Friday, February 10, 2012

The Dance of Yes and No

Well, I had a great time in Virginia. Kelly and I woke up early on Wednesday morning and caught a flight out at 7. We got to Virginia right after noon and had lunch, walked around a while and then my host picked up and took us to James Madison University for the talk I was giving there. It is Eating Disorder Awareness Month and over a year ago, the awesome folks at JMU invited me to give a talk and to teach a class at their school. I expected to be in a classroom with about 15 people there but to my surprise almost 600 people showed up for the talk and we even ran out of chairs.  Mostly there were students there but there were also community members and faculty in attendance.
The theme of the evening was about The Transformational Power of Self-Love and it was such a great topic to talk about to that many college-aged kids. I look at self-love like an ongoing practice that we are going to be working with our whole lives because life is always changing and, when we look into self-love as it relates to body image, our bodies are also always changing. So to me,  its not a fixed state that we arrive at. Self-love is a relationship, or a friendship with all aspects of ourselves in which we sincerely ask ourselves on all levels - physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually--what we want and need and then negotiate the terms of getting those needs met effectively. 
The students paid attention, lots of them had tears in their eyes and a few even asked me some questions. I really enjoyed myself. The next day  I taught a class on campus and then a class in town in conjunction with the local yoga studio. We had about 40 folks in the community class which was a lot of fun. The students were so open, sincere and I was struck by how polite they were and how well they listened. They were very sweet and open-hearted which made teaching a joy.
I did feel like I had my feet in two worlds during the last few days, however.  I was having some very high and delightful moments teaching and some very difficult and painful conversations with my friends and colleagues who are working to bring clarity to the situation they are in as a community.  I am not really sure whether I should write  “we are in as a community ” or “they are in as a community” as, I suppose, a case could be made for either point of view. 
On the one had, I formally resigned my right to identify myself legally as an Anusara teacher. On the other hand, the last 12+ years of my life have been spent in that community and a piece of paper and some disagreements with policy, procedure, leadership, and certain aspects of community culture don’t sever ties like that so easily. Disagreement is a natural part of life and mature relationships can manage love and opposing views all in the same heartfelt bond. So, like I said, it’s hard to know exactly how to place myself and more importantly, how best to be of service to the people I know and love.
So, as I was in the deep flows of teaching at some very beautiful events these last few days,  I was also conferring, counseling and considering some pretty heavy stuff and bearing witness to the confusion, commitment and care that is circulating around the community right now. I have to say that the last few years of my involvement with Anusara yoga have been a lot like that. I have had some of my highest times teaching and some of my most profound personal and ethical challenges sitting side-by-side, sometimes in the same day. I have had more than a few difficult and confrontational conversations with John about topics ranging from ethics, legalities, loyalties, teaching methods, personal accountability, public image, branding, boundaries, organizational politics and so forth. I wrote a lot of this already and I do not want to dredge it all up again but the topic has come up again and people are asking me why I really left.
All those hard conversations eventually led me to recognize a deep and abiding feeling that I disagreed with too many things as they were to continue on in the same way, even though I loved John, was grateful for all I have gained and was deeply integrated into so many aspects of the Anusara community. It was my social life, my professional life and my practice life. Resigning felt like I was ripping apart the seams of my identity and yet I didn’t feel like I could effectively- without harming myself- continue to work for change from within nor did it seem to me that the system wanted to change.
I was living with an ongoing rub of anger and resentment that I couldn’t get to shift. I went to therapy, I went on retreat, I examined my marriage, I changed my diet, I had lots of bodywork and finally I came to the realization that I was angry because I was no longer aligned in the way I was portraying myself. My public persona did not match personal truth and so understandably I felt angry and misunderstood but the real thing is that I was the one keeping the game going. I have looked at this a lot and believe me more than few therapy sessions have been devoted to where that pattern has its origins. Add into that, the fact was that  all this stuff was also my job, my social life, etc. and that made it  difficult to face the truth  because many times the truth demands action. 
John himself told me several times that anyone who is not aligned with him should go their own way and so it was a huge wake-up call to own up to the fact that it was me who was not aligned, plain and simple. I disagreed with a lot of things that all added up to the stark and sobering realization that I was no longer able to hold my seat. 
Did I know facts about covens, pensions, etc. and fail to expose them? No. 
Had I heard rumors? Yes. 
Did I mention them publicly? No.
Did I give feedback privately and repeatedly? Yes.
Did I protect John Friend by withholding my suspicion and comments from the public in forums like my blog or other articles? Yes. 
Was that right or wrong? Did that enable the dysfunction or spare the innocent? I am still not sure, honestly. 
Am I bit upset that my ethics are called into question because of my yoga teacher’s actions? Yes. 
The hard thing about secrets and rumors is that they are not always ours to tell and yet once we know them we can become complicit as much by omission as by commission. I am sorting through that for myself. This cycle of events as been the hardest ethical challenge of my entire life. I am sure I made mistakes. If my actions- outright or otherwise- cause you or anyone else harm, I apologize and I ask for your forgiveness and understanding. If you need to speak to me directly about it, please email me or call me.
In my experience, which admittedly  is not everyone’s, there have been very few formal channels for feedback in the corporate structure of Anusara yoga and very few, if any, checks and balances.  The times that I tried to contribute in that way were painful and unproductive. With so many nuances and domains of relationships in play, it has not been easy to know what is best for me, for my friends and for the thousands of people who are associated with the method, most of which is very positive. Never in my whole life have so many people been so potentially affected by my choices.  It is sobering to say the least.
I still don’t know about how best to really speak to some of these issues. When I resigned my legal right to use the Anusara trademark, I kept thinking about how many people run studios and make their livelihood on Anusara yoga and how much I love so many of those people and did not want to hurt them of give them a problem as a result of my choice.  What’s a tricky thing to really look squarely at is that when John Friend was riding a popularity high all those years and and his reputation was good, we all benefitted from that and in some ways- not all ways- but in some ways, made a method that revolved around him and capitalized on his good name. And if our success is hinging on his good name, the hard thing is that the opposite sits close by as well. It’s hard to get one without the other, it seems, when it comes to esteem by association. 
I think the cool thing that can happen now for the community is that it can begin- if it chooses to- to make some distinctions between the man and the method, the teachings and teacher and the practice/principles vs. the personalities involved. I don’t think it will be easy or quick and I think the road ahead will be fraught with difficulty. That being said, I think it will be a worthwhile process  to engage.

