So what are we fighting for? Is this “brand” worth saving?

Via Michelle Marchildon
on May 20, 2012
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John Friend with worshippers at his feet

It has come to this: Anusara the Brand versus Anusara the yoga.

It pains me to write this opinion piece because I have teachers who I love on both sides of the argument. Now that John Friend has agreed (sort of) to exit the company he built, people believe we can put this house of cards back together. Perhaps it can be saved, but why would anyone want to?

First, let me state emphatically that nothing is happening to the Universal Principles of Alignment ™, which John Friend defined and trademarked under his company’s name. These physical cues existed when Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar taught them years ago to John, and they existed in Ashtanga when he learned them from Richard Freeman. John simply re-packaged the cues and then charged royalties for using them.

For example, Inner Spiral ™ was formerly called Inner Rotation, but now it costs about $10,000 in teacher trainings and royalty fees of 10 percent of your income to use the new term. There are some who would say bad karma is created when you steal and profit.

Secondly, nothing is happening to the “Heart Language,” which is the term for the poetry-like talk Anusara teachers are known for weaving in and out of their classes. Nothing is happening except that former Anusara teachers are now free to either do this non-stop talk, or to shut the eff up and let the yoga take center stage.

Students have been voting with their feet by abandoning local classes for Vinyasa, Bikram and other styles where you actually move your body instead of listening to a centering for 25 minutes of an hour class. Anusara workshops are thriving with 30-plus students a pop, but local daily classes are dying and taking down studios that cannot survive with less than 10 heads per class.

I went to one local class here in Denver where the teacher spoke for 45 minutes. I cannot make this stuff up. I had a panic attack and left. To spare her feelings, I blamed it on the incense.

In my case, I have been able to support one or two Anusara classes per week on my schedule where six students in the room is a good day. The most popular time slots at this local studio get at the most 12 students and once I had 16, which makes me a local Anusara Goddess. I also teach Vinyasa style classes, which often average 45 students. My largest daily class was 60. The only difference, really, is I talk less in one of them.

Now Anusara, Inc. is on the ropes. Its founder, John Friend, was a very bad boy and I won’t go into details because it just doesn’t matter.

At first, he refused to separate himself from the company so the teachers and the methodology could continue. Committees were formed, then they were either fired by him or they quit because he would not cooperate.

He had promised to get therapy, and went to Barbados with a Colorado teacher instead (if there was any therapy involved, it happened while she wore a bikini—or less). He had promised to listen to the very real concerns teachers expressed about sexual harassment, shaming, favoritism, royalty fees and certification issues, such as how some teachers are approved without a video after a night of partying. Then, last week, he fired all of the most recent committee and placed himself back in charge. That created a wave of resignations which apparently surprised him. Surprise! People think you are behaving badly or that you have lost your mind.

After losing nearly the rest of his company in just 24 hours, John agreed last night to separate himself until an Ethics Committee clears him of charges. That last part is very important because other than stealing the pension funds of his employees (in fairness, he claimed it was a mistake, or that he was just borrowing the money, but federal investigators saw it differently), he technically has not done anything illegal. There was a lot of sex, but sex among adults—even screwed up married ones who howl at the moon—can be consensual.

So what are we fighting for? Is this “brand” worth saving?

Hundreds of teachers were psychologically damaged and their incomes were devastated. The style, now seen under a microscope, was flawed. Once teachers had a chance to consider the ridiculously dogmatic approach to how they taught Anusara Yoga, their world view has been chipped away. The freedom has created an insurgency of free-thinking people who are teaching yoga, instead of supporting a brand.

This is the bottom line: People are more important than a brand.

If nothing else, that is what the last few months have revealed. Going back to the dogma, to the trademark fees and to supporting a cult-like leader (because if you really believe that John Friend is going to stay away from the company he created, you are high) seems insane. At least it does to me.

I am proudly teaching what I think is best after 1,500 hours of yoga trainings. And you might like to know, I am going to finally, shut the eff up in the yoga room and give the students what they want: a practice.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


About Michelle Marchildon

Michelle Berman Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist, and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga. Her second book, Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga, is for yoga teachers who want to inspire their students. Michelle is a columnist for elephant journal and Origin Magazine and a contributor to Teachasana, My Yoga Online and Yoga Journal. She is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance and teaches in Denver, Co where she is busy raising two boys, two dogs and one husband. You can follow her on Facebook at Michelle Marchildon, The Yogi Muse. You can find her blog and website at And you can take her classes on


5 Responses to “So what are we fighting for? Is this “brand” worth saving?”

  1. West Anson says:

    Sadly, branding is all Yoga is becoming anymore. So many practitioners only care about name-dropping which classes they are taking or "Superstar" Workshops they are attending. It is no surprise John Friend is acting the way he is, all he has is the Anusara Brand. Without it he would be just another struggling Yogi trying to make a living. He isn't the first and certainly won't be the last.

  2. MatBoy says:

    Yoga has not changed!

    Branding is an attempt to put together a trademark-able asset from some external aspect of yoga. The trademark, through a legal, contractual arrangement that provides exclusive ownership and protection in our economic system, allows its owners, if successful, to earn monopolistic profits. That is how our capitalistic and legal system operate. Business schools ALL teach students how to exploit this system to their own benefit. It is the AMERICAN WAY.

    It is the same as selling bottled water: come up with a fancy label and maybe even a scientific sounding (though untested) claim for health benefits and you can make money hand-over-fist from believers buying into your lovely claims. But water remains one of the most abundant compounds on earth and makes up 80% of the human body. Branding/Advertising/Monopolistic profits.

    Yoga is still yoga, water is still water. It is up to you to see through this ploy and decide what kind of yoga you want to do and how much money you want to pay for your water.

  3. Virginia W says:

    i agree, MatBoy.
    It is up to us to see through the ploys – it's called discernment.
    Yoga is still and always has been Yoga. And, not all teachers are Anusara-bred. Some actually think for themselves, use their faculties of discernment and discrimination and refer to the teachings of Yoga for support.

  4. […] then tried Anusara, a popular style at the time, but didn’t love the experience. After studying the practice, I […]