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