April 17, 2012

John Friend: What the Daily Beast Didn’t Tell You. ~ Livia Shapiro

There’s More Behind the Latest Media Stories.

All right. I have something to say. Well no surprise there right? The small chick with the big mouth has something to say? Shocker I know!

Two articles just came out regarding John Friend and Anusara. One is in the Daily Beast within which I am quoted (and read further cause I have plenty to say about that) and one in New York Magazine.

The first article I would like to address is the New York Magazine piece, which I found surprisingly well written, especially in comparison to some of the other trash that has been published. And although it was clear and well written it was clearly angled to portray John Friend as victim and in so doing was a manipulation of the actual truth. I felt it left out some key points—points I do not think John Friend is confronting (at least from what I observe). Yes he has lost his empire, his credibility, his money and much much more. But its not like he was simply victim to his students vendettas. He made an unclean bed so to speak and now he has to wash the sheets.

I am not sure if silence or a piece with a different angle would have been more satisfying to me. I ask myself: “What should John be doing right now?” and very few answers seem to be the right one.

I guess what I wanted and still do want the most is the truth. If the media is going to cover this publicly then why not present all the facts? Is it because they are too legit? Maybe they aren’t sensational enough to get readers. I did not find anywhere in this article the other reasons why teachers such as myself left Anusara. Here are some of the reasons why I left and I think others share some of these sentiments.

The 10% rule for products made felt creatively restricting.

The licensing agreement on the whole was restricting.

I had philosophical issue with the shiva-shakti tantra primer put out a few years ago.

I did not want to teach a “heart quality” in every class.

I disagreed with the philosophical direction John Friend was moving Anusara.

I disagreed with certain elements of the certification process.

I did not like the censoring of certain teachers.

I did not like the rules around who could do workshops when and where.

It would have been nice, no, more so truthful to offer some of the other reasons such as what I mention above in addition to the sob story presented. And trust me this is information these writers have received. I have personally told reporters these reasons. But they were not shared. If one is going to do good journalism it seems only appropriate that these pieces of truth be included.

When the angle and agenda of something becomes more important than the actual truth manipulation occurs. This is exactly what happened inside Anusara under the guidance of John Friend and I found it sad this article followed in that vein. It just goes to show how systemic these issues of power, privilege, authority and manipulation are in our society. In essence I found this article a great mirror image of the manipulation used within the system of Anusara.

Furthermore if this article is indeed the truth from John Friend’s perspective then I am worried, seriously worried.

It seems as though he is only viewing certain aspects of the situation and not the whole picture. It is always easiest to see ourselves as the role of victim or rescuer and much harder to own ourselves in the role of perpetrator.

So long as he does not own up to the role perpetrator it pegs all of us in that role instead.

Not to mention I just do not think articles like this are good for yoga period. Oh, you think that because you were unaffiliated with Anusara these articles do not matter. Well guess again, this kind of press only hurts all of us who want to teach yoga because it puts people on the lookout for deception. Every yoga teacher is at risk here. The remedy? I don’t fucking know. Actually, that’s a lie. I do know. The remedy is for journalists to care more about the truth and less about their agenda’s. The remedy is to as a yoga teacher, teach authentically from that place inside you that is ruthlessly clear, curiously interested, and kindly engaged.

And speaking of the truth I would like to say a little something about the Daily Beast article within which I am quoted.

Dear Daily Beast, well, its good to know that you allow you writers to take peoples words and twist them and misuse them to simply produce articles you think will get readers no matter how far out of context they are. I thank you greatly for teaching me a lesson: Do not expect the media to portray you accurately. You only prove my point….one of my main points of contention and eventual departure from Anusara which is: that sometimes looking for the good doesn’t fucking work.

When I was interviewed for this article I was under the impression the piece was going in an entirely different direction than what was actually written. I assumed my words would be considered in context. I was disappointed to see that this was a piece about the Wiccan sex coven John Friend was involved in rather than the truth of why people were leaving and what the core issues of the situation were. I offered some of the points of departure from above along with some pretty astute if I do say so my self assertions about the nature of the situation from a variety of lenses of psychology.

Thanks for trying to tease me with your sensationalism Daily Beast, but while I don’t think John Friend’s actions can be condoned in any way, I also don’t think he needs to be humiliated publicly over and over. I am grateful that people shared so openly for this piece but I am not sure to what benefit.

Just to clarify, I do think this situation reeks, I mean reeks of emotional and spiritual incest. I really do.

And I do think there are individuals who in their effort to forgive utilize a form of spiritual bypass in order to get there. When in reality, dealing head on with anger and/or grief is actually the doorway to true compassion and forgiveness. My words regarding “incest” and “anesthesia” were strategically placed in this article in juxtaposition to another quote advocating for forgiveness. I have no idea if the woman quoted about forgiveness is bypassing or not because I do not know her personally. My words were in the context of a bigger conversation about the psychological implication of John Friend’s actions and how I was observing others and myself react.

I am interested in true deep, authentic forgiveness not some kind of people pleasing, its-all-ok thing. I also have drunk from too many a toxic pond to know when something is rotten. And my friends, this was rotten.

I honestly don’t care what John Friend did behind closed doors but I do care he misused and abused his power in a variety of realms.

I do care people were abused and manipulated. I do care that modern yoga has been deeply wounded. And I do care that we live in a society where a flashy agenda is more appealing than the truth….and I thought yoga was all about TRUTH.

Livia Shapiro
website:  ecstatic unfoldment

Teacher, writer, artist, spiritual activist, body poet, and forever a student, Livia Shapiro is a yoga teacher whose work is dedicated to helping people re-wild their body, mind, and heart through the practice of yoga. Her yoga style is a thoughtful and creative blend of years of study in Anusara yoga, Rajanaka Tantric philosophy, modern psychology, 5 Rhythms dance and earth-based ritual ceremony.

A Maryland native, Livia began her study of yogic traditions at 15 through the lens of mythology and iconography. Her interest then turned to the mat and since her teens she has been diving into the vast realm of yoga-new and old. Having begun teaching yoga in college, Livia has since taught in Baltimore where she began a grass roots donation based only yoga “studio”, Vermont where she ran programs for the UVM athletic teams, and Connecticut where she studied the art of creative, masterful teaching and studio management. She now teaches and makes her home in Boulder, Colorado alongside her beloved engineer (her muse) and their two cats. When not teaching she is studying, writing, dancing, hiking, cooking, reading, making art, and doing life simply and fully.

Livia is currently pursuing a Masters in Somatic Psychology and Body Psychotherapy from Naropa University in Boulder.  She is passionate about the ongoing conversation of yoga in all its forms- asana, devotion, knowledge, and service- all as invitations of self inquiry, deep play, and sensual embodiment.


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Prepared by Bob W.

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