February 8, 2012

Looking for John Friend: A True Tiny Story from The Big Picture Book.

Waking up in my parent’s house in Encinitas, California where there is no wrong side of the bed, light is more than a vision. In this cerulean sky and sea sumptuous feast, light is a smell. Light is a noun, weighty as a Sumo wrestler, a mysterious infusion of yearning in every inhalation of peaceful pranic Pacific air.

I’m here for a short visit and find myself curious about a new yoga center that was supposed to have opened here in 2011. The place has no name, no address and no website. Someone had brought it to my attention some time ago. There is a promotional video on the web that suggests weirdly grandiose offerings of yoga broadcasts and live music venues. There is the vague promise that this place will be a dominating enclave for mind blowing and though I’m pretty sure my mind is already blown, I have a wild hair to find this place.

The guru in chief (GIC) is a character that I’ve never met named John Friend.  He was first mentioned to me by a student who had just begun his teacher training in Texas. She said that we would like each other as our classes and styles were similar. I took that as a compliment as I’d heard he was charismatic though years later I wandered into an Anusara yoga class when visiting my son in Amherst which caused me to question her assessment of that.

That class was full of cheer-leading and hand-clapping and the teacher had an annoying habit of expressing wonder at each pose with a throaty sound like someone hacking up a popcorn kernel. I’m enough of a curmudgeon to have been told about a hundred times that I am no fun by my  mother  who is quite the opposite of me right down to her love of clowns, circuses, carnival rides and puppets. She says that I’m scarred for life after she had herself spray painted green to become Jiminy Cricket and she and my Pinocchio Dad came in to say goodnight one Halloween when I was a child.  She has many reasons to remember how her eccentricities turned me into a granola eating reclusive bookworm but suffice it to say, I don’t like freaky. And an excess of hand-clapping in yoga class just worries me as much as an Iyengar teacher’s attempts at jokes.

My brother and I decide to wander down the road a bit in search of fun; he wants to sit in with a jazz trio that plays outside the Seaside Market and I will ask about the GIC’s new center which according to the promotional video is supposedly a ‘couple of blocks’ from the temple that is Paramahansa  Yogananda’s Self –Realization Fellowship.

We ask every open yoga studio and shop owner in the area for directions. I ask the folks at the Yogananda Temple’s front desk. No one has heard of John Friend or Anusara.  In this surfing, biking and outdoor Mecca, yoga is just something that came with juice bars and tie dye. It doesn’t stand out and as one shop owner laughed; “there are about 600 yoga studios between here and the next block”.  This is like the Bermuda Triangle. I get bored with the whole thing after I’ve shopped and snacked my way up and down the little village for an hour or so. This is just annoying. But my brother, who has no interest in yoga studios or any yoga other than the yoga he’s been doing for thirty years in his living room, can’t let this go.  We wind back one more time to the Yogananda Fellowship and pass two other studios and a groovy bakery. The first studio and bakery haven’t heard of the GIC or Anusara or a new yoga center but we hit pay dirt at the last place.

A man with eyes bluer than the sky was giving an Ayurvedic lecture to a small circle of people in a pretty little studio that had left the front doors wide open. They were on a break.  Yes, he knew about the new Anusara center. I wasn’t even interested in where it was anymore, I just wanted to know what the damn mystery was about.

He hesitated, like he thought I was a reporter, asking for state secrets and names. He said that the center had kept its arrival and location on the down low as the town is a spiritual enclave and there was fear that the locals would freak out at the disturbance something that size and organization would cause. I considered my own reaction as this has been my second home for nearly forty years and realized that I felt the same way; protective. I like the untouched by time feeling that still lingers like a fading jet stream despite rising urban renewal.

He added that smaller studios would also have concern about losing their business. He said that the center was supposed to open last year but he guessed they were behind schedule. No one knew what the deal was.  He told us that the place had no sign but we would see the windows papered over. He pointed us in the direction, said it was a block away and on the main drag and that it was in the old YMCA and anyone we asked would know the building.

So we headed for the place that was not there: Never. We asked ten surfers. No one had ever heard of an old Y or a yoga center coming in. They had never heard the word Anusara. A realtor who said he had worked in the area for thirty years said there was no old Y and there was only one piece of commercial real estate nearby that was under construction. We went to it. It was a jewelry store.

With that my brother gave up. I’m still shaking my head. But what I came away with was that I would not have thought much about the word Anusara (there is no such studio in Nashville) nor would I have wondered about its Guru in chief, John Friend if not for a comment and then not again but for the internet where I hear about most things yoga. I was recently sent a link to a strange e-mail that he allegedly wrote which reads like Hunter Thompson crazed on a Gonzo rant bender. If that letter was evidence in a court case his lawyer would surely advise him to plead insanity.  It’s creating a big buzz amongst a small segment of the human race.

Here in the vast expanse of the world, of the oceans of the sky that are a beacon over this airy place where Anusara will or will not live, that teacher, his practice and this latest story of a yoga scandal are nothing but an illusion. They do not exist.


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