Is There Anyone to Blame?

Via Kelly Grey
on Mar 6, 2012
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Having been duped by spiritual teachers before, I empathize with the stream of dismay expressed by the Anusara community of teachers and students.

To have built an identity, a reality, based on something you think to be real, only to find out it is not, is painful to say the least.

But, is it really fair to scapegoat John Friend for what an entire Kula created? We all have our blind spots and I suppose somewhere, there may be a few innocent devotees out there that are truly shocked—but I have to wonder how some of the long timers missed everything up until now.

Or did they know all along, but found it was more advantageous to stay and ignore it?

And isn’t it honestly a powerful business move to disconnect now?  To take the angle that somehow they have been deceived, and somehow they will move forward with new motivation and integrity?

I went to one class with John many years ago and I have to say I actually left angry.

I went in excited to take a class with someone new and I walked away feeling like I had been bombarded with a lot of noise and nonsense and ego. And it wasn’t just John. It was a whole room full of ego.

I kept thinking of Pantanjali’s second sutra ‘yogas-chitta-vrtti-nirodhah’….that yoga is the cessation of the mind stuff, as people clapped and cried and did tricks and posed and talked the lingo of bowing to the heart….

And as everyone bowed to their hearts and wept and shared, I left the room feeling angry and hollow, and for the first time ever in a yoga class, bored.

I spent the rest of the weekend with David Swenson, an incredible yogi, who did not once have us gather around to watch him do tricks, did not mention the heart, sometimes barely said more than the Sanskrit name of the next pose, and I felt the fullness and stillness and heart of the practice—because it was simply about the practice, not the teacher.

A fellow teacher from Sivananda Yoga Farm once talked about his nervousness teaching—how he thought he had to come up with something interesting or profound to say while teaching.

But then he realized that the practice—the actual practice was profound in itself—and all he had to do was get out of the way.

As the popularity of Anusara Yoga grew, I have to say it felt to be American consumerism at its finest.

Buy enlightenment here—along with tricks on how to do a handstand, how to look good in your new Prana tights and the special bonus, along with your purchase, is an entire spiritual community to call your own and feel special in.

And we all want to feel special.

It also reminded me of high school and the popular group that I found myself in, only because I liked to play sports. Everyone hated everyone ultimately, everyone was jockeying for position, and everyone was insecure and bad mouthing their supposed best friend.

Even though I loved sports, I eventually disconnected from this group to go get high in the park and draw instead…because it was all too disheartening.

And years ago, I actually sat and listened to one Anusara teacher talk about John and how they felt he wasn’t very deep at all. This same person, however, continued to teach and reap the benefits of association with him, until now.

I also listened to this loving community of Anusara bad-mouth my own teachings and studio for years. I stopped teaching advanced yoga classes years ago because I could not support the aggressiveness and superficial intentions of practice—that yoga was just about tricks.

I also got tired of watching people hurt themselves. In response, the Anusara teachers would actually tell students that if they wanted to stay stuck and not move forward  they should come to me.  Otherwise, they could do the ‘real’ practice with them.

The hard and more honest question that I think John’s teachers and students should be asking is, “Why was I drawn to this style? How did I benefit? And how much did I want to actually be in John’s shoes?”

And, honestly, “How is this serving me now to break ties and jockey for a new position — possibly even better than John’s, because after all, he is the human guy that supposedly screwed up; somehow I will be different.”

A cult leader is nothing without its followers—and they create each other.

And a principle of Ayurveda is simply, “like increases like,” or another way to say it is, we are drawn to what we are familiar with.

And the dynamic that is occurring within this Kula right now, is nothing new.  It is an old and deep psychology that is bound in fear and survival. It is no different than Jesus being crucified by his followers, Osho being poisoned, or the cult I joined years ago—when the leader went crazy and the students who fought for her love hours before, suddenly dismissed her as a freak, to start their own cult.

I honestly have to say that I always have more respect for the people who throw themselves out there—crazy or not—out on that messy limb of life and try to create something from their essence.

More so than the ones who take and take and take and then dismiss the roots, the one who gave them their boons.


