If you do yoga you may be familiar with everything that has happened in the world of Anusara yoga over the past couple of weeks. A scandal has rocked the community, due to the behavior of its founder, John Friend. He stepped down a few days ago, but it may be too little too late, and Anusara has taken a huge hit.
Which is a shame, because many of the principles extolled in Anusara are valid and valuable, but anyone identifying him/herself as an Anusara instructor is losing students and his/her livelihood.
I like this style because the main focus is on proper alignment. I've been taking classes regularly since last summer, and, as I told my instructor today, I'm not only physically stronger and more flexible, but learning something new about myself in every class. There are poses I've never before been able to do that I can do now, without pain, because of the principles of alignment set forth in Anusara.
But the scandal that has rocked this practice is serious. Allegations of financial, sexual, and legal misconduct by Mr. Friend have been verified, and many of the senior instructors knew about it all. Many have since resigned. Others, who knew nothing, feel understandably betrayed.
20 years ago we learned that Woody Allen had begun a sexual relationship with Mia Farrow's adopted daughter, and it was another huge scandal. Most of us don't look at Woody in quite the same way, but his films still do well. At the time I was disgusted by his behavior, but loved his work. I had to ask myself if I could separate the artist from the man. To this day, to be honest, it's difficult. I have a hard time honoring people who behave badly, even of they're geniuses. I don't agree that the brilliant should be given a pass, or that the rules should be different for them. Having been in a few environments with indulged geniuses, I saw and felt the way the rest of us suffered. Not just having to walk around on egg shells lest we upset them, but the violence which they were capable of, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And yet WE, the abused, had to coddle THEM. We watched as they were publicly praised and rewarded, while privately they treated everyone around them like crap. They were spoiled, indulged children, and we were powerless to do anything about it. If we wanted to keep our jobs.
So now, while I find myself once again disgusted by the behavior of a genius, I believe in the practice he created. I also believe that others are not responsible for his behavior. Yes, the ones who knew about it and enabled it hold responsibility, but I don't believe that other instructors, those who knew nothing, should be punished. Do we throw away the entire concept because the self-appointed guru turned out to be a jackass?
My response is a resounding "NO!" But I'm probably in the minority. Most of the world, even those of us in the yoga world, who like to think we're more enlightened, is stuck in high school. When a whiff of scandal appears, we desert the ship.
But my Anusara instructor, Rebecca, is the best yoga teacher I've ever encountered. I've loved Anusara for 10 years. I feel good when I practice, and I believe it makes me a better person. I can hate what Mr. Friend has done, especially as it pertains to the entire community, but still love his creation.
Finally, I don't believe in gurus. We're all human, and all too fallible. When we look to another person to be all that we think are not, we're setting ourselves up for major disappointment and setting them up for major failure. I have trouble trusting anyone who calls themselves a guru. It makes me suspicious: what, exactly, are they compensating for?
So I will continue to practice Anusara yoga. I will stay out of the drama, and try not to let others' opinions matter too much. Maybe if I can do that in my yoga practice it will spill over into my life. And, ultimately, isn't that the goal of yoga, regardless of which style it is? To live a life that's beyond the everyday stuff and short-term values we get mired in?