Tag Archives: John Friend

what’s the line between ego and service?

Sometimes readers email me to shoot the breeze about yoga stuff.  Last week a reader and Facebook friend wondered about this (he gave me permission to quote him.)  He said:

“I had a conversation with my mentor…whom has been my connection to the Krishnamacharya lineage.  We were discussing the effects of traditional systems vs. Innovative systems, most specifically the relationship between Ego and a teacher’s “need” to innovate.

Obviously one of the key features of Krishnamacharya’s teaching was the importance of adaptation of the practice to suit the individual…..and American teachers seem to be very good at adaptation….but that adaptation seems to be more about their own ego and “self value” in creating the newest and most “effective/clever” system of Yoga.

I’m not really asking a direct question, but more your thoughts, maybe you’ve written something of similar subject?  I figure your being connected with KYM, this is something you guys discussed?”

Interesting discussion!

I actually have never written about this and in all my times at KYM, this topic has never come up.  If I understand the question correctly, it is:  where does the ego and service, so to speak, separate?

I can’t comment on what other teachers “invent”….Anusara, Forrest yoga, etc.  Does it come out of their ego on wanting to control or change things?  I don’t know.  Someone once said that I created METTA YOGA.  Did I?  I don’t know.  I say that Metta Yoga is the Yoga of Awareness, i.e. being awake to reality, all the good and especially the bad, our shadows.  All I know is what informs my practice:  trainings at KYM, with Srivatsa Ramaswami, Buddhism.  “My” yoga is all about the breath, meeting people where they are (both aspects being totally KYM), being aware of what is happening now (the Buddhadharma.)  Yoga, for me, must contain pranayama and meditation for it to be called Yoga, but that’s me, that’s the lineage in which I study.  Am I going to totally spin the teachings to suit my own purpose?  No, because to me Real Yoga (and I don’t care if that phrase upsets people) is about Transformation and Healing.

We all know what happened with John Friend and Anusara…karma?  And people applaud Ana Forrest’s “new” way of teaching — isn’t it supposed to be a bit more therapeutic now?  I’ve been teaching that way for years, i.e., about watching what comes up, digging down to face your demons.  In my opinion, she did not come up with anything brand new.

No one called Krishnamacharya a “yoga therapist.”  When I was in India this year, A.G. Mohan told us that Indians did not come to see Krishnamacharya for “yoga for fitness”, i.e., purely asana practice.  They lined up literally down the street to see him for yoga for depression, bad backs, and other conditions.  He did not teach “yoga therapy”, IT WAS JUST YOGA.  So did he change what he learned from his gurus?  Of course he met the individuals where they were, we know that he taught Iyengar, Jois, and his son Desikachar differently because that’s how those styles evolved.  But did he make up something that was dramatically different from what his gurus taught him?  I don’t think so.

All I know is that I must meet people where they are and as Desikachar has said, whatever happens, happens.

What I do know is that in the end, it’s all the same, really.  What did Friend create?  Anusara is Iyengar inspired and he put a new spin on things, his whole tantra-esque thinking is nothing new, he just made it sexy palatable for Westerners.

After I responded, the reader went on to say that “the direction American Yoga is moving in is pretty darn interesting.  In fact, over contemplating your email, I started wondering what drives most Western yoga students to become “teachers” in the first place, let alone trying to reinvent their “own” system.   Part of it, I’m assuming, is the ego wanting this seemingly luxurious life of being a yoga teacher……because let’s face it, the way most Americans work their lives away pretty much sucks!  The American Dream has essentially become Corporate Slavery.

I think Americans turn to Yoga because it almost seems like a way out.   In a way, it’s a very distorted approach to Moksha!
 
The other reason I think students are going the “teacher” route is that it kind of offers students a way of deepening their own Yoga practice/sadhana — [quoting his teacher] “teaching is a fierce sadhana”.   Ain’t that the f%$#ing truth!  I think American yoga students do want and are hungry for more than just “asana classes” so why not go through a teacher training course!  They are always also described as an “opportunity to deepen one’s own practice”!  I think the American yoga community is maturing enough as a whole to realize there has to be something more to yoga than just asana…..hence so much innovation and crazy weird shit happening in yoga classes.
 

As bad a rep as the Guru principle has received in the US, I think it’s a missing element.  The idea that a teacher has done the long hard journey and come back to help others along.  Not to say they are totally missing….but I think there is a lack of very experienced teachers amongst the yoga population here.  And the ones that are around are too busy traveling around teaching workshops to thousands of students around the country rather than working closely with a student for a long long time!”

