• An Apology to the Yoga Community | Bernadette Birney: It's about yoga (sort of)

    An Apology to the Yoga Community

    Dear Yoga Community,

    Over the last couple of weeks, there have been plenty o’ opportunities for self-reflection. In the light of recent events, I am seeing things I probably should have seen a long time ago, but did not. I would like to come clean.

    For years, I have been thoughtlessly reiterating–and actually believing–things like: “The Anusara method is by far the most elegant and effective hatha yoga method in existence.” It has been my experience that these kinds of grandiose and self-aggrandizing claims are common in–and to–the Anusara culture.

    It is true that I have personally witnessed the healing power of the method. I have seen it work many times over throughout my teaching career to date. So, I can personally attest to the efficacy of the system.

    However, it occurs to me now that in truth—-I have no idea whether or not the method is definitively the most healing method of all hatha yoga methods.ย Having never made comprehensive study of every single method of hatha yoga in existence, I actually do not have basis for such comparisons, or conclusions.

    Jaysus, I have slugged down a fair amount of Kool-Aid. I have parroted self-aggrandizing and offensive fabrications and lies hyperboles.

    I’m sorry for being such an arrogant, elitist asshole. No wonder you don’t like me. Maybe if I’m lucky, you’ll give me another chance.

    Yours Truly,
    Bernadette Birney


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    33 Responses »

    1. Wow. Did someone say they didn’t like you? I can’t imagine honestly that your statements about an Anusara method have anything to do with how people perceive you.

      I venture to tell you that it isn’t the method. It is you who employs the method (it is just you really) that allows the healing to occur, or other teachers who similarly are attracted that have the gift. The ability to touch and to do alignment corrections gives you contact, gives connection, and it is your own healing power which does all the work–the method is the distraction, the diversion from the real Magic as it were.

      So my friend, please don’t go blaming self-aggrandizing hyperbolic statements on how people perceive you. I totally dig what you have to say, and love you for your honesty and insight.


    2. Who doesn’t like you???

      As a total outsider who takes random yoga classes but does most of my yoga at home, reads yoga literature and blogs but has never studied with anyone, I like everyone else have been reading lots of stuff posted re: Anusara and John Friend.

      Yours is actually the first yoga blog I ever bookmarked. Your comments seem to me to be always heartfelt and sincere and to the point. You seem to always keep it real without zoning off into total yogaspeak. I for one appreciate your voice.

    3. Yea! What he said! When John started to claim he and the UPA’s could make infertile women conceive and blind men see, I knew there was something truly dillusional and rotten about him. But I kept going and drinking the juice too even when it tasted bitter and made me mad as hell. So we all have to face our own truth and the part we played in this. MWAH! Much love!

    4. I like/love you!

    5. And, no, I will not repeat here what my fellow doubter and I said to each other under our breath and raised eyebrows when JF claimed he helped someone conceive but, ummm, yeah … You can guess for yourself. So even before I KNEW, my heart already knew.

    6. I don’t know you personally but what I do know is you’re not an asshole. You loved what you did and you were in love. And now you are in the post break up phase. I trust that you’ll find the mid point soon. Have faith in yourself.

    7. Bernadette….I Love You! I love your gumption and outspoken ways! Your individuality and your outlandishness! You’re my kind of girl! I also believed that Anusara was the best, but only because I experienced such wonderful healing at the hands of my beloved teachers. I also fell in love with everyone I met in the Anusara Kula. Now I want to experience/start a yoga just for women. To help women heal (from everything) in a safe environment where they will be honored and respected for the sacred femininity they possess. A deeply spiritual practice. I wrote to DB about it but he never replied.
      All Love!

