As we settle into this new year full of possibility, I’m sure that many of us have been wondering: What’s John Friend up to these days? A feature story in Denver, CO-based magazine Westword gives us the full story of recent events in Friend’s life since he emerged from the ashes last year with yet another system of hatha yoga, Sridaiva (formerly Shri Daiva).
With multiple interviews conducted in person and via email, the article is one of the more comprehensive portraits of post-Anusara John Friend. It profiles him in a sensitive, careful light (and gives off the feeling that Friend likely saw drafts of the article and gave the final his stamp of approval before it was published). The piece starts off by summarizing the “downfall” of Friend and Anusara, Inc and positioning him in his new life:
In early 2012, Friend was accused of financial mismanagement, having affairs with married students, receiving pot in the mail at his office and engaging in Wiccan rituals. In what Friend now calls “a 21st-century Internet witch trial,” the Anusara community devolved into mud-slinging and public resignations, generating headlines nationwide. With startling speed, Anusara imploded — and Friend was left with nothing.
But here in this Denver yoga studio, the now-54-year-old Friend doesn’t look like a fallen guru. His aqua-blue eyes flash with enthusiasm, his short gray hair is gelled upward in a jaunty fashion, and when he takes off his shirt near the end of the session, he reveals a well-toned midsection that’s dropped forty pounds of fat since his 2012 fall from grace.
Maybe that’s because here in his new home of Denver, “I get to start over with something better than I had before,” Friend says.
And what is that new something? Sridaiva, which he expects “to be more impactful than Anusara ever was.” As Westword explains it: “Sridaiva is going to be big… it will eclipse everything he did with Anusara — the good and the bad. ‘It’s an epic comeback story,’ [Friend] declares.” It seems like Friend hasn’t lost his talent for hyperbole and grand plans.
The article provides a broad history of Anusara Yoga, details of JFexposed.com, and an admission from Friend that the allegations were based on fact. It describes the whole incident as “a true Internet-based scandal, one where all the juicy allegations, renunciations and atonements were posted online for everyone to see, with much of it flavored by references to dharma, chakras and other colorful examples of yoga-speak.”
So he was “ostracized” by the yoga community, declared bankruptcy in early 2013 and was finally welcomed by Desi and Michah Springer, sisters who run Vital Yoga in Denver, CO, where he became a student again. The article, along with a companion blog post, gives a clear explanation of “The Roots” sequence at the heart of the Sridaiva style, which focuses on arching the back until the muscles become taut, allowing the body to act like “a loaded spring.”
It seems like John Friend is at good place in his life. His downfall and subsequent re-ascension are proof that we can pick ourselves up and start again, no matter what happens in our lives. Some people might find this inspiring. However, if you read the article closely, you might see that he doesn’t fully accept responsibility for his actions that lead up to the implosion of Anusara yoga. He conveniently placed the responsibility on his students: “So when the scandal hit, he suggests, people were so intimately invested in Friend and his teachings that they saw his fall as a personal affront. The emotional fallout was too much for the community to bear. “They said, ‘John said I was a good person, but now I am not a good person,'” remembers Friend. “‘There was always beauty and harmony around John. Now there is ugliness, and I can’t affiliate.'”
The Springer sisters in Denver claimed they saw “accountability and remorse in him,” part of the reason they wanted to take him under their wings. In the Sridaiva system, however, they ask students to take responsibility for their “health and positioning.” The implication here is that former students and leaders in the Anusara community “gave their power away” to Friend, and if they hadn’t done that, he wouldn’t have gotten into the situation he got himself into. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it?