John Friend and Yoga in America


Two interesting, and strikingly different articles caught my eye in Sunday's New York Times. The first, a book review by Pankaj Mishra that somewhat negatively reviews the rise of yoga in the United States.

Whether in the streets of Mysore or on Fifth Avenue, yoga cannot be
disentangled from specific histories or specific cultural and economic
practices. Of course, the more vulgar aspects of its inevitable
commodification in the United States, like $1,000-a-night yoga cruises,
­ought to be deplored. Certainly, the civic or political virtue that
results from limber, yoga-toned bodies is not yet measurable. And it
would be nice if American followers of yoga, who increasingly define the
future of this Indian discipline, would at least occasionally seek
something like spiritual transcendence.

And the second, a glowing interview with Anusara founder John Friend by Mimi Swartz.

The first time I encountered John Friend was at a
workshop at a Woodlands community college nearly 10 years ago. At the
time I was practicing a stricter form of yoga, and Friend's
joke-cracking and mind-boggling acrobatics -- he is famous for his
handstands -- were something of a revelation. Yoga could be . . . fun?

As Friend led us through the poses, he spoke in
a soft voice, insisting that we contain divinity within ourselves and
must discover and express our inner goodness to fulfill our obligation
to better our world. How to do so was never expressly stated -- except
for practicing yoga, of course -- but I left the workshop feeling better
physically, mentally and emotionally.

I didn't know at the time that this was my introduction to what others
call "the cult of John." If Friend could be compared with anyone outside
the yoga world -- and I am not sure he would like this comparison -- it
would be Joel Osteen,
the magnetic evangelical megachurch minister with the feel-good message
and a book-and-television empire. Osteen's God is loving and forgiving.
Osteen doesn't get hung up on dogma, and thus everybody is welcome.

I, for one, am happy to see yoga being discussed in the mainstream media. Glad that it is a part of our culture and open to debate. It's good to know that people are thinking about these things and that makes it more likely to reach a deeper stream in our society.

What do you think?

ps- John Friend (@anusarafriend) plans to post his response to the interview today!

Erin Chalfant is a
writer, yoga teacher and the Web Editor at Yoga Journal.