2.9
March 6, 2012

After the Storm: a conversation on the advent of the Yoga Coalition with Emma Magenta.

Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis.

After the Storm: a conversation on the advent of the Yoga Coalition, with ex-Anusara Yoga teacher Emma Magenta.

~

We did this conversation on a sleepy weekend morning over skype chat. Here’s the Declaration of Independence via the Yoga Coalition, and a subsequent interview conducted by elephant friend Melissa Smith. ~ ed.

~

Emma Magenta [waiting for me to ask my first question]:

‘Kay, you ready?

Waylon Lewis:

Sorry, watching this old musical Top Hat that my mom loved.

Emma Magenta:

“Puttin’ on my top hat…polishing my white tie…”

Waylon Lewis:

Wow! Nice! Yah my grandma was Ginger’s personal secretary…my ma’s scrapbooks are full of photos of them being fabulous stylee ladies.

So. My first question is, could you kind of sum up everything that’s happened over the last month or so for those who may not be in the “inside baseball” yoga scene. You can be as personal or general as you like.

We just want to keep this accessible.

Emma Magenta:

Hah! Wow. Well, okay: on Feb 3rd, an anonymous website leveled some serious accusations at Anusara yoga founder John Friend.

After looking into the matter, I and many of my colleagues came to the conclusion that the accusations were at least partially accurate. Personally, I did a lot of soul-searching about whether I could align with John Friend’s [JF’s] actions. After many days of negotiations with JF, I and many of my colleagues further concluded that JF was either unwilling or unable to take responsibility for his actions, and we resigned.

In the aftermath of this big, heart-wrenching decision, a few of us who had resigned came together to share our feelings of loss and heartbreak. We decided we wanted to initiate a conversation with the wider community about what might be next.

And so the Yoga Coalition was born.

Waylon Lewis:

The anonymous person behind the web site is now known, but his reasons for taking John Friend down or exposing him are less known. Do you feel the information there was trustworthy? I mean, in my interview with John Friend I published 10 pages of legal docs re the pension fund controversy, and that then seems to have faded off on the list of things John did wrong. The anonymous source told me personally that the pension thing wasn’t illegal or malicious so much as incompetent and irresponsible.

As an aspiring journalist, my interest in the unvarnished truth early on was mistaken for defending John. But as Carol Horton said herself, my interview was the first time John publicly admitted to the affairs.

The affairs now seem to be the main issue. Is that true, from your perspective…[are the affairs] why everyone’s resigning Anusara and now forming a new, community-directed Coalition?

BTW, I’m not fishing for being backed up. If I’m mistaken on the above, call me out on it.

Emma Magenta:

I felt the website was untrustworthy. When I first saw it I was horrified and dismissed it.

However, I made a few phone calls (John himself was among the people I spoke to) and came to a different conclusion. That’s the most I feel I can honorably say.

Waylon Lewis:

A fair number of colleagues and friends of mine on the outside of the Anusara yoga community have shrugged and winked at the groupiness around John for years. The show-offiness. The clubbiness. But everyone including John seemed so happy and sweet and positive, it didn’t seem like a bad thing.

Now, all that idolatry has turned into tearing him down. Why so extreme?

Emma Magenta:

It’s a great question.

Waylon Lewis:

It seems love/hate. It seems immature. I’m speaking generally, not about you and Birney or Amy or anyone in particular.

Emma Magenta:

I think that anytime you have an organizational leader promoting one set of ethics in public, and living another set of ethics in private, a kind of disconnect, or lack of integration occurs. Then when people find out about the disconnect, there’s a feeling of betrayal.

That feeling of betrayal was then exacerbated by John’s reaction to the revelation that he had been living in a way that was not in accordance to Anusara ethics.

For a lot of us, the issue was not so much what JF had done. Rather, the issue was how he responded after his actions were revealed.

That’s why I didn’t resign ’til Feb 12.

Waylon Lewis:

That part I agree with. I think John’s reactions to all of this have made things worse. But it’s got to be interesting to see your own community rise up and tear you down over having affairs.

And the affairs seem to be what this is all about at this point. Unless there’s inside stuff we on the outside don’t know about, about the affairs or other stuff? It seems to be about the power differential and having affairs with married women.

Emma Magenta:

I forgave JF pretty quickly after I got clarity on what he had done. The thing that prompted my resignation was not that I couldn’t forgive him. I’m no angel, and none of the people I love are angels either. I’m well-practiced at forgiving.

And I’m very grateful in my life for having been, many times, forgiven by others. Others like my family and friends, and others in my yoga community.

It’s not that I couldn’t forgive John Friend.

It’s that I did not feel he was willing to accept responsibility and make amends.

I’d agree that it’s about the power differential and issues around sexuality.

The disconnect between Anusara ethics and JF’s actions leads me to believe that there’s a strong possibility that JF himself has not actually come to terms with his actions in those arenas, that in his own heart he’s not really clear on the ethics of his actions. At this point, this is speculation on my part.

Waylon Lewis:

Of course. But so for those of us on the outside, more or less, this is at this point is about John’s affairs and his subsequent lack of taking responsibility?

It doesn’t seem to be about pot or the pension or anything we don’t know about?

It’s about the affairs and his actions since the scandal broke?

