The Anusara chapter of my life is coming to a close. The chapter opened on New Year’s morning 2006 when a certified teacher came to my class and said I had an ‘Anusara heart.’ He suggested I take an immersion to learn technique. What followed was six long years of study, teaching and personal sacrifice of time, energy and money in order to become Anusara-certified.
Over those years, I personally experienced the efficacy of the Universal Principles of Alignment both in my body and in their applications to life off the mat. I studied with great teachers, and I met amazing people. Shortly after taking my first teacher training, I realized that the Anusara business was a pyramid type where the most favored teachers closest to John at the top got the most attention. This did not deter me. I knew I was a talented teacher and I wanted the external confirmation of an “elite” certification to validate that.
Along the way, I confess, I sometimes saw John Friend as a father figure and mentor. I wanted him to recognize my handstand held in the middle of the room. I wanted him to read the “Anusara Yoga for Kids” community service proposal I e-mailed him after he said he wanted to read it in a conversation in his receiving line. I wanted to be invited to his private party that my best friend, yogini and travel buddy was invited to attend on our trip to a John Friend workshop.
I knew it was unrealistic to want these things from a man who had thousands of students. I told myself that what mattered was that I recognized and validated myself, and what mattered was that I served my students and found my own voice. The teachings of Anusara helped me see this. The method said know your gifts, share your heart and Grace will come to you.
In the fall and winter of 2011, I wrote an 80-page Anusara certification exam that I was told was one of the most extensive and heart-felt ever received, and I passed my video for certification on the first submission. John Friend publically honored me in Denver, my hometown, at a weekend workshop. I was over the moon. I was proud. I made my mom wait in the receiving line to introduce herself and meet John. It was a momentous time for me, and I’d earned my brief moment in the sun fair and square. The process had been long and frustrating at times, but did more for my confidence than any superficial attention from John I wanted along the way.
Two short months later, just as my new ‘Anusara certified’ website (acquired in trade for private yoga classes) was complete, the scandal broke. John Friend was alleged to have misused his power and to have corrupted the brand. I tried to practice what the method teaches to do in the face of loss: I radically affirmed the reality and went through the grieving process. I also came to the harsh realization that the future I had imagined (being certified and running my own immersions in summers off from my job as a Teacher Effectiveness Coach in urban schools; and leading an Anusara retreat someday in a gorgeous location)—was not likely to be. An oil spill now polluted the current of grace that was Anusara. The future I’d imagined was not going to happen. However, I continued to teach my Sunday morning Anusara class. I began a new Monday-night yoga-for-women (non-Anusara) class as a way to let myself color outside the lines and play with my creativity in a non-Anusara way.
I watched the Anusara community of teachers divide on Facebook and read all the articles about John Friend and his downfall. Sometimes I tried to empathize with John and the way he must be feeling to be so exposed. I wrote him an honest email in which I told him that I was grateful for the method and the teachings, and that despite how difficult it had been I never regretted a training in Anusara.
In March, my official Anusara certification arrived in the mail, and I proudly framed it and hung it on the wall beside my MA degree from Stanford. I started to get emails from Anusara teachers wanting to form a reformed Anusara that would keep the beautiful parts of the method and let the rest go. The emails said these Anusara advocates were looking for community members to help be a voice for the method. They wanted nominations. Via email and Facebook I put forward the idea that an emphasis on service and bringing yoga to underprivileged communities could be a great way to revitalize the Anusara name. I mentioned the proposal I’d sent to John Friend and never had a reaction to. When the committee called for nominations, I wasn’t among the nominees. Nor did I nominate anyone. I realize, now, there was a reason.
My heart and energy were strong for teaching my new yoga-for-women class, for performing well in my day job in the schools, for loving my new nephew, and for planting my first spring garden. My heart and energy were not strong for cleaning up a spill that I did not make.
Then tax day came and I saw that during the previous year, for the sixth year in a row, I’d spent thousands of dollars travelling to study Anusara at workshops and on certification fees.
Then I got word suggesting that those teachers who wanted to remain affiliated pay dues.
Despite having paid dues for 2012 pre scandal, the thought of paying one more penny to Anusara made me sick to my stomach. It was nothing personal against those who thought somehow they could save or transform the brand. It was just that, for me, the time of being a dues-paying Anusara teacher was over. I felt let down and uninspired.
My Anusara training stands me in good stead, still. I simply no longer need or want an affiliation with the brand.
I am saying goodbye to the organization, the business and the ideas I had about what being certified might feel or look like.
But I am saying hello to helping the school teachers I train create positive learning environments; hello to the kale and collards sprouting in my garden; hello to my 33rd year on this planet, hello to reading more and listening to my inner teacher more; hello to door to door canvassing for Obama in the fall of 2012, hello to labeling my classes simply ‘yoga’ and hello to slowing down to appreciate all the gifts in my life.
The students who come to study yoga with me will come, because of the living wisdom I offer and am trying to acquire. I will keep them safe in their bodies because of what I learned from the Anusara method.
This was a very hard decision for me to make, and yet I am clear and look forward to what the future offers.