    8. Thanks for our heartfelt post Bernadette. I have to say, in ATL a few wks ago, days before this fiasco became public, at my first and only workshop with John Friend, little red flags were popping up all weekend long while listening to John speak. The classes were great and the energy from being in a room with 150 or so fellow yogis, many of whom were my friends, teachers and students, was palpable. However, there was just something in his speech, his wording, an arrogance…an ego driven tone..that turned me off. I was thinking, “this sounds too good to be true.” The last day he spoke, he actually sounded a bit like an infommercial, and I called a friend/yoga therapist (who is also a physical therapist) and voiced my thoughts. About 4 days later, when YD ran the article, I was surprised, though not shocked.

      Part of me feels duped..though I also can’t help but acknowledge that the positive, uplifting and inspiring workshops were real. While a shadow side was there and my inner voice was telling me, it was still awesome. What I realize now was that it was ME..MY perception..joined with the flow of energy from the fellow practitioners..that created this positive experience. Interestingly, JF’s first discussion explained how yoga helps us to shift our perception…and it is just that which created such a fun and enlightening experience. Had I honed in on my inner sceptic, I’d have not gleamed so much good.

      You have been able to gleam much good from Anusara..as a person, a teacher, a student…it’s your journey. And your journey continues as you grow and evolve from this experience. I appreciate your courageous self reflection and for sharing it. I don’t think believing in the good in someone and passing that on is “drinking the kool-aid”…while I do have a long time acquaintance who appears to be caught up in it so deeply that references comparing John to Jesus (complete with resurrection!) were made as recently as yesterday. I voiced concern on her fb page and my comment was deleted. Perhaps I overstepped..I probably did. She is following her heart and you are following yours.

      Thanks for being you…

    9. Well if you think your an elitist asshole then so am I. Teach Ashtanga and have felt the same as you.you are correct in saying we do not know the best method. I fell sad for what happened to all you wonderful kind Anusara teachers but something really goog will rise from the ashes. You are not an asshole but a human being who is growing and learning and expanding in many different ways. I wish you the best of everything I know you will be better than ok.

    10. Thank you for your latest blog. While over the past few weeks I have had personal conversations with teachers and friends in the community about responsibility, I appreciate this public statement by a certified teacher. You stepped into a conversation about how, either through being complicit, by turning a blind eye, drinking the Kool Aid, taking the blue pill, whatever it was, many Anusara teachers helped foster a community where a questioning of the method or John was not welcomed. While I love the method, I always felt uneasy with the power dynamics, and some other issues, but never felt there was any space held open for dissent in the larger Anusara community. I write this not to blame anyone for their choices or non-choices but to offer a perspective as we look to move forward. What is paramount at this moment is this kind of self-reflection, especially by the teachers, regarding how we all allowed and contributed to this sad situation. I think these kinds of difficult conversations are far more heroic and deserve the respect we have been heaping upon teachers just because they chose to give up their certification. I take no issue with those staying or leaving, and completely understand why teachers are leaving, but I reserve my admiration for those who offer deep self-reflection and raw honesty about their role in all of this, because without this nothing will change.

    11. good for you. this is great. talk about being able to breathe again.

    12. “…arrogant, elitist asshole…” I thought you were done with hyperbole. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Big love to you, through you!

    13. thank you Bernadette!

    14. Bern,
      I so appreciate your heartfelt honesty on this matter. Anytime someone says their approach/idea/cherry pie is the far superior to others, it makes me wonder.

      I’m not an anusara teacher (more of an ashtanga-sivananda-iyengar mutt with a dash of anusara actually) but I have heard such things said to me so many times in so many settings. I’ve got to say that it was often a turn off since the people saying it seemed to be attaching their ego to the method they held so dear (and one which I still respect greatly). On top of that, it made this non-anusari not feel quite so welcome among them at a workshops, etc.

      Another great unspoken thing that the “rest of us” sometimes share with each other is the feeling that the anusara community thinks it owns the words “grace” alignment” “shri” and so on, Of course they probably don’t really feel that way but the languaging of some in the anusara community certainly left many of us feeling that way.

