Saturday, October 13, 2012

next chapter

Well, I am turning in here from Tempe, Arizona where I am teaching for the weekend at Hegel Yoga. I spent Thursday and Friday in California timing some content for Yogaglo and last weekend I was in Hollywood, Florida teaching at YogaOne. It seems like between teaching, practicing, family time and answering emails, writing course descriptions and developing curriculum for upcoming projects I am without as much time for fun writing and musing these days.   However, that does not mean that I do not have plenty on my mind, of course.

I have been talking to people in all my travels who have been sorting through the rubble of the dissolving of the structures once knowns as Anusara yoga and its been a very interesting thing to discuss, reflect and be part of. The aftermath continues to ripple through different communities of practitioners and students in various ways but no one seems untouched. Between feelings of relief, disillusionment, homelessness, worry, gratitude and so on, people continue to process their relationship to the way the events have unfolded and their part in all of it. And like I have written about a lot this year, everyone’s story has both simliar and different elements. 

I think for me I mostly feel a lot of relief because I found the label of Anusara a bit too small as time went by. And I think this is unfortunate  because my understanding of what the method and style was all about was that it was fairly wide-open as a means of practice. In my understanding it could encompass flow-based vinyasa style yoga, start and stop analysis, movement, stillness, talking, silence, music and no music, depth and lightness and an endless array of variations and expressions of the postures themselves. AND YET, as the community got bigger and as more people wanted to be part of the movement, and in the effort to define the system and manage its parameters, the definitions and expectations narrowed and became more constrictive and contricted in various ways. So there I was feeling Anusara was one thing and yet also being held to an ever-narrowing standard for teaching while being told I was free. So I think these mixed dynamics lived at the heart of my dissatisfaction and frustration which then filtered into my energetic field and I was often on edge, defensive and struggling to present an accurate representative class but becuase of the limits I also felt  unable to creatively offer my truest understanding without having to explain, compare and answer to “reports back to the office”.  

The ironic thing about this is that having left, I am probably- in some ways- the most Anusara I have ever been. Meaning, I am the most in touch with my heart and my own creative freedom, the most in my own flow. I have told a lot of people that the week surrounding my resignation was a mini- satori for me in that I suddenly really “got” Anusara. I had stepped out on a limb in a big leap of faith, was met with tremendous support internally and circumstantially and I had the direct experince of following my heart and being carried. Indeed, my finest hour as an Anusara yoga teacher happened once I resigned. Ironic to the say the least. 

Of course, that was last October and by Feburary a ton of shit had hit the fan and all kinds of karma seemed to come due for the community as a whole.  And as the story surrounding the “dark side” of Anusara came to light not only were secrets exposed relative to John and his behavior but the dark underbelly of the community’s unresolved angers, jealousies and hurts was also exposed. This is not an indictment or an accusation or even a criticism but I mention this becuase in my various disussions with people these days, one thing has been consistent: people feel a bit traumatized not only by what John did and said and didn’t say and so forth but by the way the community processed the events  and in some ways cannibalized itself. More than one person told me that the reason they left Anusara wasn’t what John did but was that observing the way the story unfolded on various social media forums was so upsetting and revealing that they severed their ties rather than continue to participate in such a spiteful and angry yoga community.

So we are clear,  this is not some big “yogis do not get angry” sort of proclamation or anything like that. I am all for being real, authentic and for processing emotions in a forthright and honest manner. I am instead, musing a bit on where all those dynamics  actually leave us now and how best might a fractured group of practitioners continue to  move forward effectively. 

One thing that seems clear is that local communities have rallied together in some really cool ways. I find myself wanting to nest a bit more, teach out of my studio in Texas more and to do those things that help me connect to my practice, my friends and my family. And in my teaching work I see workshops are  smaller and yet also more tender and soft these days as people seem more tentative to trust, to re-engage and to know where to place their faith. Again, that’s not a criticism- its more of an observation. I think in some ways such reticence might be a very smart response after being hurt.

I do think its important though for us to reconnect with each other in mearningful ways, to mend the hurts in our hearts, to forgive ourselves and each other even if we have boundaries that require seperate lives, locations and so forth. Every relationship has a limit that, once crossed creates irreperable damage. That is just the way of interpersonal dynamics. No doubt, as we walk through life  we will have break ups and dissolved unions. And yet, forgiveness exists as well and can be cultivate internally even if external boundaries stay in place. 

At any rate, its been a helluva year and everytime I see folks I know from my days in Anusara, like in Florida, in LA and here in Arizona, I feel a bit mended and healed because I know that the most important threads have not been harmed. My favorite thing in Anusara was my friends and what seems to be lasting are certain connections to people I care deeply about. Some friendships have fallen away and others have emerged and become sustaining influences. 

