John Friend is (already) back. Anusara is Dead.

Via Michelle Marchildon
on Sep 12, 2012
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John Friend with worshippers at his feet

Hatha, the New Anusara?

Attention Anusarians: your leader has finally abandoned the ship…that most of us abandoned long ago.

Anusara? John Friend is now a Hatha yoga teacher.

Click here for some context, update, on the whole silly sad messy trials and tribulations.

After seven months of self-imposed exile, John Friend, the charismatic founder of the once merrie band known as Anusara yoga, is back. Friend has spent his time off recovering from a modestly Guru-sized sex, drugs and rock and roll yoga hangover.

He’s feeling much better now, thank you very much. And he came back to life with a new website, a world tour…and a new set sequence of postures.

And guess what? It’s no longer Anusara! It’s going to be just good ol’fashioned plain old Hatha Yoga.

Of all the parts of the story of the rise and fall of Anusara Yoga that are twisted and sad, the weirdest is this: why would Friend abandon the ship he lovingly built? This might truly be the end of the system.

At one time Anusara yoga had perhaps 1,500 teachers and 600,000 practitioners in the world. Today, perhaps 150 local or regional teachers remain. And followers? They have scattered too. Apparently, some students just want to practice yoga and not be involved with wiccan-related, marijuana, sexual escapades and Shiva-Shakti gobbledygook. Who knew?

The last thing Friend did, right before he turned out the lights on the school he loved, was to certify one more teacher in July. I wonder if Friend mentioned that he was leaving? Um, congratulations, and would you mind please shutting the door on your way out?

To catch you up, Anusara was one of the newest schools of yoga founded by Friend in 1997. Meanwhile, Hatha yoga has roots extending back thousands of years.

Many of the teachers who left Anusara became Hatha yoga teachers, including myself. I felt it was a symbol that I wanted my teaching to go back to the origins of yoga. Now Friend has crashed the party.

Not only has Friend come to Hatha Yoga, he brought the “Universal Principles” with him. Of all the elements of Friend’s history that are lacking integrity, one is that he took physical actions of yoga, and trademarked them under the Anusara name. For example, the inner rotation of Iyengar yoga became Inner Spiral ™ of Anusara Yoga™.

Before the trademark, if you taught students to rotate their leg so the inner thigh moved in, back and apart you could heal their back. After the trademark, you could be sued if you hadn’t paid the licensing fee. Friend maintained that there is a technical difference between the “rotation” and the “spiral,” because as he explained, the spiral just goes on forever, man. You know, like a rainbow.

Part of the teacher trainings included a section where you had to write a paragraph on the differences between a rotation and a spiral. It’s funny, but at no time during that contemplation did I think that was weird! Because a spiral is really cool like a rainbow, it goes forever, and like the Divine it lives inside us, and outside us, and it’s awesome, blah blah blah. I could go on about this, but I don’t want to get unproductive. Maybe there are differences. But the spiral just seems to, you know, rotate.

Like many people, I loved Anusara Yoga. Loved! I wrote a book about how yoga saved my life and particularly many of the teachings of Anusara. When the whole thing blew up, it took so many teachers, students and philosophers with it (not to mention my book, which was three years of my life).

I wish no being harm. I am glad that John Friend feels better. At one point he had a tremendous gift to offer the world, and perhaps with this new set sequence of postures he will again touch students’ lives.

I am curious to see this sequence called “The Roots,” as he once felt that a set sequence was not yoga. During my own process of becoming an Inspired teacher he emailed me to be sure that what I was teaching previously was not a set sequence. It was the one thing he disliked the most.

Wait a minute, I get it! The other set sequences in yoga are just set, like a rotation. But his is fluid, like a spiral! It’s pulsating, and it’s in nature! It’s in the stars, and even in stardust, which is what we’re made of, we’re all a bunch of Divine stars and universal energy, and we’re really, really cool and good and Divine, and practicing a fluid and ever changing set sequence.

