Anusara: Out of Alignment
Last week, the ongoing
Anusara drama added another episode when a
letter signed by John Friend was posted on Facebook. To many, the letter
appeared to be Friend’s attempt to downplay the furor and reestablish control
by disbanding the leadership committee
appointed to negotiate the future of Anusara. The social media response was
Later that day, the Leadership
Committee (LC) affirmed their intention to develop a teacher-led Anusara
school. Shortly afterward, a
retraction of Friend’s letter appeared on Anusara’s Facebook page, followed
by an explanation that the letter had been posted in error, and wasn’t actually
authored by Friend. By this time, several Anusara teachers added their names to
a list of resignations now numbering more than a hundred. Though many resigned
in silence, others indicated that Friend’s admitted extramarital affairs with
students were symptomatic
of a greater issue of integrity.
For those still wondering what next, another letter from the LC posted on May 19 promised a “new chapter” for Anusara. The
letter credits the latest wave of resignations as the reason for a breakthrough
in negotiations with John Friend, who is now prepared to step aside from the
proposed teacher-led school and to transfer Anusara trademarks.
Is this the future Anusara teachers have been hoping for?
Two decades ago, a
similar firestorm occurred when Amrit Desai, the founder of Kripalu,
admitted to having affairs with married students. The response toward Desai’s
violation of ashram ethics included a class action lawsuit by group of ashram
residents, a cash settlement and Desai’s ouster in 1994. A core group of
teachers stayed behind to rebuild “the brand,” legally reorganizing Kripalu as
a nonprofit entity. Today, Kripalu is one of the most highly regarded yoga
schools in the West.
Though Anusara is legally a corporation, it also has
elements of a guru-led movement. Not unlike a divorce, when the flames of
betrayal die down, what’s left is the problem of property division. The value
of Anusara, Inc. and its related trademarks can’t be calculated simply by
adding physical assets to revenue stream. The value is in the “brand”—the
essence of Anusara teachings, the esteem held by the yoga community. This brand
is why prospective teachers sign up for training, and well-trained teachers
draw students to classes.
What is this brand now worth? Friend has self-immolated, and
many senior teachers who helped build Anusara have distanced themselves from
the organization. I admit not wanting to tune into yoga’s reality TV moment
but, having taken many classes at one of the studios no longer aligned with
Anusara, Inc., I’ve felt sadness for students and teachers. I am also concerned
about the impact the Anusara saga may have on the larger yoga community.
Do you think a broken Anusara can rise again and thrive? And
why should we, the greater yoga community, care?