In yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, Mimi Swartz wrote a lengthy profile on John Friend, the Houston-based founder of Anusara yoga. I’d been curious about this new (13 years old) form of yoga, based on Iyengar yoga but with a “touchy-feely” overlay.
The article made me cringe, I must admit. It wasn’t only Mr Friend’s commercial ambition, groupee following, and globetrotting to promote his brand. It was also simply his words:
- “We are,” Friend said, beaming, “the Yoga of Yes.” (YogaSpy: Uh, okay.)
- “There’s no differentiation between yoga philosophy and business philosophy,” he said of Anusara. “We honor spirit, based on our vision that life is good.” (YogaSpy: Huh?)
- “Whatever you’ve got, you’ve got to rock it out fully,” he said in Los Angeles. “You’ve got to work the edge. The edge is so cool.” (YogaSpy: Hmm, maybe this sounds funny only on paper.)
- [An ode to creativity by Mr Friend, recited while a young woman with flowing curls and a face painted to match her tiger costume danced and writhed on the floor] We ride the tiger. . . ./I taste her hunger/In the burning of my desire/There is no hotter fire. (YogaSpy: No comment.)
- [Email message from Mr Friend to Swartz] “For me, any artistic expression that is performed and expressed with an intention of awakening to the essential nature of one’s Being (Spirit) and with the intention of glorifying the intrinsic Goodness and Shri (Divine Beauty) of that spirit is considered Yoga. Therefore, yoga can be expanded to include dance, music and other forms of Art.” (YogaSpy: I agree, but the tiger spectacle wouldn’t meet my definition of yogic “Art.”)
Of course, a profile is a distillation by the journalist. As a writer myself, I know that one can color one’s subject, even with accurate quotes. But there was something in Mr Friend’s attitude that bothered me.
I can appreciate dharma talks and philosophical lessons. I might even give a “life lesson” or two in my own teaching (to the best of my limited experience!). But flowery words (repeated use of “love” and “beautiful” are a tipoff) are a turnoff. I don’t think like that; I don’t talk like that. Maybe that’s what bothered me.
Note: I know that flowery words can work for others, perhaps depending on their state of mind. One of my current students tried Anusara yoga three years ago when she was grieving the loss of her husband. She said that the [touchy-feely] language was nice to hear at the time. Now she is drawn to Iyengar yoga, which I teach.
Anyway, those are my initial (albeit secondhand) impressions of Mr Friend. (Read Roseanne’s blog at it’s all yoga, baby for her perspective as an Anusara practitioner in Montreal.) Maybe I’ll one day meet him in person and amend this post.
Image: The New York Times
thank you. that’s all I will say….;)
At first I wondered what could be so great about Anusara, then I tried a class. It is amazing and worth a try. I’ve been a devoted practicioner for over 10 years (which doesnt mean i know anymore than anyone else) but I literally felt “different” for lack of a better term, after the Anusara class.
Now I am doing the teacher training. It is not as flowery as one would think. It is another practice of integrity and beauty, like many other forms of yoga.
If you’re skeptical, try it out. If you don’t like it, cool! If you like it, cool!
Christina Sell wrote a good response on her blog, too. She’s a senior Anusara teacher for over 10 years.
there is also a discussion at my blog although the post is about tantra, not about Anusara specifically, although I do mention Friend.
I’ve tried Anusara, and really like the specifics of alignment and the foucs on open-hearted-ness (is that a word?!!). I guess I didn’t know that Anusara was related to Iyengar – which piques my interest in Iyengar! I’ll have to find a good teacher. Always enjoy your posts. Thanks!
I’ve known John since ’97 and have both practiced and taught Anusara since then as well. I have also worked very closely with him on the Anusara Yoga Curriculum Committee, and do not believe that this article is an accurate description of Anusara or John. It is interesting to me, that not one of his teachers was interviewed – a very telling fact. I have written about my own experiences in my own blog. I have seen the Universal Principles of Alignment work miracles, with students I have had with serious conditions, such as MS, cancer, and so forth. And I have also seen the tremendous healing experienced by many in this community through the practice of Anusara and the support of the community.
