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January 13, 2014

Moving on: Why I Left the Kult-A. ~ Michelle Marchildon

When the phone rang and the reporter on the other side said he wanted to talk about John Friend, I have to say, I was not expecting his call.

Denver is a big yoga town; we have as many yoga studios as Starbucks. We have more yoga teachers than a Yoga Journal conference. You are as likely to see someone doing a handstand on the street as you are to see them walking on their feet. John Friend is not the only teacher here; he is one of several thousand teachers here.

Nevertheless, the questions began. How do you feel about John teaching? Do you feel he has the right to teach? Do you think he should lose his license to teach? Do you think he is a bad person?

The truth is, I rarely think about him at all.

It will soon be two years since February 3, 2012 when a website exposed Friend’s closeted behavior and brought everything to light. I remember because it was the publication date of my first book.

My book is a love story to yoga, how it changed life for the better. But it was also partly a nod to Anusara, the alignment that healed my back and the themes of my teachers which healed my heart.

Just my luck; I publish my first book when people stop reading anything longer than a Twitter Tweet, and my primary style of yoga goes under. Can you hear the percussion going, ba dum bum?

After the initial shock and allegations, many of us lost jobs. We lost students. We lost our teacher. We lost our livelihood. We lost our innocence.

But some of us, myself included, found something more.

I branched out. I experimented with Iyengar yoga. I went back to Ashtanga. I practiced Yin. I’m now enjoying (or suffering through) Hot Yoga. I sought the teachers who could pull the curtain back on my practice in new and exciting ways.

I left the “kula,” which we used to call the Anusara community, because it felt like a “kult-a.”

What’s more, I was able to see my second book in a completely new light. Recast, it now addressed all styles of teaching and this made it a yoga bestseller.

I can say, unequivocally, I am so much better today because of the fall of Anusara. I know there are other teachers who did not make the leap from devastation to renewed growth—my heart goes out to them. But I never felt that rolling around in the muck was the best way to get clean.

So the phone rings, and this reporter asks do I hate John Friend? I don’t have any hard feelings toward Friend. I wish him the best—but the truth is, I hardly think about him.

Is he a bad person? How should I know? To my mind, he is just a person, human like the rest of us. Should he be allowed to teach? Honestly, should any of us be allowed to teach? I don’t know half as much as I should about yoga, and I’ve had a daily practice for 15 years. It is a never-ending study.

I should have realized from the tone of the questions that this reporter was looking for someone to put on the blame—he was looking for someone to say what others may think.

But he didn’t find it in me.

My feeling is that Friend’s behavior was like opening a door; it shed light on what happens when too many are too trusting and we stop thinking for ourselves.

In my case, when the door opened, I walked through it. This being Denver, there was plenty of yoga on the other side and I have, as is my motto, been finding more on the mat.

Friend seems to think there are many who spend their time focusing on him. I don’t know anyone who does, even in Denver. He’s kind of a curiosity. If he had 20 in his room on New Year’s Eve, there were other studios with upwards of 100.

This is a big yoga town.

Not one other ex-Anusara teacher spoke to this reporter. I don’t think it reflects a conspiracy to victimize Friend.

Maybe like me, they found something else and moved on.

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photos: elephant archives

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