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