Okay, now I did get unproductive. Thank you for indulging me in a sentimental moment brought to you by what is left of Anusara Yoga.

Which, now, appears to be nothing. Like a rainbow.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta, Waylon Lewis.

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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


134 Responses to “John Friend is (already) back. Anusara is Dead.”

  1. cathy says:

    You wish no being harm?? And you write this mean-spirited article?

    Ok, he did bad things. We have all read long articles here about his demise, scandal and the breaking up of the Anusara system. I htought he gave the whole thing up to some board, but I am easily wrong.. I saw strong leaders survive. I moved on.

    I see great intelligence in his deciding to not in any way use the name Anusara in hi steaching now. He let it go to the commtiiee or whomever. He wants to teach again. He knows a lotabout yoga and bodies.

    I you to refrain from mean pointed gossip, as all it doe sis create bad vibes an dmush HARM.

  2. KBT says:

    This post was great and hilarious (spiral ahahaha)! I didn't get too many mean vibes from it at all… maybe some disappointment. But it was a pretty kind article, considering.

  3. Robin says:

    I’m sure you are perfect, in your perfect world, with your perfect future. Ahmm yeah good luck with that.

  4. Bem says:

    I think you comments are a bit arrogant and not yogi like. Not very becoming to a person who calls herself a yoga teacher.

  5. tom rapsas says:

    Well done, Michelle. I thought you brought some humor and lightness to a subject that is still a pain point for many, while making a very valid argument that what was once gospel now appears to be yesterday's news. Best, Tom

  6. If we were teaching Anusara® Yoga, then we were teaching Hatha Yoga. My name is still on the Anusara roster of licensed teachers because I paid my dues when I received the bill in late January of this year. I no longer 'tag' myself as an Anusara teacher. The tags mean nothing. The practice, abhyasa, is everything. The alignment principles are alive and well in my teaching. Along with a whole lot of other tools and methodology. And much to my surprise after 17 years of practicing mostly alignment based yoga, I too have taken up a daily practice that is a set sequence of poses (Ashtanga Primary Series). Not defending John Friend in any way here. Just noting that my teaching and practice of Hatha yoga has always been and will continue to be an evolving practice of Hatha yoga…whether I was or am practicing Mr. Iyengar's method, Mr. Jois's method, Mr. Desikachar's method, Mr. Bikram's method, or Mr. Friend's method, etc. Hatha Yoga is one of the limbs of the vast philosophy of yoga. It is the one that we are most familiar with in the West, and oddly the one that seems most insignificant in India. If we are to continue to 'be yogis' then lets be jnana, bhakti, mantra, raja, karma, AND hatha yogis. Practice and all is cOMing, right?

  7. S.Y. says:

    bravo, yogi muse! funny and fluff-free as always

    diehard JF fans will always defend their idol, even when JF no longer wants to have nothing to do with them


  8. Michael says:

    I do not know who John Friend is. I am not sure why I am suppossed to care who he is. I have skimmed the numerous (really really numerous) articles that have appeared on EJ about him. Given the volume of venom directed at him I assume that he did something very horrible. I practice yoga. It is at the center of my life. Sometimes I like to read articles or go to classes to see if they have something to enhance my practice. If John Friend does not make your practice better, then I suggest that you not pay so much attention to him. I am not sure how all of the attention lavished on his terrible deeds can help my practice.

  9. robbie says:

    It looks like he's working on "The Roots" based on Desi and Micah:
    ‘The Roots’ asana sequence was originally developed by Desi and Micah Springer in 2004 and was modified by John Friend in 2012. A video of Desi Springer performing The Roots is planned to be released on the Internet this Fall. Also, a book on the Roots by John, Desi and Micah is in process, which will help to bring a lot of attention to this routine within the global yoga community.

  10. Marie says:

    Really? Still?

  11. Lauren says:

    Reading some of these comments so far, please don't let anyone shame you into silence with crap like "drama drama drama" or "How unyogi of you" for being critical and demanding that yoga teachers be held to some standard of integrity. I applaud your voice in all of this and I think it's absolutely needed.