Good points Yogaspy! To me, Anasura seems to be one of the ‘total package yoga’ kinds. Not only do you learn the asanas, you also get “yoga spirituality”, being the interpretation of literature, teachings and experiences of one person/organisation, mixed in.
For lots of people, asana alone may feel a little bit ’empty’, but they have no ambition/time to explore various sources themselves. Total package yoga (Anasura, Jivamukti a.o.) can be great for those people.
It’s a bit like cooking: you can go to the deli and buy food that is sort of what you where looking for, or you start with scratch and cook up exactly what you where longing for. I like to examine a recipe and check several for the same dish so I can form an opinion myself about what is the best way to cook it 🙂
Anasura didn’t resonate with me, and I found the dialogue downright annoying at times. But hey, that’s just me. The other people in the room seemed to enjoy the lessons very much. To each their own.
About the article; it seems a bit too sensationalist to be taken as The Truth.
Thanks for this thought provoking blogpost!
There’s an interesting conversation about the article — and a link to John Friend’s response — on the Yoga Journal facebook page.
“Total package yoga (Anasura, Jivamukti….”
I believe I also serve up the “total package” when it comes to yoga, but…
1. I did not name “my” yoga
2. I am not trademarked
3. I don’t make beaucoup bucks teaching yoga.
4. No one is going to write a story about me for the NY Times.
But I have students who have been with me since Day One of my teaching, i.e., for almost 9 years.
The yoga that I teach is…YOGA.
Exactly! But because people generally tend to confuse ‘new’ approaches to yoga as ‘new kinds of yoga’, people like Friend are able to create their own branded style.
But Linda, if you decide to take the big leap as well, and start your chakra panties yoga enterprise, count me in 🙂
I appreciate your opinion and I especially liked your playing the middle as a journalist. By taking the middle road you took the high road. If you would like to read John’s reply to the NY Times article please go to
As a Certified Anusara® Yoga Teacher, I can attest to the practice that has worked for me and thousands of others. What does work mean to me? I am MORE connected to my ‘Spirit/Self/Heart’, more connected to my family, friends, students and world. I LOVE my life more than ever, am healthier than ever, have a great experience and expression of Shri (all around goodness, abundance value, beauty) This practice as worked for me and it can work for others. You might want to try it again, find out if there is a Certified teacher around that is not so flowery. We all teach with the central core elements present, yet have individual expression. I’m actually on the flowery side.. but I like flowers.
Thanks again for taking the high middle road.
Thanks for all the comments. I will try to find a “good” (such a tricky word, both objective and subjective!) Anusara teacher to do firsthand research, which is up my alley (as a spy).
A couple comments: I do believe that the alignment aspect of Anusara yoga is fundamentally based on Iyengar yoga. I’ve heard folks quote Anusara teachers’ alignment instructions and thought to myself, “That comes directly from Iyengar yoga!” So, let’s give credit where credit is due. I hope that Mr Friend does cite Mr Iyengar in his teaching and teacher-training.
Did you all find the article “sensationalist”? I’ve read many profiles (mostly in The New Yorker and here in the Times Magazine) and to me this was in the ballpark (although I agree that she could’ve interviewed more sources). Regardless of the writer’s take, I did react less to the her comments and more simply to Mr Friend’s Hollywood-ish events (ie, facts).
beej, stay tuned for more on floweriness…
Great. I think you will find good in all the Anusara teachers, and maybe one with whom you connect would be a better endeavor! I can’t comment on the alignment instructions you heard. One possibility is that the teacher was a former Iyengar practitioner speaking with that slant. Of the few Iyengar classes I have done, I didn’t feel like it was Anusara at all. I tend to be an Ashtanga slant (moremovement) as that was my original practice.