I absolutely agree that the the missing piece is having a Guru or at least a long-term relationship with one teacher which I kinda sorta wrote about here:   https://lindasyoga.com/2012/03/29/whos-afraid-of-the-big-bad-guru/

As for everyone doing teacher trainings, I personally think there are TOO MANY teacher trainings.  It feeds into what I wrote about babies teaching babies….https://lindasyoga.com/2011/08/03/babies-teaching-babies/ — which ironically has a video of John Friend!  Hey, who knew, right?  😉

As for yoga teacher trainings helping someone to “deepen” their own practice….really?  In what way?  Always?  For everyone?  I tell my students that if their path is the length and width of their yoga mat, that ain’t much of a path.   How are you treating people, what are you saying to people?  “Deepening your practice” is a loaded phrase.

I believe that teacher trainers do a disservice in taking everyone into their training, like those who have been doing yoga for a month.  Uh, no.  If I did my own training my requirement would be one year of solid yoga practice, at least once a week.  I am damn old school.  I was a student for 7 years before I became a teacher, not 7 weeks.

Another question to ask is, is yoga teaching a job or a way of life?  I know what it is for me.  I don’t care anymore about “success”, I just feel blessed to teach the students who seek me out in my home shala.   I did not want to come back from India this year, I wanted to stay in India and study study study.  On that false merit of prestige and “success” as a teacher:

“What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world.

[…]

Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

[…]

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

babies teaching babies

John Friend and Anusara Yoga have never been my cup of chai but to each their own.  If you get high on the love and lite and kula, knock yourself out.  But I do have to say that I agree with what Friend says in this video.

In my area of far west suburban Chicago, yoga teachers are a dime a dozen.  When I was certified as a teacher almost ten years ago there were basically four studios in Chicago that had TT programs.   Now almost every yoga studio that I know of in the suburbs and Chicago have their own TT program.   The most searched for phrase here is “how much does a yoga teacher make” or something similar (the second most searched for term, which used to be #1, is “naked yoga” but that’s another post.)   My teacher training was not Yoga Alliance registered and neither was my teacher, but he eventually chose to grandfather into the YA because that’s what people looking for TT programs wanted, whether he was a “Yoga Alliance Registered” school.  However, he still thinks the YA is meaningless and so do I.  I let my membership lapse.

To make any money a studio must continually offer workshops or have TT programs.  A studio owner can’t make a living (i.e., support yourself) on only offering group classes (this is in my geographic area, your mileage may vary.)

If I had a dollar for every time someone over the years has told me I should do my own teacher training, I could buy a ticket to India.   I go back and forth on that question and I will admit that one of my reasons for considering it is money.  I made $250 in May teaching privately, not exactly what I call a living.  But ultimately using  money as the primary reason to conduct my own TT never feels right to me.

So with all the TT programs out there, I have to ask: what are the intentions?  Is offering a TT program a studio owner’s dharma?  Friend mentions the word “dharma” more than a few times in this interview and I think that needs to be considered by student, teacher, and teacher trainer.

Like John Friend, I also was a student for 7 years before I did my first teacher training.  Now people who’ve practiced for less than 6 months want to be a teacher.  Why?  Because it seems cool and hip and fun?  And what type of practice do you have?  Do you even meditate?  And yes, I believe every yoga teacher should have a sitting practice of some type.  In fact, if I had my own TT program every participant would be required to do a 3 day silent retreat with me before getting the piece of paper.  That would separate the wheat from the chaff real quick.

When I finished my first 200 hours of training, I felt like I knew nothing.  I felt like an ant at the bottom of the yoga hill.  Even after 15+ years of yoga, 5 trips to India to study with Desikachar and his senior teachers, and 1000+ hours of training (and next year with AG Mohan), I have crawled only slightly up that yoga hill.  I am student first, teacher second.  Yet, there are people half my age conducting yoga teacher trainings in my area whom I know for a fact do not have the training I have.   It confuses me.   The teacher with whom I trained has encouraged me to do my own teacher training, telling me “there are people doing it who don’t know half of what you know.  do it.”

Back in the day in the old school way, you went out to teach when your teacher said you were ready to teach.   That is how the teacher who certified me started teaching — he studied and lived with his guru for 8 years and then was told “go teach.”   I am not saying it has to be like that now, it would not be realistic here.   But now anyone who has had a weekend training or even just an online teacher training (believe it or not) can get hired as a “yoga teacher.”

Does this scare anyone else or is it just me?

