Yoga Coalition: A New Community for Post-Anusara Teachers.

Via Melissa Smith
on Mar 2, 2012
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“The turbulent situation in Anusara threw us together. Before resigning, many of us worked closely to try to help John [Friend] make the right choices so the community could heal its wounds.

After resigning, we reached out to one another for support. The healing naturally evolved into us wanting to reconnect to and help heal our community, and to include others in a vision of a post-Anusara future.”

~ Bernadette Birney

In a letter posted on Facebook and on their new website, the Yoga Coalition states that it is “a group of yoga teachers who have recently distanced themselves from John Friend and Anusara, Inc. Regardless of our transitions from Anusara, Inc., we are as committed as ever to excellence in the art of teaching yoga, and to our local and global communities” with the overall purpose of “collaborating and building on existing relationships, in a decentralized way that fosters creativity and allows grassroots initiative. Some of us may collaborate on projects and programs to empower our students. Some may focus on building bridges to the larger yoga community. Some of us may work to re-imagine what a serious yogic education, with a true standard of excellence, looks like.”

(For the full letter, see Yoga Coalition: A Declaration of Independence from the Anusara Community.) 

While I’m seeing an overwhelmingly supportive dialog beginning on the web and Facebook from its formal inception just less than 24 hours ago, I’m also noticing comments by people who are bruised by organized tribes and are confused as to why those in the (former) Anusara community would even want to create yet another group.

This coalition, or YoCo (as some are calling it), comes not from a need for yet another hierarchical system of leadership but a broad stroke or collective of teachers who are either Anusara, formerly Anusara or Anusara-inspired looking for understanding, support and where to go from here. 

Bernadette Birney is a former Anusara Certified Teacher who’s had enough of the exclusivity. In a conversation with Bernadette, the group’s unofficial communications liaison, she shared with me the vision for the coalition and how she feels it will not only be a conduit for healing but “an opportunity to explore what yoga teacher leadership looks like”.

She feels it’s time to “claim and re-claim” her own authority and for other teachers to do the same. The letter is an open invitation to anyone who wants to participate in a conversation for creating bridges for the rest of community. It is not meant to be “the cool kids club”.  

“We’ve come out of a culture where there was rampant favoritism. The YoCo wants diversity.” 

The letter is signed by a mixture of well-known and seasoned Anusara teachers.

These senior teachers “stepped in to fill a need and felt it was important to move quickly in what has been a dark and ugly tone of despair. Some kind of hopeful message is necessary, and it galvanized us to action. The YoCo is not the sum total of the names on the list. The names are present because we want to be as transparent as possible. It’s just the beginning of a conversation of what we might come together to be.”

Bernadette goes on to explain that this co-creational grassroots dialog is what will establish the vision for the group. While this may not be a representation of the entire group, it is her personal desire that the Yoga Coalition will build bridges into the rest of the yoga community and reach to other yogic styles beyond Anusara. Anusara has been “introverted for so long and there are all kinds of possibilities to explore” beyond its borders.

“This is just a beginning and good place to start. And, we have a long way to go.” 

I am not invested in pulling anyone who doesn’t want to come along with me. I am dropping my end of that rope.”   

In fact, she is encouraging others in their efforts to create their collectives too. They don’t need to join YoCo. “They can initiate their own dialogue, create collectives of their own, and we can all create larger cooperation. We are not ‘the’ alternative. We’re just one effort in the process of endorsing others to do their thing.”

Emma Magenta, former Anusara Certified Teacher and Studio owner, also weighs in on the establishment of YoCo. In clarifying who can be a member of the Coalition, she’s “not even sure if there’s going to be a membership because it’s a work in progress.”

Although, Laura Christensen stated in a Facebook post that,

“our intention is to be inclusive to all formally licensed Anusara teachers who agree to the guidelines and/or standards of membership. These standards and guidelines are in development, as is a discussion regarding teachers on the Anusara path and beyond. It is not necessary to have been Certified.”

Clearly, there’s much discussion and “development” to come on this topic of membership or non-membership to the YoCo.

Emma confirmed Bernadette’s sentiment that the coalition’s objective is to be a catalyst for honest, healing conversation. She would like to see it “reconcile the value of inclusively and discernment” by putting a value on standards and guidelines.

She also recognizes that everyone will have a different viewpoint on this but is hopeful that “by working in a group with an active passionate interest in collectivity that those who are grief-stricken and confused will have a sounding board of like-minded individuals.”

