Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Shadow of Anusara?

Whew!  The following post has certainly caused a stir -- not just here but on Facebook! Considering that most of my posts garner no comments, and the most any ever did get were something like six, I got to kind of assuming no one was reading!

After reading through some comments on Christina Folosono Sell's Facebook page, I thought I would do a bit of a re-edit, both because I can see some further clarification may help, AND because I do agree that I used some terms that do not reflect "Right Speech." Worse, those terms seem to have derailed the more important point that I still heartily endorse: contemporary hatha-yoga, and Anusara in particular tend to foster a denial of duhkha and at times an almost aggressively "feel good" Pollyanna-like myopia.

For the record: I acknowledge John Friend as one of my teachers publicly, even mentioning him in the Acknowledgement section of my book, and indeed he has been an inspiring and influential teacher for me. I was a participant of one of his first Teacher Trainings as well as one of his first Yoga Therapy trainings. I attended workshops with him for several years after that and I've taken Immersions with Amy Ippolliti in New York, and with Darren Rhodes at Yoga Oasis in Tucson (where I also teach meditation).

Oh, and perhaps it is relevant to know that I am not a Buddhist.

Recently, the "exodus" of several senior Anusara Yoga teachers (including the two above-mentioned) has caused a bit of a ruffle among the wider yoga "community" (if one can even be said to exist). I am not interested in speculation nor in what it may or may not mean for John Friend or the "Anusara Kula."
What I would like to respond to is the following comments made by Elena Brower, one of those who have recently left the Anusara fold, the "defectors," as it points to something I have long felt to be a "shadow" of the contemporary hatha-yoga world, and in particular of Anusara culture -- and perhaps one that merely reflects John Friend's own shadow. Elena writes:
"What I found is that I wanted more, I wanted to know how to feel as amazing in my house as I’d felt on my mat. As expansive, as calm, as beautiful, as connected, as real. I couldn’t link my behavior at home to my composure in my practice, and I needed other ways to learn how to be more remarkable as a Mama, an ex-wife, a girlfriend, and most importantly these days, a daughter. My practice was giving me feelings of fulfillment but they didn’t last, and I was still going home and acting out of alignment with my yoga, which was getting painful."
I recognize this pattern! That disconnect between "practice" and "daily life;"  the lack of integration of practice and the rest of life. Here is what I wrote in my book, Mindfulness Yoga almost ten years ago, about something I experienced back in 1976:
"I began to notice that while I left the yoga class feeling the divine bliss of heaven, by the time I got off the train in Flushing, I was back in my own private hell. In fact, the bliss I was feeling in yoga class seemed ever more remote and alien to the rest of my life. Even after I had started to practice the postures and breathing exercises at home, I continued to find that whenever I wasn't "doing yoga," the peacefulness I felt while practicing continued to elude me."
What brought me to a deeper understanding was the following passage where the Buddha himself describes a similar experience he had with his yoga teachers:
"Though one may momentarily be secluded from the cycle of suffering, the watcher remains as a seed of rebirth. As soon as the situation changes, rebirth easily takes place again. This is just what happens now when I get up from meditating. No matter how profound my absorption, after a short time I get caught up again in the world of the senses. The basic causes and conditions for rebirth have not been extinguished. Complete liberation has not been achieved."
When I first read about the Buddha's dissatisfaction with the failure of his practice to fundamentally change his experience of daily life, I instantly recognized the similarity to my own experience -- how wonderfully calm and peaceful I felt after yoga practice, and yet how all too soon I fell back into the suffering of craving and aversion. And when I became a yoga teacher, I saw how many students seemed to have similar experiences. They would leave class blissed out, but as soon as they got "caught up in the world of their senses" they found themselves back amid their anxious lives -- from blissed out to stressed out. This is the "rebirth" the Buddha was talking about. The question became how do we stop this apparently ceaseless cycle, this endless emotional and psychological roller coaster? In our very lives generally, and in our own practice of yoga specifically, we can see the process of samsara, the cyclic process of "birth and death" over and over, moment by moment!
In my experience, contemporary hatha-yoga in general, and Anusara Yoga in particular, are permeated by a willful denial and ignor-ance of the reality of duhkha. I've had this "argument" with John Friend twice. Once, after I had lectured a group of Moksha-Yoga Teacher Trainees for over a week on mindfulness, buddhist meditation, and the philosophy and history of the Yoga Tradition, John Friend came to give a talk, and the very first thing he said was, "I know you've just had a Buddhist scholar here, and they are always talking about duhkha. But I come from a place of bliss." His talk degenerated from there! I was happy to hear one of the students respond to him, saying: "Frank spoke a lot about joy, but also made the point that the way to joy was through nobly facing and engaging with duhkha, not denying it or turning away from it."
Afterward, John actually did acknowledge to me that he had overstated his case, had gotten carried away, and had reduced Buddhism into a caricature. This did not stop him from, only a few years later, in my presence at one of his workshops, stooping to the same caricature.
And this is the shadow I have long seen in Anusara. Everyone is exhorted to aggressively "shine out with Shri" and it's all about bliss -- poorly understood as a super "feeling good" when the Tantric understanding of bliss is so much more subtle than that, and ultimately not reliant on feeling good at all! The bliss of the tantrika transcends the polarities of pleasure and pain. The Rainbow Body of Peace needn't be pain free. By definition, if it needs to be pain free, it is bound by those conditions and is therefore NOT freedom!
The "culture" of Anusara (echoing the culture of contemporary mainstream hatha-yoga) is fearful of the "noble truth of duhkha." A kind of hiding one's head in the sand is encouraged with lots of feel-good, empowerment/motivational speaker kind of new agey pablum designed to soothe and pamper egos so often desperate for validation. I've heard more applause at some Anusara workshops than I might hear at a concert! I've been invited to teach at ashrams where the brittleness of forced happiness, the plastered on smiles and the shying away of any discord is truly suffocating. 
So, I am glad that Elena seems to have broken free from the forced glee-club of Stepford Wife yogis from a culture that seems to have demanded of her this kind of consensus myopia, and found a way to integrate the freedom and peace found in yoga into her life, learning, as she says, "that I can finally look at my behaviors head-on, and not flinch, but instead, HANDLE them. Talk about them. Apologize for them instead of being too proud to address them. And then – most importantly – SHIFT THEM."
It is noble and ennobling to face duhkha, to awaken from avidya (ignore-ance) and denial. A greater ease with life, the "full catastrophe," arises when one no longer HAS to feel all "shri" and happy-faced! The radical acceptance and unconditional regard we seek cannot come from denying such a fundamental aspect of life as duhkha! This is not to say that that is all there is to life! What I am saying is that in turning away from duhkha, one turns away from the path leading out of duhkha. To deny duhkha IS duhkha!