      I even once had a certified anusara teacher in Denver once tell me (upon our being introduced) that he only respected vinyasa teachers if they had an ashtanga background. All I could think was wow, I guess that is what they call “grace.”

      Here’s to hoping such things will change..

      Of course I’ve been around more than a few ashtanga and iyengar purists who seem to look down their nose at the rest of the “unwashed” so its certainly not exclusive to anusara.

      What is indeed rare is for someone so high up in such a community to take a deep look inside and realize how they have moved within this world and then had the courage to offer an apology the way you have. You certainly didn’t need to but the fact that you did indicates much hope for healing in the broader yoga community. Truth is, every one of us (including yours truly) probably owes an apology to someone, sowmehere.

      You always had my deepest respect and admiration but you just made them a little deeper.



    15. moving in alignment is definitely better than moving out of alignment-on the mat and in life off the mat. it doesn’t matter what you call it or if you practice yoga or not. be careful not to go from one extreme to another. emotional reactions are not that uplifting. i’m glad you are working out your feelings, maybe those misguided and idolized feeling for one man. sorry that you are taking it out on a good method in a public forum. there are some really good anusara teachers who will continue to help people and i don’t consider them elitilist.

      • To clarify: I’m not dissing alignment. Anyone who’s ever taken my class knows that I’m pro-alignment. Anyone who’s ever been in my class–or read much of my blog–knows that I love the method, and the community. I’ve no intention of radically going to extremes, or demonizing anyone. I’m simply pro taking responsibility, and owning what I could have done–and intend to do–better. Cheers.

    16. Awwhhh! Love reading your blogs B2! Hang in there through all of this. It’s a process for us all. xoxoo

    17. Bernadette, you are a lovely, kind, open, sincere, and courageoud woman, and I am grateful for your presence in my life.

    18. That is Courageous, in case you didn’t get that typo :)

    19. Tell me who don’t like you and I’ll kick their ass, ( in Macy’s window).

    20. I can only speak for myself. You never pushed the Kool-Aid, else, I’d never have returned. When absorbing information that makes a profound impact on one, most will say it’s “the best out there”. An enlightened person wakes up and realizes that there’s more truth out there to learn…maybe it contradicts what’s been learned, maybe it supports it.

      I’ve never gotten the vibe of an “arrogant, elitist asshole”; just an honest person standing up and speaking their mind. That’s courage. It’s not whether or not someone else likes or loves you. If they do, then it’s a compliment. When that happens, it’s a type of namaste.

      What matters most is one liking and loving oneself. You’re the only one who spends every moment of every day with yourself.

      Keep staying honest. Keep staying real. Keep the spunk.

    21. Thank you thank you thank you….you truly are amazing. You know, I’ve taken class here in Boston with Peentz Dubble. She is an amazing Iyengar teacher. I was embarrassed to tell her my study was in Anusara for all the reasons you have apologized for….. I like what’s happening in the Anusara community. It is growing authenticity! I love authenticity! I love you and am so looking forward to TT2 at Elements.

    22. I know exactly where you are coming from but don’t beat yourself up. Remember, hindsight is always so much easier to see. You did a great job representing Anusara and I have no doubt you will do a far greater job having learned from your experiences (as we all will) as you move into something more free, more real by adding all the skills and talents you have acquired along your journey.

    23. Whaaaatt?
      Don’t beat yourself up my ducky! The Anusara method ( or whatever you want to call it ) is solid and it works. Give yourself a break and make yourself a pot of tea! Don’t second guess yourself. Everyone in the real world thinks your great and will be waiting for you when your ready!

    24. It is obvious that this experience has been cathartic.
      I am impressed by your sincerity and principled stance.
      You are one adorable ex-elitist asshole.

    25. My experience aligns right along Chris Courtney.

      And here’s how it really works. Just to show you how it gets taken personally:

      1. Anusara is the most intelligent; therefore,
      2. all other forms of yoga are less intelligent; therefore
      3. if you practice/teach other forms of yoga, you are less intelligent.