All right- thanks for listening. I am very aware that my viewpoint is just that in and in NO WAY do I intend this to speak on behalf of anyone else. 

More soon.


mark said...

What’s a tricky thing to really look squarely at is that when John Friend was riding a popularity high all those years and and his reputation was good, we all benefitted from that and in some ways- not all ways- but in some ways, made a method that revolved around him and capitalized on his good name. And if our success is hinging on his good name, the hard thing is that the opposite sits close by as well. It’s hard to get one without the other, it seems, when it comes to esteem by association.

killer insight.

Genevieve said...

Wow, good stuff. I'm grateful for your honesty and reflection and sincerely wish there was more of it. The lack of it suggests a deeper problem, a top-down structure, and a rigidity the runs counter to the method/philosophy.

Thank you for speaking--

- k - said...

Thank you, Christina, for this lovely post. I appreciate your honesty. What I find different about this post from others is that you admit that it is indeed a difficult time and that you aren't completely sure how you personally will evolve from this. For myself, I also don't know what the exact "right" answer is. I do feel that change is necessary, which is normal with any institution. I also feel that while gossip is not helpful, it is too bad that there was so much secrecy that it took this kind of action to start the process of change.

While I cannot speak to working for the Anusara corporation or know anything about John personally, what I do know is that the way it is taught, the integration of alignment and heart, work very well for me.

I do hope that the community is able to find a way to continue all of the good that Anusara can give without letting the problems of the owner sink the ship, so to say. I would appreciate as much support for the teachers - and acknowldegement of their DISTANCE and UNINVOLVEMENT in this as possible. Kudos for you to speaking for that.