And, to rectify mis-understandings, duhkha is NOT "suffering" and the Buddha did not say "Life is suffering." He said "there is duhkha." Face it! Though mental anguish is duhkha, that is not all it is! Duhkha is the fact that sometimes you lose what you like; you get what you don't like. Duhkha is the simply fact that happiness is not to be found in circumstances!

Now, some Buddhists seem to forget that there are Four Realities for the Noble, and that acknowledging and facing duhkha is only the first. Kind of like the first step of the 12 Step Programs, it's merely the beginning! Joy and Happiness are two of the Seven Factors of Awakening. Make no mistake: the Buddha was no kill-joy! He just wanted us to understand where happiness was truly to be found.

metta
frank jude

37 comments:

  1. Thanks Frank for your words on this matter. I had drifted away from aspects of Anusara yoga a couple of years ago. This very succinctly helps to point out a few pieces to the puzzle that I had not been able to put my finger on.

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  2. Thanks for this teaching! I teach yoga (not Anusara), and I certainly enjoy the temporary high I often get in class as both a student and as a teacher. You describe exactly what has come to mean the most to me (and to my family!): those moments when I feel my practice alive in my life. Realizing I'm in the midst of duhkha, and remembering to breathe. Feeling like I'm about to lose it, and noticing that I can stop and stay with the "about to" instead of charging ahead into the "losing it." Those moments of 'living yoga' are fleeting, but so worth the practice. Anusara yoga may be in the worst kind of spotlight right now, but it seems useful for *all* yogis to use this moment to examine their practice and its purpose in their lives. ~jennifer derryberry mann

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  3. "The Rainbow Body of Peace needn't be pain free. By definition, if it needs to be pain free, it is bound by those conditions and is therefore NOT freedom!" - well said, thank you ;-)

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  4. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    This needs to be spoken, over and over.

