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True Confessions of Former Anusara Teachers

in YD News

With official correspondence silenced (for now) and the Anusara news front eerily quiet the past week or so, murmurs are still being heard from corners of the interwebs where pockets of  yoga teachers (some still Anusara-licensed, some not) are gathering to talk next steps, as well as sharing true confessions of their experiences, whether good or bad. Amy Ippoliti has come forth, as well as Elena Brower to some extent, and dozens of other formerly licensed teachers have offered reasons for leaving in their resignation letters, some extending beyond the scandal that broke last month.

Bernadette Birney, a vocal and liberatingly opinionated spokesperson through all of this, posted on her blog today about a tri-state meeting she attended yesterday as a “new member of the unlicensed tribe.”  Though Bernadette acknowledges that the licensed teachers seem to have good intentions and admirable goals – going non-profit, holding elections – she remains unconvinced that any of it can be obtained without John Friend relinquishing the Anusara trademark.

I’ll only speak for myself, here, but any decision whatsoever, based upon a conversation about an action that one man has yet to take, doesn’t sit comfortably with me. The commendable plans I heard outlined yesterday can only move forward if John Friend actually signs over the trademark to the teachers. In my estimation, John continues to hold all the power. Based on his actions thus far, I don’t believe that John will actually relinquish the trademark. There’s not a good track record between actions and words thus far.

She continues her post with an airing of personal grievances for times she could have spoken up but didn’t, including instances of compromising bladders, autonomy and independent speech.

Moments When I Might Have Opened My Mouth and Questioned but Did Not:

  • At a Certified Teacher’s Gathering in North Carolina a few years ago when John told us we should refrain from leaving to use the bathroom during his lecture, and described the way he would sit at the feet of his guru until dismissed–no matter how uncomfortable his full bladder was
  • When sternly instructed a couple of years ago to retract a Navaratri post on my blog that contained a very minor deviation from the newly laid out “Shiva-Shakti Tantra”
  • When in the midst of the very grueling certification process I was told that my video had “passed”, and I would be certified, I was told that I would have to make another video and that it was “just a lila
  • At a Certified Teacher’s Gathering in Denver, when we given a one page handout on Tattvas and instructed, “Go home and teach this in your Immersions”
  • When asked by an AY employee to positively respond to online comments critical in nature of John Friend and Anusara Yoga
  • When asked by that same employee to keep an eye out for, and report, social media movement that was unsympathetic in nature to Anusara
  • When a student who was very, very injured during a demo in one of John’s workshops felt unsupported by his teachers, who had a tough time acknowledging that John had made a mistake; I should have been more vocal

Bo Srey is a yoga teacher in Asia who recently resigned his Anusara Certification. In his resignation he describes several reasons outside of the sex scandalness; though John Friend’s recent actions were a major push, he explains how he “gradually arrived at this decision as a result [of] certain observations.” His list of 18 noted reasons for resigning are of his own perspective but they seem to echo the words of other teachers who have offered their complaints and grievances from teaching within a yoga system under strict dictatorship.

Full letter below, which he posted on facebook and emailed to us personally.

Hello,

A friend asked me if I intended to stay with Anusara. I told her that I planned to watch and observe and if I felt inspired to leave from a place of expansion and possibility, then I would. I felt this expansive possibility very distinctly last night. So, I have decided to resign my license as a certified Anusara teacher.

I offer gratitude to all of my teachers and friends who have shared their love of the truth with me. I offer forgiveness to the mind for seeing separation as reality.

Now though, I feel compelled to share some things that led up to this decision. For sure, John Friend’s recent actions were instrumental. Yet, I gradually arrived at this decision as a result certain observations. Here are some:

1. Increased attitude of us and them.
2. Endless committees upon committees
3. Choosing a non-certified teacher to represent the Asia region on the Advisory board, namely Sumei Shum. It had come to my attention that either Sumei or her partner Lynn Yeo had created falsehoods about my teaching and intent to teach members of the local community in order to direct students to their events with Martin Kirk, Amy Ippoliti, Noah Maze and now Ross Rayburn . This is your Kula ladies and gentlemen.
4. The teachings leading to ever greater spiritual materialism, while the stated emphasis is on first principle.
5. Increased identification with being certified, inspired, or an Anusara yogi
6. Emails, newsletters and homepage content from HQ beginning with, Anusara is one of the fastest growing yoga styles in the world…
7. Increased desire to belong, to be close to the source of power.
8. Cognitive dissonance between the philosophical teachings and practice.
9. ‘Tantric’ interpretation of Pantanjali’s Klesha, egotism: “thinking of oneself above the Merry Band,” as an example of how ridiculous the indoctrinated teachings were becoming…
10. Cognitive dissonance between the idea of community and its practice at the higher levels or when money is involved.
11. Hearing that John publicly lied about how Patrick Creelman was the ‘first certified teacher’ in Asia amidst much celebratory fanfare, probably because he is affiliated with a huge studio.
12. Inability to “teach any methodology or philosophy which conflicts with Anusara yoga,” without prior approval from Anusara.
13. The 10% licensing fee for products, needed approval from Anusara and surrendering of rights to products and sundry ludicrous demands put forth in the licensing agreement. Even (2) years after your agreement terminates the Licensor can audit your books and see if you owe them any money. You have to pay for the audit if you owe more than 5% royalty.
14. Diminishing creativity, increasing control.
15. Territoriality, cliquishness, arrogance, condescension, entitlement and a skewed over-concern for the bottom line exhibited by some ‘senior’ traveling teachers, stemming perhaps from John’s own example.*
16. Hearing that John told someone who was with him a long time, I’ll just certify you…(this person of high integrity, declined to accept).
17. The current revelations about John and clumsy attempts at a power grab by some, in the name of service, in the form of ongoing, empty updates. These updates often begin with how hard they’re working on our behalf, how they couldn’t be in the interim committee, but they have a direct line to John and the inner circle of change-makers. (This could be totally off-base and I apologize in advance if it is).
18. That yucky feeling of teaching something that doesn’t really resonate anymore.

*To illustrate point 10:

On one occasion, one ‘senior’ teacher wrote to me in a group email that included teachers, students, non-Anusara organizers, staff and John Friend, asking us to cancel our local programs in favor of theirs to maintain community harmony and not to “water down attendance and adversely affect hosts and teachers.” This made me wonder what community really meant to her… Note: all events had at least a six-week buffer in between; both groups planned yearlong events concurrently. Both our program and theirs included ‘senior’ teachers and curriculum committee members—not that it should matter, but she was using her ‘seniority’ as leverage. The main point is that a traveling teacher is telling a local teacher to cancel their programs.

Ironically, most of the teachers I allude to have recently left and some have revealed their own struggles within the power dynamic that John Friend has created. It is now clear to me how the same competition-based, fear-based, entitlement-based dynamic trickles down and pervades the entire organization.

I hope and believe the age of top down pyramidal structures in society is ending. Anusara’s apocalypse (read: revelation) is just one of the many examples of the democratization of power and the collapse of top down power structures that have kept many in the world in fear, if not outright oppression…

I also wish to acknowledge any role I may have played in any of the conflicts that may have arisen. I humbly ask for forgiveness if I have caused anyone in Anusara and the greater yoga community any suffering.

I believe it is now time for me to step out of the limitations of institutionally fostered, sometimes contrived sense of community, to more deeply embrace a fuller, more authentic community of organically created connections. It may include some Anusara friends and students—it may not. I am working on forgiving those I perceive to have hurt me while I shed my identification with being an Anusara yogi and a Certified Anusara yoga teacher. I will not remain a certified teacher, though I am grateful for all I that have learned—both in and out of the classroom.

I am excited about the possibilities for increased freedom and creativity as I renounce the Anusara power structure and the restrictions of Anusara licensing. I look forward to deepen my studentship to the Shakti, opening to the ever-present guidance of the Divine. I am excited about deepening old ties and healing old wounds. I am excited about stepping out into the unknown and surrendering to its mysteries. I feel a deep contentment crest over me as I write this. The striving to become someone in the yoga world wanes and the ever-expanding journey into authenticity waxes.

