Thursday, March 1, 2012

Yoga Coalition

Dear Friends, Colleagues and Students,

Well. 2012 sure has delivered on its promise of enormous change! In the last month, an overwhelming cascade of events has impacted the Anusara yoga community. All of us are still processing these events in our own ways, and it’s probably not a stretch to say that we are surprised to find ourselves in this place.

Yoga Coalition is a group of yoga teachers who have recently distanced themselves from John Friend and Anusara, Inc. Regardless of our transitions from Anusara, Inc., we are as committed as ever to excellence in the art of teaching yoga, and to our local and global communities. As the dust settles from these recent experiences, we find ourselves asking:

What now?

We find the deep camaraderie we developed as co-creators of Anusara yoga is stronger than ever, and we know these bonds help us both to serve others and to evolve ourselves. Change has invigorated our creativity and our self-awareness, so we don’t wish to replicate the old structure, or to create without careful consideration. Instead, we want to initiate a movement toward a new paradigm of collectivity that we can grow organically over time, one based on our education and shared wisdom.

Moving forward, we know we won’t have a perfectly unified vision. This is a good thing--it allows room for more than one voice, and gives us the freedom to grow, independently and together.

We hope to collaborate and build on existing relationships, in a decentralized way that fosters creativity and allows grassroots initiative. Some of us may collaborate on projects and programs to empower our students. Some may focus on building bridges to the larger yoga community. Some of us may work to re-imagine what a serious yogic education, with a true standard of excellence, looks like.

Perhaps you feel the same?

If so, you are welcome to learn more on a website we’ve started together,, and a Facebook group by the same name. There is no obligation, other than a sincere desire to move forward, to participate in honest conversation, and to practice with integrity.


Bernadette Birney
Abe Christensen
Laura Christensen
Betsey Downing
Sue Elkind
Justin Faircloth
Sarah Faircloth
Nealy Fischer
Kelley Gardner
Beryl Herrin
Kendra Hodgson
Marc Holzman
Amy Ippoliti
Naime Jezzeny
Jordan Louise Kirk
Martin Kirk
Chris Magenta
Emma Magenta
Noah Maze
Cat McCarthy
Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin
Joe Miller
Natalie Miller
Stacey Millner-Collins
Katie Myer
Sara Rose Page
Darren Rhodes
Susanna Harwood Rubin
Christina Sell
Tracy Silver
Lara Demberg Voloto

Participating Studios
Be Yoga, Charlotte NC
The Bindu, Cornelius NC
City Yoga, Columbia SC
Dig Yoga, Lambertville NJ & Philadelphia PA
NOLA YOGA, New Orleans LA
South Mountain Yoga, South Orange NJ
Vikasa Yoga, Cold Spring NY
Willow Street Yoga, Takoma Park & Silver Spring MD
Yoga Evolution, Jenkintown PA
Yoga Oasis, Tucson AZ
Yoga Sanctuary, Northhampton MA

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Drama of Maple Trees

For the past few weeks, I've been in crisis mode so deeply that I wasn't even aware that I was operating on auto-pilot and that I hadn't really stopped to feel.  That all changed today.  I woke up and felt like a petrified tree.  My thought processes and actions were completely frozen. I had nothing to teach, no asana to offer.  I was done.  Finito.  Kaput. Complete disconnect.

This is a scary feeling to someone who teaches for a living. My heart felt like a wintery tundra. 

Yet, the world won't wait while you get your shit sorted out,  so...

Off I went to teach, thinking that I would just teach a flow with no theme.  Heck, I'm not an Anusara teacher anymore, I could do just that kind of wacky thing! (yes, I'm completely aware of what a cop-out that is.) As I drove through the Hudson Valley, I saw a circular driveway with about 50 trees, all tapped to collect the sap to be boiled into maple syrup.  I burst out into hysterical sobs.  Like that. WTF was going on?  What had cracked open in me?

It was one of those a-ha moments.  Sometimes the tapping process releases pressure in a powerful way and out it all comes at once.  Even in the face of what appears to be frozen solid, sweetness is always flowing inside, yearning to get out—sometimes right alongside grief.  I thought I was frozen and dead inside.  Duh, even in the frozen winters, the sap is still present.  Even when the river freezes, life is still flowing beneath the ice.  Even when I forget my own heart, it's still pumping sweet nectar through me.  I just forgot to tap into myself enough to taste it.  I wasn't frozen.  I was forgetful and sad.  

