Dear Anusara Yoga Kula,
As many of you now know, I am no longer a licensed Anusara teacher. You may not be aware
that I am still deeply invested in our community. I have spent many sleepless nights over the
past several weeks working, as have many others. Several of these nights were spent in direct
contact with John Friend. I was initially completely focused on what it was that I had to do to
save Anusara Yoga. I have devoted my life for over a decade to this yoga.
Even in the wake of these terrible allegations against John, I was prepared to forgive. I was
prepared to take immediate action to step in and teach some or even all of the Advanced
Intensive in Miami. I did my very best to communicate with the appointed committee members,
to garner support outside these lines, and to directly support John with tough love and
It became evident over the course of these few critical days that nothing was going to change. It was utterly devastating to me. Heartbreaking.
I chose to resign, after nine years of being certified. I felt if I did not, I would be complicit in John’s delusion and further damage to our community.
When I resigned, my hope was that the initial resignations could be a type of sacrifice, that the power of the statement would be enough to shake John free of his addictions to attention and power that had become evident, that he might be able to save Anusara through humble and swift action.
This was not to be.
I watched with deep disappointment as he took the seat of the teacher in Miami despite his assurances that this would not happen. As he told half-truths at every turn, omitting critical information that he had told me personally just days before—information that was shocking to me and to my husband.
The miserable, half-hearted and wholly-calculated letters that were released amidst confusion and delay only served as insult to injury. John has been averting our attention away from what he wants us to overlook.
This brings me to my thoughts about the most recent letter from John.
What follows is my take on a read-between-the-lines response to this letter. The courageous and eloquent Bernadette Birney has offered a similar approach.
I encourage you all to re-read each of John’s letters, and ask yourselves what the content really represents. Then, read them once more, and ask yourself, perhaps more critically, what is missing?
We all want to believe in a man whom we each came to trust, some very deeply, but in this case, I think that the damage is irrevocable for our school.
From John Friend:
“As a follow-up to my stepping down on Monday from the leadership position, I am writing you to share the new organizational structure for Anusara yoga.”
What does John’s “step down” really mean? More pertinently, will the ownership of Anusara, Inc. change in any way? What will the additional non-profit entity look like? Will its business model be at all sustainable?
“Three weeks ago private information about me was posted on an illicit web site in order to harm me, Anusara yoga, and all those named on the site. Although there has been no investigation or verification of the claims, a wide range of intense reactions and judgments has divided our community.”
The adoption of victim role here is evident and distasteful. Intent aside (and I do not condone this individual’s actions nor his motives), the “illicit” web site was all material from John’s own explicit emails and Skype conversations with students and employees. No matter how this information came into the public realm, the fact remains that neither John nor Anusara, Inc. has yet to come forth with any meaningful information.
Thus, our licensed teachers have been struggling to make fact-based decisions on what has happened. The community is dividing accordingly. Also, I feel that everyone is entitled to a private life as long as they are not harming others.
Why is an investigation by any type of committee even necessary at this point? John knows exactly what he did. He refuses to come out and say it in public. All the teachers whom have told me of their personal conversations with John and direct questioning as such have resigned.
My personal conversations with John included details on the actual sex therapy, on suspected mental breakdowns and subsequent cover-ups, on agreed-upon compromises for teaching in Miami that were not honored, and more. Yet no meaningful statements have been made, despite clamoring requests for more detail, and insistent pleas from John that he has told us everything.
No. He has not.
The wide range of “reactions and judgements” that have played havoc within our community solely result from not only John’s actions of the past, but those of the present. My estimation is that John’s actions will continue to play out in familiar patterns in the future. We are eager to transfer our focus from this debacle back to planning and teaching, and taking care of our studios and families.
There is also no question that, despite the efforts of good, well-meaning people, the committees have been impotent. I see no reason to believe that any future committees will be different, whether under the guise of a 501C3 or otherwise.
Out of respect for my friends that still remain in some type of leadership capacity, I will say little more.
“During this month, many of our licensed teachers resigned (8% in total), including some of our leading teachers. I am very sorry and sad for the hurt that everyone has experienced during this scandal, and over time, I fully believe that truth, clarity, and great soul lessons will be revealed for all of us.”
The portion of senior leadership resignation in the “8%” is significant. Until support is given for this unsubstantiated number, I question its validity. I don’t know of any community where the numbers come close.