Bo Srey
(Formerly) Certified Anusara yoga teacher.

——

Earlier

73 comments… add one

  • simply yoga

    You go, Bo! Wishing you all the best.

  • Hmmm. I can really sympathize with why it would take a long time to come to the conclusion to leave. Any one of these (or even a small group of these) events/occurances interspersed over time would probably not raise a red flag. Having years of them accumulated in a single document does, but I imagine that a lot of similar things happen in a lot of social organizations of all stripes, yoga and otherwise. In fact #13, with the 2 year audit rule (actually more often a 3 year audit period), is pretty normal in licensing agreements and other similar business arrangements.

    I say this because I am predicting the torrent of “why did you stay so long” type comments, maybe curious, or maybe mean-spirited. You kind of need to think about one or two of these popping up every few months, interspersed with a love of teaching, positive personal relationships with students, teachers studios etc. and a commitment to pursue education that has lead to being an instructor, and just walking away doesn’t seem like a rational decision until you have had enough of these things pile up on the scales you balance your life on.

  • Shannie

    Anusara does seem to be very much like Scientology. John Friend has tried to follow the path of L Ron Hubbard and you can now see the sheeple dead on the side of the road from his escapades. No one has proved that Auasara is any better then any other form of yoga. It’s all hearsay and there are too many duped followers to get a true picture of the negatives of the practice. All the Anusara people really need to move into others studios to deprogram themselves, posthaste.

  • Shannie

    PS It’s good to see that he has “postponed” a lot of his workshops. But there needs to be a grass root movement to start contacting students of the Anusara school to avoid John Friend and any workshops that have to do with Anusara. Let’s see if Wanderlust has the guts to cancel his appearance there in July. In the meantime send strong letter of protest to Michal’s studio in protest of his appearance in Israel at shalom yoga. Here is their contact page: http://www.shalomyoga.tv/Contact-Us.htm

    Mar 31 – Apr 1, 2012 Arlington Heights, Illinois Weekend Workshop – Postponed
    Apr 11-15, 2012 Maui, Hawaii Maui Retreat – Postponed
    Apr 21-22, 2012 Austin, Texas Weekend Workshop – Postponed
    May 7-11, 2012 Denver, Colorado Certified Teachers’ Gathering – Postponed
    May 14-16, 2012 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 3-day Therapy Training – Postponed
    May 19-20, 2012 Montclair, New Jersey Weekend Workshop – Postponed
    May 21-25, 2012 Montclair, New Jersey Teachers’ Intensive – Postponed
    Jun 3-6, 2012 Israel Israel Tour

  • steve

    extremely well said Shannie. You can tell from the “confessions” this crew is in deep denial. This is a psychopathic corporation. You cannot (and do not try to) negotiate with a psychopath. They did much worse than these confessions–and these people know or strongly suspect it. They are still willing to compromise in order to keep their illusions alive, that they are superior to others and that ay is superior. The fact is, sociopathic behavior like what we know of does not co-exist with a quality yoga practice. That is my experience. This thing was founded on evil ambitions of friend from the outset and is not a quality practice. He is the ultimate narcissist, lives with a sense of entitlement and does not care who he harms or even how much harm he does. Dude needs serious psychological help, though his condition rarely responds to therapy. He was up to far worse actions than we know of, including much ritual practice and mind control (read:mindfuck). Yoga spit him out. There should be no negotiation, no quarter given, no compromise, no hostages. You make a very good point in that they need serious deprogramming. And should get to other schools, in fact just call what they are teaching Hatha Yoga (because it is all hatha anyway). Lastly, they should thank their lucky stars this all happened because they are caught up in madness. Think Jim Jones. Psychopaths always cause much collateral damage.

  • steve

    and I absolutely agree with a complete boycott of anusara yoga–no compromise.

  • mela

    I am boycotting all former certified teachers and former Anusara studios. I wish them good luck but prefer to fully support those who are doing the extemely hard work of making something better. This is where my heart sits.

  • kate

    There are better, more authentic yoga styles to practice…Anusara is a cult, plain & simple.

  • DebW

    Steve – I love the way you think! You got it bro. Shannie – agreed. Send letters to ShaOmyoga protesting John’s appearance even tho’ I doubt the letters will have much of an impact on Michal who still seems very drunk on the kulaid in my opinion. Better yet – send letters to Israeli newspaper to let the Israeli people know that this “American guru” who is coming to their country to “teach them” is no guru and no teacher and leaves a long path of destruction behind him. Its the people I care about the most – the innocent unsuspecting unknowing people that this narcississtic sociopath is using without conscience, abusing, and exploiting for his own name/fame/greed. The only hope of any redemption is FULL disclosure as you said Steve. Admittance, ownership, and full transparency on every conceivable level. Not likely to be forthcoming from a sociopath as they turn themselves into the victims. Om Swaha.

  • DebW

    tHANK you Bo …

  • DebW

    and bernadette. thank you.

  • Karma is a B#@!%

    I think I know who would have done that….

    • When asked by an AY employee to positively respond to online comments critical in nature of John Friend and Anusara Yoga

    • When asked by that same employee to keep an eye out for, and report, social media movement that was unsympathetic in nature to Anusara

  • DebW

    i think i do too and i’m not even part of the anusara organization. who you thinking? you go first … ;)
    (hint – he used to make sweaters? and is really good at seeming like a really nice guy? sends birthday wishes to EVERYONE?)

  • This story is repeated in many organizations/spiritual paths/groups with charismatic leaders/corporations with certain “cultures” and in families. I spent ten years living in or near Siddha Yoga ashrams, over half of that as a staff person with lots of secrets to keep. John Friend came to the SY ashram in India in 1989, and influenced the way hatha yoga, (an aspect of yoga practice that I had no particular interest in at the time) was taught from then on. I would imagine that the guru, Sw. Chidvilasananda (Gurumayi) had something to do with the name “Anusara” and instructions to go grow a yoga path. I personally found John’s teaching invaluable in the early 90s, when my back gave out for the first time in my life and the program he developed for people in the ashram with back/health issues (many) helped me to recover. The stick-figure drawings and arrows indicating alignment were my first introduction to Iyengar yoga and helped shape my early practice and teaching several years later. I remain grateful to John for sharing his practice and for the practical way he outlined basic principles, years before the founding of Anusara.
    When an organization grows up around a discipline, very often the survival of the organization takes over and undermines the very principles upon which it was founded. I saw this unfold in Siddha Yoga, and experienced the doubts, self-condemnation for having them, and then collaboration with actions and expression of principles with which I did not agree. After this gnawed at me for years, I finally left, and only quite a long time after physically leaving did I realize how much I had suppressed my own innate knowing. This arose from both altruistic and completely selfish motivations, and I think that whether it’s an unhappy marriage, a bad business partnership or the relinquishing of personal judgement for devotion to a religion or spiritual path, a sequence of emotions follow, much like the five stages of grief. Silencing criticism and having spies report back is a sure sign that organizational survival has taken over. The letters from former teachers are so achingly familiar. Siddha Yoga began trademarking everything (long before Bikram), setting people to spy on one another and report back, threatening those who spoke out with lawsuits, and, according to reports from years past, bodily harm. How people should speak, what they could speak about, who was “approved” and “unapproved” were documented and detailed to an appalling degree. Many of the people whom I’ve seen associated with Anusara yoga as visiting teachers, philosophers, and scholars were (or perhaps still are) associated with Siddha Yoga. It’s very hard to leave something with which you’ve had extraordinary experiences. But, like goods produced by slave labor, the beauty is tarnished by what lies behind them.
    I wish all of the teachers making the incredibly difficult decision to leave and speak out continued courage and conviction. I wish John Friend the strength to not recreate the flawed model of Siddha Yoga and return to his own roots. And, for all those who choose to walk away from something that once held great beauty because of its cost, I recommend Ursula Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Or one translated phrase from San Juan de la Cruz: “For all the beauty there may be I’ll never throw away my soul…”

  • steve

    Sorry, I don’t buy your compromised story Nancy. People know right from wrong–so did you. Please spare us the bs about it being a corporation in survival mode. People make up the corporation and determine how it acts. You are trying to shift blame–not good and not helpful. If you want to talk about “courage”, look at the people friend and his minions targeted with their activities. These people had integrity, families, etc and were trying to make a living providing something of value. Courage for the ay folks would be a full confession, not something watered down (like yours for instance from SY). Then they can heal. BTW, if you hadn’t noticed, Friend DID recreate the flawed siddha yoga model. That was his roadmap for anusara.