    As both an activist and a deeply devoted yogi and spiritual person, I think too many people perceive false dichotomies between the need to challenge injustices and the need to have compassion for them. Calling out abuses of power and narcissistic behavior that had direct impact on our lives as Anusara students and teachers are labelled as "drama." EJ readers outside of the Anusara scene report being tired of seeing the endless articles on the matter. We're urged to "let him be." Because it's not good karma? Because good yogis let abusive, exploitative individuals go on without any voice of concern, any bit of honesty about experience? Because good yogis let other yogis find their own truth? I thought we were here to learn from each other, to support one another in our paths, to lift each other up and practice humility? You know what helps me grow? Hearing when I've messed up, and having the courage to face the extent of those effects.

    To the yogis that complain about the endless John Friend "drama" : practicing humility entails understanding that these issues have had and continue to have very real effects on thousands of people's lives, and we're going to experience it, process it, and work through it at the rate that we do. Because you can have compassion for someone and wish them growth and goodness on their path and still call out the things they did that were not right and were not okay and believe that it is valuable for people to be aware of these things. Because it is self-entitled crap to feel as if you can define how those that experience trauma should feel about it.

  12. Auki says:

    If you are walking a true spiritual path, a true yogic path, all your shadows must be processed… continually! John Friend gave the USA yoga communities the gift of looking at our own shadows. His shadows are many of our own shadows. This a good article because it helps the yoga communities to keep processing our shadows. The John Friend story must not be swept under the rug where it would fester. It would only be repeated later by a future yoga rock star… probably with more toxic and hurtful results. Thanks for the very useful post, Michelle!

  13. MatBoy says:

    I hope JF makes a lot of money and becomes really, really, really rich and famous teaching The 'Root' because he seems to be promoting himself again just as before. It seems to me that that is what yoga means to JF. I wish him safe travels and I would advise him to learn how to save money this time around so that the next time the music stops he will have his own chair to sit in.

  14. Vision_Quest2 says:

    It did not help mine. Time spent commiserating with the Anusaras who were disappointed, was time taken away from developing my own self-sequenced and proprietary, soft power vinyasa yoga practice. Never developed my practice to be much in the way of heart-opening … but there are a ton of other options to explore. Especially with my injuries …

    Anyway, I'm over that now. All that sturm and drang helped to finally lead me to pilates, which mat classes I take and which I have fused to my yoga practice. An unchanging sequence? Not really. No two days are the same. No two practices are the same. No one yoga practice feels the same as the one before. You face your yoga and you task that pilates for that day on your mat.

  15. Michelle Marchildon says:

    Thank you Lauren to have the courage to speak up. It's not easy being called "unyogic" and not compassionate just because some of us believe in living with integrity. As far as I can see, John has "borrowed" the set sequence called "The Roots" from the Springer sisters just as he "borrowed" his universal principles from the Iyengar system to put his own imprint on each. I have compassion for him as a human being. I'm not very compassionate about him taking advantage of many unsuspecting yogis looking for a little enlightenment. Not to mention the thousands of yogis who lost a boatload of money on trainings and certifications only to have the whole thing go up in smoke.

  16. coco says:

    oh, you are the one who cant change her facebook status, doesnt know how to get friends on facebook and couldnt figure out how to apply to be a lululemon ambassador by applying?? I am surprised you didnt use some of that backwards humor?? on this new phase of JF's life.

  17. Jess says:

    Very well done!! I appreciated hearing how your direct experience impacted you and I have these own thoughts myself (and have for many years). As far as the "trademark" is concerned, Bikram and Baptiste did the same thing with early teachers who opened up their own studios and training programs and wanted to pass the lineage down. What's really sad and upsetting is that yoga was meant to be used in this way. If a certain sequence worked for someone and healed them, then it was their dharma to pass down such a sequence. Unfortunately, capitalism (U.S. and most of the western hemisphere) reared it's ugly head and it was most likely difficult to discern between spiritual practice and lifestyle path. This kind of disillusionment has been rampant for years as far as I can tell watching yoga studios open, thrive, continue and sometimes close. As truth seekers we have to hold ourselves accountable for the knowledge we possess, what we share, how we share it and know that the practice sought us out for a reason. I have compassion for JF and realize that he's only human. Karma is real and I don't think we need to expedite the process although I understand the need to judge especially when you've been in the middle of the drama. For now, let's just breathe. practice. meditate. Namaste.