Furthermore, I would like to ask John personally why he thinks over 100 licensed teachers have resigned. I read the tone in this letter as a perceived victory by John and that he thinks the reasons for these many resignations were petty, vindictive, uninformed, fearful, or otherwise irrelevant. That in and of itself would be a terrible reflection on Anusara Yoga. What good could that possibly serve for anyone involved?
My primary reason for writing this letter is to offer my experience for the benefit of those who have been deprived of information, have been subject to seductive misinformation, or who simply lack the perspective to make an informed, critical decision. Whether you decide to remain with Anusara or not is not the issue. It is a catastrophe of leadership that you haven’t even been given factual information on which to base your thinking. I also provide this information to those who are firm in their decision, just as an additional perspective.
There are great lessons to be learned that have yet to reveal themselves. Our lives unfold in unexpected and humbling ways. Currently we have a spiritual logjam based on one man’s refusal to come forward in integrity.
In addition, I believe that John is using the Tantric-based philosophy of intrinsic goodness as an excuse to do anything he likes. That John is “sad for the hurt that everyone is experiencing” sounds as if this emotional response is an amorphous, divine happenstance that floated out of nowhere. Imagine that John was a physical or occupational therapist, a counselor, a medical doctor, or a leader of a spiritual community, let alone a certified Anusara yoga teacher. He would most likely be fired, have his license revoked and possibly never able to practice again legally.
“One of the perplexing falsehoods that has been propagated through the Internet, not just within the past few weeks, but within the past few years, has been the perception of Anusara, Inc. as a big corporation—when in fact, Anusara, Inc. has largely been supported by my personal teaching and speaking engagements. So, in order for me to step down as CEO of Anusara, Inc., there are significant organizational changes that now need to take place to keep Anusara yoga alive.
The first change is that I have joined in a business partnership with Michal Lichtman, who will now serve as CEO of Anusara, Inc. Michal is a successful business woman and a certified Anusara yoga teacher, and I am very confident that she will skillfully direct Anusara for the greater benefit of all.
I am remaining as founder, student, and teacher of Anusara yoga. I am embracing this profound change in my life with bright openness to the next chapter for both Anusara yoga and me personally.”
Michal seems very warm from her letter to the kula. My concern is that she is a student under John for years, recently certified, and still under his sway. It’s my understanding through recent correspondence that she has invested financially in Anusara, Inc. John calls it a “business partnership.” To whom will she report? I have seen no mention of any board of directors for Anusara, Inc. Will John remain as 100% shareholder? How have the corporate documents been altered to allow for this new position? I think it’s evident that Anusara has been supported in the past by John’s teaching, licensing, merchandise, etc. How would the new organization support itself if John is on sabbatical?
“With significant counsel from teachers in the kula, we will be transforming Anusara yoga into a teacher run non-profit organization (501C3), Anusara Yoga School, dedicated to serving the Anusara kula. Anusara Yoga School will direct certifications and curriculum and will serve as a central hub of information on Anusara yoga and its licensed teachers.”
This sounds to me like Anusara will now encompass a non-profit educational entity that gives credence and legitimacy to Anusara’s other businesses and entities. How will the two entities interact, and whom has ultimate decision-making power? Who will be the shareholders of the non-profit association? More importantly, as has been pointed out by Bernadette and others, who will pay the operational costs?
“Yoga School Board of Directors, of which I will not be a member, will be elected by the entire community of all licensed teachers. There will be forums and open communication channels between the kula, all teachers, and the Board of Directors. An Advisory Board of teachers, including Desiree Rumbaugh, Sianna Sherman, Scott Lewicki, Sumei Shum, and Barbara Noh will also be formed to help guide the Board. This Advisory Board will expand greatly in the coming weeks.
Details of the next steps for the establishment of Anusara Yoga School and the election of its Board of Directors will be communicated to everyone next week by a Steering Committee composed of Ross Rayburn, Todd Norian, Ellen Saltonstall, Deb Neubauer, and Jimmy Bernaert.”
Aside from the fact that this sounds terminally bureaucratic and top-heavy, it misses the point. What will the functional relationship be between Anusara, Inc. and the non-profit?
My thoughts on Anusara committees stand: unempowered and bound by legal obligation to silence, etc.