  • Steve, have you ever left an organization/path/person that you devoted a great deal of your life to? I am most certainly not an apologist for Siddha Yoga and I have no connection with Anusara Yoga beyond being acquainted with a couple of teachers and studio owners. You are correct in saying that John Friend recreated the SY model; I should more accurately have written that he “stop creating” or something like that. Not sure how I’m trying to “shift blame” – but I believe it’s much easier to take a vitriolic tone in your posts when you don’t identify yourself.

  • nancy leigh-smith disinfo artist

    I’m certain, ms leigh smith, that you are very impressed with yourself and your comment. I’m unmoved and see it for the smoke screen that you are attempting to provide to the various perps at ay.
    Umm…In the real world we have these things called “laws”. They are enacted to dissuade people from doing certain things that the “voice in their head” (this is called a conscience) tells them not to do. You may recognize yourself. We do not accord heroes honors to those who aid and abet breaking laws, or stand idly by and watch as others do so (again, a mirror for you). For example, you are not a hero if you stand by and watch as another is raped (figuratively or literally) or assaulted bodily and then later acknowledge that you should have done more (see Joe Paterno). You are a hero if you take steps to stop it.

    When someone (in the real world–not siddha or anusara yoga) breaks laws for example through slander, false light, tortious interference, civil conspiracy etc, then the party that was harmed can seek relief in the courts. Friend and his cronies and co-conspirators are subject to the laws of the land (though this may surprise them). Claiming that “the cult did it” is unpersuasive as a defense for an individual. Claiming that similar acts were committed by siddha yoga and other cults also does not move a jury. Said jury will be not composed of siddha or anusara yogis. It will be composed of folks that live in reality where laws apply (for those who need them). The rather deafening silence from the anusara camp is likely related to various awestruck attorneys advising them to clam up. Please take your disinfo elsewhere. It will get exposed here.

  • Peaceforall

    Wow. I completely disagree that jurors live in reality. They live in their reality they create based on their experiences . We all do. I think Nancy was sharing her experience and commented to add to dialogue, not make a smoke screen. Snarky comments pointing the finger = 3 fingers pointed back at you. Start looking there for your own smoke screen!

  • Well, you gotta love any post on a yoga site that says “perps.” Thank you for understanding what I was writing about.

  • Peaceforall

    I heard an honest account if what its like to wake up to the facts as they were for you in SY. I think your experience was communicated very well and describe the feelings you had along the way of this kind of awakening, realization, experience. I think there are some AY teachers awakening in the same way now. Thanks for sharing. I say keep the yoga practice and the awakening, and shed the rest. At least there is just plain old me on my mat yoga. That is where the healing happens.

  • Colin

    I agree. I found Nancy’s post informative and circumspect.

  • Carol

    I don’t think Nancy said anything that was actually untrue. And I’m not convinced she’s knowingly trying to whitewash. But it’s too early to be taking the viewpoint of circumspect understanding for the “perps”. That’s something that can happen down the road. This is like talking about a convenience store robber in terms of how his/her vision was compromised by a crack addiction. First extend sympathy to the victims, then make sure justice is served and the criminal is made to experience consequences for the crime, THEN, after that, make sure the addict gets help and treatment and support if they are sincere in getting better.

    In this case the victims were new or prospective teachers that were not forewarned about the creepy authoritarian control when they attended the Anusaran recruitment seminars ( a.k.a: “workshops” or “gatherings”). Cult members would put on the happy shiny face and say the “principles really work”, but not share the truth. And the “perps” knowingly took money in teacher trainings knowing that some trainees would never get certified while others could be “greenlighted” by the leader, and when they did get certified, they would be asked over and over again to engage in self-silencing and in recruitment of other members by parroting the happy talk.

    These are the people whose voices need to be heard first. (Aside: even some of these people need to take responsibility for tossing common sense aside in the first place or for letting their egos take over with the hopes of being a “rock star” yoga teacher.)

    And we need to hear the voices of those who were harmed by the sexual predation. And only those people know who they are. I’m sure some women were in complete control and agreed to “sexual therapy” with the idea of getting a leg up in the organization. Others may have been taken advantage of based on existing psychological issues.

    And don’t forget all of the family members who were collateral victims of the extra-marital affairs.

    These people probably won’t speak out because of the deeply personal and painful nature of their injury. But we can remember them.

    I agree with Steve and Disinfo that it is highly inappropriate to talk about this “wonderful vision” that was compromised and start making sweet bouquets of well-wishings for John Friend.

    Nancy, I don’t know you, but it sounds like you are someone that is very sincere but that has some more “leaving of the organization” to do yourself. The idea that “organizational survival” just “takes over” does sound like a rationalization that the people in the organization are passive victims of this abstract phenomenon. I hold to the idea that being a cult member is an addiction. Sure, an addiction “takes over”, but everything an addict does is the addict’s responsibility. The addict must take responsibility for the damage caused, make amends and apologies, and learn self-forgiveness. But the self-forgiveness comes after the taking responsibility.

    We are dealing with cult addicts in the full flower of a raging addiction, so it is important we choose words that communicate that we do not and will not accept their sociopathic behavior. Otherwise, we are enabling.

  • DebW

    Extremely clear and on the mark. Probably the very best assessment/analysis/commentary that I have read thus far.
    Thank you Carol for spelling it out so articulately.

  • Carol

    Thanks, Deb.

  • Mav

    Why is it that now everybody feels the need to come out and say how much they’ve always disliked John Friend?
    I am not defending Friend, nor am I condoning his actions. But the people who were worshiping him, who took trainings with him, who continued to get certified with him, and who complied with the structure imposed by Anusara Yoga are as much to blame.
    The fact that people use yoga as a religion leads to these types of scandals. Yoga can be healing and liberating as much as it can lead to masking .
    What does it say about the teachers who are using their time and energy now to regurgitate everything they see wrong about John Friend and Anusara Yoga?

  • Agree. It is a bit over the top. It would be nice to see more of separating the teachings from the teacher…reaffirming the positive value of the teachings…understanding that the teacher was human and, while making mistakes and exhibiting bad judgement, or being a “control freak” or whatever and maybe needing to learn to take good advice and “walk the talk” better, frankly, we all have things in our past (and maybe our present) that are regrettable. There are people who commit atrocities in the world all the time that are far, far worse than anything John is accused of. It’s just that people didn’t harbor the expectation that these people were better than they are. Nobody expects much from members of congress, for instance.

    When things seem awesome, they are never really as good as they seem and when things seem bad, they are never really as negative as they seem. The swinging pendulum on this topic seems to be wayyyyy too much and is making me feel a bit nauseous.

  • Thanks

    But, Andrew, part of the pendulum swinging is the minimizing you just did.

  • Oh heck, I did that. This is just bringing up all kinds of stuff, as everyone will have experienced this differently. Since I am so far out on the periphery of the Anusara world (I kind of barely exist) my personal impact is only that of how teachers at the studio are affected by this, and my empathy with them as they decide to keep their certification or resign. So, you are right, the depth of how this affect me may be much less than others. I never intended to diminish how other people experience this in my postings, but clearly I may have done just that. I apologize.

  • Thanks

    :) No worries. I’m in the same position, actually. It’s just that I know AY Inc. is invested in the facts being diminished and the whole thing being shoved under the rug. And yet that would only lead to people being burned again, just differently. I hope we can keep the lessons learned with us as time inevitably moves on and the scandal fades from the news.