I can understand someone wanting to do a teacher training to deepen their practice.  Not everyone who does a TT wants to teach.  Or should.   Friend says that not everyone is right to teach.  What is the person’s aptitude for teaching?  Is there a deeper calling to teach yoga, is it  your dharma?  Or is just something that sounds nice to do because you lost your job?  As for me, I was encouraged to teach by the teacher of my beginner’s yoga class that I took for a few years.  I also truly feel that teaching is my dharma — but that would require a lengthy discussion of my astrological natal chart so I won’t go there. 😉

A 200 hour training is merely the beginning and frankly, I have to ask what is being taught in all these trainings.  I ask this question because I was shocked at the quality of questions coming from people in my last training in India (all westerners.)   After the first days, I felt that the training was “dumbed down” because of these questions.  Many of the participants said they were teachers, but I know that my own students would not ask the types of questions that people were asking.   Their questions made me grateful (again) for my original trainings but then, that was almost 10 years ago and times have changed.

So are recent (i.e., within the last 10 years) yoga teacher trainings now merely diploma mills in the rush to get yoga teachers on the market?  Quantity over quality?

“The reason why yoga is presently skewed towards ekanga (or ardhanga without the breathing component) and not ashtanga is because by and large teachers do not teach the other angas.  When I was in school I heard a quotation which runs something like this: “If a pupil has not learnt, the teacher has not taught”.   Yoga is a rich subject.  Considering its popularity there is no reason why practitioners should not endeavor to go beyond asana practice while still having a very firm asana base. “  — Srivatsa Ramaswami, writing about what he has learned from teaching his 200 hour TT programs        

what is tantra?

“Tantra” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in yoga circles. It’s a word that many American yogis have become familiar with via Sting who claims that he can get it on for hours because of tantric sex (see the comments that follow in YogaDork’s post.)

I don’t think there is anyone who has done as great a disservice to tantric yoga as Sting because of his comments. The whole sex thang is about 1% of what tantric yoga is about. Once Sting and tantra were on Oprah you knew it was going to be all downhill after that. IMO, if this culture’s attitude about sex wasn’t so f*cked up in the first place (pun intended), there wouldn’t be all the giggle-snorts with the mere mention of the word “tantra.” (“Oh yeah, you mean THE SEX!!” slobber, slobber…)

Then there is John Friend who is sometimes referred to as “Tantra Lite.” In the NY Times article about him that is burning up the yoga blogosphere it states:

“Friend’s “dharma talks” — short sermons — are based largely on simplified tantric principles (not, he stresses, the ones relating to tantric sex): students learn that they are divine beings, that goodness always lies within, that by opening to God’s will — opening to grace, Friend calls it — ‘you actually become vastly more powerful than the limited person that you usually identify with.'”

What I don’t understand is when people talk about Anusara yoga’s concepts such as “opening to grace”, etc.. I have heard more than a few yoga teachers say that they never heard those concepts before in their trainings and I really have to question that.

Isn’t all yoga about “opening to grace”? Isn’t all yoga about moving beyond our limitations? Isn’t all yoga about opening the heart, surrendering, giving it up to something greater outside ourselves? At least for me it is and always has been. John Friend isn’t the first teacher to talk about such things, he did not invent these concepts, he merely repackaged them for mass consumption.

When I hear a yoga teacher say that they’ve never heard such things before it makes me even more thankful for my non-Anusara inspired teachers and how they taught and what they taught me. I’ve been blessed to have the teachers I’ve had.

Mark Whitwell says, “asana is hatha yoga, the non dual tantra of direct intimacy with Reality that is nothing but nurturing.”

All yoga is nurturing. No one specific brand, no trademarks, just do YOUR YOGA.

So what is tantra? In his book Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses, David Frawley writes that “Tantra can best be defined as an energetic approach to the spiritual path, using various techniques including mantra, ritual, pranayama, and meditation. It contains a devotional approach emphasizing the worship of the Goddess and her Lord, Shiva. It contains a way of knowledge, directing us to Self-realization and the realization of the Absolute. As such it is a complex yet integral system for the development of consciousness which has something for all those who are seeking the truth.”

In my training “tantra” was never separate from hatha yoga. The word is a combination of “tanoti” and “trayati”. Tanoti means “to expand, to stretch, to extend” and trayati means “to liberate or free”. Therefore tantra (tan+tra) means to expand one’s experience and awareness of everything, to extend the frontiers of apprehension beyond the material, thereby attaining spiritual knowledge and liberation.

Isn’t that YOGA, no matter what brand name it is?

I learned that “tantra” means “to weave.” Through weaving in certain breath and meditation techniques, we train up our system to become more sensitive to the subtle forces of prana or the vital life force. Through learning to control the prana in yoga you learn to control the mind.