Editor: Brianna Bemel

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About Kelly Grey

Kelly Grey grew up on the east coast and wandered out west early on to find her home in the desert. She has been teaching, practicing and studying yoga since she was 15 years old, starting with TM and chanting with the Hare Krishnas on the Washington lawn, after getting kicked out of the Smithsonian for having no shoes. / She has advanced certification in Sivananda Yoga and as an Ayurvedic Practitioner and teacher. She studied Bikram Yoga and Astanga yoga intensively and is a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. She is also a licensed massage therapist and Reiki master and received certification in India in Pancha Karma therapies and Abhyanga. / Kelly opened up and ran Yoga Shala in Arizona for eight years and started many programs still existing today in the local community colleges, private colleges and health clubs. / Her love is the river. Her guru is her dog, Penny Lane.


65 Responses to “Is There Anyone to Blame?”

  1. ReplyingtoSQR says:

    Sure! And yes, there are so many very hard-working yoga teachers and students out there having great experiences. So what remains is to better articulate what that entails, instead of saying over and over, "Gee, I've NEVER had a bad experience with…. (fill in the blank)" Though people want to claim that as "but I'm only speaking for myself"), what they're really doing is trying to use their positive anecdote to cancel out a negative one. So maybe not just story-telling, but as you say, but new ways of writing about yoga.

  2. paul says:

    this is all on the same thread, no hijacking (or perhaps you've never seen a comments section before?)- comments that say "how dare you respond" are designed to keep people silent, which is what a large part of this Anusara story is about.
    see that you've allowed the intense debate script, then you can just close the thread and enjoy

  3. Regretmy $15 says:

    Thanks for the condescension, Paul! Glad we're keeping the arrogant yogi thing going full swing. Actually, awakenedlife DID keep trying to make everything about her own writing, and actually, Stewart-Samuri DID post many references and links to his own blogs. Waylon/Kate deleted them, while posting a disapproval finger-shake at me for my disgust. There's a HELL of a lot of self-promotion going on here. This is a terrible problem with eds and writers being allowed to take part in the commentaries; they use that to strut their stuff. Then Waylon/Kate come in like mommy and daddy, chastising anyone who points out the bullshit. I just disagree with the rampant crass sell-selll-sell on this site. But then, it IS a site for corporate "enlightenment industry" products, including people making themselves into products. Blech.

  4. myinnermystic says:

    Each experience is unique, as you say, and our lives and our hearts will be touched in different ways by different people. I want to respond directly to your insinuation that Anusara is a cult tradition. Yes, John Friend is the founder of a beautiful yoga tradition. He is regarded as a rock star, as a revolutionary, and as an influential teacher. He has touched the lives of many. I have never been in his physical presence and he has never personally or directly touched my life. Yes, my teachers teach in the Anusara tradition, but my teachers teach on their own two feet and their individual life experiences and journeys shape their teaching. Most importantly, my journey is my own, my yoga practice is my own, regardless of who is teaching the class I attend and in what tradition I practice. For me, the John Friend controversy is just clatter and background noise. My journey continues regardless.

  5. paul says:

    haha, yea apologies for the condescension, not my intent but I see it. Fun to think I might be yogi though, even if an arrogant one..
    I agree that it is totally lame that they delete comments that aren't spam or blunt nastiness, way worse for honest dialogue than our variations on stfu; comment sections should be the filthiest places on a site, a place for people to work their shit out, even if that means we are subjected to things we don't care for. Intense Debate doesnst' seem to have a 'block' feature like Disqus, which is too bad.
    However, I don't get why people should be discouraged from expressing themselves, especially when scrolling, clicking onward is so easy. And I don't see what the problem is with self-promotion, t rarely works to make an argument, and if it's them talking, why shouldn't they say what they've said? (Probably 80% of all posts on ele are some form of self-promotion- Grey even refers to her own practice, how she works in greener pastures now. also, people who want to be successful entrepreneurs have to promote themselves, it is blech definitely, but it's where things are these days- I'd love to hear a better way).
    There are plenty of asshats, who take joy in their haberdashering and their ugly, stupid hats. Nevertheless, let them make hats. As the article says, "I honestly have to say that I always have more respect for the people who throw themselves out there—crazy or not—out on that messy limb of life and try to create something from their essence."