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  5. Amen, amen. I struggle so frequently with this, and articulating this..how frequently pop psychology and modern mindfulness/yoga take aways are so frequently shallow, and encourage us to push away or deny reality.

    When what I have found most transformative in my practice have been the moments of full acceptance.

    And what I have found most powerful, as a teacher, is the difficult place of standing witness to each student's reality, as well.

    It can be an isolating and hard place to stand. It often means I'm trying to get out of studios and into the street, a homeless shelter, or a church basement. And it means I listen to things I don't always want to hear.

    I believe in the power of yoga and mindfulness. But that power lies in it's honesty.

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  6. Excellent! Thank you and well put. I see this as the American-culture dilemma and this teaching is the key to freedom from looking for "happy".

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  7. It is the "missing link" in deed. It is not practical to think that we can be "blissed out" 100% of the time, and when we don't/can't seem to achieve this... it puts us on the outskirts of the community. Not a great feeling to have when everyone else is seemingly so freaking happy all the time.

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  8. I thank you for this piece. I am a student of Anusara but studied and practiced Buddhist practices before finding Anusara. Being a little older, and happier in who I am, and realizing that no one path is the answer, but all of it is and we have the answer in ourselves helps me get through the day, and all of the days. Anusara's principles resonate with me and I've found the most knowledgeable, nurturing and supportive teachers in Anusara. But I'm not a disciple of John or of anyone, but maybe myself.

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  9. This very talk is why I think so much of you!

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  10. Do people really believe that a yoga class can shift life long trauma's, patterns and belief systems? I am a therapist, a yoga teacher and a "friend" of Anusara. Transformation takes place on many levels and through many approaches, especially in modern times. Yoga in general helps us to connect to breath, to calm the fire in the mind and Anusara looks for the good. It is already the human brain's proclivity to attach to the negative. I do believe that pain should not be feared and that all aspects of our selves and lives embraced. I have not heard from John Friend or my Anusara fellows any teaching that says to avoid pain or suffering....nor have i ever interpreted that. Thank you for the discussion! Namaste. Lisa- www.myrelationshipemergency.com

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  11. I'm a certified Anusara teacher who is heavily (pun intended) influenced by Buddhism. I remember in one of my first Anusara teacher trainings, we were encouraged to "complicate the theme" (you have to teach with a theme in each class to be Anusara), that is, express the shadow side of the theme as well. For example, if the theme is "Life is good," you also talk about the difficulties we experience in life and how often life doesn't feel good. My class themes reflect this; last week I taught Working with Triggers and the week before that, Bringing the Hell Realm to the God Realm, and Back Again. My stories in class always reflect the ways in which we can bring our yoga practice into our daily lives to deal with fear, anger, and depression. I'm certainly aware that John sometimes evinces a fraught relationship with Buddhism... but the truth is Buddhist Tantra does not conflict in any way that I know of with the Shiva-Shakti Tantric philosophy that Anusara teaches. I'm also willing to give John space to figure out that Buddhism is more complicated than he perhaps once thought. I think he's already shifting in that direction. I've also seen John talk about incredibly difficult moments in his life (deaths, divorce, etc.) and been moved by how his practice has supported him. I've seen other Anusara teachers who have been supported tremendously by their practice and community in the face of devastating illnesses and even the murder of a child. In any case, I agree with some of the sentiments in the article, and disagree with others, but I think it's a mistake to paint all Anusara teachers and students with the same brush, and especially to use disparaging generalizations. Being judgmental about John being judgmental about Buddhism... who among us has the courage to let go of their judgments first?

