“We all need to learn to be more transparent and, as students, less caught up in rockstar syndrome.” — Waylon Lewis
I just read an intense interview with John Friend conducted by Waylon Lewis of Elephant Journal. Friend, who has become an international phenomenon and was the subject of a New York Times Magazine cover story last year, established the Anusara yoga method. If you’re unfamiliar with Anusara, here is Wikipedia’s description, for what it’s worth:
Anusara yoga is a modern school of hatha yoga started by American-born yoga teacher John Friend in 1997. Friend derived his style from the Iyengar style of yoga and reintroduced elements of Hindu spirituality (specifically derived from Siddha Yoga) into a more health-oriented Western approach to Yoga.
The emphasis of Anusara is on a set of Universal Principles of Alignment which underlie all the physical asanas and are connected to philosophical aspects of the practice. According to the official Anusara Yoga website, the school’s ideology is “grounded in a Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness”. Friend states that the term “Anusara (a-nu-sar-a), means ‘flowing with Grace,’ ‘flowing with Nature’ and ‘following your heart,'” as interpreted from the Sanskrit anusāra, meaning “custom, usage, natural state or condition”.
I’ve never been in the same room as Friend. I don’t practice Anusara yoga. I don’t think I’ve ever even been in a straight-up Anusara class. I don’t have strong feelings about the style of yoga or the man behind it.
And I don’t want to get into the details of the serious allegations here because I almost don’t want to know them myself. But it’s all over the Internet, if you look in the right places. At this point, it seems even Friend understands that the only way he will get his side of the story out is through online mediums. Here’s the interview, which, as I said, is intense. Lewis starts to conclude the interview with the line quoted at the top of the post — that, as students, we all need to be “less caught up in rockstar syndrome.”
That’s why I’m writing this post. If nothing else, this sad scandal — and it is nothing short of a scandal, no matter how you look at it — is a good opportunity to ask ourselves (whether we practice Anusara, Iynengar, Ashtanga or any other type of yoga) whether we are prone to getting caught up in the rockstar syndrome with our yoga teachers. I think we’re all prone. And it makes sense — the best teachers can literally change how we see the world and ourselves. They can literally change the course of our lives. That is powerful. I will always be deeply in awe of my teachers, and the darkness that they dispelled for me. But that doesn’t make them infallible.
So what do we do to keep ourselves in check?
What has been resonating in my mind since reading this interview is that often-quoted line among ashtangis: “The practice itself is the true teacher.”
I want to say the best teachers — the ones who see their role as getting students closer to the practice rather than the ones who are perhaps motivated by personal fame or gain — actually build a check into their teaching. They tell you their take, and they tell you to try it out and see for yourself. Investigate it yourself. They’ve spent years — decades perhaps — learning and researching and integrating everything they know, but they are humble enough to still believe that the practice is the true teacher.
No one is infallible. People change. Circumstances change. Even the practice changes — develops over time — but in the end, the practice is always there.
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