So I could write more but mostly my point is that I do know the Facebook Forum Wars do not have to be final chapter to this story. I think we can and that we will write a much cooler storyline for this upcoming year. Mostly I am interested in watching how it develops. 


Dale said...

The future is here, and belongs to my copyrighted Dancing Dog Yoga(tm) system. Signature poses include up dog, down dog, good dog, doggie position, dancing dog, dog hears lightning, begging, and shaking hands.

Pranayam include panting, whining, drool-panting, and breath of dog.

Of special note are the distinctive vinyasas and kriyas of the system, including tail chasing, dragging your butt across the floor so you are still technically sitting, but still going where you want to go, and jumping up on people.

The philosophical lawn on which we play can be summarized as "Squirrel!!!!!"

Christina Sell said...

Lovely. sounds like a good time, dude.

sarcastic yogi said...

Another great blog!

The most valuable lesson for me has been not only finding my voice but also listening to it.

kate said...


I haven't studied with you, other than some great classes on Yogaglo. I have followed your blog for some time, including before and after your resignation from Anusara. As a previously licensed AY teacher who has been regularly involved in the AY Scandal Aftermath via social media, I have to take issue with this post.

Have I witnessed ugly things on Facebook in the past eight months? Absolutely. The internet often gives people the courage to say things they couldn't in person, often firing off without much thought or consideration for the feelings hurt on the other side. We see this in internet "flame wars" all the time. I have been personally attacked by people who have never met me. My words have been manipulated and misrepresented. Teachers have directed their misplaced anger at those who stood up publicly against John's manipulative, unethical actions. Some have resented those of us who had the courage to speak out. In fact, I've been accused of "using the scandal to my advantage" by a colleague, which is untrue and would be laughable, if it weren't so sad. (She later retracted her insult, but it still gives me pause.)

For every person whose negative traits came out in full force on Facebook, there's a person who fully stepped into her own power and found her voice. For every person who felt alienated or shocked by the passion on the Facebook boards, there's a person who feels like they have finally found true community. For every person who claims that social media made this whole thing worse, there's a person who is profoundly grateful to have someone speak the truth.

Losing a fake community built on lies, pretend friendship, manipulation, and a weird "let's all be best friends!" mandate may be disappointing. But it's the reality. Many of the people who don't want to engage on Facebook, who claim it's been destructive are simply people unwilling to face the truth of AY in the past several years. It's been ugly. At times, it's been nothing more than a pyramid scheme, with boundaries so rigid, we'd lost all creative freedom to explore and innovate. It had become more about parroting the "11 spinning plates" than teaching to what we saw. Is it a sad loss? Absolutely. But it's also a gift.

Christina, you were critical in opening the eyes of our community. Don't abandon us now. Facebook has been an incredible, irreplaceable tool for getting people connected and telling the truth. The reason John was able to manipulate the community for so many years was because people didn't talk to one another. No one shared stories. People were silenced, for fear of being blacklisted like so many other teachers who spoke out or left AY.

Facebook has also been profound in healing people. In dismissing it as "the Facebook Forum Wars," you diminish the incredible work so many have done supporting one another, holding John and local communities accountable, and deconstructing the system that we collectively created. I understand it was distasteful for some.

But unless I missed something, I haven't seen you actively involved in getting out the truth. In holding anyone accountable. In sharing stories that could shed light on the situation and help others heal. I have no doubt you have done significant work like that behind the scenes and one-on-one. But please don't dismiss the equally valuable work that's been done via people connecting, sharing, and supporting one another on Facebook. It's extra-disturbing, since this has been John's stance (remember the "vicious vocal minority") to marginalize us. I hope you didn't intend to do the same.

Kind regards,

Emma Magenta Blog said...

My Dear Christina,

Having had similar conversations with local colleagues about the "spiteful and angry yoga community" that emerged post-February 2012, I agree completely that the harsh tenor of some of the conversations on Facebook drove some Anusara teachers out of those groups. I agree also that the disgust felt by these teachers at the behavior of their colleagues had at least three effects that were, in my opinion, unfortunate:

1. It muddied the waters for them about the most important issue: John Friend's extremely dysfunctional past behavior.
2. Because these teachers then, in effect, left the room, they were unable to follow the narrative of the dysfunctional present behavior of JF, or the staggering ineptitude of Wendy Wiltrout and the various teacher Committees.
3. They were also unable to participate in what came to be THE most important community dialogue ever to transpire in Anusara yoga history, missing the chance to question their assumptions, evolve their thinking, and perhaps see some of the human suffering behind the vitriol.