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    1. The author is justifying their practice of Buddhism and needn't have to bash Anusara to get across the point here. They're different philosophies.
      I practices Buddhism for years. For me, it was a lot of avoidance of a lot of things that didn't get me deep enough with myself.
      When I started learning more about Tantra from Douglas Brooks and the Anusara method, we learned about bliss being our pure consciousness.
      However, that doesn't mean that we feel bliss all the time. We don't fully know ourselves all the time, and we don't reveal all of who we are all the time. This is called "mala" or pronounced mulah. It cloaks and limits our expression of bliss with anger, sadness, or unworthiness. When we feel these feelings, anger sadness and unworthiness, we limit our ability to feel our consciousness as bliss. And when I attend to those feelings I can reveal my happy and true self.
      It works for me. And has for years. Please respect that and allow me to believe what I believe. I'm happy you've found what works for you as well.

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    2. Yoga is the union with your higher Self. Get rid of this narrative... find the Self, that's where yoga happens.

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  12. "A kind of hiding one's head in the sand is encouraged with lots of feel-good, empowerment/motivational speaker kind of new agey pablum designed to soothe and pamper egos so often desperate for validation."

    Quite frankly, this has never been my experience of Anusara yoga. Like, ever. A "willful denial" of dukha? A "forced glee-club of Stepford Wife yogis"? Interesting choice of words. Again - not my experience.

    Perhaps you were feeling a different part of the elephant.

    "O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim
    For preacher and monk the honored name!
    For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
    Such folk see only one side of a thing."
    ~The Buddha

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  13. aah frank thanks for this reflection, so interesting on so many levels, thankful for the perspective and distance so that we can actually get in there and see things as they are, and see who attached we are to what we think we know and what we think is 'The Way' so interesting how the sutras and precepts have been co-opted to represent everyone's theories, and yes that clinging to bliss and zen, and how this zen/bliss has been used in this country to sell more and get us to another level of being that is better than everyone else's way of being, as a teacher of young children i know and value the importance of our mis-takes, that these opportunities as the way we learn and evolve more as humans...and notice how yoga has become this competition amongst the various schools/way soy practicing..my way will get you to bliss quicker than theirs, do this do that wear this wear that...also makes me think of that you tube video shit yogi's say...

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  14. "So, I am glad that Elena seems to have broken free from the forced glee-club of Stepford Wife yogis." First of all, this statement is an insulting caricature in itself! Second, it's not my experience. There is a great depth to your article in the articulation of the beauty of Buddhism, but a great lack of depth in your understanding/presentation of Anusara. Both John Friend and my personal teacher's in Anusara teach embracing all aspects of life, dark and light, challenging and easeful, and they not only encourage that I present that in my classes, they insist on it. I consider myself a very grounded person, and I teach in a community of people who are very discerning. Our classes are discussions, considerations, explorations. If John has behaved disrespectfully I hope that this article encourages him to be more cautious- I have always witnessed him as a person happy to acknowledge his imperfections. I personally loved your book, but am disappointed by the snide tone of this article.

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  15. Also, the insinuation of Stepford wive's is not accurate in my case. My husband and I are working artists & small business owners with a lot of debt & low income. I basically attend my studio on scholarship, and have received gjenerous scholarships every time I've applied for them for John's workshops.

    I'd also like to comment on Elaine's courageous new path: she is doing what she needs to do, and her example is a good one. To have integrity & be honest about who you are is hard, especially if you have a long history & publicly known affiliation with one group.

    Again though, so far, my experience is different from hers. The lessons and practices I've learned in Anusara have helped me become a stronger more mindful and person.

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  16. I am a student of Anusara and I am under the impression that by "bliss" John Friend is refering to the whole package that comes with the gift of embodiment. So "bliss" we are given this gift of life, gratitude for the challenges life serves us with because ut us through these challenges that we learn and grow in life..during these difficult times in Greece ( I am Greek) we are learning a lot..that does not mean we are blissful all day. Due to the practice of Anusara Yoga I find I do have a more open heart in these times and I also manage to see the teaching, maybe not immediately when the bad news hits me but given some time to think things over I do and that is where the term "bliss" comes in. The post yoga bliss will not stay if we wait for it to passively stay with us for the whole day and then start to wear off as we go to our next yoga class. Post Yoga bliss is about the way you view and deal with lifes challenges being able to take your practice off the mat is something you need to cultivate everyday it won't just happen as an effect or side effect of the practice. The practice strengthens your ability to pause..breathe..hug into your midline and your values..and remain expanded in the midst of challenge."Bliss" we can accept and take the whole package of life as good..i.e. it is ok your are not feeling well today, don't fight it away with pills, accept it breath, align your body and you will be better tomorrow.