I love the idea of anjali mudra as a tap into our hearts.  Our thumbs reach in to connect more deeply, and the fingers reach out as release and to offer the sweetest flavor of life into the world. The more I remember and tap into my own heart, the more I can soften, feel things as they come up, and good or bad, step into the flavors of life.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Leaving Anusara

Several years ago John told me to get stronger.  I did.  I worked hard and learned to live in my own heart, rather than on the periphery of my own life.  I'm now strong enough to do the right thing, no matter how painful.  And this is painful.  I keep hoping I'm wrong in what I know and what I must do, but my heart keeps telling me that I am right.  It is testament to all I have received within Anusara that I can be so sure and stand strong in that truth. I will always be grateful to John for creating a space in which I could grow and to the community for receiving me in love.

Since the truth of John Friend's mis-conducts came out, I have wanted nothing more than for it to be false.  I hoped it wasn't as bad as all that.   I hoped it was just some financial and private transgressions.  Then I hoped it could all be worked out in the restructuring process. But, there was more to it than that.  John not only jeopardized the good name of this elegant and refined system, but has victimized women by offering "sex therapy."  Now that all hope is gone, all that remains is the truth before me.  And when I resign myself to that truth, my only choice becomes to resign my license with Anusara.  

The only way to serve my community fully, and in good conscience ask you to trust in my integrity as a teacher and human being is to step out from under this shadow that bears over me, and to stand in my own light.  I stand behind Anusara, but I can no longer stand behind John Friend.  I remain a certified Anusara Instructor but I am severing ties with the organization that holds John Friend in its arms. What I have received remains with me and I couldn't be prouder to be a part of such a vibrant and powerful community.  My belief in the system and all I have in my heart remains unwavering, as does my dedication to serving my community of students and fellow teachers.  I will continue to offer you my highest and remain ever in your service.

With deepest gratitude,


Friday, February 3, 2012

Self Doubt Can Suck It

In my first days of practicing yoga, I was consumed with self-doubt.  Everyone on the mat was better than me. Surely they were laughing at me, that annoyingly accomplished clique in the corner.  I would never stick my foot behind my head. I was shit.

I recognized the self-hatred silliness in it enough to persevere and pursue teaching, which of course brought up more self doubt.  Again and again I've been confronted with this girl who shadows my fabulous self.  You know her—she's the one who always gets it right; makes magic with the flip of her wand, flips her hair in slow motion and never, ever has anything stuck in her teeth.  In other words, my own mythical unicorn.  In reality, however, I stand (in my self doubting mind) before the world with matted hair, with my foot in my mouth (rather than elegantly behind my head), and probably on the floor because I've just fallen over.  I want to beat my shadow self senseless.

Yet, she never goes away.  I can't push her to the back of the closet, or excise her from my being anymore than I can excise my own shadow. And trust me.  I have tried.

Fast forward to today and I receive an email offering me a teaching opportunity which will expose me to a much broader audience.  Guess who wants to respond to the email?  You guess it—self doubt girl.  Why does she always show up at the worst times? My own personal Tom Riddle/Voldemort in a school of talented wizards.  Here I am, right where I started all those years ago.  Have I made no progress at all?  Well, I have, but not in the way I had originally hoped.  I figured that the more I lived my yoga, the less of the awkward self-loathing girl we'd see.  She'd vanish into vapor.  Apparently not so much.  Fabulous.

What actually happened over the past ten years, was that I learned (from John Friend and Douglas Brooks) that I can't (and shouldn't try) to get rid of my shadow self. It is as much a part of me as my highest self.  To shove part of myself away, because it's unattractive diminishes my power for growth.  A LOT.  Douglas Brooks teaches us that the brighter your light, the darker, denser and longer your shadow is.  It's attached to you.  Get it? It is you.

So what to do?  What to do?  The answer, which really works for me, is to welcome it in.  Offer my acceptance of the shadowy, dark and awkward parts of myself.  Radical.  Imagine if Tom Riddle had been welcomed into the fold? Self-acceptance has that much potential.  Those "shadows" are nothing other than me.  What I do with them is where the real magic occurs.  Remember how his mothers love enveloped and protected Harry when he challenged the great all powerful evil?  It's like that.  If I can't accept the darkness, then I also can't fully accept the light. Dorky girl and fabulous girl need to become BFFs.

This may the most challenging part of yoga for me. Self acceptance of those parts of myself that are not so lovely does NOT come easy.  I am lonely Tom Riddle consumed by darkness and I am Harry enveloped in the bright light of love.  I can't stand on either side of the fight because they're both me.   Self doubt (or whatever your own shadow call themselves) will always be there.  There will always be shadows next to light.  And the compassionate embrace of love and acceptance envelopes that darkness and actually allows you to shine brighter.  Good luck.  Don't forget your wand.  You're going to need it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Right to be Self-Righteous...

