What Ashtangis can learn from the Anusara scandal

We’ve kept mostly mum on the whole Anusara scandal. The main reason: We’re interested in Ashtanga here (thus our calling it the “other A-yoga” when we have touched on it).

There’s also the fact it’s just messy, ugly and nasty. Saucha would encourage you not to get too wrapped up in all the details.

Via NY Mag

But… it’s still been a big, even huge, deal. And there are some aspects that I — for whatever it is worth — think are worth Ashtangi reflection. This is especially true on a day when there are two major and mainstream news pieces covering the story.

First, though, I would point out that Jason at Leaping Lanka has been thinking about this story and reflecting on it for a while. His thoughts are worth a read.

Three main points jump out at me after reading Monday’s pieces on Anusara. (That’s “the other A-yoga, by the way.)

1. Encinitas is cra-zee!

OK, this isn’t the most important, but if you read the NY Magazine piece, it sure seems like everything began to come unraveled for A-yoga’s leader when he started hanging out in Encinitas. I’ve clearly missed out on the ayahuasca-drinking, hoola hooping yoginis during my trips there.

2. Trusting your teacher

This lesson is a tad more serious, and is the core of things for all yogis or students, really. How much do you trust your teacher? When do you question? What do you question?

From the outside it always is easy to look and wonder how people didn’t see “the truth” or why they succumbed to a particular teacher’s charisma. This seems especially true in the case of this scandal.

But that sense of trust is absolutely essential to the learning of yoga, of asana or pranayama. And the NY Mag piece neatly puts how important this is:

“I was ooey-gooey and crushy on John, for sure,” says the High Priestess. “We only had sex two times, and it was totally consenting on my part. But later, I felt weird about some things. I studied with John for eight years, did hundreds of hours of yoga with him where his voice was the voice that was telling me what to do: ‘Do this with your eyes, do this with your tailbone, do this with your shoulders, do this with your head.’ ” Friend is an effective teacher because students trust him enough that they will do difficult poses they wouldn’t do on their own in his presence—that’s the way they have physical breakthroughs. “Given that relationship, I wonder if it was harder for me to say no than it would have been otherwise,” says the High Priestess. “Because I wanted to say yes. I wanted to be in the group. I wanted to be in the inner circle.”

How often have you read or heard stories of Ashtanga students going beyond their own, expected limit in the presence of a Tim Miller, a Richard Freeman or, obviously, Guruji? I’d say the main stories of Sharath’s teaching I hear and read at this point involve these individual moments when he gets someone deeper in backbend or Kapotasana or the like.

I know these stories are true. I’ve been there, experienced it. It involves surrender, in allowing yourself to let go enough to end up in a place you otherwise could not reach.

Tim tells a good story along these lines, one we’ve perhaps written about before. He was — if I’m remembering the details correctly — in Mysore and with another student who was stubborn and unwilling to give in, to surrender. Tim makes it sound like a bit of a 1970s American mentality in the guy. He wasn’t going to not be in control of himself.

“What’s the point of surrendering,” he asked Tim.

“To find out what’s on the other side of surrender,” Tim suggested back.

I find that to be an important lesson, one I continually am trying to learn. But I assume the other guy in this tale was preemptively reacting against the kind of abject surrender that seems to have caught so many of these A-yogis unaware.

That’s too much surrender, right? But then where do you draw the line?

I don’t know. It’s likely different for each person, but there’s also a collective line that must be drawn by the followers. When that line isn’t drawn, that’s when everything eventually spins out of control.

Remaining aware, perhaps, is the only guard. But that’s not easy.

3. The dangers of sudden control

The other issue that jumps out at me is that a lot of senior A-yogis began to bristle when they were asked, years after becoming established and prominent yogis in their own rights, to give up a percentage of sales for anything with an A-yoga trademark on it.

See where I’m going with this?

It’s impossible not to wonder whether Ashtanga’s future could proceed on a mirror path. (It’s the question behind all the meta-questions about Ashtanga.) The trouble, I think, is that the parampara is already out of the bag, so to speak. For anyone — any one person (or particular group of persons) — to begin codifying things, trademarking things, requiring things of teachers who have years and decades of authority in their own right is asking for explosion.

In the case of A-yoga, that explosion included Wiccan sex cults, X-rated online outings, business fractures, teacher abandonments.

It’s a case that should serve as a guide, if not warning, to Ashtanga.

Update: Another press look into the story, from the well-respected Texas Monthly.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

9 thoughts on “What Ashtangis can learn from the Anusara scandal”

  1. A guru is to assist the student to dispel darkness and lead their student into light. What I read of the words spoken from the leader of the other “A” yoga is that he was more a guru of bhoga rather than yoga. In comparison, it also centers around the ego. The teacher of Mr. Friend called his yoga by his name where as Ashtanga is a sanskrit word that represents the eight aspects of one’s practice and is not tied to a specific person’s name. John Friend just “made up” the word Anusara. Fortunately, Mr. Friend’s teacher’s self restraint and path of austerity kept him to practice what is yoga and denounced bhoga. The whole series of incidents is a lesson for all of us. The path to enlightenment is truly walking a fine line (at each moment) as thin as a razor’s edge. Discernment is an important aspect to mental development that leads to spiritual development.

    1. I’ve been recalling Guruji’s quote, “Eyes closed, sleep is coming.” I think it applies more broadly here, too: “Eyes closed, disappointment is coming.”

      Your use of “discernment” is right on. That’s what’s needed.


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