  • SQR

    Good point, Thanks… “people being burned again, just differently” is a real concern, especially since Yoga Coalition looks to have some of the same folks who were part of the problem with Anusara. And “being burned” can take more than one form- Anusara, for better or worse, did have at least some mechanisms in place to keep senior teachers from scheduling too many competing events in one place- I’ll be curious to see if Yoga Coalition can come up with any similar guidelines.

  • Carol

    Andrew, I can’t help but notice that, in your agreement with Mav, you completely changed the meaning of Mav’s statement.

    Mav said that it was bothersome that people in full complicity were now making self-righteous accusations against John Friend in avoidance of taking responsibility.

    You twisted this to mean that any time spent on accusations is “over the top” because we should be “reaffirming the positive value of the teachings.”

    Your take is apologist and it fails to take into account that it is impossible to separate the “teachings” from the actions. It is the blind self-abnegation to the teachings that led to the actions. The repeated mantra that the teachings– ‘the universal principals’– “always work” is inseparable from the ‘principles’ themselves. Well, the teachings didn’t “work” and we see that now as clear as day.

    The teachings didn’t work. Or better yet: they did the work they were meant to do.

    Please do not seek to fog this over or confuse it with the “regrettable” ethical mistakes we all make. People need to remain clear and they need to remember this. There is no “good side” to a cult.

  • Carol,
    I know of many teachers who have never met John nor pursued a Anusara Certification that have attended a basic weekend training or gone to several classes who use their knowledge of the Universal Principles of Alignment as one of the tools in their set of knowledge when they teach a Vinyasa class or Yin class, etc. They are not members of the “cult”.

    These teachers may have taken 10 or 20 or 30 Anusara classes in their own practice as well, and they simply find value the practice. These Anusara classes, or yoga in general, did not lead to this, any more than the Catholic religion, or religion generally, automatically lead to the abuse of boys.

    So, yes, I separate the teachings from the teacher. What John did with his power as the leader and 100% owner of Anusara, Inc. is a separate thing from what has been taught in the books, workshops, immersions and local studio classes.

    If the organization had been set up where the ownership had been based by shares of stock granted to each certified teacher, with additional stock grants to teachers for tenure, board membership or other services to the organization, then I imagine we would be seeing a much different treatment of John in his position and path forward than we have experienced in the last month.

    The teachers I know who you accuse of turning from “full complicity” to “making self-righteous accusations” are decent people. Most of them either knew nothing or only had one or two pieces of information. If they knew more, they exerted pressure on John to get help, or to resign his position with the hope that he would do so for the sake of the organization. When it became clear that he would not seek that path, they resigned en masse and went public in varying degrees. Real “cult” members would go “down with the ship”, would not have pressured their leader and not left with relatively early indication that the leader is not acting in good faith to correct previous wrongs and/or exit.

    The assumption of knowledge of the range of accusations being widespread or complete in the teachers is simply false. If all these people knew what they know now, 6 months ago, or 2 years ago, then this would have been dealt with then. It isn’t like John Friend was wearing his dark side on his sleeve. Most people don’t.

  • DebW

    Quote: ” If they knew more, they exerted pressure on John to get help, or to resign his position with the hope that he would do so for the sake of the organization. When it became clear that he would not seek that path, they resigned en masse and went public in varying degrees”.

    Andrew – by their own admission many of them knew for many years what was going on and they choose to turn a blind eye for various & individual reasons. That equates accessory to commit, in my humble opinion. They are complicit. Only after jfexposed did they pressure John or go public and that is simply too little, too late.

    Many of these people in the inner circle, DID know what they know now, 6 months ago, or 2 years ago and this was NOT been dealt with.
    And … hmmm … I saw John Friends dark side within 5 minutes of watching him perform when he came to my town in 2009. As did my partner and friends; we were shocked at what we witnessed after all the glory stories of the “man” and still have a hard time understanding how so many others “didn’t” see it …I mean … he’s really OUT THERE.

  • Not sure why, but now the only way this thread seems to work for me is to reply to myself.

    Carol,

    I agree strongly with you last statement that there is a distinction between the ethical lapses or errors we all commit, either due to not having all the information, grey areas, or simple inattentiveness and a progressive pattern of manipulative and questionable behavior over a period of months and years.

    However, unless people are physically damaged by the asana of the Anusara style practice, the actual practice itself is ethically/morally neutral and is really outside of what is being discussed in this controversy.

    DebW,

    You are likely more well read than I am in this. Most of what I speak of comes from talking to teachers at my local studio, in the town I live in, which is somewhat removed from “where the action is” on this controversy. My discussions with teachers, some who are maintaining their certifications, some who have resigned theirs and some who never were and never had any intention of becoming so are the sources of what I know and I have formed my thoughts around discussions with real people who are in my life. I have read some of what has been published in the ‘interwebs’, but not everything, and, right or wrong, I admittedly put more weight in people I know and trust rather than what is published online.

  • Carol

    Andrew,

    I see the distinction you are making and I think it has some validity when you get WAY far away from the senior teachers. You have to get REALLY far away. I witnessed an inner circle teacher publicly humiliate my own teacher in front of my teacher’s core students. My teacher sucked it up: this was part of her training in accepting humiliation. My teacher hoped to be taken on as a student of this inner circle teacher. My teacher didn’t speak out, and none of us walked out.

    Clearly, people taking Anusara classes experience “the teachings” at face value: the loops, the spirals, etc. When you get deeper, the teachings become different, and aren’t even advertised as the teachings so much, but they are the teachings.

    Most of these subtle teachings are trainings in cloning and self-silencing, common cult techniques. Cloning happens especially through language: parroting buzz words, for example. This was a key part of Anusara brainwashing. I used to think my teacher was so charming with these buzz words and that they were original witticisms. Then visiting teachers would come in. The same buzz words, the same jokes. That’s cloning.

    It also impossible to tease out the apparent teachings (loops, spirals, etc.) from the compulsive drive to make everything somehow fit in to those things and to obsessively hold to these “principles” no matter what. “The teachings really work.” Well no. Anusara teachers: your insistence on my inner-spiraling in vasisthasana in preparation for kapinjalasana screwed up my knee for a month.

    And this seemingly innocuous insistence that “the principles always work” is the first step into a deeper cult indoctrination. Get someone to agree to one nonsensical thing, and they will agree to anything if they see everyone else in the room agrees. On one Anusara page (for the film I think?) one teacher is quoted as saying: “If you want to live a happy life, do Anusara yoga.” This was what teachers had to model. It’s a burying of the shadow and a silencing of doubt.

    Here is the deepest nonsense at the very heart of the teachings: That getting proper physical alignment allows one to align to the greater energy in the universe. If you’re aligned, everything will be happy, and if you’re not happy, you must not be aligning. It’s the burying of the shadow writ huge, and it is the core teaching of Anusara.

    I wonder if you realize that Douglas Brooks made the same rationalization (separate teacher from teachings) when he tried to justify the editing out of the serial sexual molestations/rapes from the history of Siddha Yoga in that now infamous book. There is quite a bit on this at the Douglas Brooks thread.

    Cheers, Carol

  • IRM

    In Reply to Carol’s last post:

    Thanks for all these excellent observations! I had written a post on this yesterday, which for some reason is still sitting there waiting for moderation. In that, I was trying to make the same point, that the silencing ideology of a cult spreads out in the far reaches of its empire.

    Carol March 12, 2012 at 3:57 am
    “I wonder if you realize that Douglas Brooks made the same rationalization (separate teacher from teachings) when he tried to justify the editing out of the serial sexual molestations/rapes from the history of Siddha Yoga in that now infamous book. There is quite a bit on this at the Douglas Brooks thread.”

    Carol, can you tell us more about this Douglas Brook thread, like where is it? On his facebook page? I think this issue is very important, & I brought it up on a previous Douglas Brook article quoted here on YogaDork. I had added in the link to the tape recordings with his attempt to defend the book, in Nov of 1999. I would love to see more discussion of this, & maybe at some point he himself will be up for giving his explanation for it.

    Thanks!