Just want to be clear [what we’re talking about when we say John effed up].

Emma Magenta:

[And] certainly about his actions since the scandal broke.

Waylon Lewis:

There’s been a general sense of not knowing what this was about super-clearly…if there’s some secret horrible stuff.

If it’s the affairs and his attitude, I get it. If it’s more, that would explain a lot to me and some others.

I guess it’s just weird that it’s so unclear and folks are starting to say, “Is this all about having affairs?! Everyone has affairs. It’s not right, it’s not good, but it doesn’t seem worth all this hatred and anger and tearing apart a community.”

Okay, so John at this point is doing what? Taking a year to mend and work on himself? Is Anusara going to continue? I know Douglas’ call for its end must have been heavy.

Does Anusara have a future?

Emma Magenta:

I’m actually not that caught up right now on what JF is doing. As for Anusara yoga’s future, I wish I knew. I’m hoping for an outcome that harms the fewest number of people going forward.

Waylon Lewis:

Okay…so this Yoga Coalition, is it going to be a real community? Will folks get certified and trained through it?

Or is it just a sort of manifesto?

Emma Magenta:

Actually, we don’t know yet!

Yoga Coalition is simply the initiation of a dialogue. We are definitely hopeful that it will evolve into a community. While we don’t know whether folks will get certified through it, we do know that we don’t want to found another style of yoga. I would say it’s less a manifesto, because a manifesto is a definitive declaration, an exclamation point, if you will. Yoga Coalition right now is a question mark, rather than an exclamation point.

Because it’s a collective endeavor, you can assume that anything I say about Yoga Coalition is just my best representation of what everyone thinks, rather than a definitive statement on behalf of the Coalition.

Waylon Lewis:

Well, that sounds fun and inspiring and hopeful, but having served on the board of a wonderful food co-op, it also sounds like interminable meetings, disorganization and inaction.

Emma Magenta:

I love that you mention that your food co-op involves interminable meetings, but that you also call it wonderful. I think that Yoga Coalition has already demonstrated that we’re capable of swift, decisive action. However, now that the intensity of our foundation has abated, we’re hoping to slow things down so that we can fully evaluate the feedback we’re getting.

One of the things I’m most excited about is the opportunity to evolve and take action as a collective. Obviously, it is more complex to function as a collective than it is to function as an individual. History is littered with examples of collectives that didn’t work. However, in my own life and in my community, there are plenty of examples of collectives that do work! And in my experience, one of the best instruments available for human evolution is relationship.

Waylon Lewis:

Well, our food co-op went out of business, crushed by big corps like Safeway, King Soopers, Whole Foods, Sunflower…[as well as internal incompetence issues]

As a poli-sci nerd, I wish you all the best of luck.

Emma Magenta:

We’ll take it. We need all the luck we can get.

Funny about your food co-op. I’m from Kansas, and in Lawrence, Kansas, which I visit every year when I go home to my dad’s farm, there’s a collective food co-op called the Merc, which is absolutely thriving.

Waylon Lewis:

Okay…so what’s up with Elena Brower not being in the Collective? What about some other ex-Anusaraers? (I’m sure you won’t/can’t answer but have to ask)

Emma Magenta:

The Yoga Coalition evolved organically, among a people who were friends, acquaintances, or colleagues. When we started talking to each other, we didn’t make a list of who we should talk to–we just reached out to each other. It was actually totally organic, rather than strategic, so the list is kind of random.

We don’t even know yet what it’s going to be. Will it be something that a person joins? We dunno yet!

Waylon Lewis:

Well, can I join it? Or do I have to know something about teaching yoga or Anusara? Smiley face.

Emma Magenta:

…you will have to have something to do with yoga.

Waylon Lewis:

Well, thanks for all your kindness through this process. It’s felt a bit ugly, watching this, like seeing a bunch of people who built a doughy human into an idol smashing that idol beneath their feet…it’s felt a bit like “we created you, we can destroy you.”

I could name 100 teachers off the top of my head who are all fallible and human and have fucked up. All of them have been wonderfully silent. I bet 90% of the righteous angry commenters have fucked up hugely in their lives. We’re all human.

The Coalition feels like a first positive development I’ve seen in this whole process: constructive yet borne of wisdom and criticism and experience. So thanks and jolly good luck.

Emma Magenta:

While these are minor problems compared to what people around the world are suffering, I also feel that it’s deeply sad, and my heart breaks for the Anusara community.

Thanks for the good wishes–we’ll need them!

Waylon Lewis:

Yes. Hopefully the Coalition will enable everyone, as Benjy said in a comment. to get back to the good work of being of benefit and thinking about others. That said, this difficult time has shed a lot of light where there was little before, and that’s vital, too.

Emma Magenta:

Agree. I know I’ve grown from it.

Waylon Lewis:

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers, here, now?

Emma Magenta:

Just that the Yoga Coalition is excited to hear from people, and create something functional and beautiful!

Waylon Lewis:

Yay. Well thanks for your time and your good heart and smile, Emma. One good thing coming out of all of this is we’ve got to read you on elephant, and “meet” you as a community!

Emma Magenta:

Thank you, sweet Way!

Waylon Lewis:

Mwuah.

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