Isn’t that YOGA, no matter who trademarked it?

Taking a deep breath….SO……

What inspired this post was a Facebook discussion that followed the above photo. It is a photo I took at the Kumbh Mela of a baba whose arm has atrophied from his austerity, his extreme tapas. My caption to the photo was “no Tantra Lite at the Mela!” because the sadhus I met at the Mela were the real deal, the down and dirty tantric yogis.

Taking part in the Facebook discussion are Carol, blisschick, and Baba Rampuri, who’s about as real of a yogi deal as you can get.

Talk amongst yourselves and leave a comment if you are inspired…..

##########

“blisschick: and the point of that would be…[i.e., the frozen arm]

Carol: Would actually really like it if someone could explain to me: What is this form of Tantra about, and what if any relationship does it have to anything that we call Tantra in this country?

L-S: these sadhus are devotees of Shiva and the upraised arm is a form of mortification or austerity, it’s tapas. it’s a way of showing extreme detachment from the body, transcending the body. other sadhus might stand day and night,… even while sleeping, or they sit in one place and stay sitting there, till they die.

Baba Rampuri: Wonderful photo! It is Naga Baba Amar Bharti Ji in this photo, he is a Naga Sannyasi, and a very close friend for many years. He is an “Urdhvabahu” meaning “raised arm”, but this is a description not a sect. One of the main things distinguishing traditional yoga from American yoga is austerities, “tapas.” It is a powerful means of obtaining knowledge and power. In one way, it’s an extreme form of focusing will power, almost like saying, “Nothing is going to stop me in my quest! Not pain, not discomfort, not the attraction of the world, not even death! I don’t need food, water, nor even air!” When I make disciples, and some of you know that we have 5 gurus, I always choose Amar Bharti Ji to join me as one of the five.

L-S: Carol, what is tantra in this country? In America, hasn’t the phrase been mutilated, people taking a sensationalist approach encompassing only thinking about “sacred sexuality,” with little reference to its true practice as a path to enlightenment? for me, hatha yoga IS tantra yoga because there is philosophy, meditation, and mantra and other practices. don’t forget there is also Buddhist tantra in the Mahayana tradition.

of course American yogis aren’t going to perform austerities like the Urdhabahu baba (who blessed me with his other hand!), or cover their bodies with ash and sit in cremation grounds to try to transcend their worldly attachment to life.

Baba Rampuri: Carol, these days Tantra means anything you want it to. In the West, it’s normally a marketing tag for something to do with new age sexuality, or at best, new age psychology. In India, at it’s worst, it is thought of as black magic. Yoga, as practiced in the West, has nothing whatsoever to do with Tantra as it is practiced in its high and low forms in India. At it’s best, Tantra is the teaching that Shiva gives to Parvati regarding knowledge and immortality. The practice of this involves the connection of Sacred Speech with Knowledge and the corresponding withdrawal from the illusory perception of the world.

Carol: thank you so much, Linda-Sama & Baba Rampuri! I feel so fortunate to wake up & find so many answers to my question. If you are interested, here is a link to a Yoga Journal article that I think captures how I commonly hear Tantra described in the American yoga community: http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/2240.

blisschick: It seems very much to me like a denial of the GIFT of this life. If transcending the body were meant to be a spiritual goal, why are we given bodies at all to begin with? (I know these statements will simply be perceived as me not getting it but I find this bothersome. I choose YES and this seems like a giant NO.)

Baba Rampuri: Christine, you are right, if it is his purpose to transcend his body, which it is not. He is pushing the envelope. He is using an extreme practice to get quick results. He is using his body in a way to acquire knowledge.

L-S: thanks for the clarification….I used the wrong word in “transcending”…yes, we have these bodies to use as vehicles for enlightenment (as the Buddha also taught about the “fathom-long body”), but these austerities (to me) show a non-attachment to the body, i.e., “non-attachment” being different from “transcending.”

Carol, I scanned the YJ article and will read it more deeply later…but as for tantra in the US…I have heard people say that they never heard of the tantric concepts or even the word tantra before they studied with John Friend.

I find that a bit hard to believe. I don’t know about anyone else, but I became familiar with tantric concepts from India from my teachers early in my yoga training. so I agree with Baba when he says that it seems that “tantra” can mean almost anything in American yoga. I also think many of the concepts have to be distilled in a different way for westerners. I mean, I’ve been to studios where the mere picture of Durga or Shiva on the wall makes people uncomfortable…how are they going to handle tantric ideas if a teacher talks about them?

blisschick, to me, tantric yoga is about “sacred body-fearless mind”. Buddha taught that the path to enlightenment is in this body, watching body/breath, watching the feelings/felt senses, watching those mind objects that are our thoughts, and embodying the dharma, the ultimate truth of reality which is impermanence. those are the four foundations of mindfulness, and that is how we can use our body, use the physical asana practice to realize deep truths.”

