Moments I Might have Spoken up—but Didn’t.

Via Bernadette Birney
on Mar 8, 2012
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Ever keep quiet when you shouldn’t have?

Yesterday I got my morning class covered (Thank you, Laura Young!) and took the train from CT to Grand Central Station, to attend a Tri-State meeting for Anusara teachers. As a new member of the unlicensed tribe, I was slightly nervous that my presence might be resented. Instead, I gratefully received a very warm welcome.

I don’t have much to say about the meeting itself. The plans of the folks who want to resuscitate Anusara are admirably ambitious. Those plans include commendable goals like going non-profit, and holding elections. I wish my licensed Anusara brothers and sisters the very best luck, and every success, in their endeavors.

At the very end of the meeting, the last question asked was addressed to me:

“Bernadette, if what’s been discussed here today is implemented, will you–and other licensed teachers–come back?”

I’ll only speak for myself, here, but any decision whatsoever, based upon a conversation about an action that one man has yet to take, doesn’t sit comfortably with me. The commendable plans I heard outlined yesterday can only move forward if John Friend actually signs over the trademark to the teachers. In my estimation, John continues to hold all the power. Based on his actions thus far, I don’t believe that John will actually relinquish the trademark. There’s not a good track record between actions and words thus far.

I will always hold the Anusara community in my heart. I have no intention of dropping off the face of the planet, which is why I trekked into Manhattan yesterday. I also see this unexpected change as one that holds major mojo in the creative, evolutionary department. I’ve already written about that a bit.

As my buddy Susanna Harwood Rubin pointed out at lunch after the meeting, “There’s no going back“—hopefully not for anyone! Let’s all examine what has happened in a productive way, learn from it, heal it and move forward into more authentic self-empowerment.

To that end, I would like to look at the ways in which I have been complicit in conferring my own authority upon John Friend, and Anusara Yoga. I’m not crucifying myself here, or indulging in self-flagellation here. Please don’t feel like you need to write to make me feel better, okay? Reflecting upon what my personal responsibility in perpetuating an imbalanced and unhealthy power paradigm is good stuff. It’s healthy and empowering. In that spirit, I offer the list below.

Moments When I Might Have Opened My Mouth and Questioned but Did Not:

  1. At a Certified Teacher’s Gathering in North Carolina a few years ago when John told us we should refrain from leaving to use the bathroom during his lecture, and described the way he would sit at the feet of his guru until dismissed–no matter how uncomfortable his full bladder was.
  2. When sternly instructed a couple of years ago to retract a Navaratri post on my blog that contained a very minor deviation from the newly laid out “Shiva-Shakti Tantra.”
  3. When in the midst of the very grueling certification process I was told that my video had “passed”, and I would be certified, I was told that I would have to make another video and that it was “just a lila.
  4. At a Certified Teacher’s Gathering in Denver, when we given a one page handout on Tattvas and instructed, “Go home and teach this in your Immersions.”
  5. When asked by an AY employee to positively respond to online comments critical in nature of John Friend and Anusara Yoga.
  6. When asked by that same employee to keep an eye out for, and report, social media movement that was unsympathetic in nature to Anusara.
  7. When a student who was very, very injured during a demo in one of John’s workshops felt unsupported by his teachers, who had a tough time acknowledging that John had made a mistake; I should have been more vocal.

I wish so many people’s lives hadn’t been disrupted in order for me to learn about my tendencies to give away my power. I believe that learning this lesson well is perhaps one of the best ways to honor their experience, and my own.

 Have you ever kept silent when speaking up might have been the better choice? If so, how can you use your experience to inspire you to invest in your own authority? Talk to me! Share your story in a comment below.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta.


About Bernadette Birney

Bernadette Birney is a dyed-in-the-wool, freedom-loving tantrika. When she’s not busy conquering the world, taking hostages, feverishly freelancing, working on her book, and posting on-line essays, you can find her practicing the art of life-on-purpose, and teaching in Connecticut. / Bernadette has had the good fortune of studying with the great ones: she’s a certified Anusara yoga instructor, and has long pestered her Rajanaka Yoga mentor, Douglas Brooks. Known for her poetic and precise articulation, she insists that you can maintain a hard-core yoga practice and a sense of humor, too. Her classes, immersions and trainings are steeped in a life affirming philosophy that will invite you into the exploration of your own potential. / Bernadette was one of the earliest Certified Anusara yoga instructors in CT, and continues to mentor the local teaching community, leading trainings and retreats. She has contributed to Yoga Journal, Fit Yoga, Elephant Journal and Srividyalaya Amrta. She is also a Lululemon ambassador, and the author of the quirky, award-winning blog .


