Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's in a Name? More thoughts about Anusara

You may or may not have heard about the turmoil within the school of Anusara Yoga.  John Friend, the school’s founder, has stepped down from his leadership position after accusations of unethical sexual relations with students and employees, among other allegations, surfaced.

As turmoil in the Anusara Yoga world continues as a result of John Friend's unethical behavior, I am still contemplating my own reactions.  Many of my esteemed colleagues have resigned their Certifications. I have not, but I have been questioning if that should be my course of action.

Over the years my son has been diagnosed with language delays, ADHD and Aspergers syndrome. Though many people rail against labels, I found it helpful to know these were trends and not just the isolated behavior of one person who was close to me. I never rested upon those labels and never felt that he was only those things. He is a complicated person with talents and deficits just like any other person. But the label was helpful when seeking advice about how to address certain problems. And the label was a comfort in letting me know that I was not the only one having difficulty.

To get my certification I studied for hundreds of hours with wonderful teachers over the course of 7 years before I even began the certification process.  I completed 3 videos which were reviewed and critiqued by a wonderful mentor. The final video was then reviewed and critiqued again by 2 more wonderful teachers.  I completed a 30 hour exam detailing history, philosophy, gross and physical anatomy as well as teaching techniques for healing, relieving pain, and helping students to express their poses to their fullest potential. All along the way I received advice on my teaching that helped me become a better teacher. I received my Certification in 2006.

To me the term Certified Anusara Instructor means that that instructor has worked their ass off, because I worked my ass off. But though I am proud of the title does not mean that I think I am better than anyone else as has been suggested. I don't feel part of an elite crowd, I don't feel beholden to a controlling organization. I am happy for the support of the organization when it comes time to create programs that deepen my students’ study. I am happy to have a community to call upon if I need clarification on any Yoga related issue.

And though I have been disappointed by John's behavior, I personally do not feel victimized. The only way I feel in any way hampered by the label Anusara is through its recently diminished reputation. Anusara is a label that describes the method and style of teaching that I have found to be healthy, grounding and uplifting.

Labels bring specificity. We choose how much we want to identify with the labels.

Having said all that, the future of the organization is unclear right now. By keeping the name I may be supporting an organization that may no longer have the integrity I choose to support. Though I don’t feel any need to change the status of my certification at the moment, I am monitoring the progress of the organization and keeping my options open.  After all, “That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”

Blessings and Namaste, Sharon

Radical Responsibility – A response to William Broad’s Yoga and Sex Scandals in the NY Times today, 2/28/12

 So Yoga causes injuries and now apparently it causes infidelity. Wow, what's next?  Funny because what I have learned through Yoga is how to strengthen and heal my body and to honor my physical and emotional boundaries.

Mr. Broad reports that deep sweaty breathing and exercise brings excess blood to the genitals. Has anyone done those studies of people walking on a treadmill? Or riding a bike? Or, for that matter, sitting in a chair? Come to think of it, let's explore the injuries that have occurred while people were getting up out of their chairs or sitting in chairs habitually. I think you would find a whole lot more injuries come from that than from Yoga.

Being in poor shape can cause a whole host of ailments ranging from bio-mechanical to digestive to mental problems. Are those ailments the fault of poor shape, or is it the fault of personal choices?

I know that there are a whole host of reasons that people are in poor shape. I am not slinging accusations so much as suggesting that when we recognize our own power to make choices we can make positive shifts in our lives. I have made plenty of poor choices in my lifetime. But I have found empowerment by not blaming the situation, but by accepting my role in those choices.

John Friend's fall from Grace has been very sad to watch.  I see it as an example of the corruptive nature of power.  When people feel they can do anything, they probably will. Still, going after a position of power is a choice that individuals make and if they choose to abuse that power they will feel the consequence at some point as John is certainly feeling now.

You might argue that Yoga creates the conditions for injury or infidelity. To that I argue what doesn't? Do you have any studies, Mr. Broad, of the blood flow to the genitals of politicians wielding their power? How many of them have we seen rise and fall (figuratively that is)?

Through Yoga I have learned personal responsibility. I am responsible for engaging and stretching and being aware of each muscle. I am responsible for how much I push myself. I am responsible for my actions, my words and even my thoughts. I make my own choices and I live with them. Yoga does not choose for me.  Yoga doesn't cause infidelity, poor judgement causes infidelity. Yoga doesn't injure you; your lack of mindfulness of your own responsibility to every aspect of your own life injures you. You are in charge.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thoughts About Anusara

Why I Stay

My last post was a tribute to my teacher, John Friend.  This one is a tribute to the method he taught me, not to him.  As allegations against him are made public and as more and more very respected teachers are resigning their ties to Anusara, I have been contemplating the healthiness of my own connections to the organization.  This is what I have come up with.  This went out on the Certified and Inspired Teachers page this morning, but in case any students or friends are hearing rumors or wondering what my choice is, you can read it here.

I have been reading everyone’s accounts both of resignation and of retaining their certifications for the last few days with great compassion and emotion.  I understand people’s wishes to stay and I understand their wish to un-affiliate.  I have been reading all these entries with the hopes of finding some kind of motivation for me to take some kind of action.

I have not agreed with many of the business decisions and practices of Anusara, Inc. in the last few years.  The Center, Shiva Shakti Tantra and simply the magnitude of John’s teaching schedule always seemed unsustainable to me, but then, I teach a small number of local classes in a small studio to a relatively small (around 30) number of students. 

My questions is this: If I do not teach Anusara Yoga, what do I teach?   I begin with an invocation to ask for blessings and to give focus to the practice. I take a heart based theme and weave it into the Universal Principles of Alignment.  Through years of practice and teaching I have learned to recognize when a given body part or asana or situation requires more Muscular Energy, more Organic Energy or more Openness to the bigger picture.  If this is not Anusara, what is it? To call it simply “Hatha Yoga” seems not specific enough.  To call it anything of my own creation feels disingenuous.

The truth is that I don’t think my students care one bit what I call my specific style of Yoga.  They just know that it works for them.  I am the one who feels the need to give it a name, mostly as a way to honor my teacher for the creation.  I love trying different styles of Yoga, but every time I do I am reminded how much I love Anusara.

So, just out of practicality, I don’t feel any need to change my certification status.  I worked hard to weave this method into my body, and until I can figure out a way to undo those seams, I remain stitched.

Much love and respect to all…