      In general, people don’t like being told that they are less intelligent. I know I don’t. It’s one of the specific chips on my shoulder, in fact. Not that you are responsible for that, but the statement makes me particularly reactive. Ha!

      That being said, I think we often say things that we don’t really know what we are saying. I don’t think you intended to say that everyone who isn’t teaching or practicing Anusara is less intelligent — right?

      I think, instead, you were trying to express how much you love Anusara and how awesome you think that is. I can go with that.

      And it’s always a good reminder for everyone to just — be mindful with our words. Words are really powerful, and people hear stuff based on the chips on their shoulders, too. If you can own the statement fully, then it’s probably don’t going to raise hackles.

      And trust me, it’s a practice for me too. I know I’m egotistical. ๐Ÿ˜€

    26. Thankyou for your honesty and clarity . At last someone who is no longer in denial and can face the truth and communicate without the anusara speak, Remember it is the yoga that helped you , there is nothing in anusara that was not there before JF pretended to invent a new form of yoga that had him at the centre and would not brook any wavering from “The story ” he spun , this one that many others colluded with , for money power , fame or just to be next to the false idol. These others are now silent or hastily trying to keep hold of the power that there position in anusara gave them, they owe you , not me , explanations . I have listened to 15 years of a subtle putting down of the school im in , veiled smug comments and downright misinformation , I keep seeing comments still now from anusarians how the method is the best ,These people who probably have little understanding or experience of other schools , have they learnt nothing yet . There are many in the yoga world who have turned the other cheek to JFs platitudes and nonsensical little feelgood sharings, and carried on sharing yoga they are still out there , sharing quietly and with true grace. .
      The good news is that yoga is eternal and youre love for the practice comes through . I feel that the exposure of anusara is actually really positive and will cause self reflection amongst many who have sought to use yoga for there own agendas rather than be of service .
      The true extent of the corruption and harmful behaviour is only just being exposed , people are now seeing JF for what he is and they are no longer afraid of his power and bully boy tactics and are speaking out , it is with interest that i wait to see if those who colluded and enabled can bring themselves to apologise to those that they lied to for so long.
      Jai maa peace upon your journey to the true nature of reality and again thankyou for your honesty , may it help others .

    27. BB, you are an amazing soul and have given so much to others with your grace and integrity, you need to apologize for NOTHING! love, love and more love

    28. Although I am not part of the Anusara community, I have been reading everything I could about what’s happening and have come to the conclusion that this is the best thing that could have happened. Anusara has grown to be more than one man. It will now be able to grow even more with the many voices that have been stifled in the past. B, you are incredible. Take heart that you can now be heard. It may not be named Anusara, but the principles belong to everyone!

    29. I think your a wonderful person with a lot of great things to say. I am a Yoga teacher and a student of many styles/schools of Yoga. I take so many great techniques and teachings from each of them.

      I’ve noticed when going to Anusara that some, but not all, teachers claim that this style is the most healing method of hatha yoga. i never really got that. I did attach it to an elitist type of thing but I never faulted a teacher on it. But in all honesty I can say it was a deterrent from truly committing to the in-depth study of Anusara. I don’t want to touch people in a way where I tell them I’m the best and thats why they should follow me.

      Your transparency here is commendable!
      Keep inspiring and sharing Diva!

    30. BB – I love your candor & humor and wish you the best.

      Speaking of the best..any method or school of hatha yoga will prove itself to the practioner without infomercials being made by teachers certified within that particular tradition. I’ve practiced and taught yoga since the early 70’s and have found that the fruits of yoga practice arise within one’s own life and no amount of belief acquired from others – no matter how grand and great they may seem to be – is required.

      I say to students and non-students alike : “Don’t believe me or the media or anyone else…prove it to yourself FOR yourself and in that way , you’ll know in your bones, in your muscles, in your mind, and in your heart.”

      peace/love to all

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