13 Responses to “Moments I Might have Spoken up—but Didn’t.”

  1. Annie Ory says:

    I have. I have stayed silent when ugly things happened. In my Bikram training I watched Bikram call an 18 year old girl up to his chair and make her rub his shoulders and comb his hair for almost 4 hours while he lectured. The girl went through many stages of emotion during the time. First she seemed mildly embarrassed but proud to have been chosen. Her true discomfort didn't begin though until she tried to stop and was told that she could not. She then tried to enlist her friends to take her place, but they were not going to step into the mouth of the lion. Finally, in the last hour, exhausted, she just dragged the comb through his receding hair again and again with a dead look on her face. She switched arms regularly because she'd been doing it so long. That moment, when I didn't stand up and say something to protect this young girl, was the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Bikram yoga community. I have many wonderful and amazing friends in that community and I care deeply for some of the people who practice and teach the yoga. But I am never going to be a Bikram yogi again, and that's sad, but I just can't be a part of that system when it is led by someone so ego driven that he would abuse one of his "followers" in that way. My yoga and my teaching can never again get wrapped up in someone's personality.

  2. ineffable says:

    It' obvious that there are STILL AY Inc. teachers (and perhaps students) trying to do AY image upkeep even now, with or without being told. I predict that will continue, esp. if AY Inc continues — in fact, it will probably increase. Some of these are regular writers to and/or for EJ. The attempts of pro-AY Inc to drown out negative, critical or questioning voices will increase with the attempt of the company to revitalize its image as a brand.
    Get ready for it.

  3. Olga says:

    You’re beautiful. We don’t know why things happen but learning from them is all we can expect to do. I’ve been there. Love and light to you!

  4. Karin says:

    Wow, that is another example of Bikram being an @$$….

  5. When I was a little girl I was bullied on numerous occasions, on the playground, on the bus, in class, etc. What hurt me most were the people who stood and watched, without saying anything. People who had nothing against me—perhaps even felt sorry for me, but would not intervene. I have many, many thoughts about this whole AY situation, but the managed disclosures with the super-forward-thinking lingo, just feel so empty (and tardy) to me. Sorry, Bernadette—I've heard you're a great teacher, and I wish you the best.

  6. Hmm, although let me also be clear that I too have kept silent when I should've spoken up. I recall watching another kid get bullied on the bus one day and just feeling a sort of mesmerizing relief that it wasn't me. To this day I regret it. I've made plenty of decisions in my own life that have caused harm to others, and I've made my amends. I don't mean to be harsh, and I appreciated your piece—it just touched a nerve in me.

  7. hya says:

    I agree.

    And shouldn't the list be upside down in terms of priorities – surely injuries and online campaigns are far worse than a lack of bathroom break?

  8. Bela says:

    Ewww…that Bikram story made my skin crawl :-s
    Sorry Annie, no wonder you left the Bikram community!

  9. anon says:

    Anusara company was an utterly poisoned workplace culture. I'm not brushing off the issue of individual action or responsibility. But broadly, ultimately, when it's that bad, when it's a culture, you can't do much but get the hell out. This is an extreme example, but outside my city, there was a terrible tragedy at a juvenile detention hall in which dozens of kids routinely abused and malnourished. The state investigated, and found such pernicious corruption that they not only arrested some staff members, but also fired the ENTIRE STAFF. The explanation was that "the culture found on staff did not support honesty or ethics in either conduct or disclosure." In other words, it was everyone. There were abusers and complicitors. There were in-groups, and secrets. So you can do what you can as an individual, but when corrpution is that pernicious, that embedded, the situation is NOT salvageable. The place is now closed.

  10. Verena Jovan says:

    this article releases my own pain and suffering by any teacher. it helps me now through these moments backwards, when I gave my power away- thanks Bernadette! Do not accept teachers who are spreading just the half (or even 80% or more.+) of the truth…damn: listen to your own heart and feelings. do not become a blind follower-just because there`s no better one around! lovlovelove and peace for us all finally!

  11. yogijulian says:


  12. yogijulian says:

    admiring you greatly bernadette.

  13. Charlotte says:

    You are a gifted writer. I am a devoted yogi but Anusara Yoga has never resonated with me. I could see clearly that much of what has come to pass was lurking from early on and inevitable – even from the outside! I can’t comprehend how so many intelligent yogis were blinded. 
What I observe in your practice as reflected through your blogging and on Elephant Journal is a failure to practice svadhyaya. You might consider as a part of your reflection process in this time of change to reread your blog entries – all of them. You might see that with seeming assuredness you move from one (often conflicting) passion to another, like a ship being rocked in a storm.
Some of it looks like this: Writing a book – 100% committed. Coach-in-training with an amazing coaching group – I’m in (and my readers, you should be too)! Coach-in-training with different big name “coach” – THIS is the real deal! Anusara Yoga and John Friend – 100% buy in; Anusara Yoga and John Friend – I’m out! Time spent on the internet is wasted and an ego addiction – I’m committing to staying away. Forgot about that insight, now I’m blogging daily…In politics you’d be called out for being a flip-flopper.
If you truly want to be a leader or a captain, of yourself or anyone else, you might want to retreat, and contemplate what you can share with the world with satya. And maybe some quietness would cultivate santosa.
 Back to the basics of the practice of yoga. (What is coaching anyway?Anyone can hang out that shingle)
What would it be like to reign in the ego – stop all the shared pictures and words? What would it be like to really practice yoga and log lots of time in savasana? 
THEN, maybe you could use your gift to actually write that book. And teach what is steady and true, for I’m sure you are a lovely teacher. And cultivate real sattva. 
I wish that for you even though I don’t know you.