    I have had my share of serious challenges and Anusara has helped me hugely both on (dealing with injuries ..those U.P.A are amasing) and off the mat.

    As far as the teachers leaving Anusara are concerned. There are no life contracts. Freedom to grow and follow ones heart is important and I totally support them in their choice. May they continue to grow and serve the world with an open heart!

    Last but not least is that I don't think it is the right time to have this discussion. I would have personnaly valued this discussion much more had it taken place a few months or even weeks ago.

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  17. You should try Forrest Yoga. Ain't no denying your dukkha there. They only way out of dukkha is through (feeling) it fully with breath, body and mindfulness. Which is why we always have tissue boxes in our classrooms. You never know what might come out!

    Love,

    Kristin Kiki Lovelace
    A Forrest Yoga Teacher, Vipassana Meditator and Real-Live Human who dances with (rather than denying) all kinds of emotions.

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  18. I appreciate the willingness to expose any kind of shadow in any organization and/or teacher. EVERY organization and being for that matter has a shadow, with the rare exception of avatars who are seamless in their expression of duality. Even they have shadow with perhaps a lack of schism or fragmentation in the psyche expression of it. Dukha, in hindi we call "pain" "dukh", is a part of life, whether pain becomes suffering is tempered by the level of consciousness we are residing at and perception. Deepening levels of enlightenment, that is awareness and compassion allow for the embracing of all experiences and as I experience it, a capacity to metabolize the mental/emotional bodies through naming, stillness, and self-regulating practices. Hatha yoga is such a small slice of the pie, and is more often that not ego-enhancing for the untrained person, untrained in consciousness work that is, with no real understanding of their own presence. We all start out here at some point and end up there again in and out we go. Hatha-yogis who are not engaging depth-consciousness work or relational mindfulness, who don't even understand projection at a basic level are lured and seduced by the euphoria of an endorphin rich nervous system, as well as the devotional bliss of bhakti yoga and chanting- kirtan and the like. All of which is the cream on the top, beautiful and communal, and yet one drop of the deeper mystery of shadow birthing and deathing itself will reveal the immensity of power in the Shadow. I recall Kahili Gibran here on Love:
    "But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
    Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
    Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears."

    and

    "For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
    Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
    So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth."

    BTW Ana Forrest stays with catharsis- process through the mental and emotional bodies through tapas. Too much tapas can suppress and one may actually experience more efficiency by tracking at a deeper nervous system level through fluid instead of always sweat lodge fire. Knowing when to honor masculine ways and when to honor feminine openings. You cannot take heaven by storm, one teacher use to say.

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  19. James reminding us of NAMASTE....IS ALL

    my experience is
    that when i finally untangle
    the ball of worldly yarn
    that is my body,mind and SPIRT

    IS that
    JOY IS MY NATURAL STATE
    that
    JOY is the highest form of WORSHIP
    and also the highest expression of GRATITUDE

    HAVE FUN
    if Yoga becomes an argument and essay competition

    it just proves that you guys are American
    and should go to India for a few months
    to cleanse yourself of the day to day

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    1. No one needs to go to India to awaken. It's all here now.

      As the Buddha said upon awakening: "How marvelous, all beings, just as they are, perfect, whole, lacking nothing." How's that for shri?

      The caveat is that nothing is excluded -- including the shadow -- and THAT is all too often ignored. AND, as I write above, not just by Anusara. It is a pervasive tendency in our culture: the hyper, almost pornographic fetishization of the shadow and the attempt to avoid it where it exists in our lives.

