It’s About Compassion, Stupid

After this weekend’s release of letters from the new Anusara CEO and John Friend, I am, sorry to say, sadder than ever.

That is because John Friend has undertaken a campaign to prove that what he did was not so bad, and that the teachers who resigned were selfish and self-righteous and unable to forgive his minor transgressions. His letter was just like what all the senior teachers described as part of the culture of Anusara: Either you agreed with John, or you were shunned and cut out of the inner circle.

“Oh pleeeeeeeease be my friend, John Friend.”

I was immediately brought back to high school where the prettiest girls and coolest guys lorded it over the rest of us.

Worse, this attitude has been shown to be pervasive in the Anusara community. In my own local Kula, which I pulled together on the internet and worked to create cohesiveness among very separate individuals, I was asked not to participate in local meetings because I posted blogs and articles detailing the crisis. Nobody wanted to hear it. I was shunned. Someone get me a scarlet letter. This is also happening in Kulas across the world: they are dividing up.

Of all the senior teachers brave enough to work on the interim committees, only Ross Rayburn and Desiree Rumbaugh have actively voiced a concern for those who left. Believe me, those who resigned did so under much pain and deliberation. And some keep a toe in the door today as a sign of hope that change will bring a better organization to re-join in the future.

I had lunch with two teachers last week (I will not name them because they did not step up to wear the Scarlet Letter), and this was the statement that haunts me the most:

“When I resigned, not one person from the Kula called to see how I was doing.” Not one.

Yoga is about compassion, but apparently that lesson was skipped over by many in Anusara. In the training manual, I looked it up and it’s on page 90 in my version: “Be compassionate and willing to serve the students selflessly and unconditionally.” But apparently, it’s not so much with each other.

Even on the Facebook pages dedicated to the Anusara community, there are pages for those who resigned, and pages for those who remain. And on each there are voices that the other half should skedaddle. Ross has said tirelessly, the committee is working to find a way for those who left to return, if they want to, that we should try to remain a community even if we have differences. But in reality, I think it’s not the committee, but just Ross and Desiree who work from a place of love and compassion.

John Friend in his letter downplayed the number of teachers who left to 8%. In reality, the darkened offices of Anusara and the one or two administrators who came in on their own dime probably have not had time to sift through a mountain of emails. On the circulated lists, there are nearly 500 names, which by my count look to be closer to 45% of the community.

“Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement,” Ronald Reagan liked to say.

John is following in those footsteps. Before he left this mess to take a forced sabbatical, he took the stage in Miami to say over and over again that what he did was not so bad, and explainable, and only the prudes and self-righteous would condemn him. I want to be perfectly clear:


I am not perfect either (but I am pretty fabulous). However, I care very much about what he is doing now, this subtle and relentless campaign to manipulate a very vulnerable audience of believers. I care very much that I continue to see him shunning those who once loved him, and that most of the interim committee and new CEO are following in this pervasive and perverted teaching. I see no compassion, no olive branch whatsoever to the teachers who stood by him for years even though they knew of his behavior. Instead I see a further division of this community.

It’s about compassion, stupid. Or have we forgotten the most important lessons of yoga. No, it’s not about resuscitating the eighth century teachings of Kashmir Shaivism, or proving that Wiccans are people too, or even that the most important lessons of Tantric Philosophy have nothing to do with spreading your legs.

No. The most important lessons of yoga are about living as better individuals, more caring and compassionate, and I am not seeing any of that in this interim period. I am comfortable with the decision I made to resign, and right now, I don’t care if John is my friend or not.  I care a whole lot more about the person I see when I look in the mirror, and what I stand for, and how I raise my children, and none of this has anything to do with that.

Michelle Berman Marchildon is an award-winning journalist, a former corporate executive and a survivor of 50+ years of life. She’s the author of “Finding More on the Mat,” a yoga memoir, and a Columnist for Elephant Journal.  She teaches the style of yoga formerly known as Anusara-Inspired, and Power-Vinyasa Yoga in Denver, Co. She is NOT an Ambassador for Lululemon, and has been promised she will never be one.