February 10, 2012

Why This Might be the Best Thing to Happen to Anusara Yoga.

Surfing a Tidal Wave in the Ocean of Grace.

I’m riding a big wave on the yoga ocean here, along with so many other Anusara yoga teachers and students, and others in the yoga world who have seen yet another famous teacher rise to power and then stumble in the thick of it. (John’s not the first, didn’t ‘ya know?)

And yet, along with so many other emotions and thoughts:

I’m filled with hope and optimism!

I think this might be one of the best things to happen to Anusara. It has the potential to actually save Anusara yoga from losing itself within one man’s vision. Not that it was a bad vision at all, but yoga is about union and expanding perspective, so it’s only right that the vision of Anusara continues to evolve.

The community of Anusara yoga teachers especially has come together in a stunning way, and though people disagree on how they feel about the “scandal,” many of us agree that re-organization needed to happen, oh, two years ago at least. And so, though I do wish John had followed his own advice on brahmacharya and “walked with the integrity of God,” his mistakes could be the liberating force that frees Anusara yoga to rise to the next level.

In fact, in a letter John sent to all the licensed and certified teachers, as well as the communication we’ve been getting from the teachers on the committee reviewing John’s actions, we’ve been told that the restructuring of Anusara as an organization has already begun. The teachers who are a part of this initial committee are: Noah Mazé, Desiree Rumbaugh, Andrew Rivin, Todd Norian, Suzie Hurley, Betsey Downing, Ellen Saltonstall, Denise Benitez, Martin Kirk, Deb Neubauer, and Jimmy Bernaert.

To put my own view into perspective, John Friend has been my primary yoga teacher for the past six years. I have learned a massive amount of excellent teachings from him, to the benefit of my own life and the lives of my students—for which I am grateful. And though I think someone’s personal life should remain personal, I also think the ethical conduct of any leader should be above par when viewed in the context of what the community considers appropriate.

The key to the gem hidden in the icky mess here is “community.” It is the community that will come to the spotlight now. This is how we move forward.

I think it’s important to say that John Friend has offered a tremendous amount of good to the yoga world and Anusara yoga has been a major influence in the innovation of modern yoga. And now it appears that Anusara has grown beyond his reckoning—and hopefully beyond any damage his personal choices could do to this immensely transformative and empowering school of yoga.

And yet, months before this whole ethical exposure thing happened, I was considering dropping my license as a certified Anusara yoga teacher.

At the moment, I’m glad I hung in there and didn’t resign. I truly believe this big tidal wave in the ocean of Grace is going to have some wonderfully bright ripples to balance out the waves of disappointment and pain.

It’s happening right now, as a matter of fact. Anusara yoga teachers are talking with each other like never before. The kula (community of the heart) just got a whole lot stronger because we’re no longer relying on one single person to lead us.

Why was I thinking of leaving Anusara? Because the system of organization at Anusara, Inc., and some of the policies I had to agree to abide by as a certified teacher weren’t serving me personally or the way I want to serve as a teacher.

But you know, this isn’t all that different from any other organization with a broken system. Say, aspects of our government, or some corporations.

Specifically my issue was with the fact that it takes a rather long time to get an answer on anything that needed to be run by John. And too many things needed to be run by John.

It looks like this will change now, and that John will have more time to focus on where he wants to go with his own practice and teaching, rather than trying to govern all of Anusara. I don’t envy the workload he’s had these past years. He is an excellent teacher, and—once he has had time to process and heal and deal with some personal issues—I think he is going to be an even better teacher for this experience.

The wonderful thing about this sad and somewhat shocking exposure is that it gives Anusara yoga a chance to define itself beyond the man who founded it. We have the chance to create an organizing body that empowers all the exceptional teachers of this school of yoga, and serves the students in an even better way.

Personally, and I know I’m not alone in this, I would like to see the teachers have more freedom and voice. John promised us this in his response and I applaud it.

John, you taught us that when someone breaks trust, to forgive but not forget. That a person who has acted in questionable integrity can earn that trust back, but must go through a series of initiations in order to prove they have changed what is necessary and again deserve our trust. I am heartened by my belief that you will regain our trust over time as well as with your actions now.

The first thing I’d like to see in the process of re-gaining trust is a swift and skillful restructuring of Anusara as an organization with the power in the hands of the teachers—and an assurance that you, John, are going to take the time you need to pause, feel, and choose what is most life-affirming. I will watch for the actions that prove it is happening.

Dearest Anusara yoga teachers and students, this is our time to come together and believe in the wisdom and method of this yoga more than ever before.

Anusara yoga is from the heart, consciously aligning with current of Grace. And, though it feels like we’ve just had a towering wave crash down on us, I imagine us now in a beautiful, pristine bay that has never before been discovered. Here we can grow who we are as a community—and as individuals—and make beauty.

My vision of Anusara yoga is a mandala of circles, all interconnected, with each of us supporting the growth of each other. I believe we can do it, and that our commitment to each other as a community can inspire and further empower the entire grand, incredibly vast and wonderful world of yoga as a whole.


Photo credit for yoga silhouette shot: Natalie Anfield.

Wave shot purchased by author via iStock.


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