Yes, I thought it was purposefully sensationalized. Please check out my blog http://www.bjgalvan.blogspot.com
Looking forward to flowers! Blessings.. BJ
Hey Sama, in your first comment, you said ” that’s all I will say”. You are up to three already…:)
I have tried this and I wasn’t a big fan, I also spent the whole time feeling a bit commercial and that I had been forced into this by a consumer minded yoga group that could not think for themselves. It dissapoints me a little to see the whole concept twisted and marketed to make money. Now I stick to my own Yoga,
I am a devoted student of Anusara yoga. Years past I used to practice both Vinyasa and Ashtanga, but it was the Anusara that changed my life, in beautiful ways. If you are interested in my personal story of healing through Anusara, here it is: http://theawakenedlife.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/my-journey-into-grace/
I have not found this transformative power with any other type of yoga, other than the Anusara. It has not only transformed my life, but I have seen it transform so many other peoples’ as well. While I appreciate and respect all paths of yoga, I know without a doubt that Anusara is my path for life.
HI eveyone ,
Your Body is your Temple. Your Mind is your Home. At SunSalute we help you make your temple beautiful and your Home a peaceful and serene place. Through the physical practice of yoga you will start to renovate your Temple and your Home.Anusara yoga is becoming a more and more popular activity in the Western world today. The number of places holding Yoga classes of many different types is on the rise.To know more visit our website Anusara yoga
It’s interesting to read this entry now, a year and change after the scandal. I wonder where those Anusara (trademark) teachers are now?
Still out there, but downplaying the Anusara name and probably not mentioning Friend, even if he was a hero to them at one point.
Seems like ancient history now. A blip in the trajectory of yoga.
Thanks for reading, YogiRomero; I appreciating your taking the time to comment.
Happy Thanksgiving! Yes, there are still many licensed Anusara teachers out in the world teaching, myself included. Actually, we are not down playing the Anusara brand at all, it is growing under the teacher led Anusara School of Hatha Yoga and it is still very much alive.
I personally still mention John Friend as the founder and personally my former Anusara teacher. While I am not studying with him at all, and he is not at all connected with Anusara School of Hatha Yoga, I still publicly recognize him as my Anusara yoga teacher.
Anusara yoga continues to be a fantastic hatha yoga practice for body, mind and Spirit, very much alive and in demand world wide. More than a blip on the ‘yoga trajectory’, you can see its effects in many styles of hatha yoga.
If you would like more information on the Anusara School of Hatha Yoga, please check out anusarayoga.com
Shanti blessings for the coming year!
Thanks, Benita, for your comment from an Anusara practitioner’s POV. To clarify, by “blip” I meant that the widespread commentary and press coverage on Mr Friend and his situation was a temporary thing in the big picture of yoga.
I’m curious to know who has taken Mr Friend’s role in leading the Anusara yoga school. What happens to any yoga method after loss of its founder? In Ashtanga yoga and in Iyengar yoga, family members continue their father’s/grandfather’s life’s work, but how much is cohesion among practitioners and purity of method affected?
Thank you for your comments and clarification YogaSpy. I appreciate it.
Actually, aside of being an active practitioner, I am one of founding lead teachers of the Anusara School of Hatha Yoga. I am working collaboratively with many other teachers and five regional groups of Anusara teachers worldwide.
At this point there is no ONE leader in the Anusara School of Hatha yoga. In a way we are the ‘family’ holding the container for the Anusara yoga tradition to continue to evolve and pass on, as a collaborative effort.
It is a collaborative effort with a voice to all those who are willing to offer theirs. It has been a labor of love and although things take a little time this way, ultimately there is a beautiful cohesion, honor and respect for each other, and love for what we hold valuable that are the Anusara teachings. It has been one year since the inception of the school and it is growing steadily. We have shifted from the vertical Guru model of the school, the top down hierarchy, one voice in charge, to a horizontal Kulacharya model school, a collaborative endeavor of collective voices with weight given to the ‘expert’ of the topic.
The integrity of the method is held through the integrity of the teachers. We are refining the curriculum, have refined the licensing process and will continue to refine as necessary. The integrity of the method, purity of any system is held through the integrity of the teachers. So far, so good, and as in everything, time will tell.
Please check out the website for more insight and information.
Great blessings for the holidays!