- A student

sarcastic yogi said...

you rock, that's all have to say

emma said...

Hi Christina, Thank you so much for clarifying your knowledge of and actions around "the rumours". I appreciate that what was going on wasn't yours to expose. I am excited about the possibility of the Anusara community moving into a more collaborative leadership process, allowing more intelligence and more transparency into things. I deeply respect your teaching, your choice and I hope to study with you someday! I follow you on yogaglo and your teaching feels like a crystal clear representation of YOUR insights and encourages me to go deep within myself and teach from that place within ME. Thank you for your leadership in the yoga community as a whole at this time.

natalie said...

Why I love you, Christina:

You speak your truth, but you don't present it as The Truth. You include the not-pretty and the not-certain, and it is so beautiful, and refreshing, and real.

Whatever your brand designation, you are still such an important leader for the Anusara community.

Jewish Hamilton admin said...
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Chadwick said...

Thank you for bringing some clarity to this situation.
This as well, challenges me to look at how honest I am with myself on a daily bases.Your self honesty is a gift to us all!

Laura C said...
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cclews said...

Thank you Christina. I agree, your insight about “association” is right on. As a life-long fiercely independent, do-it-myselfer, I was initially drawn to Anusara because here was a group that finally seemed worth joining. Almost immediately my association with the group inspired me to raise my own integrity and efforts in so many ways - especially as a teacher. Even so, I struggled with the idea that I had to believe “the story” enough to be a part of the group. How confusing! There have been many times when the story didn’t agree with my own experience. I have compromised my own truth in order to remain a joiner, and I have both benefitted and suffered from this. That’s why these recent events (including you and other teacher’s resignations) were such a relief for me – I have felt a wonderful easing back into myself, listening again to my own heart’s desires and getting clear about exactly what I agree with and what kind of group (teacher etc.) I want to be associated with. I do not regret learning the “delight of belonging” from the Anusara kula, it is my first real family. But now I am re-finding my balance – self does matter. It is after all ANUsara. Much love, Charlotte

Laura C said...

Thank you for putting some of my thoughts/feelings into words. Love! xo

Christina Sell said...

Hey everyone, thanks so much for thoughtful support. Also, for the record, I don't delete comments, the author is the author of the comment, not the author of the blog!

More soon. Feel free to share your own process.

Unknown said...

Thanks for speaking up Christina, i hope you understand how much we need it. when i came to santa monica last year to take teachers training with Noah and yourself I did it as an inspired teacher with the intention of applying for certification. Now i'm standing with the application in my hand not sure which way to go with it. I want to hear more before I make up my mind and especially i want to hear from you guys, the closest circle that has left - not because i can't think for myself but because my feeling is that you know something that we don't, and i want to make a well-informed decision. Big hug good luck with everything,
Shalom Aloha Namaste with blessings,

Diana said...

Thank you Christina. You said it beautifully as always. In a way, i think things had to come out exactly as they have for us to truly grow as individuals and community.

Much Love,

Jessica Graham Stout said...

Christina, I appreciate your honesty deeply. Thank you for standing tall!

Kathy O'Rourke said...

"There have been very few formal channels for feedback in the corporate structure of Anusara yoga and very few, if any, checks and balances. The times that I tried to contribute in that way were painful and unproductive."

This is one of the things that every yoga 'style' needs in my opinion to have integrity -- have accountability of the founding leader and subsequent leaders. I think a Board of Directors elected by certified teachers and by dedicated students might be a good starting point. It really is a bit of an 'insiders network' as it stands -- not just in Anusara, but in every style. It would also serve everyone to have some outsiders on the board, as well, to avoid cronyism, favoritism and 'group think.' Frankly, all the yoga style leaders have too much power, too much adoration, too much at stake to have no checks and balances. They would all show deep wisdom to have an advisory board of some sort with genuine authority and some sort of consensus leadership approach.

I've said before, we need to have "Power With", not "Power Over" as we move forward. Its a more feminine energy approach, but until something changes, we will watch our leaders fall. A shared leadership vision is best for everyone -- even the 'John Friend's' of the world (and the other Yoga Journal headliners).

