn't see anything in what you wrote as reading that way – and I have respect for all sides. I am glad that Anusara teachers who are supporting with compassion John, and commiting with courage to strengthening Anusara – which I am sure has given much to those teachers who have also given to it – are speaking out. It is as if, at the moment, that anyone committed to Anusara, or able to to show compassion and respect for John, are being villified or taunted or seen as being outraegous in not following what appears to be the current mainstream (but who knows, since this is social media, where the vocal become the majority – plus Anusara teachers do tend on the wordy side – no offense intended.)
    Greatest respect to you Ross and your post actually meant a lot to me and others and the depth of your commitment means a lot to Anusara teachers who remain committed and students likewise. It is much harder, and shows much more courage, to speak in support of Anusara at the moment. And I fully expect a barrage of criticism to follow my post but my truth is my truth.

  20. guest says:

    Sarah, you speak for a great number here who can't speak as eloquently as you do! Thank you! I think we in Anusara are adjusting to having to defend ourselves suddenly and weren't expecting some of the agrresison there has been from some parts of the yoga community and others towards us…I also repsect the work of Douglas Brookes and I respect Ross too and…where is forgiveness, spaciousness, in this challenging time? Isn't life/yoga all about the messy stuff and how we deal with it? When it turns yogi against yogi…well it's not the end of the wiorld, and to add more drama to this situation would be frankly excessive to needs….so…Om Namah Shivayah. And may all beings be peaceful. Which starts with us and the words we speak, for one thing. Thanks all.

  21. guest says:

    Blame JF for everyone's words and actions? Isn't that like going to therapy and blaming your parents for all your bad choices, difficult feelings etc? Everyone is responsible for the words that come out of thier own mouths. Convenient to blame it on JF but totally unrealistic.

  22. guest says:

    I'm not sure I'm seeing any change to the "rock star" model. Every time a teacher bears the inside of the brain with a bit of the usual "following my heart" and "know my truth" a few people who worship that teacher send their worshipful "big love, go sista" stuff. I don't have a problem with any of this human entertainment, but it is a bit ironic. Plus the stuff about how corageous the teachers who abandoning Anusara are – how's that then? It looks to me more corageous to make the unpopular (on lovely right on websites) to stay, right now. Plus everyone of the resignation letters has this form paragraph about how they are going to teach Anusara till the end of 2012. Conflict, much? Anusara students and teachers in training…want to be tauight by someone who couldn't stick around for five minutes? Need to pay the bills maybe? I don't see consistency – judge JF for being unenthical – but…..?

  23. […] the community at large. This disturbed me. I think Bernadette Birney put it best when she said, in her interview with Waylon, “Instead, too many people wanted to sit around singing kumbaya, sending love and […]

  24. […] the culture, are considering not attending, and many of Anusara’s senior teachers have chosen to resign. Others are feeling disillusioned, disappointed and […]

  25. […] and was impressed with the exponential growth of this style of yoga over the years. But as the story continued to unfold with teacher resignations , the awareness started to sink in that there must have been some truth to the news. It was sad to […]

  26. […] There is no “stepping away” from this method. It is a part of each of us who has endeavored to embrace and learn the grand pattern of the manifesting current of the Supreme. The teachings that a student receives from a teacher, and takes to heart, become a part of the student and belong to the student. Anusara is bigger than all of us, just as the universe is bigger than all of us. Anusara offers us the opportunity to live more authentic and potent lives, if we choose. […]

  27. […] subsequently published critical statements and discussions with Bernadette Birney, then Douglas Brooks, Amy Ippoliti, then Emma Magenta, and most recently two “Anusara […]

  28. […] anonymous, agenda-driven web site and subsequent sex-obsessed, tabloid-y media coverage, his own community and teachers‘ outrage, and perhaps most crucially his own (lack of) openness, blame-accepting […]