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Elena Brower and Amy Ippoliti on Leaving Anusara and Recent Controversy

in YD News

When teachers like Elena Brower, Christina Sell and Darren Rhodes publicly resigned from Anusara Yoga a few months ago it was big and somewhat confusing news, even when Elena moved to clarify further. When another senior and high-profile teacher, Amy Ippoliti, departed in January, continuing what YD deemed the Anusara Exodus, more confusion and curiosity erupted over the reasons behind the series of resignations. With the wake of the recent controversy and revelations come to light, many more teachers have followed in their footsteps, resigning their certificates and wondering what will come next. Here Elena and Amy offer, from their own experience, why they chose to move on, and how others can do the same.

In an interview with Blisstree, Elena Brower, describes the disparity in her yoga on and off the mat, and how her departure from Anusara allowed her to find the harmony in her yoga, her behavior and all aspects of her life.

You mentioned before to Yogadork that when you were practicing Anusara, you were going home and “acting out of alignment with your yoga practice.” What did you mean by that?
Before I got involved and learned about the specific practices to develop my own personal integrity through the Handel Group coaching work, there were no rules in my life around kindness, fairness and the simplest courtesies to the people closest to me. There were no rules around my personal habits. But now that has changed by incorporating life coaching with my yoga.

The possibility of truly designing my life, including how many times a week I practice, how often I sit, how I speak to my boyfriend, my ex-husband and my child, are developing into a new set of family laws. Before that, I would practice and feel connected, but that wasn’t translating to my behavior at all.

Do you think other yogis struggle with this feeling of not being authentic off the mat too?
There is somewhat of a disconnect between what happens during yoga and after yoga. My practice now is bringing together these two worlds and creating a new way of being. My boyfriend and I now have rules on how we treat each other, how long we can stay “cold” with each other, etc. My son rates me on my patience every day. Yoga alone wasn’t giving me this refined level of relating.

So you weren’t able to teach life lessons through Anusara?
It was my own perception, to be sure; I felt like I had to choose one or the other. I chose to keep teaching yoga, and dive into the coaching. Now, people around me are getting more honest, more kind, more honest in their relationships, because I am living it as well as incorporating it into my teaching, my practice, my classes.

Why weren’t you getting that in Anusara?
In Anusara, there is a specific sequence that is required, so there wasn’t always an opportunity to talk about our behavior and how we act in our household and in the world. I was always looking over my shoulder and wondering, am I doing this right? Is this really an Anusara class?

What do you want to see happen with Anusara?
What I really want is the healing of this whole yoga community, as the teachers are going their separate ways. I think it would be an even better idea to all band together and try to help instead of running away. I pray for healing. I know we can create it. The greatness that has been the Anusara tradition cannot be discounted.

How do you recommend that others find yoga in their life?
I always say the same thing: Find your teacher. You’ll know when you’ve found your teacher. You can have many teachers or one teacher, it doesn’t matter. Who’s the one that resonates with you and makes you feel extraordinary? Traditions mean nothing without your teacher. We need people who make us feel good, make us feel safe, and give us space to grow and soar. I have teachers all over my life–my boyfriend, my child, my parents, they are all my teachers.

Amy Ippoliti goes much deeper into further clarifying the reasons for her departure and gets detailed in sharing her own confrontations and disagreements with John Friend, his habits, personally and professionally, and offers her own advice for moving on. Via Elephant Journal (there’s much more to read there if interested).

I have been struggling for a while, and almost left with Elena Brower. I just wanted to give John one more chance. I spoke to him directly for hours in meetings and on calls this past December. I worked tirelessly with Anusara to come to a workable resolution, and as I shared with John directly, I was appreciative of his efforts to try to make things work.

I’m stubborn when it comes to close relationships—I will stick around ’til the last shard of hope shatters. I did not leave earlier because I remained hopeful. Then I realized:

Sometimes the way to hold someone accountable is by not enabling their behavior any longer.Sometimes the kindest thing to do is to walk away.

Even though they might plead, cry, promise to change, pretend to listen or be convinced that all is well, I have lived long enough to know not to listen to words but to hold people accountable for their actions.

Christina Sell and I were chosen to convey feedback to John that we had gathered at a dinner during the 2010 certified teachers gathering. John’s personal party habits were interfering with his teaching, his teaching was erratic, his behavior suggested he was using drugs, and concerns were expressed about his dating women who were students and employees.

John asked me privately to offer my opinion about his teaching at the gathering.

I told him in candor that I’d seen him teach better. Boom. He disagreed, and told me that I was alone in my opinion: that his teaching was better than ever. John started a crusade to prove me wrong. He portrayed my actions to others in ways to discredit me. I felt compelled to ask Christina and other colleagues to vouch for me in emails to John, so that I might regain his “good graces.” This was hurtful, and like any family member, I coped and longed still to love.

The politics of jockeying for favor became irrelevant when his assistant, Wendy, told me that production on products I had started with the Anusara team had been pulled because John was upset with me for a failure to align with his teaching.

This is a sad, tragic story. But my choice to leave was a refusal to enable John to continue operating in unhealthy ways. One’s conscience demands that we recognize when complicity compromises our simple sense of decency.

Yoga teaches us to forgive, but it also teaches us to discern.

I’ve learned that to forgive too soon is to exacerbate the problem.

I will be part of the larger yoga community that includes the teachers and students of Anusara. We are members of the same family. If you’re feeling confused or concerned, reach out! Talk to your friends and do the work that you need to empower your understanding.