When you have kids, you can reflect enough on your own childhood to know that your child will undoubtedly make friends with another child who lives in a bad environment.  The kind of place you 100% do not want your kind in, without you there.  But when your child makes their first friends, whether at the park, or preschool, they're all so deceptively cute.  You never get quite close enough to smell the smoke permanently embedded in their clothes, or see the slightly scaly scalp.

It's like kittens that are so young that you can't tell the curtain shredder from the lap sitter.  This is the honeymoon period.  Maybe you haven't met the parents, or seen the inside of their houses yet.  But once your child begins to tell stories about visits to their new friends house, it becomes clear instantly.  The garbage-y snacks, the wholly inappropriate television shows, the lack of supervision.  I remember what went on in the homes of my own friends like this, and in a breath, my decision is made.  No more visits to that friends house.  No-sir-i-bob.  You plan dates either at your house, or on neutral ground.  You judge the other family for their ways and feel justified in your superiority.  I certainly did when my daughter came home smelling like smoke and full of nightmares from the scare movies shown at her friend's house.  I tried to ignore the rumors of the mother passed out drunk on the lawn, my worries about their three foot pool in the yard, the formerly drug peddling older brother.  Two things sent me over the edge into an irreversible state of superiority.

First, I happened to “overhear” as I walked both girls back to my house after school to play.  “Sally” was telling my daughter how she watched her sister kissing her boyfriend wearing no underwear by peeking under the door.  I was for sure not ready to have that kind of conversation with my six year old and I definitely didn't want her witnessing that. The other happened one summer night when the girls parents had a tremendous fight, involving the police, and the father was carted off to jail for a few days.  Enough was enough.  This house was off limits.  I was doing my job as a mother, securing the safety and innocence of my young child.  I pinned a small badge to my imaginary mom uniform and went on my way.  I was a good mother.

So imagine my surprise, when my daughter came home one day, and told me that her friend “Nancy” was not allowed to play at our house.  WHAT??!! Are you kidding me?  Doesn't Nancy's mother know what a good mother I am?  Haven't we had discussions about my over-zealous organic food buying?  About my goal of keeping my children vegetarian as long as possible?  Didn't she know that my kids only watched PBS?  What the hell was this woman thinking?   I was a good mother, dammit!

 This sent me over the edge so far I could think of little else.  I wanted to march down there and confront her — to demand her to explain herself.  But I stepped back, took a breath and counted to ten.  One, two, three, four, oh crap, this isn't working; I'm a good mother!!!  My own mother told me so!  OK, maybe the daughter just meant that particular day.  That made more sense.  But wait, come to think of it, Nancy hadn't been to our  house in a very long time.  My daughter always played at their house.  Aha! It was true!  My loving home, with no violent tv or gun play, with (I admit it) semi-regular loud voices echoing off the neighbors aluminum siding down to the street was a bad influence.  I couldn't believe it.  I mean, I give my kids apples and rice cakes for snacks.  Wasn't I a bastion of all motherhood?

Ok, once I took my head out of my own butt, I couldn't fail to see the irony.  Wow, karma sure is fast.  How could I be lumped in with the mothers I had labeled as “bad”?  But alas, here I was.  Lumped.  The matriarch of a forbidden house and I had to accept that each mother pictures in her head what an ideal situation is in which to place their child.  I guess mine wasn't it for everyone.

I never confronted that mother.  We continued to smile as we passed one another, came to each other's barbecues, Christmas caroled past each others houses.  Every now and then, I would test the waters and invite her daughter over, and it was always one excuse or another.  I really didn't matter what this mother thought of me.  I got my lesson out of it.  All self-righteousness does is set you up for a gigantic fall.  I am no better than any other mother.  I simply make the choices that feel right to me.  And I have to honor every other mother's right to do the same, no matter how much I want to kill explain myself to them.  Will my kids go farther in life, live longer, or be happier than the ones who watched their older sisters have sex?  I truly have no idea.  Only time will tell.  I'm only sure that one day, my daughter will undoubtedly explain to me how all of my choices stifled her creativity, suppressed her, and effectively ruined her life.   That much I can be sure of.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

L My Name is Lara

An open letter to the world,

It has taken me 41 years to work up the courage to say this to you.  I didn't want to have to.  I hoped you would figure it out for yourself.  And sometimes you did.  But then you forgot.  And it made me feel bad every time.  Here goes—My name is Lara.  It's not Laura.  It really isn't.  I'm sorry.  I know it's inconvenient for you to remember that I'm not Laura.  I understand your frustration.  I know you're "bad at names." 