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  20. Thank you for discussing this topic. For me personally, I have learned that it is only through fully feeling your emotions that you are able to release them. If we acknowledge all that is us, good or bad only then can we bring about change. Denial and suppression never got a person anywhere! I like to go to my dukkha in my personal practice. Hold it at the edge, sense where I need to go to release it. Then I create an affirmation that I can continue to say during the day that helps me learn to apply that release that I just did on the mat. Works for me like a charm! ~ Elle Bieling at The Body Window

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  21. I think no matter the faith tradition or spiritual practice, this group of people and this ideology exists and pervades. I remember when I was a practicing Catholic, we used to talk about "retreat high." The thing was that I never really bought it. The euphoric artifice of 'let's just smile and be happy' and 'life's too short to waste any minute being unhappy.' It isn't real. Life is way too complicated for that. Human beings are way too complicated for that. And I think furthermore, if someone is sri-ing out or smiling because that is what they feel are supposed to be doing rather than how they actually feel, this can cause even more dukha. To live authentically, in touch with myself and the present moment, is the most I can hope for and trust in. Lisa O.

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  22. Folks, study your Buddhism, study your Tantra (and everything in between) and see they all point to the same place. Each individual (teacher) will have their own emphasis and their own blind spots. Each has their own path to walk. Don't worry too much how someone else's path looks (or versions of these teachings look). Their path is their path. No one else need define you. Their samskaras are their's to sort out, and yours are for you to visit over and over, and over....

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    1. Well Bruce, I can respond to your comment from several angles, but what I will say now is that to say "they all point to the same place" is a particular ideology. Many practitioners in the various traditions would argue with you.

      This is part of what I am speaking to: the unquestioned ideology, metaphysics and cultural norms. There is nothing to be frightened about in good, open, honest debate. Such debate itself was a central practice of the ancient sramanas and yogis. New Age "feel-good" uncritical thinking seems to have infected contemporary yoga to such a degree that any dissonance seems threatening. If it threatens anything it just may be our comfortable identities.

      For instance, the Buddha honored "critical thinking" and yet many (perhaps most) modern day Buddhists unquestioningly accept what they are told without doing the work of questioning and seeing for themselves. They are more interested in being buddhists than being buddha!

      Thank you for writing.

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  23. I can’t believe this article.. I am slightly shocked that someone who believes in Buddhism to this extent would slander. It’s just worng!.
    To inform you the Anusara philosophy is about accepting every situation and trying to find a positive out of a negative experience. Anusara teachers do talk a lot about bliss, the joy of life etc etc and one does leave a class feeling very positive but I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Anusara encourages people to embrace life especially joy.
    The philosophy ties in well with Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to realise your true divinity and feel eternal happiness and freedom. As my Vipassana teacher says "Come out of your misery, come out of your pain and suffering". The practice of Vipassana is a tool to reach a state of true happiness... Same, same but different!.
    Maybe this Frank Jude went as far as he could with Anusara yoga but that does not mean it's not mindful. It’s just not mindful the way he expected it to be. We must remember often people enter a yoga class with their own baggage and expectations. In fact out of most of the styles of yoga I have tried, Anusara is probably the most mindful. You cannot tell me the UPA’s are not a mindful way to approach your body-? You cannot tell me that teaching a class with a positive approach, helping people to feel good about themselves is not mindful-? Come on!
    If Elena Brower felt she had to hide her true feelings away from her yoga students (and I am not entirely sure that is true) That is her insecurity, not the blame of Anusara Yoga. I have never pretended to be anything but exactly how I am in any yoga class. That said, when going through a tough time I try to be as positive as possible when teaching yoga because the class is for my students not me.. I will at those times centre the class around my own practice such as letting go, acceptance and always point out that we must be grateful for all our experiences especially the most challenging ones as it is then that we really learn grow. Now, if you are telling me Elena Brower couldn’t do the same and that is the fault of Anusara yoga, well that’s ridiculous.
    The teachers who recently left Anusara loved it, grew through it and became famous yoga teachers because of what they learned through Anusara. I think there's a lot of drama going on that we are not aware of.
    As you write above John Friends opened a talk "I know you've just had a Buddhist scholar here, and they are always talking about duhkha. But I come from a place of bliss." I wasn’t there but would like to point out that John Friend is very charismatic and has a sense of humour that may not always be heard correctly, especially with a crowd of people who are looking for fault immediately.

    Most of my experience as a student of Anusara yoga has been through teachers coming to Dublin. I also spend time in NYC a few years ago taking classes at Elena’s studio. I found Elena to be a beautiful teacher, friendly and compassionate. In Dublin we have had all kinds of Anusara teachers visit here from the overly zealous you describe above to the very down to earth, compassionate beings. I warm to the more grounded Anusara teachers than the ones who seem to try to imitate John Friend. Which is what happens! Again… not the fault of John Friend!.