  18. kzelmoon says:

    It is not my place to say or decide what is and is not "true" yoga. However I do have an opinion and I always have trouble with styles of yoga that are created from a human mind rather than spontaneous divine inspiration. Again, who I am to say that Mr. Friend's yoga practices have not arisen in such a way… its just a gut feeling, too much unhealthy ego going on. Trademarks are important for protecting the integrity of the practice, not the identity of the "creator" of the practice.

  19. Guest says:

    Cathy, just FYI, JF did not give anything up to any board or committee. That is why so many teachers resigned–because John would not work with the teachers to give them any say in the organization, even given his own serious problems.

  20. Nina says:

    Great article, finally said the whole truth.

  21. evil ego B.S. says:

    Um, every piece of yoga actually came from human minds. You think that Krishnamacharya was magikal or something? That he had no ego? That he didn't need an ego to survive in the world? None of our teachers are magical. None of them are above being human. None of them would have survived without an ego. We cannot take John off a pedestal and just put other teachers upon it. In fact, none of them should be on that pedestal.

  22. chang says:

    the Denver workshop is $195. who will sponsor me and I'll report backkkkkk….

    Tne weekend will coincide with the beginning of Vital Yoga’s Teacher Training – maybe no one will have heard of him

  23. chang says:

    is wendy still with him or has she stopped sssing his d?

  24. Keren says:

    I love Elephant Journal. I was so disappointed with MBG when they launched the whole John Friend attack. I thought EJ stood a bit prouder and shared facts rather than spat self-righteous [email protected] I'm a vinyasa yoga teacher. I am not a huge Anusara fan, nor do I really care about John Friend and what he gets up to. I do know some amazing Anusara teachers though who base their teachings on service and community and KINDNESS. This article is bitchy at best, self righteous and hypocritical at worse. I think a quick revisit to the yoga sutras is in order here – ahimsa – or as my Mum says, if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all.

  25. kzelmoon says:

    "too much unhealthy ego" does not mean no ego. And yes I do believe in magic. Manifestations and such… some of our teachers are magical. Hope you find one, with a healthy ego, that you feel that way about.

  26. gGod says:

    I think this comment was bitchy and self-righteous… Maybe you should revisit the yoga sutras while we're at it.

  27. solar says:

    Yep, Anusara teachers were teaching Hatha yoga
    the hole time…With huge fees, trademarks and you named it.
    Once again a pattern… Something we call steeling! Steeling from the earth and the people…What is inspirational about taking other peoples ingredients and changing the packaging. Then, the great white hope comes back in a new episode and reminds everyone that they are free of trademarks because…it’s all Hatha people…i forgot to mention it…oups.
    Master of illusion! 

  28. K says:

    “…. Your article was bitchy!” “No, your comment was bitchy!” “You should read your sutras again, you bad yogi!” “No YOU read them again, check your ego!” “blah blah, quak quack my yoga is more real than yours, I know better than you because of it, therefor can judge just how bad of a yogi you are!”……..

    This is all too funny. Just observation, everyone needs to let the venom out from time to time, but I do have to ask, when did Elephant Journal and the yoga community become a high school cafeteria?

  29. darkwing dave says:

    The spiral healed my back… go figure. Universal is erm… Universal. Go figure… Shanti everyone, shanti shanti shanti. 😛
    I'm from a tiny place called South Africa where we have had a few visiting Anusara teachers bring great benefit to all our practices. I for one am grateful to them for teaching me new things. John Friend is not Anusara. John Friend is not Yoga. Yoga is the thing that teaches us love and forgiveness and tolerance and the limitations of our fallible selves… go figure….

