Kali did dismantle the Anusara community in 2012. People were wounded deeply, had to change their lives, and the school itself seemed to dissolve. But, while the community transformed, Anusara yoga teachers continued to teach workshops, immersions, and teacher trainings around the world.
In late 2012, an international group of teachers formed the Anusara School of Hatha Yoga (ASHY) to take the school in a new direction. This new organization was created with the intention to evolve the teachings of Anusara, maintain high standards in curriculum, and support the teachers and students. The business is overseen by First Principle, Inc., a small corporation owned by Anusara yoga teachers. ASHY is run by teachers and a board of directors—not John Friend.
He’s moved on to create and teach a new postural alignment system and doesn’t have anything to do with the new organization or direction of Anusara. All intellectual property and copyrights for Anusara yoga have been transferred to ASHY so that the school can move on and grow. The transfer has yet to be reflected on the US Patent and Trademark Office’s website, but the USPTO isn’t known for their efficiency.
ASHY realized that the school wouldn’t be able to thrive without bringing the community together, face-to-face. So they planned Samavesha, a weekend of workshops, meditation, teacher training sessions, and therapeutic practices in Arizona. Students and teachers from all around the world showed up for a weekend of yoga and community—along with open discussions about the past, present, and future of Anusara.
I went to Samavesha to find out what I had attached myself to by becoming an Anusara Elements™ yoga teacher in 2013. My yoga practice began in late 2010 with with one of the certified Anusara yoga teachers who kept teaching through all the turmoil, Tiffany Wood. I knew what yoga meant to her, and what it meant to me, but I had no idea about ASHY and I wanted to find out.
I arrived at The Spirit in The Desert retreat center after four nights of camping in the desert and needed a shower. After I checked into my room, met my roommate, Jaye Martin, and cleaned myself up, I headed to the main workshop room for an informal, round-robin practice.
There were teachers from Germany, Australia, Canada, and the United States in the room and I watched a lot of old friends reunite. Jeannine Plaiche, the ASHY Board Member representing Canada, guided us through a beautiful centering and opening invocation. Everyone shared the seat of the teacher throughout the practice—leading us into poses to ground and work out the travel kinks. It was a great practice and I was happy that I had arrived that night to participate. Everyone I spoke with felt genuine and my first impression of the teachers running ASHY was positive.
The next night, the ASHY admin team created time for a long conversation about how the new organization had formed, what they had done so far, and what they were planning for the future. We had frank conversations about the direction of the school, as a group, and they weren’t easy. Feedback was heard and visibly incorporated in conversations over the next few days—these people were listening. After years of suffering through messy corporate meetings where everything vital went in one ear and out the other, I was impressed.
We also talked about how the standards for teacher certification had changed for the better. In the past, the process had been cryptic and sometimes based on favoritism. Many teachers paid thousands of dollars to unresponsive mentors, and that didn’t guarantee they would get certified. The standards to become a certified Anusara yoga teacher are very high, but the requirements have been clarified and there are skilled assessors to help teachers through the process.
Over the next few days I got to learn a lot about the Anusara community. I took workshops on how to teach meditation, applying hands on adjustments, and biomechanics and anatomy. I connected with most of the people there and had wonderful conversations about the nature of dreams, reality, and the universe over breakfast.
One morning I was in a conversation with Dr. Manoj Chalam, the Murti wallah you see with beautiful deities at yoga festivals around the world. He’s a brilliant philosopher and you’ll love his workshops, too. We were eating breakfast with a few others and John Friend came up, along with the Tantrik roots of Anusara. Did yoga come from Vedanta or Tantra? Could one person own or create the teachings of yoga? Was it possible for the teachings themselves to be diminished by the actions of one person?
He asked me what I thought as a new teacher. I told him that I didn’t think any one person or school could claim or diminish the true teachings we find in yoga. All the teachings depend on and build off of the knowledge of others. There are dualistic Tantrik schools just like there are dualistic Vedic schools. Anusara is a unique expression of non-dualistic Tantrik philosophy and biomechanical principles that John Friend coalesced and offered to the world. The truths found in Anusara existed before John Friend and will exist long after he does.
So, where does Anusara go from here? It’s expanding, and after getting to connect with the new organization and the community of teachers, I think it’ll continue to do so. The combination of its philosophical roots, focus on therapeutic alignment, and the high quality standards for teachers makes Anusara valuable to the global yoga community. ASHY is running on the input of over 500 licensed teachers around the world and the people guiding the school have genuine intentions. I wasn’t sure how I felt about my licensed moniker before, but after Samavesha, I’m in a state of peaceful happiness calling myself an Anusara Elements™ yoga teacher.
About the Author: Cole D. Lehman
Cole survives on stories, yoga, and new experiences. He’s an INFJ, an Anusara Elements™ yoga teacher, and a freelance writer who was raised by books, the internet, and his lovely parents. The mountains are his home and deserts are his favorite places. He believes that this is only one of many worlds we all get to explore and that it’s a privilege to share the experience with you. You can follow his journeys on twitter, instagram, and his website.