    Sinead O'Connor

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  24. This comment -- and others like it -- represents what researchers in cults and cultic behavior refer to as "true believer" syndrome. The Buddha taught that attachment to "rites and rituals" was one of the attachments that must be seen through. One reason is that it is through our attachment to specific practices that both 'self identity' and 'group identity' arise.

    I don't know how many times I have to say it, but John Friend has been a huge influence on my teaching. That doesn't mean I have to agree with everything he says nor does it mean that I leave my critical faculties at the door when I enter an Anusara studio!

    I refused to be brought into the gossip that has been circulating about John because I don't believe in such idle talk. Show me the evidence! BUT, I have always, and will continue to speak up as a dharma teacher.

    John's lack of sophistication in speaking about the reality of duhkha (not just as spoken about in Buddhism, but also in Patanjali and the wider yoga teachings) HAS indeed infected the broader "culture" of Anusara.

    Cannot you see that when people feel intimidated to express their true feelings, when they are made the object of ridicule, this is the sign of a dysfunctional community? You cannot say that such reticence is "the anxieties of the individual." There is no such thing! All of us exist within relational matrices. As the Buddha said: "This is because that is; with this arising, that arises." There is always mutual causality at work. As such, societies and groups must take some responsibility.

    One recent 'graduate' from Anusara certification wrote me (but feared posting publicly) the following:

    "At first, I was attracted to Anusara's uplifting messages but very soon I realized the shallowness of their tantric slogan-chanting tactic is completely meaningless and even harmful. John Friend's disrespect for Buddhism definitely passed on to his students...my Anusara teachers. One once said to the whole class that "K. thinks life is suffering because she is a Buddhist!" ...I was speechless."

    I think this is despicable, and this teacher would not be saying such demeaning and shallow statements, publicly humiliating this student, if John modeled better behavior. The more charismatic a teacher, the more responsibility he holds for how his message is taken. My zen teachers have always called out any students who seem to mimic the teacher.

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    1. As this blog limits the length of comments allowed, I had to split the above into two:

      This particular student also shared the following:

      "I was shocked at how little they actually understand Tantra and how little they embody the tantric teachings. I found people who are drunk on Anusara messages are extremely not self-aware of their actions and words and their impact on the rest of the world. The only-talk-about-the-positives method increases people's ego and ignorance to new heights. It is very disturbing to experience their lack of consideration for other people's welfare when they claim they love everything.
      I did learn some technical stuff about hatha yoga during the TT, but I couldn't run out of the door fast enough once it was done. I have distanced myself from the Anusara Kula in every way possible. Most Anusara teachers who left claimed "differences in dharma"...in my opinion, that means "I no longer believe in your sh*t!" (excuse my language.)"

      I'm pretty sure John really believes and has greater depth of understanding of tantra than these teachers the student is talking about. Perhaps more emphasis on the philosophy and not such a grand emphasis on 'feel good' group-think is in order?

      Another Anusara teacher sent me the following:

      "I have been reading the comments on Christina Sell's FB and most of the time I can't help feeling the similarity between the Anusara kula and the Republican/Tea Party...feels like they live in a bubble. There is no doubt Anusara has an elegant way to describe the technical stuff but the defensiveness and mob mentality is so there."

      Many senior Anusara teachers have privately shared with me unease about the Pollyannish, egoic celebratory quality that I am speaking about. Worse, they are concerned about the more dogmatic aspects of the "culture." I would think anyone concerned with the health and strength of Anusara (and it is a wonderful system) would welcome the chance for some group inner investigation.

      Finally, let me reiterate: I am speaking of this tendency as it exists in particular in Anusara only because I was basing my post on Elena's blog. HOWEVER, it is a tendency rampant throughout contemporary hatha-yoga which to my mind has been almost completely co-opted by the capitalist, consumerist status-quo.

      And this is a sad state of affairs for what could have been a radical, counter-cultural force!