  • IRM

    In Reply to Andrew, Carol & DebW, Nancy etc:
    Part I:
    Thanks for all your subtle discussion of this important subject. It is a little hard to figure out the sequence of all the posts, so I am going back & forth here. Like Carol, I think that minimizing what happened in Anusara is a big risk. Somebody wrote above: “It’s just that I know AY Inc. is invested in the facts being diminished and the whole thing being shoved under the rug.”

    I still like how Nancy phrased it, that at some point organizational survival takes over and then things go down the slippery slope. Far from apologizing for the misdeeds of the leader, there is an interesting point here – the self-perpetuating downhill effects of a growing organization with a mission to conquer the world, for a spiritual (read: fundamentalist) purpose.

    For the people who knew John Friend before he was famous, like Nancy, it is easy to remember that he was once just a likable, spontaneous & gifted Hatha Yoga teacher. Even a little bit of a dork & nerd, not someone who looked like he was going to exploit all the aphrodisiac effects of growing power. I myself enjoyed Friend’s style in Hatha Yoga segments in Intensives with Gurumayi. My husband also knew John Friend in the 90ies in SY ashrams, & was very surprised to hear what a big rock star he had become since then.

    That is far from being apologist. I strongly agree with the voices insisting that damage assessment has to come first, and thoroughly, before you go & get the right kind of therapy for the perpetrator. Ideally, the victims would get a forum to get heard and damages would get paid. As usual, with sexual abuses, it is hard for the victims to go public without getting further injured in the process.

    I also agree with the thought that we don’t even know yet how much collateral damage has been done re the marriages & relationships destroyed along the way. I heard (2nd hand, but reliable) about a distraught man whose wife basically abandoned him & their children a few years back, to go on tour with Friend & become one of his consorts. That woman (whom I don’t know) was an adult & responsible for her actions. But she was also most likely under the sway of the cult phenomenon, brainwashed to feel that being chosen to be part of the charismatic leader’s life was more important & compelling than any previous values, and her pre-cult life.

    On a slightly different note, re the discussion of addiction: One long-term AY friend (a pretty level-headed one, I think) said it would be good to find out if Friend is a sex-addict & should get very specific rehab for that. Along with that there seems to be a serious pot & alcohol addiction, as can be gleaned from some posts seeing him drive very drunk on several occasions etc.

    More to follow -

  • Carol,

    Pretty much totally blown away by your “overnight” posting. It is pretty rare that I read something that must make me re-evaluate my position on the web, but I have to say that what you wrote was strong and moving, with detail into the world of the “cult” even if it is a “cult of personality” or other similar behavior. This whole thread is getting into the mechanisms of interpersonal / group dynamics in this context that is outside of my knowledge base. I thank you (and DebW and IRM and Mav) for helping me to push my “personal envelope” on this.

  • IRM

    Part II:
    The Times Magazine picked up the Anusara theme, discussing how men in power have a different risk assessment. They tend to take much higher risks based on their inflated self-confidence & thousands of people treating them like a semi-god for too long: http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/29/does-yoga-really-drive-people-wild-with-desire/
    The link at the bottom of that page, to http://healthland.time.com/2011/05/17/the-caligula-effect-why-powerful-men-compulsively-cheat/ was also an informative read.

    So there is the issue of Friend’s addictions & his similarities of other men in power. We are used to powerful men in politics, sports etc cheating left & right, but there is much more here to look at in the AY controversy. I feel that the issues related to addition to the cult are even more relevant and important for people to understand. Many more people are affected by the cult fog, apart from the dishonest leader at the top. For any one of us who has made a transition out of a cult this is powerful material. We are standing on the side lines, hoping that our friends still in it will also come to see the whole picture.

    I agree somewhat with Andrew on his point that AY people on the outskirts of the organization are less affected. There are similarities in my experience of many years in Siddha Yoga – the devotees at the local centers were not so impacted by the rot at the core of the organization. They were not personally put in the position to lie & spy etc. Still, the cult phenomenon spreads out into the outer areas as well, in the from of guru-talk that one has to conform to, or Anusara-talk in this case. There is still all the leader-centric thinking – the people closer to the leader are always more important & powerful. As on all the Anusara-teacher websites, the highest claim to fame is always how many years they have studied directly with John Friend.

    Here are some quotes from Carol’s posts that I really appreciated reading in all their outspokenness:
    “Please do not seek to fog this over or confuse it with the “regrettable” ethical mistakes we all make. People need to remain clear and they need to remember this. There is no “good side” to a cult.”
    “We are dealing with cult addicts in the full flower of a raging addiction, so it is important we choose words that communicate that we do not and will not accept their sociopathic behavior. Otherwise, we are enabling.”

    Everything that has been coming out re the mind control & enforced positive bliss talk in AY, that didn’t allow for any grey areas & subtlety & contrasting points of view – I feel that is what we need to get clear on. Like in the post by Thanks (@ IRM) 3, 10, 2012 at 9:32 am, I feel like shaking people awake so that they can really see the hurtful dynamics of “us & them” for what they are.

    A few days ago, I talked to my favorite local Hatha Yoga teacher. She said one thing that always held her back from pursuing an AY certification is that she felt it was “almost cultish” – the way her other teacher friends insisted that that was the route she had to take. The whole recruitment process, executed by somewhat deluded teachers who were already deeper into the quicksand themselves and were feeling quite missionary about it. She was hesitant to even bring up that word with me, but of course it was just water on my mill. It is the fundamentalist cult aspect of this what makes it so spooky & worthy of contemplation to me.

    One last aspect that I want to mention: we are also dealing with a financial pyramid scheme here – the certified AY teachers who are then part of the business plan to certify other teachers in the lengthy & painful-sounding process. Some teachers have spoken out now, that they feel they were led down the path of the expensive & time-consuming certification, only to find that there were so many AY teachers already that it was hard to make a living. A system that can only flourish by more & more people getting pulled into the web.

  • steve

    Carol: excellent analysis and composition;
    Deb: great work-got ur back;
    Thing to realize about the “universal principles of whatever” is that they are a concoction that friend came up with to go with the “brand”. Friend has an MBA and was taught about branding; he followed that guidance to the letter in developing ay. Any brand has to have something particular that sets it apart. Apple has their operating system, coke has it’s formula etc. Friend needed something to set ay apart from other hatha yoga so he came up with the UPA. He also realized that they didn’t actually have to “work”. All he had to do is say they worked, and get a bunch of followers like martin kirk and others to promote them. He got this from sy btw. They used the power of suggestion all the time, you know, gurumaya taps you on the head with a feather and you get “shaktipad”. But, of course, you needed to attend their meditation gathering (at 500-1000$) to get the opportunity to have the “guru” tap you on the head. Many sy cult members would parrot this refrain about how you were missing out on this great thing, but you needed a guru to get it.
    Friend was probably taught this at sy specifically. So he came up with the UPA (mostly by combining material he got from others) and then acted like it was some historical discovery. In fact, the UPA’s don’t really work. Yoga works despite them. They work to make the brand seem “special”. Whenever they see some other teacher coming up with something that works well, they first try to discredit it and then try to co-opt it. Or… they say “oh he or she is just using the UPA’s”. After all they are “Universal”. Presumably anyone doing any form of movement (dance, pilates etc) is actually using this brilliant discovery of friend’s. They really have no shame.

  • IRM

    Thank you, Steve, for reminding us of Friend’s MBA where he learned the art of branding. I fully agree with you saying that he copied principles used in Siddha Yoga, where we always had the carrot of enlightenment held in front of us.

    If you were just being a serious enough devotee, you would get there, but you absolutely needed the “guru’s grace”, or here in AY, the yoga “flowing with grace”. It creates that total dependency on “the teachings” which as you said, weren’t really original to Friend, or to Gurumayi for that matter. They were just really well packaged, and enough people had adopted them. Then you have the factor of those people lending more and more credibility to “the teachings” (read: the brand), the snowball effect. Once you had had strong personal experiences in the movement, you were emotionally bonded to it, and also ready to recruit more people, left and right.

