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Three flavours of yoga teachers – which would you choose?

The New York Times has once again fixed its gaze on yoga culture, this time with a short profile of Forrest Yoga, the method created by Ana Forrest. While I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but think back to a couple of other recent yoga teacher/style articles in the NYT: last summer’s seminal John Friend feature and the Tara Stiles profile from earlier this year.

The articles vary in depth, focus and length, but after a close reading of all three, I noticed some common themes. Here’s a handy dandy compare and contrast guide to the NYT’s approach to three very different, yet similar, teachers. All text is directly quoted from the NYT articles and everything in italics is my commentary.

Type of yoga teacher
Ana Forrest (AF): itinerant, fierce
John Friend (JF): rock star yogi
Tara Stiles (TS): former model with skyscraper limbs and a goofball sensibility

Name and origin of style
AF: Forrest Yoga – her last name, apparently
JF: Anusara – Sanskrit for “flowing with grace”
TS: Strala – a word she said she and her husband made up, but it turns out to be Swedish for “radiates light”

Description of style
AF: intense
JF: touchy-feely
TS: nondenominational Read the rest of this entry »


Where's Waldo?: John Friend guides a workshop into Warrior 1 (image via

The latest (and apparently longest and most detailed) New York Times article on yoga came out this week, with a special focus on John Friend and the Anusara Yoga system. The article can best be described as a loose profile of John Friend, an exposé of Anusara, and an investigation into the state of yoga in North America, and as somebody observed on Facebook, it’s “not uncritical.” John Friend’s work is introduced as:

…his global Anusara expansion (Studio Yoggy, one of the biggest yoga-school chains in Japan, will be offering Anusara yoga classes); his Anusara publishing ventures (he has commissioned a history of yoga and continues to work on his own book, albeit sporadically); and his Anusara yoga-wear business (Friend has his own line, but also works with Adidas, which is using Anusara yoga trainers in its worldwide yoga push). He is also financing historical yoga research in Nepal and Kashmir. (NYT)

Stefanie Syman, the author of ‘The Subtle Body,’ offers commentary on John Friend’s celebrity status. “He has created his own community very self-consciously. Most charismatic teachers do that. What happens is if you are successful deliberately or inadvertently, a lot of students evangelize on your behalf and spread the word.”

Mimi Swartz, the author of the article looks at “the cult of John” and lightly compares him to “Joel Osteen, the magnetic evangelical megachurch minister with the feel-good message and a book-and-television empire.” As well, Anusara Yoga is placed within the current cultural context:

Some 16 million Americans now practice yoga, a 5,000-year-old mental, physical and spiritual discipline brought to us by Indian gurus. Nowadays there aren’t just hourly classes in major American cities but also in places like Deephaven, Minn., and Hattiesburg, Miss. “Namaste,” the traditional end-of-class blessing, has become a punch line. A school in Houston even offers “jello shots” after class. If yoga began as a meditation technique for people all too familiar with physical as well as mental suffering — with poses, or asanas, devised to assist in reaching a transcendentally blissful state — it has taken on a distinctly American cast. It has become much more about doing than being. More about happiness than meaning. It’s a weight-loss technique and a stress-management tool, a gateway to an exploding market for workout clothes and equipment.

In addressing some criticism of Anusara Yoga as being too capitalist, too culty, Swartz also notes that “yoga has become embroiled in head-of-a-pin type arguments. In yoga’s case it centers on authenticity. The fight over whether it is a spiritual or a physical practice has raged virtually since its inception, but now in the United States this question has been tinted with issues of competition, status and sweat.”

The article has generated a buzz in the blogosphere, with an outpouring of commentary by senior Anusara teachers such as Christina Sell and Olga Rasmussen. Many commentors on Facebook find that John Friend and Anusara Yoga are misrepresented. One thing for certain: the article taps into the complexity of yoga in North America, and the fascinating place in which yoga currently resides. Read the rest of this entry »

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