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

Via elephant journal
on Apr 17, 2012
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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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14 Responses to “John Friend: What the Daily Beast Didn’t Tell You. ~ Livia Shapiro”

  1. Caroline C. says:

    The Daily Beast is a second tier political rag that delights in scandal (just check out their front page), so given the two angles of this JF saga, the small-business/franchising and the horny Dear Leader , that they went with the latter came as no surprise. I find the former more interesting, so thanks for this article.

  2. Angela says:

    Hi Livia, I enjoy your writing and perspectives. Thank you for presenting the non-sensational facts, personal experience, and a taste of the paradox.

  3. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  4. It's inevitable that journalism will look for the most sensational angle, because that's what sells newspaper. Media is not about revealing the truth, and it's impossible for your average journalist to ever be objective because of the ingrained and unseen beliefs and ideas that colour their perception of the world.

    Yoga may be about progressively bringing more and more light to the ignorance we don't perceive within ourselves, but journalism is about achieving – writing a story everyone reads, comments on, or gets off on… and selling papers that therefore sell ads.

    In journalism school, you're taught to find an angle and then get the facts that support that angle. That's how stories are written. Often the headline is the first thing written, or at least an idea of what the headline might be. It's extraordinarily rare for a journalist to have no idea about a story, interview all the parties involved, look over the material, see what the actual truth is and then present that… for one, it's way too time-consuming, and requires a level of discernment and objectivity few people ever attain.

    So yes, manipulation of what is, in order to achieve a goal, is rife in our society. In fact, to do anything other than this would seem absolutely mad to most people… What, you're not trying to achieve something by taking that action? You're not trying to make people think a particular thing, take a particular action? Madness!

  5. Very interesting observations, Kara-Leah.

    Thank you.


  6. ER RN says:

    Working in an ER, many times we have a patient or patients involved in some sensational shooting or what-have-you, and when the press writes about it, it is shocking how many inaccuracies and outright fictions are published as "news" . As a former Journalism major it breaks my heart to see how low journalism has fallen. The easy hook, the most sensational quote (even if it was never actually said) is all that they seem to be after. Unfortunately, an article about yoga is no different. Sex sells. Profound thoughts about the best way to teach yoga doesn't.

  7. BobK says:

    My first contact with Anusara came about 4 years ago after I had been practicing yoga for 3 years. Even at that time there was agreement among the teachers that Anusara was poorly managed and that JF did not have a clear and consistent management plan or direction. The teachers loved the method and the kula but had concerns about where the then current management style would lead the organization. I heard about the problems with territories and preferential treatment of some teachers; I heard reservations about JF's understanding and presentation of the philosophical side of Anusara, about his disagreements with Mr. Books, etc. Too much 'go with the flow' and not enough 'structure'. From a business management perspective, these problems are common in many small businesses that grow too quickly.

    JF knew of these problems but chose not to, or was unable to, address them effectively. Everyone involved knew that the problems were there and that they were not being handled objectively or openly. I heard many complaints from teachers that the organization was simply too disorganized; many offered opinions about what could be done to make it better. JF must have been aware of these issues, he probably wanted to address them and improve the situation but in the end, he was unable to solve them. Maybe management was just 'not his thing'.

    From my point of view, I'm inclined to believe that JF's recent troubles and 'fall from grace' are very Freudian. His way of getting out from under a situation he simply could not handle – moving Anusara from a loosely structured merry band of teachers to a highly structured, modern organization operating within the economic and legal framework of our age. His slip-up, hiring an IT guy who had access to his personal messages and then somehow pissing him off, seems very Freudian to me. After the accusations came public, JF did not do damage control to protect the organizations and those who had invested so much of their lives, time and money in Anusara but instead he turned tail and ran away from these challenges. He wanted to preserve his freedom to act as he saw fit for himself. He did not take on the father figure role that would requires him to step back a bit and nurture the next generation of leaders. I say, fair enough.

    So JF might just have gotten what he wanted 'deep down', to be rid of the stone weighing so heavily around his neck. On the other side, the dissatisfied teachers now have to step forward and put in place what they have been dreaming about all these years. Sure, we all get to work through personal issues, but after that we confront a clean slate upon which we can be creative and manifest our own will in the world. The joys of confronting the disappointment that the world did not live up to our expectations – Tantric demons so well portrayed in the mythology. Embracing all of life, saying 'yes' to everything. Celebrating life for being just the way it is. This is juicy stuff we should all be prepared for. The cards have been reshuffled and a new hand dealt. Isn't the most important this how well we play the next hand? Can we choose to celebrate the gift of being alive and having to work through problems, maybe even thank JF for this opportunity to breakthrough and to let him get on with his own life? Put the truth commissions to rest, knowing more details will not help. We can notice where we stand with the situation and then address those aspects of our response that we are not comfortable with. Those parts of us that are less than admirable, loving and supportive.

  8. I would imagine that John Friend probably has NPD, that helps me feel more compassion toward him and men like him.

  9. Jack says:

    Elephant is the Daily Beast of yoga blogging. No difference.

  10. gabygyoga says:

    Great article – Thank you!

  11. glad you spoke up. I was a bit taken aback by how the Beast quoted you. Good to know.

  12. Journalism has been sensational for some time. Have you seen Fox news during an election year? It is sad to see the gravitas of news reporting in the vestiges of what we hoped were fair and balanced publications caving to the need for numbers in a market vying for readers but this is the way it is and no good to blame that on the Anusara outcome.

    The students who followed John Friend might serve themselves well by getting on with what was supposedly a desire to study or teach yoga and forget about these trappings they dressed themselves in. And don't be fooled again.

  13. What's interesting is just how John Friend's conduct was reported and rebuked again and again and again. Kinda like Bill Clinton…you just never stop hearing about it.

    But one question/concern/dilemma remains……not how can we stop the Press/Media, etc….but HOW to address or prevent people from the inside misusing their power and position…..????

    The saying that Buddhism will be corrupted not outsiders but insiders is really true for Yoga these days.