Having followed John Friend’s fall in the Anusara scandal and his reappearance, I feel compelled and obligated to point out that he appears to be back — again.
You can find old posts about his return from the Anusara scandal and his development of “The Roots” yoga right here.
Now, apparently he has moved on from “The Roots” to something he’s calling Sridaiva. It’s a yoga he’s come up with, I guess over the past two years, with the same people he developed “The Roots” with not much before then.
It’s pretty easy to judge him. I’ll just say: He says a lot here that, to my mind, does nothing to make me judge him any less harshly than I ever have. He makes it difficult to be charitable toward him. A few excerpts from a Mind Body Green piece from this past weekend:
Do you have regrets about the choices you made?
I feel the pain in my heart of the mistakes I made. It was never my intention to hurt anyone or myself. When those things occur, it’s important to feel it and remember it, and that’s how we change. I’m using the pain I feel to step forward into the future in a positive way. I’m certainly not going to repeat that path.
I take accountability for my own karma — I don’t know how regret really helps. I want to remember what happened, and then do things differently.
I built the Anusara system on the Universal Principles of Alignment, but I started to rethink all of these ideas and am doing the opposite of what I’ve done for years. This new alignment system has become Sridaiva.
In Sridaiva, the tailbone doesn’t draw downward. You don’t lengthen you spine by pulling the two ends of the spine apart. You line the spine up so that your connective tissue can pull the spine apart.
There’s a rooting through the pelvis down the legs and a rising in the spine to have the maximum opening of the body. That’s not to say poses in modern postural yoga are wrong. We just focus more of the engagement on the back body. After 42 years of teaching yoga, that’s a big change in my view.
I’m excited about Sridaiva — it’s the most effective work I’ve ever done. I think it’s going to spread everywhere, and that’s a blessing. I feel like this is bigger than me —people are going to use this all over the world, and a lot of them won’t even know where it came from. But that doesn’t matter… I just want to help.
You can decide how you feel for yourself. It’ll be interesting to see if the media picks up Friend’s latest return and runs with it.
As was discussed in comments yesterday, Anusara’s John Friend is back from his … ummm… hiatus? … and he has both a new workshop schedule and a new yoga sequence (since he can’t really use Anusara anymore).
He’s calling it “The Roots Practice.” Parts of it sound familiar:
“The Roots” is a well-rounded practice that includes some hand-balances, fundamental thigh stretches, backbends, some basic abdominal exercises, sitting forward bends, hip-openers, and twists.
A set routine provides the students with something that they can take home and practice each day. The Roots routine is exceptionally detoxifying and transformative for any level of practitioner. When practiced as intended, ‘The Roots’ helps to cultivate focus, stamina, determination, and self-forgiveness, along with many other desirable life qualities. With a set of asana sequences, students will be able to clearly gauge their progress as they practice it on a regular basis.
Pranayama and meditation can be added and practiced with ‘The Roots’ for a complete well-rounded daily or weekly practice.
“Exceptionally detoxifying?” Students “can take [it] home and practice each day?” “Clearly gauge their progress as they practice it on a regular basis?” “Cultivate focus?” Add in pranayama?
You get where I’m going.
No, it’s not to a Bikram lawsuit. (If you don’t get where I’m going, read Pattabhi Jois’ Yoga Mala right now.)
Perhaps this just points to the intelligence of Ashtanga, as Bobbie just wrote.
I promise this is not one of those “I’m quitting Ashtanga” posts.
But I’m feeling the growing, nagging compulsion that maybe I would be better off adding in other yogas to my practice.
I know this feeling is blossoming because I’ve been practicing at home for a month. But it isn’t because the home practice is going poorly. (Or I’d have another great headline: “How practicing at home ruined Ashtanga for me!”) It is going pretty well, aside from the fact that the time constraints that have me home also often limit the practice. But if the goal of yoga is focus — the quieting of the mind — then I’d have to say (despite the irony of judging this) that practicing at home has been going better.
The asana practice isn’t as deep, though. But the mental — emotional? — practice is. I’m sure all the Rolfing is playing into that.
What’s really behind this compulsion are several recent conversations — including with Thad and Frances, the latter of LilaBlog — about yoga in general. It’s clear to me that, despite all the pain and agony of Ashtanga, the familiarity of the practice is a bit of a security blanket now. I’m sure I’ve written this before, but I find safety in knowing what’s coming next. I know when and how and where to modify. No surprises. No Warrior IIIs seemingly out of no where. Zero poses cribbed from Second or even Third Series. I still can’t do it, but I know what I can’t do.
As someone who claims yoga should hurt, such a retreat to a refuge is more than a bit of a cop-out.
Plus there’s another factor: I judge the hell out of those other forms of yoga / asana. They often don’t seem to have the intelligent design of Ashtanga and, frankly, the yoga teachers themselves sometime are lacking a certain gravitas.
(Thad and I have had some online and offline discussions about judging. I think he’s written in comments here or in his own pieces on elephant journal — so I’m not crossing any lines in repackaging his thoughts — that there’s nothing to yoga that says you can’t be judgmental. In fact, if you consider how close judgement and discernment are in meaning, we may actually be seeking a judgmental position — just one that doesn’t bring with it all the pejoratives normally associated with the word.)
But, by judging these yogas — and now I do mean it in the pejorative way — and refusing to try them, what am I missing? I’m not putting myself into new, tapasya-filled experiences — both physically (the unexpected asanas) and mentally (getting past my knee-jerk and negative “judging”) — and I’m limiting my own world. (Bobbie just quoted from our “other guru,” William Blake, about the wrongness of closing up our world.)
The question them becomes: Should I be eating from the yoga buffet? (Also maybe a catchier headline.)
It’s timely because, while my schedule is still making it difficult to commit to an Ashtanga shala daily (oh, by the way, not getting up at 5 a.m. … not breaking my heart, I’ll admit it), there may be some freedom ahead that would allow me to “hit” an occasional flow/power/kundalini/Bikram/Anusara… OK, let’s not get crazy now.
But you get my drift. Maybe things are aligning in a way that’s trying to tell me: Break out of your Ashtanga shell.
Now, could someone please talk me out of this idea?
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.
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.