Yoga Brand X

As those who follow the yoga scene closely probably know already, corners of the yoga world are all atwitter (pun vaguely intended) with the news that, in the same week, three very prominent teachers in the Anusara style/lineage have “resigned” their affiliation to Anusara yoga, a system of yoga known most for it’s “heart-centered” language and it’s innovative approach to alignment.  Two, Elena Brower and Christina Sell, posted beautiful letters explaining their reasoning.

(There’s a striking irony here, in that several years ago there was a similar buzz when a number of prominent teachers, especially in New England, “renounced” former affiliations to become Anusara teachers, and founder John Friend created Anusara as a break with his former Iyengar affiliation.  Flowchart to come…)

I can’t speak to much to this particular situation; I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the Anusara system, and have learned a lot from both their general alignment system and specific teachers I have had the privilege of taking from.  And while I certainly know people in the Boston Anusara community (I’m related to one by marriage), I don’t have a real sense of Anusara yoga in Boston, so I can’t comment on how this stir will or won’t affect them.

I can speak, however, to this notion of teaching “in a style”, and how that affects a teacher.  Since I started to teach five years ago, I have had the opportunity to align myself with particular schools or brands of yoga, and have thus far chosen not to do so.  In one situation, I simply chose to forgo further training in that particular school.  In another, I took the required training, then opted not to sign the contract that made me a teacher with that particular brand.  I have very clear intentions to train in another “brand”, hopefully soon, and we’ll see what happens there.

Let me clear- I’m not comparing myself or my situation to these folks.  They are “name” teachers with regional or national followings, I’m not, at least so far.  But I understand from experience the anguish that these kind of moves can create in a community, and the confusion they can create.  When teachers redefine their teachings, or leave a studio, it can leave students who have committed themselves to that teacher, or often their ideal of that teacher in that style, feeling confused and abandoned.  And I, like many teachers, have had to make specific and personal decisions about affiliations, certifications and the like, and their effect on my teachings, my practice and my career.

In my case, I chose my path not out of any dissatisfaction or malice towards particular teachers or their brands.  I often recommend their studios, their classes, their videos and the like to students who I think would benefit from them.  I study with several every chance that I get. I understand that in this culture, if you want to have a large scale impact, having an identifiable brand, which has the possibility for commercial success, can be a critical tool to spreading your message of health and healing. (And making money too, let’s not be naive.  That’s not automatically a good or bad thing)  It’s tremendously hard work, but the success of the Baron Baptistes and John Friends of the world are a clear sign that it can succeed.

I also see the advantages to a teacher in aligning with one yoga system.  In my experience, if you run the gauntlet of training and become a ____ teacher, you know your stuff.  And you gain access to a whole infrastructure, which can help you get work or better work.  A brand also helps identify the work you do- I periodically send students specifically to Forrest teachers, or Yoga Tune-Up teachers, or Acro teachers, because I think what that school specifically brings to the table will benefit them tremendously, and because I trust the brand.

But when you teach regularly, especially in a specific style, you will inevitably find situations where what the manual or your “master” told you do doesn’t line up with what you’re seeing in the room.  Or you discover something remarkable in your own practice that doesn’t line up with how you’re “supposed” to teach.  Ms. Brower makes that clear in her writing about her decision.

Most brands also ask you to sign contracts that stipulate how and where you can use the material you learned in their trainings- as in you can’t mentor other teachers using materials from their manuals, or your classes have to include sequence X and pose Y no matter what.  And again, on one level, I understand that the leaders of these schools have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the brand, and want to maintain its identity and integrity.  But on the other, I know for a fact that nothing I teach is my own- as one of my teachers says often when he trains teachers, I am an amalgam of every teacher I’ve ever studied with.  Their information is filtered through my experience and story, and from that mix arises my teaching, or any teacher’s teaching.  And I am loathe to withhold any wisdom I’ve come across because it might compromise a brand- I feel I would be doing a disservice to myself, my students and the practice.

I struggle when someone asks me what “kind” of yoga I teach.  While I certainly channel a lot of my teachers into what I do, and certainly a lot of my classes fit the textbook definition of American vinyasa yoga, I don’t think any one teacher or system defines what I want to do.  I would much prefer my practice and teaching to have an open-ended quality.  Most of the stories I’ve heard and read about enlightened beings defy any specific description of what enlightenment actually feels like.  So who the hell am I, certainly more a paduan than a Jedi in that realm, to do anything but experiment with what will best bring joy and freedom to myself and my students, and be willing to throw it all out if it stops working.  I expect no less from my teachers, and I admire these teachers for being bold enough to strike out in this way.

So, as many others have (notably, Anusara founder John Friend and senior teacher  Amy Ippoliti, who I adore) I send all kinds of support and positive energy to these teachers in their new endeavors, and would encourage all yogis, especially those who are struggling with these announcements, to do the same.  I believe them when they say that there is no scandal here at all, and this announcement shouldn’t be met with any sort of gossip.  And I hope they are able to find and communicate the kind of joy and freedom, and yes, heart, that I believe all yogis and yoginis are aspiring to.

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