in summary: the john friend/NYT fiasco

At the Village Anusara at Wanderlust (image via Twitpic)

This week, the yoga universe was ablaze with talk about last week’s NY Times article about John Friend. Unless you were living in a cave, meditating on a mountain top or camping in the bush, you’ve most likely heard and read about it. But the barrage of information can be a bit overwhelming, and you may be confused by all the responses and responses to responses and reactions.

So I’ve gathered up the cream of the crop, the most reliable information out there, and present them here in chronological order. Enjoy!

My Immediate Reaction to the NYT Article on Anusara and John Friend: Amy Ippoloti ~ as reported in my post on the article, there was “subsequent bloggage” from John Friend’s students. This immediate reaction was particularly impassioned and honest.

John Friend Responds to ‘Yoga Mogul’ Status: YogaDork ~ everyone’s favourite yoga gossip girl (also profiled by the NYT this week) broke the news that John Friend tweeted that he will respond to the article. So much drama that the post required *two* updates, and garnered a long comment from senior Anusara teacher, Elena Brower.

John Friend Responds to the New York Times article: John Friend’s blog ~ which he hasn’t updated since August 2009. John Friend sent a very gracious and clear letter from Europe, addressing “significant falsehoods in the article.” More bloggage ensued, I couldn’t even keep up with it.

Exclusive Interview With John Friend: elephant journal ~ Waylon Lewis shares an email exchange between him and John Friend just days after “what is probably the most popular, prominent article re: yoga in recent history.” It is honest and full of integrity.

And finally A response to John Friend’s response to the NYT magazine feature article: elephant journal ~ Jimmy Gleacher writes a brilliant retort to the whole fiasco, pitting the John Friend article up against another “entrepreneurial guru” the paper was following this week: Snooki, from “Jersey Shore.” He compares their recent Tweets and discovers their similarities. Very accurate and laugh out loud funny.

  1. Thanks for the summary. Now I’m in the strange position of having read everything EXCEPT the original article in the NYT.

    Should I go back and read that now, or is it superfluous after reading all the commentary?

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. Just RTd this.

    I agree, Bob, read the original—I think it was pretty darned good, mostly positive, and the criticism re $$$ I thought was silly, but interesting. Sponsored by Adidas, which yoga folks are all pronouncing (ommmm) ah-dee-das—the intersection of spirituality and Capitalism is a fascinating one.
    The criticism I think was important was that John, and all “alleged rock star yogis” remain aware of their community’s tendency to confirm and idolize and get theistic—thus the mention of that worthy read of the Elvis bio in my email interview.

    For the record, by the by, John and Co wanted initially to do our interview over phone, but I thought email would be more accurate, following the confusions over the Times article.

  3. BTW, love the (R) symbol on the banner in the photo above—to the right of “Anusara.” A visual haiku, right there.

  4. Shhhh…a little bird told me that an interview is going to be published in a major yoga magazine about YogaDawg in the next week or so. The juice is that his true identity will be reveled along with pictures and his true name. Also heard on the block is that a prominent yoga blogger will be quoted in the article who at the time remains unknown.

    PS You didn’t hear any of this from me if YogaDawg comes aknockin’…

  5. Great summary! Since the article came out, the topic of the “commercialization of yoga” is getting so much attention, I have been asked to go on the air at this Monday Aug. 2 at 11am MT, for a show titled: Demystifying the Business of Yoga …So You Can Change the World!

    Come join us. 🙂

  6. personally I’d rather read about JF’s take on his association with Adidas aka Kangaroo Killers, rather than his “I am not a yoga rock star” spiel.

  7. Hmmm, I read the article and many of the blog responses as well as John’s response and have only a few things I’d like to share.

    1. I have learned quite a bit from John, and find much of his alignment and approach methodology quite wonderful AND not suitable for everyone, but what one thing is? Bodies ARE different, and my experience is that this is not taken into account by all Anusara teachers. Trying to shoehorn some folks, or yourself, into an idealized form is — as David Swenson once said — simply “makes an asana of oneself.” On this point, I think Paul Grilley has some relevant and important views to bring to the table.