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    2. Anusara is a high standard for training and I will always honour my education w respect and gratitude. Sinead, I remember you; I left because I wanted to share more with my students of relevant influences such as Tibetan Buddhism, life coaching and other practical sources and ideas for how to raise the frequency of my own body and heart.

      I also had heard murmurings of all of the recently-exposed activity within the community, and while I will always honour my training, that was not the place for me going forward.

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  25. aplausos!!!! brilliant article!!!
    I wish there would be more people honoring their inner teacher as much as they do with their yoga teachers.

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  26. And for those within the Anusara Kula who may still think I'm completely coming from left field regarding the tendency to ignore the shadow that I wrote about in my piece, here's an Anusara teacher, Todd Vogt writing in his blog:

    "Let's use the painful transparency of this situation to engage in a large-scale conversation that enhances life and raises consciousness. Truth be told, the Anusara community tend to prefer cloaking reality in a shroud of shri. We've been taught to "look for the good," and this is a valuable practice. But there comes a time to look for the truth, and the truth is this: the shadow is real. We've been a group that commonly beats around the bush and avoids it. Here's the result: jfexposed.com. Let us all take a good look now and get real clear about our own accountability. Let's attempt to live with the highest integrity and hold each other to it. When I slip and I don't see it because I'm shrifully gazing into the eyes of the divine, I want to know someone's there to wake me up and say, "Hey buddy and get real!" I'll do my best to make sure that doesn't happen, but I can't make any promises. I AM human, and I'm going to make mistakes like everyone, but without the checks and balances of relationships, I may start to feel like I'm on an island when I'm not. I'm down here like the rest of us, in this tangled web of relationships where the teachings begin. The practice of yoga starts now."

    http://yogaunioncwc.com/blog/

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  27. Frank - I've been looking for your voice in all this madness - somehow I missed this post when it first came out. I love how you lay it all out there, and how you engage and refine through dialogue. We miss you in Athens! Jamie

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    2. Thank you for attending this situation Frank, brilliant and thoughtful as always.
      During my journey with Anusara many years ago I left classes with a sense of neglect of something deep inside of me that I really needed to look at. I knew I was "meant" to be "blissed-out" but I felt sad, and longing for a richer, deeper transformation that, as you write, lasted. Coming from a lot of suffering in my childhood and teenage years, I did not find a way to be with my own suffering until I met teachers pointing in another direction than bliss. They told that I need to stay with dukkha, accept it as well as cry it out, over and over again. It wasn´t until my yoga-mat was more often soaked in tears rather than sweat that some real transformation was happening.
      I believe that as long as I´m not an enlightened being, I will not be able to come solely from "a state of bliss", as Friend said (and apparently he could´nt either, in the end!). Before enlightenment, dukkha will always be there and we need to bravely walk right into the storm. And if we ask ourselves, isn´t our dukkha the primary reason and motivation to why we keep coming back to practice? (Kim)

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    3. Kim,

      Hmm, I only JUST saw your heartfelt comment. Thank you for your courage and honesty.

      As we all know, shortly after my post, what a friend has called the "John Friend Shit-Storm" hit, and many teachers and practitioners are still reeling from the sense of betrayal and confusion.

      I was not at all surprised, for as Jung has written (paraphrased): "What is denied becomes your fate." The Shadow will find its way to expression if it is ignored. Sadly, this is just what we've seen in the Anusara community, and John's particular willful blindness so far has not seemed to have let him really 'atone' or as my zen teacher says, become 'at-one' with his karma and own it.

      Time will tell...

      Again, thanks so much for sharing your truth.

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  28. As this is a public statement made by Martin Kirk, I feel it is appropriate to mention it here. I believe Martin speaks with integrity and candor. And I feel his experience and observations lend further credence to my essay, written before the John Friend scandal broke.

    "We now believe that the systemic dysfunction in the Anusara yoga community was/is greater than just John Friend. The entire community has been a mirror of the power inequities and secrecy that allowed his behavior to flourish. So many were long-term complicit in the Anusara culture and a minority seems to be seeking the profound healing and introspection it would take to truly start fresh. We do not believe that simply getting rid of the leader and moving on can solve these deep intrinsic issues."
    --- Martin Kirk

    http://www.kirkyoga.com/

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