Thanks for clarifying what you knew vs. what you heard. I agree, its a complex reflection to discern and acknowledge the multiple dimensions of ourselves that we face between spiritual practice, friendships, community, workplace, student, teacher to our students -- much to consider. For what its worth, I think you're handling it all with a sophisticated balance deeply rooted in your own practice and connection to your inner knowingness. As you step out as an independent leader in your own right, I see you creating a new paradigm that heeds the lessons of your own experience and let's your students step into their own voice and fulfillment of teaching dharma as they mature as teachers. I also would LOVE to see a school avoiding orthodoxy. Ultimately, it should be the aim of every teacher trainer to mentor a student-teacher into the fullness of their own voice and that can't do that if student-teachers are in a subservient position within a power structure that is hierarchical and at its essence, frankly, totalitarian.

I believe no one is more on this track of enlightened leadership than you and Darren. Thanks for your depth, dedication and commitment to to truth.

susanwiens said...

You do speak the truth, that is why I like you so much. Part of the whole issue is we want transparency from our leaders. What we want and what we are offered are very rarely aligned. We can only look inside ourselves, which is what you doing, to see your truths. Maybe trust your instincts more, there are more often correct than not. It can be ugly in there, but therein lies the work. We can't expect anyone to hold up to our own standards. But we can hold ourselves to our own. Every time you write you show us you and I love what I see. xox

Kelli Prieur said...

As always, so raw and real- love you, your writing, your teaching, your light- thank you for being such a continuous source of inspiration! Xxx

Nancy said...

Courage and compassion - a heart on fire. Thank you.

mona said...

christina, ur integrity and reflection of process inspire me. this is a responsible decision making and the reference is finding the highest truth. i look at this as a learning for my own life journey not necessary about anusara or yoga. in a small scale i am sure i have faced dilemma and use recovery tools. but hvg a real life example like yours is hekpful. thank you

Michelle Marchildon, Yogi Muse said...

Your honesty and truth is so brilliant, it makes the rest of us shine a little brighter in your shadow. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Your truth and honesty is so brilliant, it makes the rest of us shine a little brighter, and feel a little braver. Thank you.

MichelleI said...
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Martha said...

Thank you Christina for your honesty. It certainly has been a rocky time, and even those of us on the periphery started to wonder if this is really right...I love Anusara. It has changed my life. And in a way I guess I'm glad I've been on the outside of the business end, not the inside. And I don't think you should feel bad about yourself for not exposing things that weren't yours to expose. You followed your own dharma and it's all good.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes and yes. I think it is difficult for this community as well due to the focus on authenticity and alignment with the highest... in that it adds another layer that other systems might not formally mention.

So well said, thank you.

mariacristinayogi said...

Dear Christina,
There is not a day that goes by when I don't read your posts. If you haven't posted, then I re-read the old ones. I find great solace in your words and am inspired by your fierce self examination, humor and honesty. I look forward to studying with you again in person; although it seems to me that I am always learning from you. Blessings to you on your individual journey. Blessings to all of us as we grow and evolve into the more.
With love, Maria Cristina

Joanna said...

"In my experience, which admittedly is not everyone’s, there have been very few formal channels for feedback in the corporate structure of Anusara yoga and very few, if any, checks and balances."

This doesn't surprise me-- look at the disaster which the universe had to contrive to finally shake some real structural change into Anusara (the blessing and the curse:)

Joanna said...

(assuming, that is, that there will be real structural change. But I have a ton of faith in the all-stars heading up the new leadership committee or whatever.)

Dawn said...

Thank you for addressing this, Christina. I think it is important for the community to hear from senior teachers (or former sr. teachers) I'm sure it was a difficult process. I can appreciate the complexity of the position you were in. Looking forward to seeing you in Portland in November.

jimmy said...

Everything does becomes laid bare for everyone to see, that's for sure.

I think what we can get from this is a chance to view our own brokenness. None of us has not been complicit in some type of compromise to our integrity. And at times like this the best we can do is just say, "I am so very sorry." The chance for redemption comes from saying that with the deepest humility.

