texas takeaway: john friend & the anusara situation from a local’s perspective (texas monthly)
The media onslaught continues!
Today, the Texas Monthly gives us their unique take on Texan homeboy John Friend and the Anusara situation. And the writer just happens to be TM Executive Editor Mimi Swartz, who is better known as the author of the 2010 New York Times profile of John Friend.
While the article lacks any interview or comment from Friend (he hasn’t responded to Swartz’s emails or phone calls since the NYT article), it contextualizes the scandal and contemporary yoga culture in a way that other recent coverage hasn’t.
Given that the world of yoga is one in which men and women wear as little as possible while waving their rear ends in the air in the search for transcendence, it should have come as no surprise that Friend appeared to be joining the ranks of such disgraced sexual miscreants as Ted Haggard, Eliot Spitzer, and Anthony Weiner. Friend was not the first yogi, as he put it, to have fallen “out of integrity in some relationships.” As one New York Times article pointed out in the wake of the allegations, Friend had obvious predecessors in Swami Muktananda and Swami Rama, gurus who were accused of sexual escapades in 1981 and 1994, respectively. The much-venerated Gurumayi was also caught in cultlike misconduct of her own, chronicled in the New Yorker in 1994.
But a couple of factors set this scandal apart. First, there was the use of technology, which spread the news of Friend’s failings around the globe in nanoseconds and offered a window into a culture and vernacular that practically begged for a mockumentary by Christopher Guest. (As one Anusara instructor wrote, resigning from the organization, “I realized the dharmic choice for me was to continue to teach asana with the brilliant alignment principles I learned from John Friend while giving direct acknowledgement to the spiritual lineage which informs the darshan of my heart.”) Second, there was the money. With the U.S. yoga business valued at nearly $6 billion annually, there was a lot more at stake than the behavior of one middle-aged crazy, a fact that Friend himself seemed acutely aware of when he told ElephantJournal.com, “We must all remember that any missteps by me do not invalidate any of the greatness of the Anusara yoga method.” Never before had someone been laid bare at the top of such an expansive yoga empire, and no one could predict what the effect on its adherents would be. [Downward Dog, Texas Monthly]
Swartz has been paying attention to the story right from the start, as evidenced in her knowledge of the yoga blogosphere (noting that the news broke on YogaDork, Friend granted his first post-scandal interview to elephant journal, and blogger/therapist/teacher Matthew Remski had an on-point analysis of John Friend). She’s is also a long-time yoga practitioner who has been watching the evolution of Anusara, Inc and John Friend’s public image.
With more focus on the business and cultural positioning of Anusara Inc, and almost no mention of “wiccan covens,” the Texas Monthly offers more insight and a broader picture of the whole situation than most other recent media coverage. I’ve been finding it disheartening (although not at all surprising) to see the fixation on the “wiccan sex parties” and naked massages. Take, for example, this Mommy’s Dirty Little Secret blog post John Friend, Founder of Anusara Yoga, Head of Sex Party/Naked Massage Scandal, illustrated with photos of Friend surrounded by back bending women.
Let’s allow the mainstream media and tabloid universe salivate over the more salacious details of the affair. For the rest of us North American yogis, we still have to figure out what this whole incident means for us and our communities. Carol Horton points to some lessons that can be learned from the scandal, most notably that “the American yoga community needs to dedicate itself to the sometimes scary project of waking up to reality. Get rid of the Bliss-colored glasses. Maybe read a good newspaper. Consider the fact that Buddhists have something valuable to offer as they grapple with questions of suffering.” Yes yes yes.