“I refuse to join any club that would have me for a member.” Groucho Marx
There has been some major drama in the yoga world of late with inflammatory articles in the New York Times and scandal in the world of Anusara yoga. So I figured I might as well weigh in with some thoughts.
I feel like the luckiest man alive. I love what I do and live a life where I consistently interact with very sweet people who are in search of a better future for themselves and the world they live in. At the same time I know I’m a bit odd. I’ve had an issue with “authority” from the minute I was born. I stopped going to school at fourteen and officially dropped out at sixteen. I loved learning but couldn’t really cope with the structures that I was given. It wasn’t something I ever planned but it is who I was/is.
I never intended to be a yoga teacher. I was a carpenter at a yoga center and the opportunity to do teacher training was afforded me. I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time and I thought it would be a good way to meet girls (It worked! I met my wife).
While I am thrilled that I teach yoga and love my work—the yoga world is a strange place to live in populated by a lot of ego, ambition, elitism, and very often uninformed people telling others what to with their bodies—without necessarily havinga proper education to do so. The idea that someone can spend 200 hours in training then be allowed to teach people anything is a bit much.
Back in the day I studied with some of the country’s leading yoga teachers and had a fairly intimate view of all their dealings. I found myself surrounded by people whose quest for money, fame and influence freaked me out enough to send me running to Brooklyn where I could learn on my own in relative obscurity. And that was long before this latest scandal involving John Friend.
John friend was my last, and in many ways my only yoga teacher. I learned from him the basis of what I know and teach to this day. It was a heady experience to travel to the top of a mountain and spend a week with a charismatic soaking up the bliss. It was also severely lacking in people of color or people without deep pockets. But everyone was so busy talking about John that they didn’t seem to notice. I chose to get off the anusara train rather than seek certification.
Back in Brooklyn I began to learn on my own reading a ton of great books and finding students (my true teachers) who seemed happy to be my guinea pigs as I tried to figure out my way around the body. It has been an amazing journey that is far from over as I am endlessly trying to figure out ways to help people guide themselves out of pain and injury.
I always tell teacher trainees I work with that you don’t have to know anything about anatomy and alignment to be a great yoga teacher. There are many ways to offer teachings that inspire people and facilitate positive change. But I also add that as a new teacher being asked what a student should do about a wrist or shoulder problem and looking at them with a blank stare followed by the sad offering, “modify” was not a satisfying position for me to be in. My wife and I finished our first teacher training, looked each other in the eye and said, “Now we have to start learning.”
I remain a part of the yoga world in the most marginal of ways but the hate/hate relationship I have with facebook keeps me abreast of all that goes on within. I am friends with hundreds of people that I don’t know and get to see amazing videos that are endlessly posted by someone named Scott Lewicki (thanks) along with many others including some place called the Marcello Conte School of Yoga in Milan, Italy that consistently posts pictures of the world’s most beautiful people doing yoga poses—and I have to admit for the most part they have stunning alignment. For some reason, I get too many emails from them and was preparing to hit delete but looking through the pictures, I figured, “what the heck, they’re all so beautiful, I’ll take the emails”.
But I have also had to watch and read endless screeds of opinion (my own included) about the John Friend scandal and the William Broad book. Yes, I know, I don’t have to read or watch this stuff but how else am I supposed to avoid working?
I decided to write this bit of nonsense after I got an email from a friend in California who remarked on all of these anusara teachers that were wandering around in daze having lost their way in the wake of the John Friend Scandal. Way too many people have invested way too much of themselves into their teachers who had little business seeking their devotion.
To be discerning is a developed talent. To want to be told what to do seems to be a human instinct (for some). Finding the balance between the two is the key to becoming a good teacher. Be your own guide is my advice— learn to trust yourself and your own instincts. And YouTube really is my teacher because she is loaded with so much information about exercise and the body, and even philosophy if that is your bag, that you can learn all you need to know without the force of someone’s ego and will behind it.