Full Spectrum – An interview with John Friend

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A candid view of the John Friend’s first teaching experiences, his business background, and the rapid growth of Anusara Yoga across the globe

I recently had the opportunity to interview John Friend for our friends over at Wanderlust Festival. I have read several interviews and articles with John Friend in the past, including the controversial Yoga Mogul New York Times article, and I wanted to do my best to ask him a couple questions to “clear the air” so to speak on a range of different topics. Much to my chagrin, John’s answers were honest and direct. Check it out below:

john friend anusara wanderlust yoga Full Spectrum   An interview with John Friend

DW: As someone who has been teaching yoga for only about 3 years, it is inspiring to see the magnitude of Ansuara yoga and your teachings. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience when you first got started teaching? What inspired you to start teaching yoga in the first place?

JF: I started to teach yoga in 1980. At that time, I had been practicing hatha yoga for 7 years, since I was 13 years old, yet I did not feel that I was ready to teach. I reluctantly substitute taught for my instructor, who was very sick and asked me as a deep personal favor to take over the class for him. Prior to that, I never conceived of being a yoga teacher, nor ever imagined that 7 years later I would become a full-time yoga instructor.

My first class, I was immediately confronted with situations that I felt completely incompetent to handle. In a panic, I defaulted to yelling, “Don’t move!” At the end of class, I stood at the door apologizing to the students as they were leaving. Much to my surprise, the students complimented me and reassured me that they felt much better after class than when they arrived. They even thanked me. So, in many ways teaching yoga is something that I have felt destined to do by previously unforeseen circumstances.

DW: What motivated you to start the Anusara yoga school and what was it like getting it off the ground?

JF: I started Anusara yoga also somewhat reluctantly. It would have been much easier for me to simply stay in the Iyengar Yoga system. I would not have had to go through the challenging experiences of leaving an entire yoga community where I had cultivated a lot of relationships over the prior 10 years. However, I felt it was my dharmic responsibility because my philosophy and methodology had begun to differ very significantly from Iyengar Yoga. Therefore, to be honest and to truly honor my teacher Mr. Iyengar, I felt had to go my own way and name my own school of yoga. I did not set Anusara yoga up to be a big yoga school, I was simply focusing on a small group of students who were loyal to me. My intention was to present a life-affirming Tantric philosophy with a set of Universal Principles of Alignment in the highest caliber and with the highest integrity as means to powerfully open and truly transform my students.

DW: When you started Anusara Yoga, did you ever imagine that it would get to be this size? What do you think is to credit most for its widespread growth and popularity?

JF: I did not initially plan for Anusara yoga to expand so quickly around the world! Even though I did not plan for it, I am not surprised that it is popular, because the philosophy is uplifting and it empowers people, helping to reveal their own unique goodness and special creative talents. Furthermore, the Universal Principles of Alignment always work for me, and I knew that if anyone sincerely applied them, they would be amazed by their efficacy and their transformative power. It is so wonderful that Anusara yoga has grown to over 100 countries and 600,000 students in 13 years. This is the power of aligning with the flow of Grace.

DW: It’s been documented that you have a pretty extensive background in business; can you please explain to us how your business experience has rubbed off Anusara Yoga and vice a versa?

JF: The company Anusara, Inc. was established simply to serve the community. As the community grew with more students and more teachers, along with an expanding curriculum and certification program, more administration was necessary to meet all of those needs. It is the business that supports the teachings and the community, not vice versa.

JF: It is necessary to have a profit in order to continue to run my business so that I can continue to serve everyone. I have, in fact, made a profit because I know how to run a business well. However, my expenses are not much less than my revenue. And with the profits that I have made, I make sure that the employees are properly compensated for their good work, and I donate to charities. In fact, because I need excellent administration, I am not the highest paid person on my staff. My business is more about spiritual fulfillment than it is a profit driven endeavor. Even the business is a spiritual practice to me, I apply the same ethics to my business as I do to my yoga practice.

john friend ansusara yoga wanderlust Full Spectrum   An interview with John Friend

DW: Anusara has schools and teachers all around the world, I follow you (@AnusaraFriend) on twitter and see that you are constantly traveling the globe forwarding the Anusara teachings and methodology – what is the most far out international teaching experience that you have had thus far?

JF: I have had many amazing and blessed experiences teaching around the world – including in the outback in Australia, ancient Japanese temples in Kyoto during cherry blossom season, a water palace in Bali, an ashram in India, a bullet hole ridden church in East Berlin, a castle in Scotland, a haunted hotel in Equador, an ancient monestary in Italy, the jungles of Costa Rica, at the base of Pyramids in Mexico. In each of these places, it is the hearts of the students that shine the most brightly in my memories.

DW: What other countries can we expect to see Anusara spreading to in the upcoming year that we have not yet seen already?

JF: We now have teachers going to Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries.

DW: Anusara has had a ton of presence at Wanderlust from the get-go and obviously this bond is continuing to grow stronger, what do you find most inspiring about the Wanderlust experience?

JF: Anusara yoga is fundamentally an art. To have it connected with wonderful music in a festive atmosphere all set in nature is a wonderful combination! The creators of Wanderlust are very supportive of all of our innovative ideas. They have certainly facilitated the most unique and fabulous combination of music, yoga, and nature of any festival and we are thrilled to be a part of it.

DW: New for 2011, Ansuara will be offering two special events held in the days before both Wanderlust festivals – Anusara Grand Circle in Vermont and Ansura Inspired Gathering in California. Can you please tell me a little bit more about these special events?

JF: The Anusara Grand Circle is unique opportunity for the entire yoga community to come together in the exquisite natural setting of the green mountains of Vermont at the brightest time of the year. To have spectacular teachers and music with people gathering from all over the world in such a fantastic place is a very special and rare event. We are going to create a level of art with yoga and music in nature that will reach a whole new level, and I am super excited!

For the first time, Anusara-Inspired and certified Anusara yoga teachers will gather in the peaks above Lake Tahoe for our Anusara Inspired Gathering. It is a unique opportunity for the heart of our community to go deeper – not only in our connection with one another other, but also in taking our studentship and teaching to a higher level through a very organized curriculum presented by some of our top certified teachers and by me. I truly cannot wait to hear the invocation sung by hundreds of our teachers gathered as one. To be able to meditate, to laugh, to learn and play outside in such an incredible setting… it is going to be an amazing, powerful gathering.

DW: To close, what is one thing that we (and everyone else) doesn’t know about you?

JF: During high school, I went on tour as the drummer of a rock band called Spectrum. I would do a gig and then drive all night to get back to first period Chemistry class!

DW: Wow, that’s great man – I’d love to hear some of your tracks! Thanks so much John, we’ll be seeing you this summer at Wanderlust!