My parents liked the name Lara (yes, from Dr. Zhivago).  They didn't like Laura.  Or Lauren. Or Clara.  Or my personal favorite (and this is a phonetic spelling) Lahhra.  Is that even a name?

My entire life, people have been screwing up my 4 letter name.  People in passing and also people I respect.  And I let it pass, because I'm inherently shy (seriously) and I don't like to make people feel uncomfortable.  I figure that eventually, someone will correct you, or you will hear it pronounced correctly and you'll adjust your speech.  No problem.  Except that uncountable amount of times, you straighten it out, and then call me Laura or Lahhra the next time we meet.  As a grown woman, I can now say this to you—Every time you forget my name, I assume you've forgotten me.  Or don't value me as a person.  I'm a big girl and get past it almost immediately, but each time, it connects to my heart in a kinda yucky way and it makes the distance between you and me farther.

I have to thank a certain 15 year old I know for giving me the strength to tell you this.  I can't stand this kid.  He's really awful and grates on my nerves even more than you could imagine.  For over 2 years, he's called me Lahhra.  I let it go for about a year and a half.  And finally, I couldn't take it anymore.  I began correcting him.  For over 6 months, I correct him every time he says it.  And he forgets every time. So I'll keep correcting him.  As a person with an unusual name, it becomes my responsibility to be sure I am considered correctly in the relationships I have. It's part of growing up. I guess I'm growing up.  I ask for the respect of naming me properly.  You're all on notice.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Remember, Accept, Reveal—A Super-Hero Story

I've been thinking about the arc of the super-hero storyline and come to realize a few things.  What kind of super-heroes you ask? All kinds.  The more, the better.  So many of them follow the same arc.  From Hanuman in the Ramayana, to Superman, to the Green Lantern, to Harry Potter.  Now, I love a good super-hero story, and most of us do.  They appeal to us because most of the time, good wins out over bad.  They show us that there is magic and power in the world and we wish we could have a little of that.  Wouldn't it be great if we were powerful beyond measure?

Guess what?  You are.

I'm not kidding.  You really are.  Let's set the way back machine to, well, way back.  Back when the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was being written.  In addition to it being a fun title to say, it's got lots to offer.  Look into it when you've got an extra month with nothing to do.  In it, the secrets are revealed.  Within its 600 pages, the book lays out something called "focal points." They are described like this, "When the opposite forces of shakti unite in mooladhara or manipura chakra, then the explosion which occurs releases the potential energy from that centre."  (Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swami Muktibodhananda, p125) Releasing potential energy.  Sounds almost magic to me.  Anusara recognizes three focal points within the body, as orbs of pulsing shakti, the source of creative power within.  One in the core of the pelvis, one at the base of the heart and one at the palate of the mouth.

Ok, so what does that have to do with a super-hero storyline?  I"m getting there.  In most hero myths, the super-hero has a period of forgetting, or unknowing.  They start off average. Like you and me.  Harry Potter lived under the stairs, for goodness sake, not exactly a lustrous start.  Superman began as a midwestern kid who grew up to be a reporter.  The Green Lantern began as a normal guy who was chosen to defend the universe.  Even the great Hanuman sometimes forgot he was great. And life was hard for them.  They would try to do the right thing and end up getting their butts kicked all over the place.

And then—they have a moment where they remember/reveal/first experience their own greatness.  This is always the crux of the story where it all starts to turn around.  Just as evil is about to win, they reveal their powers and good conquers all.  That power takes different forms according to each myth.  For Harry, it was love.  For Superman, his crystal palace.  For Hanuman, it was remembrance.  At that moment, their potential power is revealed, they accept their greatness and save the day.  It's the same arc, repeated time and again. 

What if we had super human powers within?  What if the entire potential power of the universe lie within you, just waiting to be revealed?  Let's go back to those focal points.  If we practice with remembrance and trust in their power, then we can "plug in" to them, like the Green Lantern plugging into his light to recharge his powers.  And we can express ourselves with greater power.  Maybe we can't fly, but maybe we can improve on our lives and those around us. 

This goes to the two main reasons we practice yoga. We practice to connect to the constant light and power within, and also to express it out joyfully.  We have to be super-heroes to do that.  Remember that within lies the power of the universe, accept your greatness, reveal your heart, go out and do good. And if you have a cape, even better.