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 overwhelmingly derisive.

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.

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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.

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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?

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