She believes that the reason the YoCo has been so well received thus far springs from a longing present in the community to be connected. Through this connectivity, she stresses that the two most important things in moving forward are:

(1) helping to establish a standard of excellence in yoga educational training across all styles. And (2) the creation of a more collective model of yoga. She firmly states that the coalition’s purpose is not to create a new style of yoga but sees it more as a “guild of teachers and studios who hold similar ideals.”

She is convinced that the YoCo is “at the start of something wonderful” and hopes that people can be

“patient as we build it. It’s a marathon not a sprint. I’m dedicated to this idea of high quality education in yoga and to the ideal of trying to create and live that standard through the practice of working in community. It’s hard to build something and move forward as a group while integrating different voices into a consensus. In the end, I believe it will be a deeply satisfying work that help others and grow me individually as well.”

The YoCo will keep moving toward creating a structure that will be informed by the conversation in which everyone is participating.

“There is no preconception, other than [wanting] to be a collective of diverse voices.”

Aware that it’s not easy to step into the pain of another, YoCo hopes to start small and grow from the center out, first supporting those in pain, then as the situation becomes more stable, becoming bigger and stronger together.

Both women feel that the Yoga Coalition is genuinely acting in good faith, and after in-depth conversations with both of these women, I intuitively feel they are on to something that will no doubt impact thousands of lives. YoCo will undoubtably simultaneously draw criticism and praise, and if they prove to be as resilient as they claim, they will receive both with grace.


Editor: Andrea B.



About Melissa Smith

Melissa is a freelance writer, zealous traveler, momma, and AcroThaiTherapeuticsYogaLifeStudentOccasionalTeacher. She leads advanced teacher trainings for Leeann Carey Yaapana Yoga, specializing Therapeutic Partner Practice and hosts retreats in Texas, Thailand & New Orleans for Grace Yoga Retreats. Connect with her on Facebook, her Grace Yoga Blog, and Twitter. or read other Elephant Journal articles.


29 Responses to “Yoga Coalition: A New Community for Post-Anusara Teachers.”

  1. Vision_Quest2 says:

    If these people could acknowledge what I as a student, have always suspected: that Anusara yoga was always too expensive and under wraps; well, then, the enemy of my enemy could only be my friend.

  2. Overall, it sounds like a good idea. If they can create a structure that helps support and nourishing the practice of yoga by enabling a positive sharing amongst teachers without being trapped by the brand, corporate madness that is being too strongly present in some yoga nowadays – then they will achieve something amazing that has long been needed.

    Keeping my fingers crossed.

  3. echo says:

    Me too. I never had all the time and $$$ required to get past the Immersions and was put off by the "insiders'-club" aura I often picked up, but I've had my own projections involved with all that too. Though I never thought of Anusara as my "enemy" per se, I did often feel in my gut that I couldn't buy into all of the practice as presented. We'll see where this goes, but I'm sure it'll have nothing to do with my own personal practice.

  4. Tim says:

    Okay. Now let's all go teach great yoga.

  5. I-Am Wallace says:

    Dear people,
    There is another level of awareness that is quiet and it still. In this space you will no longer need formal groups… branded kula… copy written logos… or registration fees. I’ve been silent on the entire issue since it began but I have to speak clearly here. This is not a reprimand – this only and simply is a different perspective I invite you to explore. You have dedicated yourself to a “thing” in the past. An opportunity to emerge from that “thing” and discover your PRACTICE in a life changing way has been heaped upon you as a blessing for growth. This is my thought… just breathe, just practice. Suppress your ego’s desire to retract into old samskara and “join ‘another’ something”. Turn inward! Turn inward. For much longer than you think you might need to… turn inward. There is another level of awareness that is quite and still. In this space you will no longer need formal groups… branded Kula… copy written logos… or registration fees.

  6. melissa says:

    me too. very optimistic conversations with these strong women.

  7. melissa says:

    From our conversation, it is their hope to address a lot of concerns and take all comments weigh them and move forward.

  8. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    Frankly, why would any of us care what 30 out of the1,500 Anusara teachers – let's call you the "2%" – plan to do with their lives now that your well-preserved and defended Cultic universe has suddenly collapsed?

    Beyond Anusara's "introverted" world, as you call it, the rest of us have been rocking on rather righteously – and humbly – for YEARS..