    Which leads us to the fact that in AY we are also dealing with a financial pyramid scheme: The certified AY teachers who are then part of the business plan to certify other teachers in the lengthy & painful-sounding process. Some teachers have spoken out now, that they feel they were led down the path of the expensive & time-consuming certification, only to find that there were so many AY teachers already that it was hard to make a living. A system that can only flourish by more & more people getting pulled into the web… which is now fortunately imploding.

  • steve

    Thanks IRM. My personal experience is that real gurus do not charge for the transmission of enlightenment. They know that it was yours all along so to charge for it would be theft. That said, I have no problem with charging for teaching yoga classes, but I see that as different from the transmission that gurumaya was, in essence, marketing. Teaching yoga is a noble profession and I’m glad that it is available as such. That is very different from deliberately creating a cult. Friend was around when sy itself imploded. He knew it was a scam (which it was). For him to go out and run the same play is akin to someone working at a Ponzi scheme that gets busted and saying, “hey that worked pretty good, let’s run that on some other widows and retired folks.”
    Very important not to underestimate the ay cult members capacity to regroup. See Free’s comment below. Even siddha yoga was able to whitewash their scandals. Look at their wikipedia page. AY is using standard operating procedure of going silent and pretending as if nothing happened. Corporations do this all the time when they get busted for fraud or whatever. I think the internet and yogadork and others here, including yourself can play a role in preventing them from regrouping. Anyone considering laying down serious cash for a certification will come here first and will avoid their MLM when they see it exposed for what it is. Comments like yours that confirm what friend is doing and how he modeled it after sy will help others avoid this crew.

  • charlie

    Article recently been posted on EJ by Jai me ( or jamie ) Allison where she is really trying to sell the UPA s . She comes across as pretty fanatical and not a little loopy , but she has alot to protect I guess.

  • IRM

    I had meant to post this earlier, but it somehow didn’t make it – Like Carol, I think that minimizing what happened in Anusara is a big risk. Somebody wrote above: “It’s just that I know AY Inc. is invested in the facts being diminished and the whole thing being shoved under the rug.”

    I still like how Nancy phrased it, that at some point organizational survival takes over and then things go down the slippery slope. Far from apologizing for the misdeeds of the leader, there is an interesting point here – the self-perpetuating downhill effects of a growing organization with a mission to conquer the world, for a spiritual (read: fundamentalist) purpose.

    For the people who knew John Friend before he was famous, like Nancy, it is easy to remember that he was once just a likable, spontaneous & gifted Hatha Yoga teacher. Even a little bit of a dork & nerd, not someone who looked like he was going to exploit all the aphrodisiac effects of growing power. I myself enjoyed Friend’s style in Hatha Yoga segments in Intensives with Gurumayi. My husband also knew John Friend in the 90ies in SY ashrams, & was very surprised to hear what a big rock star he had become since then.

    That is far from being apologist. I strongly agree with the voices insisting that damage assessment has to come first, and thoroughly, before you go & get the right kind of therapy for the perpetrator. Ideally, the victims would get a forum to get heard and damages would get paid. As usual, with sexual abuses, it is hard for the victims to go public without getting further injured in the process.

    I also agree with the thought that we don’t even know yet how much collateral damage has been done re the marriages & relationships destroyed along the way. I heard (2nd hand, but reliable) about a distraught man whose wife basically abandoned him & their children a few years back, to go on tour with Friend & become one of his consorts. That woman (whom I don’t know) was an adult & responsible for her actions. But she was also most likely under the sway of the cult phenomenon, brainwashed to feel that being chosen to be part of the charismatic leader’s life was more important & compelling than any previous values, and her pre-cult life.

    On a slightly different note, re the discussion of addiction: One long-term AY friend (a pretty level-headed one, I think) said it would be good to find out if Friend is a sex-addict & should get very specific rehab for that. Along with that there seems to be a serious pot & alcohol addiction, as can be gleaned from some posts seeing him drive very drunk on several occasions etc.

    The Times Magazine picked up the Anusara theme, discussing how men in power have a different risk assessment. They tend to take much higher risks based on their inflated self-confidence & thousands of people treating them like a semi-god for too long: http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/29/does-yoga-really-drive-people-wild-with-desire/
    The link at the bottom of that page, to http://healthland.time.com/2011/05/17/the-caligula-effect-why-powerful-men-compulsively-cheat/ was also an informative read.

    So there is the issue of Friend’s addictions & his similarities of other men in power. We are used to powerful men in politics, sports etc cheating left & right, but there is much more here to look at in the AY controversy. I feel that the issues related to addition to the cult are even more relevant and important for people to understand. Many more people are affected by the cult fog, apart from the dishonest leader at the top. For any one of us who has made a transition out of a cult this is powerful material. We are standing on the side lines, hoping that our friends still in it will also come to see the whole picture.

    I agree somewhat with Andrew on his point that AY people on the outskirts of the organization are less affected. There are similarities in my experience of many years in Siddha Yoga – the devotees at the local centers were not so impacted by the rot at the core of the organization. They were not personally put in the position to lie & spy etc. Still, the cult phenomenon spreads out into the outer areas as well, in the from of guru-talk that one has to conform to, or Anusara-talk in this case. There is still all the leader-centric thinking – the people closer to the leader are always more important & powerful. As on all the Anusara-teacher websites, the highest claim to fame is always how many years they have studied directly with John Friend.

    Here are some quotes from Carol’s posts that I really appreciated reading in all their outspokenness:
    “Please do not seek to fog this over or confuse it with the “regrettable” ethical mistakes we all make. People need to remain clear and they need to remember this. There is no “good side” to a cult.”
    “We are dealing with cult addicts in the full flower of a raging addiction, so it is important we choose words that communicate that we do not and will not accept their sociopathic behavior. Otherwise, we are enabling.”

    Everything that has been coming out re the mind control & enforced positive bliss talk in AY, that didn’t allow for any grey areas & subtlety & contrasting points of view – I feel that is what we need to get clear on. Like in the post by Thanks (@ IRM) 3, 10, 2012 at 9:32 am, I feel like shaking people awake so that they can really see the hurtful dynamics of “us & them” for what they are.

    A few days ago, I talked to my favorite local Hatha Yoga teacher. She said one thing that always held her back from pursuing an AY certification is that she felt it was “almost cultish” – the way her other teacher friends insisted that that was the route she had to take. The whole recruitment process, executed by somewhat deluded teachers who were already deeper into the quicksand themselves and were feeling quite missionary about it. She was hesitant to even bring up that word with me, but of course it was just water on my mill. It is the fundamentalist cult aspect of this what makes it so spooky & worthy of contemplation to me.

  • IRM

    To Nancy Leigh-Smith, & Steve & other people replying to her:

    This discussion touches on something very relevant for me: The blatant & eerie similarities between Siddha Yoga & Anusara’s systems of enforced conformity. As Nancy puts it, “the letters from former teachers are so achingly familiar”, for those of us who have made it beyond the confines of Siddha Yoga’s mind control. I appreciated Nancy’s analysis of why spiritual organizations go south, the fight for survival takes over, even if it started out in a more idealist way.

    I don’t read her post as an attempt to condone the power play & dictatorship of AY’s leader. Still, I agree with Steve pointing out that “Friend DID recreate the flawed siddha yoga model. That was his roadmap for anusara.” It has already happened, we can see all the details of how it played out. One long-term ex-SY friend of mine joked to me that unfortunately, Friend had gotten quite an education from SY on how to cover things up and get away with power trips. Nancy was right to point out all the parallels.The more we can understand that, the better we can deal with the turmoil of “anusaragate”.

    For anyone interested in discussing those two sister corporations more, there is some good info & lively discussion on http://ritualsofdisenchantment.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2012-01-01T00:00:00-05:00&updated-max=2013-01-01T00:0

    This blog was started by someone processing their departure from Siddha Yoga, which, as Nancy knows, can be a long road strewn with lots of self-doubt & guilt. In this way, the discoveries about AY may be a sharp pain for many now, but at least the picture is clear for all to see. It is indeed hard to leave behind something that gave you extraordinary experiences, such as I had in SY. It is a huge blow to one’s identity to find out how deeply flawed something can be that you loved so much. Such a complex subject, because of the mix of high intentions & selfish motives side by side.