 

hand me that Anusara and a chicken wing


When a product with a well-known brand name is seen in a movie or television show, that’s called “product placement”: “product placement, or embedded marketing, is a form of advertisement, where branded goods or services are placed in a context usually devoid of ads, such as movies, the story line of television shows, or news programs. The product placement is often not disclosed at the time that the good or service is featured.” An example of product placement would be when the characters are drinking Budweiser beer and eating Kentucky Fried Chicken and the labels are featured prominately so you don’t miss them. Companies typically pay for product placement.

What a surprise then when one of the characters who was under suspicion for murdering his girlfriend in this week’s episode of Law and Order: Special Victims’ Unit (“Beef”) say he was an Anusara yoga teacher. Not just any old yoga teacher, but an ANUSARA yoga teacher. The writers made sure to have the character tell detectives Elliot and Oliva that his yoga teaching was all about “grace” (John Friend’s tagline for his trademarked style of yoga) so how could he possibly be a murderer? Wow. It’s usually cigarettes and booze that are product placements, but now yoga? Ah….yoga in America.

Sounds like someone on the Law and Order: SVU staff digs Anusara because why was character an ANUSARA yoga teacher, not just a plain vanilla yoga teacher? Being an ANUSARA yoga teacher added nothing to the plot, a non-branded yoga teacher character would have worked just the same. Of course, only someone who knows about Anusara yoga and who was listening carefully would have caught the reference. It would have gone over the head of someone who knows nothing about trademarked yoga, but it made me go “hmmmmmm…….” Just sayin’.

So it was a breath of fresh air to read the New York Times story A Yoga Manifesto about yoga’s “new wave” of “a brewing resistance to…the cult of personality,”, i.e., the rock star yogis. Years ago I did a weekend workshop with John Friend before he was filling up the huge halls and he had an entourage of yoga groupies students that would rival any rock star.

From the NYT article:

“And is it surprising that yoga, like so much else in this age of celebrity, now has something of a star system, with yoga teachers now almost as recognizable as Oscar winners? The flowing locks of Rodney Yee. The do-rag bandanna worn by Baron Baptiste. The hyper perpetual calm exhibited by David Life and Sharon Gannon, who taught Sting, Madonna and Russell Simmons. The contortions (and Rolls-Royces) of Bikram Choudhury.

…’The irony is that yoga, and spiritual ideals for which it stands, have become the ultimate commodity,’ Mark Singleton, the author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, wrote in an e-mail message this week. ‘Spirituality is a style, and the ‘rock star’ yoga teachers are the style gurus.'”

The article speaks about the success of Yoga to the People, the New York yoga business that is at the forefront of the “no rock star yogis” yoga. While Yoga to the People has a contribution-only, pay-what-you-can fee structure, apparently it’s a cash cow for Greg Gumucio. He has three studios in New York (including two hot-yoga studios that charge $8 a class), one in San Francisco, one in Berkeley, and one scheduled to open in Brooklyn. He is considering expanding to Austin, Chicago, and Los Angeles. I say good for him because it’s a great idea.

The irony of success is that Greg Gumacio and his brand of “yoga for the people” will become as popular and as well-known as any rock star yogi.

What say you about the mention of Anusara yoga (albeit in an off-hand way) in a primetime television show? Does it go along with what Mark Singleton said in the NY Times article that “yoga, and spiritual ideals for which it stands, have become the ultimate commodity”, something to be sold just like a pack of cigarettes or a jeans label? Why not have commercials for all the name brands: Forrest, Jivamukti, Core Fusion, YogaFit, and of course, Bikram. I bet the ad agencies would line up to get a piece of that pie.

This post is not about Anusara yoga or John Friend. Replace those words with any other trademarked and name brand yoga and the post would be the same. The selling of yoga as a commodity.

As Tony Soprano would said, whaddayagonnado?

UPDATE:

uh oh….they’re on to me! from site meter: “Atlanta, Georgia arrived from mail.anusara.com on ‘linda’s yoga journey’.” I’d better lock the doors and pull the shades.

….wait…I hear a mob outside….instead of fire and pitchforks they’re all holding Shiva’s tridents that have been set on fire….quick! help me! they are banging down the doors yelling “GET HER!!” AAAARGHHHHH!! Save yourself!

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