  30. gphase says:

    So what does it mean that he now distances himself from Anusara? Is he giving it up for someone else to run, or is he leaving it behind to wither and die? Evidently he does not want to be in charge anymore? I've no stake in it myself – just curious.

  31. James says:

    Now would be a good time for all the yoga pundits to stop casting aspersion upon Wiccans. I know they're an easy target for lazy writers looking for a rhetorical device, but it's an actual religion comprised of real people. Slandering a religion, even one you don't understand, is really not cool. The practitioners of Wicca that I've met have been unusually thoughtful and moral people as a rule. I doubt they have any more use for John Friend's behavior than anyone else.

  32. Hash says:

    Great article. I didn't see anything particularly mean in it, it just highlighted that all he did was simply reinvent the wheel at other people's expense. I'm sure another JF will spring up soon. Actually, I'm thinking of trademarking my Interior Helix…..

  33. NoSnakeoilWithMyYoga says:

    I don't know about the world that you live in, but in the world that I live in, no matter what stupid, unethical, boneheaded, immoral or illegal thing that I might do, I still have to pay my bills.

    The man is a yoga teacher. As a business man, all he can do, repentant or unrepentant, remorseful or not, is to regroup and move on. What is it that the "yoga community," which eats its own progeny, can reasonably expect of him?

  34. Heather says:

    Is this all that surprising? If you know of Amrit Desai…..he shamefully admitted to sleeping with so many followers…..the Kripalu name fell a part briefly…I am not certain they ever recovered…he disappeared to India for a while and reinvented himself a few years later….as a reformed….better informed and informative guru/teacher.

  35. Scott says:

    Let him without sin cast the first stone.

  36. Roz Lambeth says:

    We all fall. Some of us get back up. JF is trying to get back up. I don't view this post as "venom" as some of you have mentioned; I think rather it is this former Anusara teacher recognizing that when JF fell tripped a lot of other people along the way … who are also trying to get back up. This is Michelle's way of getting back up, and moving on. A humorous look at mistakes made by her and her teacher.

  37. Kuru says:

    Kripalu has become a big-business enterprise since Gurudev left. He brought an unbelievably rich resource for yoga with a unique style that could be incorporated into anyone's teachings. He was sleeping with followers when everybody was sleeping with everybody, and he was ousted when it was popular to blame our incestors, real or imagined. There's a major teaching in that alone. He is a great yogi and teacher.

  38. ria says:

    LOL, GOOD JOB !!! thanks for poking a chuckle at this ridiculous invention this egotistical friend dude came up with. He wanted to go head to head with hatha ? wow and look what happened.
    I don't want him to start teaching again ever. He had his chance. I want him to go to India and just sit and meditate for the rest of his life. You never know when again his ego will inflate and another ridiculous blah blah blah new yoga he'll invent.

  39. Guest says:

    That's like saying, "this white collar criminal only knows accounting, so let's have him be an accountant again". John should learn how to make a latte, or hammer together a couple of two by fours, or serve food at the local prison.

  40. Guest says:

    Proof positive that culties will be culties.

  41. dan says:

    surrender, forgive, let go of the pain and it's causes, of striving, of the fruits, and seek love in its most unbound state

  42. Michelle Marchildon says:

    I don't mean to be more perfect than I already am, but did you mean "om" yeah?

  43. Michelle Marchildon says:

    I agree, and I'm kind of sorry. Please find my column on Elephant Journal where I apologize to all the Wiccans.

  44. Michelle Marchildon says:

    There's always Starbucks.

  45. yogamatt says:

    This article is witty and well written. Great job. Hopefully Friend will not be as "friendly" next time.

  46. Michelle Marchildon says:

    I think it means now that Anusara is meaningless and cannot attract new students, he is on to newer pastures.

  47. Michelle Marchildon says:

    I am that one! I tried to use some of that backwards humor, but this time maybe I was thinking straight?