For all of the updates please see the Running Timeline of Anusara Controversy, Updates and Teacher Resignations

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8 comments… add one

  • I’m confused by Elena Brower’s comments that she didn’t find personal accountability through her yoga practice. If Anusara really does include the inner teachings of Tantric philosophy, then how is this possible?

    My own teacher has never disappointed me, and always in his teachings was this: “The fruit of your practice is displayed in your day to day conduct”.

    Conduct off the matt was never considered to be separate from yoga.

    But the info from Amy above suggests things have been very unhealthy in the Anusara world for a long, long time. I wish all parties healing, realisation and transformation.

    No one needs it more than JF, it seems.

  • echo

    I agree with Svasti. Yoga has always been about life. Yoga mats are only very recent additions to the yoga path. There are many elements in yoga overall and Tantra specifically that deal with one’s relationship to all the elements within one’s life. Hello…yamas/niyamas to begin with. Deepen the practice.

  • Mark Reilly

    This is all a very complicated situation, and while it is tempting to weigh in on the right/wrong seesaw, it is never that simple. Of course I too hope all parties involved–and the entire Anusara community–find a way to view all of this in a constructive and positive context.

    Yet, I believe it need be said….Everyone is getting exactly what they need and, for lack of a better word, deserve. (There are always exceptions, however, particularly in the case of unsuspecting, bambi-eyed students that may have been sexually preyed upon). I honestly can’t believe there haven’t been more teachers, for there have been a couple, that haven’t themselves apologized for trying to save face for so long. John Friend is not solely culpable, though he is most certainly at the top of the pyramid and therefore deserving of first-line criticism. But who put him there? What a great lesson in the dangers of–I dare say it–even a “kula”. Certainly, many have and continue to reap benefits from a conscious-minded community, but why did it need to be formed around a brand in the first place? And for a brand that uses the word “Tantra” as part of its sell, there is a hell of a lot of attachment around these parts. As is expected, for we are humans in the School of Learning. Reading Amy’s honest and brave account on Elephant Journal, it is frightening to think of how much more went on that may never come to light. All in an effort to save the image. And not just of the brand, but individual teachers worrying about their followings, etc. I know people need to make a living and have families and bills to pay. But come on. Let that weight go, please. Yoga cannot be run like a company, which is exactly what Anusara has tried to do. Contracts stating where and when a teacher can/can’t teach? Employees covering up mishaps by the CEO? What did we expect? In all honesty, there is still so much glossing going on by not only JF-but the teachers as well…not all–that it is hard to know which way the wind blows.

    I support the paths of experience of all variations, for everything is happening as it should–as we’ve all read and said. And on the most basic and most important level can only imagine the pain and challenge of this for all characters involved. But the group mentality, when divided down into little cliques and special circles–is a dangerous idea and here we see it yet again. It’s violence, plain and simple. We will all learn from this, and I am thankful it has come to light. This, along with the discussions on safety of yoga, are so incredibly timely and vital to the evolution of what is happening to Yoga in the West. (The East certainly has plenty of its own problems, but they are quite different in some ways)

    We’re all family. We are all a Kula. We can learn from this and move forward.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
    i agree with them, and agree that it is a blessing that this and safety issues have come (again) to the forefront. It does seem incredibly timely – like a double-whammy.
    i hope we, who call ourselves Yoga teachers pay attention this time and change our behavior.

  • Jerry

    I agree with you both, Virginia and Mark. Well said.

  • Cmineola

    Now It is REALLY HARD FOR ME TO BELIVE that the ANUSARA commUnIty DIDN’T KNOW AT SOME LEVEL that this was the case with their leader.
    It NEVER STOPS TO SURPRISE me that we humans take care of buisness in this way: IF THIS AFFECTS ME NEGATIVLEY then I will take action BUT IF TAKING ACTION means I STOP RECEIVING THE BENEFITS of being part of the community then I KEEP IT QUIET .

  • Heidi S.

    I have always wondered how much JF drank or if he drank. I assumed he no longer smoked pot, not having studied with since 2009 because of a torn meniscus I had to completely rest. I assumed he did not smoke pot because he stood in front of many of us and said, I am in this position so I can’t just “F” everyone and smoke pot. Silly me, I always take people literally. And then he did just that. I am disappointed. I’m amazed he was able to get anything done at all. Once he put down 12 step programs, “They should just come here.” It is “these very waste of time 12 Step programs” that are going to heal him in an extended way. Unless he’s an Angel sent from Heaven to teach earth a lesson that’s what will work for him. Unless he becomes some kind of very serious”Christian” where he spends all his time praying, devoting every moment to worship, with someone else clearly in charge, a form of leader, other than God. One only spends one hour in these meetings compared to the hours getting stoned and perambulating in one’s own lost mind, inventing the same idea over and over again, until you are veritably a cliche of yourself. That takes hours and hours. Attending a meeting several times a week for one hour, or even every day, in his case, (he desperately needs reprograming) will provide needed change for him. Smart people resist these things, however. Smarter people admit they are not smart enough. However it goes I hope he gets help. Amy you did the right thing for you. You don’t deserve any less.

  • Heidi S.

    I also need to add, I hope he gets help. I do believe his intentions are good and that he just lost his way. I have always gotten much from his workshops, I love love love the technique. I don’t think his actions are irredeemable.

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