Best to read the article above before reading my entry:
Well, I suppose I might as well jump into the conversation about the New York Times Magazine article. This 5-page spread, from what I have been told, is the largest article on yoga ever printed in their magazine. So that is cool. And really, being featured in The New York Times is a pretty prestigious situation in which to find oneself as a person and as a method. So that, too is cool.
But there are, in my opinion, some un-cool things about the article. I am really not a person who likes to go point by point through such a thing to set right to wrong and to delineate fact from fiction. Although I must say, in this case, there are a fair amount of inaccuracies listed like:
- hotel room keys being pressed into John's hand (which I have NEVER seen happen or heard of happening),
- there being a cult of John (which there isn't since he is the biggest advocate of community over individuals that I know),
- John being secretive about his personal history (which he isn't. He is open about that-- its just not usually very relevant to 300 people in a room learning to teach yoga),
- John being easily distracted (he isn't- I have been in the back corner of room before while he is helping someone in the front row and he has given a personal adjustment to me),
- how John has his teachers proselytize and so forth (he doesn't) and
- that money drives his decisions. (which it doesn't--So much of the business has grown as a result of outreach and service, not profit.)
And that is what rubs me the wrong way about the article- the context of it isn't right. Well, let me at least own that statement a bit more personally than that. The context of that article doesn't match my personal experience of John or the method or the wonderful people I call my colleagues, students and friends. See, the thing for me, when I remember back to the early days of Anusara Yoga and what hooked me so deeply, was a very simple thing--John cared about me and I could tell he cared about his students. And no matter how big the organization has gotten, no matter how many countries we now have certified teachers in, no matter how many ancillary businesses have sprung up around John and the method, no matter what kind of car John drives or what kind of artistic expression he is into, that has remained the same in my experience. And no one, no matter how crafty, slick or hip their position or writing style is, no one will convince me that his care was (or is) part of some marketing plan for creating a yoga empire.
I remember one year after I had first met John he and I were talking about all the changes I had experienced over the previous year. He looked at me- I remember it like it was yesterday- he had been teaching all day and he was putting his mala on after he had changed clothes- and he said to me with very deep sincerity, "I am going to support you. I am going to help you in your practice, I am going to help you be a great teacher and I will always be here for you." You know the thing is, he kept that promise to me. He returned his end of the bargain a hundred fold in my book.
Have I had issues along the way? Sure. Do I think John Friend is perfect person? No way. Who is? Do I think the growth of our method has been challenging for our community at times? Absolutely. Do I think at any point in over 10 years since I have known him that he has ever wavered in that promise he made to me? Nope. Never. Ever. Not once. He has unfailingly supported me and helped me with things from big life issues to the technical details of hand placement in a pose to dealing with difficult students to refining my speech to rehabbing more than one injury. Again, no one will ever convince that was calculated in anyway.
And the thing is, I know I am not the only one he made (and kept) such a promise with.
You know, at the risk of sounded like I am drinking the kool-aid or like I am some kind of reformed "true believer", I must say that the majesty of the method just can't be understood from outside. From the outside, all that many people will let themselves see are the reasons that give them an excuse to doubt. I mean sure, John is not a conventional yoga teacher and he has a very "rock-star" kind of life, in a way. It doesn't take a genius to see that. But anybody who has ever been on the road with him knows its not exactly very glamorous. He is constantly changing time zones, keeping odd hours, teaching long days, answering his email and taking phone calls from his students at the end of a day when he might rather be doing something else. Why anyone who begrudge him financial compensation for the kind of work he does is really beyond me. But I digress.
So from the outside you will see the ways the method is pushing certain boundaries of expectations, of long-cherished biases of "what yoga is" and so forth and you can find reasons galore to discount it. Fine- a bunch of people in tie-dyed pants who say the word shakti a lot can seem a bit weird to the outsider. I get that... I really do. But those of us who have stepped into the current of the method and its teachings have found something quite extraordinary in doing so. We found inspiration, we found support, we found ways to bring these exquisite teachings to life and to practice them and to, in sometimes small and large ways, embody them. (And that someone who heard John give teachings about philosophy without "any real way to practice them" missed the entire context that he gave them in- a yoga class- was how you practice them is kind of ironic. I mean, we practice the teachings of spanda for instance EVERY time we enegage muscle energy and organic energy. We practice the teachings of trusting in the Source, every time we root our foundation or draw to the midline or move into the back body and so on. Our practice, at its highest, embodies the teachings. But I digress into content once again.)
See, I am passionate about this because I think we live in a time of darkness and doubt. I think it has become too easy to doubt and too easy to assume the worst and we are lauded in society for being distant, discerning, critical and so forth. And sure, things can go wrong in all kinds of ways but I think believing in something and trusting in something is a daring act and one that can engage our deepest self for our highest healing. How different that article might have read had the author interviewed those of us who have been changed directly from involvement with Anusara Yoga. How might the content of how its growing have faded within the context that radical shifts occur everyday because we are helping each other line up with Grace.
That's it. That's the thing. It works. And not only is Anusara Yoga bigger than John Friend but it is most certainly bigger than life on the road with John Friend. John has always said that Anusara Yoga is primarily about what each one of us is doing in our local communities and his work on the road is to travel and support our local work. When our local work is strong, when we are doing our best to grow together, to work together, to honestly confront our darkness together and to affirm our Light together we are in the current of Anusara. The outer forms are going to change. Count on it. This is a moving stream. But the essence is and always has been caring for ourselves and each other as the highest expression of Grace that there is.