Integrity, Akhilandeshwari, and Anusara

Integrity has weighed heavily on my mind of late.  I am a practitioner and teacher of Anusara Yoga, and as anyone who reads Elephant Journal knows, our community has been going through a challenging period of examination of our ethics, our structure, and the ways in which we show up in the world.

For those of you unfamiliar with the drama that has rocked Anusara Yoga, I’ll summarize it briefly here.  You can, of course, seek mountains of additional information, misinformation, and opinion with a simple Google search.  John Friend, the creator of the Anusara method as well as the founder and sole proprietor of Anusara, Inc., was made the subject of a website dedicated to exposing his allegedly misaligned behaviors.  The website has been taken down, and John has admitted to some of the actions of which he’s been accused.  John has apologized to the community for tarnishing Anusara’s name by making bad choices.  He has announced that he is working with a committee to create greater separation between himself and the Anusara brand so that the important work we all do can continue without being too adversely affected by the scandal surrounding him.  How and when this will occur is unclear; understandably, it will take time and involve a lot of lawyers, so none of us should be holding our breath.

In the meantime, however, there has been a lot of reaction, speculation, accusation and hurt….as well as a lot of empathy, compassion, and meaningful self-examination.  And much of it is around this question of integrity – what it means to be aligned in such a way that your walk and your talk are in sync with one another.  Most of us want to live a life of integrity, and we want to support and line up behind leaders and organizations whose actions we perceive to be in line with their values.

We hold our leaders to very high standards on this front.  Often we project our desires to be “perfect” upon them, and when they fail – which they always do, simply because they are human – we can be fairly harsh in our criticism of them.  Some of us also turn the mirror quickly back upon ourselves and wonder whether or not we can live up to the standards we are applying to our leaders.  For most of us, the answer is no.  We mess up all the time.  Ideally we notice this, pick ourselves up off the floor and make amends.  Less ideally, we don’t notice that we got out of alignment, or we don’t admit it, or we don’t have the courage to fix the mess we made…and that’s when things get really ugly.

Why can’t we as a species seem to hold up to our own standards, the very ones that we set for ourselves??

I am starting to think the answer may well lie in the goddess Akhilandeswari, the goddess who is “never not broken.” As I recently learned through my great online course with Eric Stoneberg, Akhilandeshwari’s reality is one of fragmentation.  She is like a prism, taking in white light and breaking it up into the beautiful color spectrum.  In doing so, she creates more beauty – out of the brokenness.  We are like Akhilandeshwari, and the ways in which we fragment are unique to each one of us.  Our fissures make us who we are.  In fact, according to Eric, it is through our brokenness that we know ourselves.  The cracks are our way in.  In the Tantric tradition, we are not asked to be the exact same person every moment of every day.  On the contrary, we are expected to be a different person in each worldly relationship we negotiate.  We are encouraged to shape shift so as to live the full spectrum of experience.   (Click here to read Eric’s great post about this fascinating goddess.)

Contrast the reality of Akhilandeshwari with a few common definitions of the word integrity:  “the state of being whole or undivided.” “Sound, unimpaired, in perfect condition.” “Consistency in action.”  Hmm.  If brokenness is our natural state, that means it is darn hard to arrive at a place of “undividedness” and “consistency in action.”  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try – especially in the ethical arena where we all value walking our talk.  It just means that it isn’t easy, and there will be failure.  As modern householder yogis, we have to assume so many roles in life – teachers, friends, parents, employees, supervisors, sons, wives, children, neighbors.  We become different colors of the spectrum in each role, creating beauty in our diversity of expression.  But in each role we have different codes of behavior, different manners of dress, and even different languages we speak.  No wonder we get confused and act inconsistently.

Both Eric and our mutual teacher Douglas Brooks say that our yoga is not about fixing our brokenness or putting the fragmented pieces back together.  It’s about using all the disparate pieces to make more – more beauty, more diversity, more richness.  It’s about looking into the mucky decay and seeing fertility, and then using that fertile ground to create something even more amazing than what came before.

I’d like to think that the Anusara Yoga community – those of us who remain, those of us who have resigned, those of us who lead, those of us who follow, even those of us who are completely unaware of the current scandal – now has the opportunity to make beauty from brokenness.  John has admitted to what most people are labeling unethical behavior.  Turns out he’s broken, like the rest of us — go figure.  Sadly, his brokenness seems to have resulted in some poor choices which many are categorizing as “lacking integrity,” and as a prominent figure, his choices and actions have a powerful ripple effect.   Anusara as an organization is literally fragmenting as some teachers choose to step away from John by resigning their licenses, others defend him staunchly, and the media has a field day with the perceived split.  Everyone associated with Anusara Yoga has had their foundation rocked a bit, and all of us feel a little unstable, uncertain, broken. This is hard, and sad.

And yet, there is so much potential in here.  This is the crack that lets the light in.  This is the fracture that we can wiggle into and use as a portal to know ourselves better, as individuals and as a community.  This is the invitation to look at all the pieces on the floor – the shiny pretty ones and the dark ugly ones — and pick them up and create more.  That “more” may look like the radiance of a new instructor and community-guided Anusara, Inc.  Or it might look like a lot of sparks of solo teachers jumping off from the original corporation.  Or it might look like a handful of new yoga schools and traditions rising from the ashes of the old one.  I honestly don’t know how it will turn out.  I am not even clear on the details of what has happened, what is or is not true, and what my response will be.  I do know, however, that we as community members can choose the set of lenses through which we watch the unfolding events, and we can be mindful about the way that we reassemble the pieces of brokenness into an artful mosaic.

While the events that have triggered this transition are unfortunate and disappointing, I think Akhilandeshwari would encourage us to celebrate the fertility of the results.  She’s telling us to look around, check out the diversity of options, choose wisely, and try to the best of our abilities to act with integrity – knowing full well that this “undivided, whole, and undiminished” state is as transitory as the color spectrum light refracted through her prism.  We’ll find it for a time, but then we’ll fragment again. And she’ll still be there, smiling.


Curious about this goddess?  Here’s another fabulous post about working her into your life, by Julie Peters.


~ by bridgetannlyons on February 24, 2012.

3 Responses to “Integrity, Akhilandeshwari, and Anusara”

  1. “… yoga is not about fixing our brokenness or putting the fragmented pieces back together. It’s about using all the disparate pieces to make more – more beauty, more diversity, more richness. It’s about looking into the mucky decay and seeing fertility, and then using that fertile ground to create something even more amazing than what came before.”

    beautiful, Bridget. This is why I love yoga. Thank you for this post.

  2. Beautifully expressed Bridget . As we so blessedly know ,
    from fertile ground …grow beautiful things……..
    always love a positive spin on things. Thanks!

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