  6. Regretmy $15 says:

    You're right, I've been making the mistake of taking this shit seriously. This site is a hot mess that takes itself too seriousky, though, and Waylon (I KNOW you're listening, you Orwellian dork!) is most guilty of all..
    That said, it's too bad, though — b/c yeah, Grey's got her little bio going on, but the article was convincing, and seemingly genuine. Jeannie got in the way.There are degrees and degrees of this stuff, and Jeannie pissed my off with her "Everything is great for MEEEEEEE therefore everything is great is general w/ AY" attitude. I did learn tho' thay many of these little writers expect you to read EVERYTHINF they post, which is ridiculous and yes, NARCISSISTIC.

  7. anonymous says:

    Wow. This is unbelievable. The comments directed at "the awakened life" are not pure of heart, but are downright mean spirited. I doubt if you came face to face with this woman that you would say these things to her face and if you did, I would be really, really sad for you. It is easy to hide behind anonymity and attack another person, to attack their character and intelligence and their life passions. I see people behave this way behind the wheels of their cars. What we have going on here is no different from road rage. I myself am making this comment anonymously for fear of attack or further aggression.

  8. Regretmy $15 says:

    No no. I'm responding to some one's writing — vioice, tone, word choice, implied expectations. Those are what I find a great turn-off as a reader. People have intense, genuine responses to writing all the time,
    This is not about the "person" — how could ever it be, onlne? It's about persona, which is a product of writing. Considering that, how you affect auidence, is an important part of good writing.
    It must indeed be shocking to hear that not everyone in EJ-land is as fascinating as they apparently assumed. Presumed?
    I'm being hard on the writin, and thinking as evinced by the writing. The persona/voice/narrator/speaker created by the writing, which is all there is, online.
    If you don't get it now, you never will.
    An attitude CAN be tiresome. An expectation can be narcissistic, as presented by writing. The person? I have no idea. If s/he can't separate how s/he comes across, and takes it personally, that is his or her own weakness. It's the attitudes I find repugnant here. And god knows, I'm not alone.

  9. Regretmy $15 says:

    And — since I'm a good twenty years old than Jeannie — I find it awful to see evidence that stereotypes about Gen Y or Millenials may be true — helicopter mommied, expecting A's for eveything, emotionally spoiled, soft and weak, unable to accept criticism or rough challenge, expecting to be treated with kid gloves, queasy and resentful and oh-so-appalled at anything else — I see it in that shaking of the head, oh-so-amazed response to criticism, which is an attempt to morally/spiritually one-up anyone who would dare criticize — I mean, how HARSH, right? How mean-spirited! How un-yoga! No, no, and no. This is just what is sounds like to have some one NOT baby you.

  10. simmonj says:

    Thank you for sharing the a grat perspective on the kula. Many styles of yoga to suit diverse personalities.

    The kula in southern california is amazing also.

  11. Lifelessons says:

    There is a terrible problem when people have turned American yoga into their religion, but it is also a business. There are pockets of good experiences and bad ones, as people attest here, but overall, religion and pofiteering don't match. The lessons are everywhere in other religions. Jesus turned over the tables of money-changers at the temple for a damn good reason. There may be good in the practices of devout people, but there are also now, in yoga, the worse aspects of both organized religion and corporatism. There was a protestant reformation partly because the catholoc church was accepting/demanding money to secure one's place in heaven. Perhaps there will be a reformation of the corporatist yoga.

  12. Continuallyamazed says:

    Given the fact that Anusara Inc. wanted to sell itself as "the fastest growing brand of yoga in the world" — given that they wereextremely aggressive about image management and watched social media like a hawk for negative comments or criticism, and the fact that employees were pressured — and pressured one another – to respond positively (and anonymously, often posing as students) on those social media sites (like this one, or FB, or other places) to counter and drown out any negativity (see Bernadette Birney's last entry on EJ) — given the fact that known "infidels" were obsessively tracked and slandered (see Doug Keller's multiple commentaries) — I am now extremely skeptical of any overly defensive or OVERLY positive tributes to Anusara yoga these days. What ever good is going on in real-time, online, it's a shitty scam. And while those who criticize AY have nothing to gain, professionally or monetarily, those who defend often are protecting themselves in some way — money, image, professional plans 00 often ways you don't know and can't tell, online.

  13. Omiya says:

    Well your age is not reflecting your maturity. Have some respect for fellow posters who are being genuine and non-confrontational in their intent of trying to foster an open discussion. If the website annoys you, STOP READING IT.

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