    So why not just join us — without all this continued hype and pretense?

    Become "servant leaders" again – and restore yourselves to the world of Grace and Humility.

    It's OUR help you need – and we're here to help you.

    Maybe each of you should pair up with a more senior teacher in another yoga tradition, and become students again?

    What a wonderful gesture that would be – and a real sign that you learned from this experience.

  9. SQR says:

    While higher profile teachers probably bear the most responsibility for the negative public perceptions, Anusara has expanded enough that they may not represent the majority of the teachers in that system anymore. In a market economy, people will always have to walk a balance between seva and making ends meet, but putting the concept of "service" into the Yoga Coalition core principals would help get things off to a good start. Another good start would be some of the high profile teachers in this new organization being forthright about their motives in forming it. While John Friend has nobody to blame but himself, this whole thing was convenient for those senior teachers who regretted the licensing agreements and the restrictions placed upon their self promotion activities. Maybe time for a new model?

  10. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    So, in effect, Melissa you're functioning as the group's PR rep?

    Hasn't this group produced enough PR for a lifetime? It's still trying to place itself at the center of attention. This is a restatement of the problem – not the solution.

    It's "Friend-ism" without Friend. You're replacing a male dictatorship with a female-dominated oligarchy – but the ethos is the same. In fact, your "expansionist" ideology – and infiltration strategy – is even more ambitious – and scarier – than the pretensions of the original cult movement.

    For this reason I say: Get thee behind me, Satan.

  11. melissa says:

    isn't that the Truth.
    just had a session with client with breast cancer.
    completely humbled by her spirit and her joy in learning how to heal her body…. I'm in awe actually.
    this is why I teach.
    this is the stuff of life: to support and be supported in our journeys.
    carry on, Tim!

  12. melissa says:

    dear one, keep up " just practice"-ing.
    walk the walk just like you do.

  13. melissa says:

    glad you chimed in. and i appreciate that you offered some of your own solutions. dialog is good. but solutions are what brings value to the conversation.

  14. bernadette says:

    I can't wait to study with senior teachers from other traditions. I'm psyched. (:

  15. bernadette says:

    Hey Stewart, I wanted to add something –I actually entirely agree that I have been guilty of yoga arrogance and elitism. That sucks, and I'm going to do better. Here's a letter I wrote to the yoga community a couple of weeks ago:…. The coalition I'm interested in creating isn't an "us" and a "them". It's about community–and for me that means community FAR beyond the little corner of the world in which I've spent that last decade. Gotta start somewhere, though, so my hope is to start local, and expand from there. Although I'm excited about it, I agree that it's not exactly front page news. (: Peace.

  16. JMJ says:

    Don't know why they won't post my other comment pointing out the flaw in your posting below, but we will see if this goes through.

    Your kind of tough-love talk that you been a-spoutin' is just another form of condescension: unbecoming on anyone, especially those who claim to be among the "humble."

  17. mattalign says:

    A sidenote: Bernadette, you're such a hipster!

  18. SQR says:

    OK, that might be a bit harsh… some of these folks have invested a great deal, are skilled teachers, genuinely nice people, and have a good set of principals to draw on. Nothing wrong with promoting that. I do hope, though, that they can avoid some of the pitfalls of "brand", self promotion, and compromised ethics that occurred when Anusara grew beyond the warmer, more sustainable community it was in earlier times.

  19. Lalita says:

    quote from the article: …"Some of us may work to re-imagine what a serious yogic education, with a true standard of excellence, looks like."
    As yoga teachers, we will always remain students and we all have the tools already; which are the Yamas and Niyamas and many books to read from genuine old gurus from India. Of course nobody is perfect to respect all the yamas and niyamas in one go, the best is to start applying them. It is like any discipline, the more you practice them the more you understand them. What teachers do is to apply them, experience them in order to help and guide your students. Practicing yoga is not being in a comfort zone all the time. An easy book you might want to read over the weekend is "I AM THAT" from Nisargadatta Maharaj.

    "I Am That" preserves Maharaj's dialogues with the followers who came from around the world seeking his guidance in destroying false identities. The sage's sole concern was with human suffering and the ending of suffering. It was his mission to guide the individual to an understanding of his true nature and the timelessness of being. He taught that mind must recognize and penetrate its own state of being, "being this or that, here or that, then or now," but just timeless being.