“My hope is that this reorganization of Anusara yoga will give the teachers the opportunity to elevate Anusara yoga as an outstanding hatha yoga style independent of me. We will all endeavor to focus on the exceptional methodology of Anusara yoga, and I will look forward to joining you as a fellow student and teacher on the path.”
John forgot sole/majority shareholder here. That’s significant.
“With this new restructuring I am effectively putting Anusara yoga in the hands of the community and then trusting that it will grow beautifully in service to the world for many years to come. At this time, I will be postponing teaching events until at least June in order to take time for a sabbatical of healing and insight.”
I question the validity of any such sabbatical when statements like these are released and
manipulations continue to make up the very fabric of this corporate culture and damage control.
How is John effectively putting anything into the hands of the community?
“I would like to personally thank every one of you who have stepped forward to support Anusara and myself during this tumultuous time.”
This is insulting to those of us who worked so very hard in the critical hours to save our Anusara. I question now whether it was ever really mine, or ours. John has always promoted a culture of “with me or against me.” Until I was forced to make a stand for my own integrity, I was with him. Not now. I vehemently reject any paranoid and selfish notion that I have betrayed anyone, any ideals, any yoga. Quite the contrary. Agreeing does not equate support, nor does it necessarily create a yogic culture.
“As the old saying goes, ‘If you found anything of value and goodness within my offerings, then it was from the greatness of my teachers. If you found flaws, foibles, or imperfections in me or my teachings, then those are all mine.'”
This is another blunt insult, since John has not told the truth about his “flaws, foibles, or imperfections.” We continue to find value in the method, in the principles. I cannot stand by this management any longer.
I have absolutely nothing to gain from my resignation other than the preservation of my own integrity, and that of my loved ones.
The idea that some type of coup has been formed is ridiculous and hurtful for all involved on both sides. My friends who have reached out to me in this relentless struggle, one of the greatest in my life, agree: as individuals, and as the kula we were trained to become, we can no longer align with the Anusara brand.
“May this new era of Anusara yoga continue to expand Light throughout the world. Expanding light always involves opening one’s eyes to see.”
Real “light” is subtle and requires real process. Expanding the light means moving in alignment with one’s heart and mind, and all available resources in concert. And ultimately, it is our action that will offer more light. If we sit idly by and know in our hearts what is right, but do not act out of fear, or ambition, or paralysis, or pity, we break our own integrity. We usurp light.
I rarely think in terms of black and white, but the longer I sit with these available angles of approach, these uniquely shifting perceptions, the more I firmly come to know that in every moment we choose to serve the light or not. Deception, lies, manipulation and duplicitous behavior have no place in this field.
Thus, in this nuanced and excruciatingly difficult situation, for me there is but one very simple choice.
“With love to all,
I am not feeling the love from Anusara Yoga or from John Friend since I resigned, though I do still love John from a distance, as well as all who are still working to the best of their abilities to save Anusara. This is my conscious decision. I hope this perspective is of some benefit to another person in need.
My hopes are not to throw fuel on fire haphazardly, but rather to bring to light these base issues so that we may all move onto more enlightening subjects. I will never regret laying my love and my livelihood on the line to tell this truth.
We have been a heroic kula throughout this ordeal. Look at the activity in the Facebook groups and know that sincere dialogue is taking place. Sure, there are many strong words that lack substance or basis, and issues that are peripherally touched on without true examination. Yet, I see earnest questions and seeking hearts. In my local community I have seen the same. There is deep listening going on right now.
I urge all of us to keep reaching out and reaching in. This situation demands that, as does life itself.
As Ever Love, Sarah
Editor: Brianna Bemel
Sarah Faircloth teaches yoga workshops, trainings and retreats around the US and internationally, and is honored to serve students and teachers in expanding their practice and understanding of yoga. She was certified in Anusara yoga in 2003 and has taught yoga for well over a decade. She taught at Anusara Yoga’s First Grand Gathering in 2008 and the Grand Circle at Wanderlust Vermont in 2011. Yoga Philosophy is a great passion and foundation of Sarah’s teaching, and she continues to study actively with Douglas Brooks and Bill Mahony. Sarah was introduced to yoga and Eastern philosophy as a child by her father, and began developing her practice as a teenager. She elegantly weaves challenging, empowering, playful, and innovative asana with an expertise in the flowing wisdom and subtleties of yoga philosophy. Sarah shares fun and innovative approaches for each student to embody the exquisite teachings of yoga.
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