    I myself have been getting a lot out of the discussions on Anusara, giving me another chance to heal from my own recent departure from Siddha Yoga. I think we could use more light on the striking overlap between SY and AY. It is true that many people have been involved in both, or have come to AY through SY, and may still be very attached to SY. Like her, I know quite a few people in person who became certified AY teachers because they met John Friend in Siddha Yoga ashrams or retreats. One path validated the other. Now both paths have some serious issues attached to them – tarnished brands that can only be salvaged if the leaders would own up to the full extent of damages.

    In the case of SY, we didn’t get much justice in a public form… The dark shadow sides could still be covered up better, it was before the age of the internet, the age of “foreverism”, as someone called it. There were no open discussion groups like this one. In SY, the guru sent people out to buy up & burn copies of the famous 1994 article in the New Yorker, which had brought to light the dark sides. So many people didn’t find out until many years later, when they came across http://www.leavingsiddhayoga.net.

    That is why it is consoling for me to see the many voices here, forming a democratic online jury! The justice I long for comes in the form of open processing, even if the sociopath leader is not up for truly coming clean. Enough people now can see Friend for the narcissistic leader that he was, with all the charisma & intellectual genius & driven-ness that often comes with it. May this help us from ever falling for it again!

    I am hopeful that the public discussion (together with many private conversations) of the culture of lying & spying will assist people with getting deprogrammed. They have to own up to the fact that they repeatedly acted against their better knowledge & previous ethics. It is a hard inner journey, but I hope they will find freedom on the other side of the fence.

    I also think that a total boycott of AY Inc would be the cleanest way to go about disentangling things, and to save one’s soul. Any organization channels its leader, following his example. From the many shares we are now reading, it is clear that the ‘inner circle” around Friend was enabling this to go on, and was engaging in the same kind of elitist behavior & power plays. So that leader has to step down & go away for a long looong sabbatical, & maybe some time in the future he might gain back some credibility. In that way, I very much agree with Douglas Brooks’ request for Friend to leave for good. For him to show up in Israel in June is not a sign in the right direction.

    Here is a quote I found on Blisstree.com, in relation to our disappointment in such a public figure of yoga: “Our mantra of late comes from Latin, not Sanskrit: “Corruption optimi pessima” or “Corruption of the best is the worst”.

    I wish we could get together over tea & discuss this more in person!

  • Hi IRM,
    Thank you for your thoughtful post, and for including “Corruption optimi pessimi” – this is the heartbreak of history, both worldly and spiritual. I don’t see any religion, country, family, organization or political system that is immune to corruption, which is why unquestioning devotion is problematic. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Lord Acton
    Take the great, leave the corruption.

  • IRM

    To YogaDork, our hero who broke the silence around this issue & brought it all out in the open for everyone to see:

    Thank so much for posting another relevant article on this subject. I would recommend that you add a link to this latest article to your running timeline of Anusara Controversy which has been such a useful tool. That way people like me looking for more info would find it more easily. It is clear that this story is not over yet…

  • Thanks (@ IRM)

    Thanks for reminding me of this. I was never that involved with any cult and avoided them like the plague. I did, however, have friends who got involved, and b/c I would not, they turned on me viciously. This was long ago in some very formative years. Because of this, as I see the waves of denial and minimization coming through AY now as people extract themselves or not, sometimes my urge is to bitch-slap and pummel and shake them! (Or the online version anyway.) But that’s MY shit. The truth is that I really have no personal connection with the AY scandal. But these old betrayals and sorrows are kicked off. We did not, at that time, either, have an open public forum to turn to. My friends and I parted ways, and even when they “came to their senses,” I was and am still forever on the outs. That’s painful.

  • IRM

    To Thanks (@ IRM):

    I somehow feel that this is a quite an exciting opportunity for many of us to heal those betrayals from the past… It is indeed painful to be separated from people that were our friends, because ideology takes over & becomes more important than a perfectly good friendship. People can get very vicious and pushy, when they think that they have discovered the only road to salvation. In SY, I have heard of many stories of that rupture going right through close family relations.

    I was surprised at my own gut-level response when I first got a hint of the Anusara controversy through the NY Times article. It was almost like something in the depth of my psyche waking up & saying: “There is a lot of meat here, this story has something to do with you! And it is current tense for many other people who are also reeling from their universe being deflated & turned upside down.”

    And as you bring up, there is that hope that others will awaken & “come to their senses”. In my case, I was first hoping that the cross-section of my friends who are both in Anusara & Siddha Yoga would see a connection there. I thought it would be an opening for more dialogue with them. That didn’t really happen, or at least not so far… But I feel I have found a whole other universe of people contemplating these issues in online groups such as this one.

    And even though I may never get to know you all in person, I feel that important things are being shared and acknowledged here.

  • Getreal

    Well, EJ continues to delete and censor comments. Yogadork, can’t you do a feature on this? As the father of three many of whom have tried to take part and a yoga teacher, what am I to tell my girls about how yoga deals with equality of expression?

    “Seth · 1 hour ago
    This is a weird article. I agree with others that it should be more well-phrased and articulated.

    3 replies · active less than 1 minute ago

    elephantjournal 114p · 15 minutes ago
    Love to hear more about your thoughts…your comment could itself be more fully articulated, we welcome constructive criticism, it’s healthy! ~ Waylon
    Getreal · 4 minutes ago
    This comment has been deleted by the administrator.
    Effie · 3 minutes ago
    This comment has been deleted by the administrator.

  • Living in an Awkward Position ....

    GetReal — couldn’t agree more.

    Thumbs down Waylon, all the way down.
    I don’t understand why anyone would continue to patronize the fascist EJ site knowing how the scoundral manipulates and censors content. Just stop. Don’t go there anymore.

    Most of the content is mindless drivel. Aren’t you tired of reading personal diaries of bleeding heart wannabes, and having them presented as journalists? Sheesh. Do they pay EJ for the exposure? Are they “advertorials”. And, do they pay extra to have criticism deleted? How insane to only have thumbs up icons? Wheres the thumbs down? When did yoga teacher become synonymous with blogger? So many projective egos bouncing off one another. Its like they are herders and pack animals on a skunk farm. Just stop. Try SILENCE.

  • Harriet

    Well, it’s worse then you can imagine over at EJ. This is but one of the more outrageous things that went down there. Waylon is such a dishonest person as far as his intentions of paying his writers that this is not at all surprising that some have even labeled him racist and sexist.

    http://www.chelsealovesyoga.com/sometimes-it-is-not-“all-good”-how-yoga-teaches-me-to-speak-my-truth/

    http://dangerousharvests.blogspot.com/2011/08/elephant-journals-got-issues.html

    You have to remember that he owns an outrageously expensive house in Boulder CO that he is financing through free work by the posters on his site and interns. Pretty shameful, but then the writers are also at fault.

  • Hear, hear!

    That Waylon person over on Elephant Journal comes across as a flaming idiot. What a terribly jumbled site. It’s like landing on one big add page. Who wants to pay $12 to read stories that are actually far more in depth (and unbiased) here on Yoga Dork? Does he think he’s the NY Times? His comments are childish and twitchy and the way he handled the Anusara scandal and his interviews with those involved was laughable and embarrassing. A big fat boo to him indeed.

  • Getreal

    My household paid the flat fee and used by wife’s email by her permission. My daughters are an LPN, a special ed teacher, and an occupational therapist at a VA hospital. All have responded strongly against the “writings’ over on that site, all have been snipped at by Waylon what’s-his-face, and all have had comments deleted. What a sniveling, asinine site. It puts yoga to shame. Neither he nor the majority of the people writing over there would know a balanced piece of work if it slapped them in the face.

  • maggoot
  • jhgkh

    what a group of f’ing losers. I applaud the john guy who was able to establish a cult out of ignorant sheeps (mostly women) who would follow any douchebag who seems to spout some mystical non-sense. try using your brain every once in a while.