  20. simmonj says:

    Krishna Das wrote the melody for anusara and the chant is from an ancient scripture. Also the mantra is sacred in the lineage of many authentic yoga lineages long before anusara.

  21. Jason says:

    I have the studied with several of the teachers in the coalition and wish them the very best.
    The wisdom yoga continues to transform our spirit and diversity can only reach an even greater audience in the world.
    Looking for the beauty first allows us to remain in gratitude and remembrance.

    I would offer that anusara codifed some very powerful teaching that have been in existence long before their arrival in the western hemisphere.

    People are now comparing the anusara method to disneyland which reflects a lack of awareness of the origins of yoga and the concept of radical transformation. This cloaking and concealment will eventually give way to revelation.

    Let compassion and flexibility in our awareness move forward the socratic dialogue that forges the next era of western hatha yoga.



  22. guest says:

    great idea. i love threshold rituals. they lend respect and awe to any process of transition.

  23. […] You can teach and stand in the world according to what you believe: […]

  24. yogasamurai says:

    Sounds good Bernadette. Best of luck with it, too. Thanks for the reference to your web site. Wow, after reading your statement, I expected to see a photo of you in the public docks! Though, as far as I know, no one has yet invented the "Flog Pose." (lol) Peace always, Stewart

  25. yogasamurai says:

    One thing I might add; in my experience, everyone is guilty of "arrogance" and "elitism," much of the time, in fact, unless they have and apply a spiritual "program" – a faith that really guides them – and their group, if they have one – its ethos and operating principles — on a daily level.

    Many yoga-types might look to the yamas and niyamas as a broad compass and try to combine this with remnants of their earlier faith formation perhaps. Or this being America, they just wing it, thinking I'm good, it's all good, it will be good, because after all, it's "intrinsically good." I'll just meditate, and everything will go fine.

    But it won't, actually. At least, not necessarily. It really depends on the conscious self-awareness you have, the conscious principles you apply, and not just alone, but with guidance and stewardship, and your capacity to take an honest inventory — and then to make real amends by confessing your errors, and really changing your thinking and behavior

    For some yogis, referencing the yamas and niyama seems to have become just another "asana" — a way for them to "posture" themselves publicly, and rationalize for what their ego is telling them to do anyway.

    I have certainly enjoyed yoga, even Anusara yoga at times, for its fun spirit mainly, and for the gifts and insights of a handful of teachers. However, it's clearly not a place one should go to if you're looking for role models in spiritual strength, and character development. That's not what's being worked on by this community, or being systematically applied and taught.

    The 12-step groups that I am aware of do a great job of incorporating the "12 traditions" – really strong operating principles for 12-step groups and communities that keep 12 steppers from veering off course in their group practice – staying humble, grounded and strong. I see nothing comparable in yoga. The culture of yoga here seems antithetical to deep grounding. It's all about "flight" – the flight to personal "freedom" perhaps but one that invariably turns into a flight from true self – and true service

    And when that happens on a mass scale, the consequences and fall out are truly great, as we've seen.

    It's back to that old saying: "Physician, heal thyself." And do that, before you go off trying to change the world. Or maybe just, instead?

    Cheers, Stewart

  26. […] your wounds around power, trust, and surrender. This is why this is part of your journey. It has nothing to do with John Friend. He is on his journey, his healing; he’s learning his […]

  27. Prof says:

    I'm hopetul for these teachers. Obviously these are the former insiders whose eyes have opened. Absolutely in favor of their expanding their horizons to include other strands of yoga. In my field of study, there are many, many strands of approach, and I love love love my colleagues in those different strands. They spend deep time in angles I do not, and their insights are invaluable. In an atmosphere of intellectual (or spiritual) generosity, diversity is informing, enriching, exicitng. Very good!

  28. Harleigh Quinn says:

    "For some yogis, referencing the yamas and niyama seems to have become just another "asana" — a way for them to "posture" themselves publicly, and rationalize for what their ego is telling them to do anyway. "

    We really do need to interface. We do seem to think along the same lines. Especially the comment about the 12 step programs.


  29. Arline Padley says:

    I am in the German Reformed church and pray everyday that Mother Ann’s saints will march forward once again. I have one daughter in high school to raise but when she is grown, I will be on my way to the Sabbathday Lake community. I long for the kind of community the Shakers have achieved and I pray most fervantly that they will be there when I march forward as one of Mother Ann’s saints. God’s blessing to them.