I consider it THE most important community dialogue in AY history because:

1. It was existential. Should Anusara yoga continue? This was, um, an important issue in the history of AY.
2. It had the highest number of participants and onlookers of any conversation in the history of AY.
3. The participants represented every stratum of Anusara community: students, teachers, well-wishers from all over the globe.

As one of the most vocal, ferocious FB posters in the aftermath of the scandal, I am interested in this issue. What was it that I hoped to gain with my frequent, increasingly agitated, bitter, and caustic posts? Did I gain what I wanted? Would I have done anything differently? If so, what?


Emma Magenta Blog said...

My main purpose in posting was to "sound the alarm", Paul Revere-style. When I realized that the man and the method that I had promoted for over a decade, most recently to over 1000 people in New Jersey, were deeply dysfunctional, I felt a responsibility to tell people. This was challenging because I was still so indoctrinated in the AY culture of "find a shri way to say it" that I was uncomfortable with speaking directly. I could not yet speak publicly about my own terrible conversation with John, in which he bragged to me that he was a "Tantric Magician in the bedroom" and told me he was treating a student for her traumatic history of sexual abuse by "massaging her urethral pouch" (as you know, he said this to several of us in early February).

While I was, at that early date, extremely uncomfortable with POSTING my experiences and opinions in a Facebook group, I felt I needed to talk openly to my local community. So I hosted a meeting in mid-February to tell people what I knew and explore what was happening. I'm not proud of how I conducted that meeting--it was chaotic and deeply upsetting to everybody--but I must confess that I was disappointed by the reactions of many at that meeting (and surprised and relieved at others).

I've since had the blessing of being able to clear the air with some of those who were there. While I'm glad to have those relationships on the mend, I know you can appreciate how painful it was for me to tell my friends and colleagues about the disturbing, sick conversations I'd had with John, only to have them look at me blankly, tell me they just didn't see the problem, and later tell me to "get off facebook". I know you can appreciate how painful it was, because when you first told me about JF's questionable behavior, I gave you a similar blank look and asked you how I could continue to flourish in Anusara yoga. I'll never be done apologizing to you for that. How horrible to blow a whistle and receive a shrug!

Met with confusion, withdrawal, and resentment from many in my local community, I turned to FB to both spread the word and for support. As the weeks and months wore on, I encountered on FB the same resistance I encountered at my initial local meeting. I tired of explaining the situation only to be met with responses so depressing in their sameness that they can be summed up as phrases: "consensual adults", "non-judgement", "compassion", "ahimsa", "why are you so uptight", etc.

I got angrier and angrier, and my rhetoric did too. I can sympathize with the people who were dismayed by their colleague's vitriol. I feel a similar exasperation for those who chose to enable John, and those who chose to disengage. To me, the choice to leave the Facebook groups is like choosing not to watch the debates or not to vote in our upcoming election because you're uncomfortable with the negative rhetoric of the campaign. It is incomprehensible to me how a person could be deeply disturbed by the content on the FB groups, and yet unruffled by JF's behavior, to the extent of remaining licensed to teach AY.

Looking back, I have no regrets for my contributions to the Facebook wars. If my name ever comes up, dear friend, in any conversations about how horrible and "violent" the communication was during that time, you have my blessing to let people know that I would rather be a terrible communicator on the field, trying (and even failing) to have a conversation, than a eunuch covering her ears on the floor of the chariot.

These sentiments do not for a moment cloud my deep affection for you, dear friend, my pleasure in reading your insightful writings, my pride in sharing a profession with you, or my abiding gratitude for the many times you've offered me excellent counsel. Thank God some of our wounds have begun to heal. These events leave scars, of course, but what is a scar but a reminder that healing is possible?


Christina Sell said...

This post hit a big nerve for many people and I spent a lot of time with people on Facebook and on phone calls following this post. I will write more soon.

I only meant to say "let's keep going" not to slam anyone, put anyone down or to criticize anyone's anger, etc. I did not intend to be dismissive and I apologize if that was how what I wrote sounded. An entire post could be written about the awesome aspects you guys outline and your comments have given me a lot to think about.

Where my post landed- in terms of many people feeling like I was criticizing the whole of what happened on Facebook- and how what I wrote and more importantly I suppose- failed to clarify in my brief comment about the "Facebook Wars"- seemed to hit many people in way that I did not intend and was not at all what I was aiming at in the post.