Anusara does not have a language around brokenness. Sure, there was something about bursting the heart wide open, but that was vague enough to be quite safe. And it does not have a language around humility either. Anusara needs some help on both accounts.

I think your greatest work would be to offer that "I am so sorry" as an example for those still "in" the community. Until that is laid bare there is no chance for growth. I don't even really mean the coven stuff specifically. But everyone at the top knew that the wielding of power and authoritarian structure was in exact opposition to the public face of Anusara, and everyone went along anyway to keep the sweet deal coming. I think there really needs to be that collective "I am sorry to you". The only one that said that is John, and of course, it is expected and scripted and who knows if it's real. You can't make everyone offer that apology, but you could lead.

So I'm not misunderstood, I return to my original point. We're all broken. I don't intend to cast stones.I respect your honesty and forthrightness.

Christina Sell said...

Thanks, Jimmy. I was attempting to offer that apology here. Sounds like you are suggesting something more formal or more official?

And I love your compassionate comments about brokenness. Very helpful.

HJCotton said...

After I read what was happening in the Ansara world. I do admire you for having the guts to resign your certification. It must have taken you a huge leap of faith and courage to leave and be on your own. I wish you the best of luck in your new independent endeavor, and I am super confident that you will make it on your own.

Kim said...

Love your 'Big' Heart
Love your 'Brave' Heart

Had a great! practice This weekend
with your dear friend Noah
Thanks to you both for remembering us up here in Idaho!

Susie said...

I studied with John in 1995 (before Anusara) and intensely for several years. However, I got off that boat after a few years because my intention and intuition didn't align with him, his actions, his lived values -- at that time. I wished him well in my heart and was grateful for his teachings but knew it was time to move on to bring more heart, body, mind alignment and pure goodness into my life.

The question that I have for the senior teachers is "what motivated you to stay in light of deceit, unkindness, greed, and hungry ego?"
How did so many people get enamored so easily? How did the cues of the subtle body go missing?

JodiB said...

May you be happy, and at ease.
May you be safe and free from all fear.
May you be healthy and strong,
And may you Love yourself just as you are.

JodiB said...

May you be happy, and at ease.
May you be safe and free from all fear.
May you be healthy and strong,
And may you Love yourself just as you are.

Kristina said...

This is so beautiful, thoughtful and honest - probably the best thing I have read so far in response to this situation.

Becca said...
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Becca said...

Thank you for sharing this post, I think your honesty will help many people. In 2004 my teacher left Anusara and I decided to follow him at that time - giving up any thought of certification in that style. I never regretted my decision. Watching this unfold on YogaDork, I just wanted to encourage your students - and Darren and Noah's too - to keep working with their favorite teachers no matter what "certification" they hold. My teacher didn't need the brand to be successful - and now I have a busy studio myself, with no claim to any brand. Whether we are "in or out" of a community should not depend on a piece of paper or certificate. Community is between people who care about each other and see God in each other. Namaste, and the best to all of you.

jimmy said...

Yes, Christina, that's what I was suggesting when I posted that last night. I reread your words and I find a deeper appreciation for your expression of regret and doubt over what was the right thing to do.

So, I am going to back away from what I said as an abstraction. It's not specific to you. It's aimed as a wish that senior teachers as well as whatever committee materializes would offer formal apologies. Apologies, even knowing that most likely the situation crept up on well-intentioned people and there may not have been, for some, the perfect moment of "Okay, that's enough". Even knowing that people surely didn't want to become ostracized from an all-encompassing community. And all of the other things you mentioned. As well as that some people really get pulled in psychologically to an authoritarian structure and don't yet understand that about themselves. Even so, apologies all the way around.

And it's because they are so incredibly transformative and are a beautiful gesture around which real growth can crystallize.

Christina Sell said...

Thanks, everyone for your comments. I have been slammed this week and I have not responded personally and insightfully about these reflections. I am sitting with it all and thinking a lot right now about what aspect of my experience to articulate next.