  • IRM

    In Reply to Andrew, Carol & DebW, Nancy etc:

    Thanks for all your subtle discussion of this important subject. It is a little hard to figure out the sequence of all the posts, so I am going back & forth here. Like Carol, I think that minimizing what happened in Anusara is a big risk. Somebody wrote above: “It’s just that I know AY Inc. is invested in the facts being diminished and the whole thing being shoved under the rug.”

    I still like how Nancy phrased it, that at some point organizational survival takes over and then things go down the slippery slope. Far from apologizing for the misdeeds of the leader, there is an interesting point here – the self-perpetuating downhill effects of a growing organization with a mission to conquer the world, for a spiritual (read: fundamentalist) purpose.

    For the people who knew John Friend before he was famous, like Nancy, it is easy to remember that he was once just a likable, spontaneous & gifted Hatha Yoga teacher. Even a little bit of a dork & nerd, not someone who looked like he was going to exploit all the aphrodisiac effects of growing power. I myself enjoyed Friend’s style in Hatha Yoga segments in Intensives with Gurumayi. My husband also knew John Friend in the 90ies in SY ashrams, & was very surprised to hear what a big rock star he had become since then.

    That is far from being apologist. I strongly agree with the voices insisting that damage assessment has to come first, and thoroughly, before you go & get the right kind of therapy for the perpetrator. Ideally, the victims would get a forum to get heard and damages would get paid. As usual, with sexual abuses, it is hard for the victims to go public without getting further injured in the process.

    I also agree with the thought that we don’t even know yet how much collateral damage has been done re the marriages & relationships destroyed along the way. I heard (2nd hand, but reliable) about a distraught man whose wife basically abandoned him & their children a few years back, to go on tour with Friend & become one of his consorts. That woman (whom I don’t know) was an adult & responsible for her actions. But she was also most likely under the sway of the cult phenomenon, brainwashed to feel that being chosen to be part of the charismatic leader’s life was more important & compelling than any previous values, and her pre-cult life.

    On a slightly different note, re the discussion of addiction: One long-term AY friend (a pretty level-headed one, I think) said it would be good to find out if Friend is a sex-addict & should get very specific rehab for that. Along with that there seems to be a serious pot & alcohol addiction, as can be gleaned from some posts seeing him drive very drunk on several occasions etc.

    The Times Magazine picked up the Anusara theme, discussing how men in power have a different risk assessment. They tend to take much higher risks based on their inflated self-confidence & thousands of people treating them like a semi-god for too long: http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/29/does-yoga-really-drive-people-wild-with-desire/
    The link at the bottom of that page, to http://healthland.time.com/2011/05/17/the-caligula-effect-why-powerful-men-compulsively-cheat/ was also an informative read.

    So there is the issue of Friend’s addictions & his similarities of other men in power. We are used to powerful men in politics, sports etc cheating left & right, but there is much more here to look at in the AY controversy. I feel that the issues related to addition to the cult are even more relevant and important for people to understand. Many more people are affected by the cult fog, apart from the dishonest leader at the top. For any one of us who has made a transition out of a cult this is powerful material. We are standing on the side lines, hoping that our friends still in it will also come to see the whole picture.

    I agree somewhat with Andrew on his point that AY people on the outskirts of the organization are less affected. There are similarities in my experience of many years in Siddha Yoga – the devotees at the local centers were not so impacted by the rot at the core of the organization. They were not personally put in the position to lie & spy etc. Still, the cult phenomenon spreads out into the outer areas as well, in the from of guru-talk that one has to conform to, or Anusara-talk in this case. There is still all the leader-centric thinking – the people closer to the leader are always more important & powerful. As on all the Anusara-teacher websites, the highest claim to fame is always how many years they have studied directly with John Friend.

    Here are some quotes from Carol’s posts that I really appreciated reading in all their outspokenness:
    “Please do not seek to fog this over or confuse it with the “regrettable” ethical mistakes we all make. People need to remain clear and they need to remember this. There is no “good side” to a cult.”
    “We are dealing with cult addicts in the full flower of a raging addiction, so it is important we choose words that communicate that we do not and will not accept their sociopathic behavior. Otherwise, we are enabling.”

    Everything that has been coming out re the mind control & enforced positive bliss talk in AY, that didn’t allow for any grey areas & subtlety & contrasting points of view – I feel that is what we need to get clear on. Like in the post by Thanks (@ IRM) 3, 10, 2012 at 9:32 am, I feel like shaking people awake so that they can really see the hurtful dynamics of “us & them” for what they are.

    A few days ago, I talked to my favorite local Hatha Yoga teacher. She said one thing that always held her back from pursuing an AY certification is that she felt it was “almost cultish” – the way her other teacher friends insisted that that was the route she had to take. The whole recruitment process, executed by somewhat deluded teachers who were already deeper into the quicksand themselves and were feeling quite missionary about it. She was hesitant to even bring up that word with me, but of course it was just water on my mill. It is the fundamentalist cult aspect of this what makes it so spooky & worthy of contemplation to me.

    One last aspect that I want to mention: we are also dealing with a financial pyramid scheme here – the certified AY teachers who are then part of the business plan to certify other teachers in the lengthy & painful-sounding process. Some teachers have spoken out now, that they feel they were led down the path of the expensive & time-consuming certification, only to find that there were so many AY teachers already that it was hard to make a living. A system that can only flourish by more & more people getting pulled into the web.

  • third eye

    For IRM, the article is on this webpage.

    http://www.leavingsiddhayoga.net/frames2.htm
    Who Speaks for Siddha Yoga? A Book Review of The Meditation Revolution – A panel discussion hosted by the American Academy of Religion, Boston, Massachusetts, (22 Nov 99). Links to the tapes of the conference are here. Listen to Douglas R. Brooks, one of the authors, explain to Gerald J. Larson, who wrote the forward, how the text was changed after the forward was written. (Dec 99)

  • IRM

    Thanks for the link, third eye! I had known about that one, but it is great to have it included in this discussion – for anyone wanting to get the inside scoop on the Siddha Yoga mess, and how deeply Douglas Brooks was a part of the conspiracy, in covering up, as one of the supposedly objective religious scholars that SY called in to give them credibility.

    I thought Carol was referring to another, more current Douglas Brooks thread, probably in one of the comment sections to his recent articles on the AY debate? I have appreciated his stand in this discussion. But in my eyes he still owes an explanation about his own involvement in the SY cult which is in many ways the mother organization to AY.

  • charlie

    FYI . Excellent commentary on siddha yoga by Sarah Caldwell
    ” The heart of the secret a personal and scholarly encounter with shakta tantrism and siddha yoga ” She was at the panel discussion referenced above . Douglas seemed quite emotional when he spoke to her on the tapes , it must have been difficult for him .
    It seems that a lot of the negatives and abusive behaviour patterns of SY were coming into play with Anusara but of course have not yet been given the time to mature , probably due to the internet age . Im sure a few here are familiar with the Sarah Caldwell paper , I first read it back in the day and was surprised Friend hitched his Anusara wagon to the teachings , but in some ways of course they were the teachings , Friend was taken in too or saw his way to adoration , maybe he will tell one day , I did not think it was good publicity and wondered why you would associate the new brand Anusara with a sullied brand , and although i did not trust John Friends motives anyway , it confirmed my suspicions , and look 10 years later where we are .

  • FREE

    Attended an AY class yesterday (mostly consisting of the now “yoga coalition”) hoping for an element of change or evolution. It was the same old thing. It was all about how Anusara is the best yoga, how Anusara is the only yoga teaching alignment, and teaching the best alignment…. How they are so grateful for John’s teachings…. Oh my, nothing has changed…. UGH!

  • charlie

    Perhaps they are caught in a loop , were you able to offer any help or advice ? maybe they are not able to listen at the moment .

  • malti

    thanks for the post…i am disappointed but not surprised. my heart goes out to the yoga coalition, and i’m just wondering if rather than rushing to make a concrete change in an effort towards authentic alignment they might each have chosen to take time (and i mean more than a week or two) to contemplate their involvement with john friend on whatever level. in this way they might reemerge with a truer sense of themselves and what they want to offer the world.

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