    2. I think it a bit disingenuous to deny that there isn’t something cliquey and even cultish going on in the kula. I’ve heard some students speak of John’s talent and knowledge as being ‘siddhis.’ I was there at the beginning (1997) and definitely feel that this personality cult and a kind of “in or out” sensibility among the ‘true believers’ has developed over time. I AM NOT saying this is John’s fault, though perhaps he could do more to mitigate it?

    3. C’mon! Your marketing includes the use of “Tour Names” and new tee-shirts for each tour (among other things) and you deny the similarity with “Rock Culture!?” The whole marketing uses Rock Star and Rock Tour memes! Not that there’s anything wrong with that! 🙂

    I have less to say about the ‘commercialization’ argument. I personally have chosen not to take the corporate business model for my approach. Others have. That’s fine with me. But I do think it can sometimes get a bit overboard and then something ‘essential’ about the deeper meaning and purpose of Yoga seems lost to me.

    For instance, I find it personally a bit distasteful when I pick up a dvd by certain yoga celebs and count over a dozen (SM) and (TM) registration marks! And since when can someone restrict the use of a word like “inspired?!” I have been inspired by John Friend and Anusara Yoga, as I have been inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, Leonard Cohen or Richard Petty, but only John has tried to place a restriction on me saying that!

    I close with the simple acknowledgement that I am delighted that there is such a wealth of paths, styles, and approaches to the teachings and practices. Some, as John points out are more physical and some more ‘spiritual,’ or perhaps more accurately, broader in concerns. Anusara, it cannot be denied, attempts to address the broader concerns, with some Anusara teachers succeeding more than others. I have walked out of some classes feeling that real Dharma has been transmitted, and from others that were nothing more than a strenuous workout, with a lot of full-blown egos going full-tilt. But that has nothing to do with John and has much to say about humanity.

    in metta,
    frank jude

    • Thank you so much for your reasoned, balanced response to this continuing discussion. I have known JF for a long time too—since his 1989 trip to India to study with BKS Iyengar. I attended some workshops with him when he was teaching in the Iyengar tradition and since he founded Anusara. He’s a knowledgeable teacher and I respect his commitment.

      I also agree that the “Universal Principles of Alignment” work for some, but not for others. Like you, Linda, Paul Grilley, Donna Farhi, and many others, my experience is that there is no such thing as universal principles of alignment. It’s too bad, as it would make our jobs as teachers much simpler if everyone conformed to an easily understood set of principles. But people are not so predictable or consistent. As a teacher, I approach each student with beginner’s mind, because I’ve learned that trying to fit them into a predetermined mold just doesn’t work.

      I agree with your perception of the Anusara kula as being a bit cliqueish. I’m not saying this is John’s or anyone else’s fault. It’s just what humans seem to do when they form large groups. I’ve not attended a workshop with him in a while, not because of John, but because it feels like too much of a “scene” for me.

      And I also agree with your comment about Anusara’s marketing style leading people to perceive it in rock music terms. It’s not surprising that John and Anusara are perceived this way when they have labeled tours with names such as “The Mystical Merry Band Tour.” I imagine these titles help raise awareness for Anusara, and help to create a playful image. I have no problem with this. But as owner of a “Magical Mystery Tour” LP, when I received the email announcing the MMB Tour, my mind naturally made the connection.

      Like you, I’ve also experienced classes of great depth from teachers of many traditions, and have also left classes feeling drained from the display of ego. I don’t feel that the yoga style a teacher dispenses is an accurate predictor of that teacher’s own depth and commitment to the hard work of discovering the self. That path is an individual one.

      with metta,

  8. all I can say is that frank jude’s response is the most well-reasoned I have read in this entire episode of Yoga in America, especially “Trying to shoehorn some folks, or yourself, into an idealized form is — as David Swenson once said — simply “makes an asana of oneself.” On this point, I think Paul Grilley has some relevant and important views to bring to the table,”

    as a long-time student of Paul’s I am biased (just like the Anusara peeps) but whole-heartedly agree: “yoga is all in the bones” and no amount of spirals or loops are going to change the the shape of your femur head (for example) or change the way your femur fits into your hip socket.


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