May 20, 2012

Read Between the Lines: Responses to John Friend’s Latest Letter. ~ Livia Shapiro

A letter recently came out from Anusara, Inc. about the ‘state of the union’ as you might say.

While I resigned months ago, I am once again disappointed in John Friend’s behavior, ongoing manipulation and holding of power through misuse and abdication of ownership.

By this I mean that I don’t think he is stepping up. I don’t think he is doing “the right thing.” I must confess to wanting a collapse of Anusara Yoga as it was, because the following letter is what I was afraid of—no change if John Friend is to stay in power as the sole owner of Anusara, Inc.

I have little interest in presenting this issue in a neutral manner.

The letter itself is hardly what one could call neutral—it is a manipulation of power through words that renders anyone in Anusara, Inc. but Mr. Friend entirely impotent. I do not think it takes much to pick out the places of misdirected, condescending, arrogant, and shameful excuses, but I have taken the liberty to pull some out bit by bit.

I know some of you might wonder what’s the point of doing all this if I have resigned and moved on? Why do I care? Well here’s the thing. I don’t care that much about Anusara Yoga. I don’t think we need to go over the parts of the method I like, how I love all styles of yoga, how I need a big space for creative freedom and expression—yada, yada, yada—boring! We have had that conversation so many times.

I care because this is something that pisses me off from here to the high gates of Krishna.

It is like a gas that creeps into your system and before you know it you’re passed out. Before you know it you were hoodwinked. Its like a roofie in your spiritual drinking cup.

So before anyone gets wowed by this letter I suggest you consider the subtext of what is written and ‘what isn’t said.’

If you would like to read the letter in full, please find it here.


Below are the explicated pieces.

The previous Leadership Committee will be replaced by the Teacher Advisory Committee beginning immediately and will officially run under the direction of Anusara, Inc. . . .

Really, replaced? Interesting. Do you mean to say that the previous committee was fired? If this advisory committee is running under Anusara, Inc., and you remain sole owner of Anusara, Inc., they run under you.

. . . through a new five member BOD made up of professionals within the Anusara community. The initial directive of the Teacher Advisory Committee is to now organize the following committees:

1) Certification

2) Curriculum

3) Teacher Products

4) Community Communications

 5) Ethics

The committees were impotent before because of your manipulative and abusive controlling sole ownership of Anusara, Inc. Not to mention, who will choose these members?

An interim Certification Committee will be activated this week, so that many teachers whose paperwork has been in limbo during the last three months can start to flow again starting now.

It is now policy that in order to become certified you must get licensed. It used to be that you got certified (or got your diploma in Anusara Yoga) and then chose to do Anusara, the great privilege of being licensed. It seems as though Mr. Friend has now changed the policy so that you must sign the licensing agreement if you are to fulfill your certification requirements. In no other organization would this fly except one of a sole owner. That’s like saying you can’t get your masters in counseling if you do not plan on taking the licensing exam.

Also, the office has been working diligently this week to sort and organize all the new applications we’ve received since mid-February. Since then, in total, we have received 34 new applications for licensed status, 70 total teachers in the Anusara-Inspired licensing process, and around 200 in various stages of the certification process. 

There are currently 930 licensed teachers who have paid this year’s fees. In addition, we have many, many applications pending for new licenses of which came into the office during the last couple of months. Teachers from around the world have been calling in regularly to see when the certification process will begin again.

What exactly is said here? Why give us these numbers? Is it to ensure confidence in the seriously flailing Anusara, Inc., which is, let me remind you, owned solely by Mr. Friend? These numbers are meant to sound impressive and put those of us that resigned in our place. If anything else this whole paragraph is, shall I say, useless.

John Friend will retain sole ownership of Anusara, Inc., and will replace Wendy Willtrout on the BOD if/when he is cleared by an ethics review.

Really, Mr. Friend is to remain the sole owner? I can’t say I am surprised about this, but I think he just sealed the coffin for many more teachers to leave the silly sham this has now become. In fact in the time it took to write this three people texted me saying they were done with Mr. Friend and Anusara. Wow . . . shocker! Oh and by the way, how does he presume a fair and actual ethics review can be done if he is the sole owner of the corporation the ethics committee works for and which has say in who is on the committee? Do you smell that?

John will continue his sabbatical until September at which time he will return to teaching under his own name and auspices. For the rest of the year he will not use the Anusara yoga trade name to promote his teachings. Pending an ethics investigation, it will be determined when he may use the trademark again in his public teaching.

Lucky him. Now he can acquire money from teaching under his own name and auspices and acquire revenue from Anusara, Inc. which he solely owns. I thought that once you were certified you actually couldn’t teach anything but Anusra once you signed that licensure. Oh, wait Mr. Friend was never certified himself. Subtext of the whole above portion is ‘I, John Friend reserve the right to teach what I want, when I want, to whom I want.’ Never mind the fact that this man has shown himself to be manipulative and emotionally impaired. Think about it. Do you really want him to be your yoga teacher?

However, he is confident that when a fair investigation is held, a great deal of truth will arise, and he will be cleared to teach Anusara yoga in 2013 if he wishes.

And by ‘truth’ of course we are talking fabricated manipulated evidence to confirm Mr. Friend’s spiritual bypass in the name of Shri. Not to mention the fact that a fair investigation can’t be held because he has his hands in choosing the members of the committee investigating him. Subtext here is ‘I am going to make it seem like I am being investigated for doing something wrong.’

Through this crisis the mettle of the community has surely been tested.

Of course it has. We have had to decide if we will continue to enable Mr. Friend. Many of us chose not to.

There have been great examples of steadiness and open-heartedness during this time . . .

Here, we also have the subtext that steadiness and open heartedness is defined by doing what Mr. Friend wants. What about holding steady to one’s own boundaries and core values? What about the intense open heartedness it takes to trust the future and the value of disbanding from Anusara?

 . . . and there have been terribly negative and harmful emotional reactions as well.

This is one of the most manipulative things said yet. Basically it reads that if we have an emotional reaction that is not the one Mr. Friend wants, then it is immediately negative and harmful. I think he might perhaps try tolerating the discomfort of disagreement and conflict. Let me remind you that his reactions have been deleterious, as well.

Without engaging in the vicious postings on social media from a very vocal minority, many teachers have quietly held their affirmation in the efficacy of the Anusara yoga methodology.

I guess since I am writing this I am part of the ‘vicious vocal minority.’ I did not resign because I thought the methodology was bad. I resigned because I think the way Mr. Friend was using it was a shameful excuse for having the right to be called a teacher and a leader. I affirm the efficacy of much of what I learned in Anusara Yoga, but I certainly don’t think everything Mr. Friend did was efficacious. If he is conflating efficacious with affirmation, then he just ruined the whole lot for himself here, not to mention he needs a dictionary. Furthermore this creates the very divisive in-group/ out-group phenomenon that has plagued Anusara for years so that all conflicts are reduced to descending voices that must be squashed.

Even during this darkest period in its history, Anusara yoga has continued to help many students around the world. This is the greatest blessing of Anusara, the community we all love.

Just a few paragraphs ago, I was told Mr. Friend is the sole owner of Anusara, so how can it be a community we love? I do not love you, Mr. Friend. John Friend is Anusara. In no way should this be deemed a community. A community of one is an oxymoron.

Now we move into a new, exciting stage of Anusara’s evolution in which the teachers take the reigns of the school of Anusara yoga.

A new era perhaps, but the teachers will never have the reins so long as John’s the owner.

 May we move forward together now in peace, 
John (on behalf of Anusara, Inc.)

John is always “on behalf” of Anusara.

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.

Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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