I did not mean that comment to be dismissive or critical and it was written without fully thinking about its possible implications. I was too casual, it seems it writing that. So I apologize for not thinking all of that through.

I suppose that since in my mind I was not writing to process that past and I had no big agenda on that end of things, I was more reflecting on certain outcomes of those forums that people were talking-to me about. I was not talking about or thinking about or writing about the whole forum and the pros and cons at all. I was just mentioning that stuff as a springboard to "the next chapter" and in making a brief sweeping reference people felt slighted, disrespected, belittled and minimized, which is something I have worked very hard over this whole thing to avoid doing.

I have to think a bit more about this and what I truly wish to say and I do not have time right now to write much more but I did want to check in to say that I appreciate the honesty and the thoughtful comments and reflections you have shared here.

Katie Myer said...


Thank you for your response. I appreciate that we're able to have a respectful dialogue on such a difficult subject.

I appreciate the clarification of your intent; given we have no personal relationship to rely on, it means a great deal that you are 1) willing to hear my feedback and 2) willing to consider how your words impact the many wildly diverse readers who are following you.

I have sympathy for the highly visible teachers like you who tend to be stuck no matter what you do. If you speak out, someone takes issue with your words. If you stay silent, someone else takes issue with your silence. It can be messy to engage on any public level, and I appreciate your being willing to do that -- especially, that you are willing to hear and honestly consider our feedback, rather than immediately come back defensively, as is so easy to do. I look forward to your additional thoughts.

Kind regards,

Emma Magenta Blog said...

Thank you for listening! You made me feel heard. I think Katie, above, is right on the money that we are damned if we write something, damned if we're silent. Although I took issue with aspects of what you wrote, I admire the courage it takes to write anything and put it out there, your ability to receive feedback, and your willingness to dialogue. All of these have become traits that I value extremely highly in the wake of the AY disaster. I admire you immensely.


Olga Rasmussen said...

I agree with what Emma writes - we are damned if we write something - and we are damned if we remain silent. I for one, chose to be silent because it physically and very seriously affected my health. When a cardiologist read me the riot act, I knew that I needed to cut myself off from the dialogue completely and eliminate stress in all areas of my life. I also realized that who and what I thought was community - really wasn't at all. But the beauty of the whole thing was coming into my own power - listening to my voice - articulating my own wisdom - and finding my way back to physical and emotional healing.

I bear no animosity towards anyone - and recognize we all had to deal with this great debacle in different ways. I realized yoga was really much more of a local thing for me - tending to my individual students, especially those I've had for years, and realizing I already had 18 years of study under my belt and did not need to rely on the expertise of others. Hence, being more selective of when and who I study with. Yes, it has been freeing to re-discover everything I was looking for was already inside.

Now I can say, that in many ways this whole thing was a blessing for me. I simplified my life - teach less but am much happier at it - and have moved on to the next chapter in my life.

With love,

James said...

Will you please post a link to your Blog at The Yoga Community? Our members will appreciate it.
Members include: Yoga Enthusiasts, Instructors, Experts, Studios, Classes, etc.
It's easy to do, just cut and paste the link and it automatically links back to your website. You can also add Articles, Photos, Videos and Classifieds if you like.
Email me if you need any help or would like me to do it for you.
Please feel free to share as often as you like.
The Yoga Community:
I hope you consider sharing with us.
Thank you,
James Kaufman, Editor

Dale said...

Wow. Still? Seriously?!?!?

Yo tribe - When someone has been harmed, they naturally develop anger and resentment and all that jazz. This bundle of emotions forms a heavy collar around their neck. There is a key called forgiveness that unlocks that heavy weight.

Please see clearly that you have the ability to open that collar & drop it to the ground. Your unforgiveness does not harm the person who hurt you - it only hurts you. When you put conditions on forgiveness, it only delays you getting the collar off of your own neck.

Give it up, let it go, get over it, realize that you trusted a man more than a man (who is not yours) should be trusted.

Own it, accept the painful lesson as one of the lessons that we are here to learn. No man deserves the devotion that should only be given to the Divine.

If you worshipped the Divine in the Church of Anusara, led by the High Priest JF, well, you f*cked up, and hopefully you will not be looking to repeat that experience.

Now. Make decisions. With whom will you practice? Are you still hanging with your friends who are staying with the Anusara school? Are you abandoning them? How much are you going to let your collar control you?

Ask yourself if your local Anusara teachers served you faithfully, & if they are suddenly incapable of that now, or are they the same folks?

Is Anusara the same system of yoga as it was before the fall?

It is ok to practice with & suport Anusara teachers and the school. It is ok not to.

But take off the collar.