The Yoga of Money

The blogosphere is buzzing this morning about the New York Times article on John Friend, founder of Anusara yoga. At least, the yoga-related blogosphere is. So, I feel compelled to put in my two cents. Although this is not a yoga blog. per-se, most of my readers know that I am a committed student of Anusara yoga, and a devotee of John Friend’s teachings. And the most controversial part of the article is related to money, so I think it’s appropriate.

I must admit, on first reading the article, I was hesitant to send it to all my friends and family, and say, “This is my gig!” First because the article makes Anusara seem a bit evangelical. And I can’t say that it’s not. I have, on more than one occasion, explained my feelings about Anusara as, “probably similar to how a born-again Christian feels upon finding Jesus.”  But, Yoga is not a religion, Anusara is not a cult, and John Friend is not a guru. While most yoga practitioners are spiritual seekers, to one degree or another, the bond that holds the Anusara kula (Sanskrit for community) together is a desire for life to be healthy and joyful. Call it what you will, but that is a philosophy I can happily follow!

Another contentious subject in the article is the modernization and corporatization of yoga. The fact that John Friend is making money doing what he loves and helping others seems to be a negative to some. Huh? Wouldn’t we all like to be making money doing something we love? The “poverty is noble” idea is not exclusive to yogis, but it is pervasive and if I may be frank, it is just plain dumb. It is what keeps so many from true prosperity. How many people do we know that talk negatively about money, and then wonder why they don’t have any? Money gives us security, comfort, and the ability to enjoy life and pursue our dreams. Think about it this way….if John Friend had little or no money, he would not be able to travel the world and teach. Nobody would practice Anusara yoga, because no one would have heard of it.

Being a spiritual seeker and a financial success are not mutually exclusive. Money gives us the means to make our dreams reality.  John Friend is making money, enjoying life and doing good. Let us all aspire to that.

If you haven’t already, please click on the link to read the full New York Times article.

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4 comments so far

  1. beej Galvan on

    Beautiful reflection! … and I might add, there are yogic perspectives that celebrate renunciation, which is not Anusara’s perspective. Anusara’s philosophical perspective celebrates living in the world, which in our world costs ‘money.’ When something comes for ‘free’ it is easily not appreciated and not valued. The teachings have value as well as the zillions of hours of practice, study, etc.. John has dedicated and invested his life in. That mastery comes with a price. Yoga with a teacher has never been free. Whether the students paid in mangos, coconuts, sweeping the cave or forest, whatever, the student has always paid the teacher. It’s the even exchange of energy between Teacher and Student, and where is it written that yoga teachers aren’t supposed to make a living?

  2. Whitney Wogan on

    Beej makes a really good point. In a free-market exchange, where two people voluntarily exchange, the parties involved in the exchange do so because EACH feel they are better off after the exchange. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it. In this way, commerce is a win-win (provided there are no constraints or force involved.)

    After a Wednesday am Anusara yoga class with Jeanie Manchester, (a long-time yoga instructor who is a truly talented and dedicated teacher), I was filled with deep gratitude for the practice and for all the attention John has brought to correct alignment. Jeanie’s reminders that we’re bigger than our bodies helped me re-frame a particularly difficult situation. That’s worth a lot to me. Thank goodness for John’s dedication and willingness to grow big, be bold and shake his tail feathers especially since he’s ruffling others!

  3. riches2rags2riches on

    Thanks Whitney & BJ for your comments. BJ – loved your blog on the same topic. Whitney – always love to hear from you, and I am going to have to get to Boulder and take a class with Jeanie sometime very soon!

  4. Iris on

    Alex, I finally found time to read the NYT article. I, too, squirmed at the cult and evangelical comparisons. The money issue was much more interesting to me. In our capitalist society, people can grow their wealth exponentially without moral restraint and it’s prudent to take an in-depth view of any public figure’s financials. I found the author’s tone unnecessarily accusatory, though; a hard-working yogi who makes $100K is taking home a figure that is appropriately modest in relation to his success. We should take a more critical stance toward bankers making millions in bonuses after potentially contributing to the downfall of the economy! I would be suspicious if Friend used company funds for extravagant purchases (instead of his salary), since I would expect any sort of yogi to spend a LOT of his company’s money to help others.

    The article took a generalized picture of Friend’s endeavors, and I’d be interested to research some of the points it brings up. The suspicions are not backed with facts, but are worth bringing up. Remember John Assaraf from “The Answer” (my old boss was obsessed with him), whose for-profit enterprise feeds on people’s desire to fix their lives? I think the base principles he preached were sound, but let’s not pretend the man himself is selfless, helping solely for the sake of helping. I agree with you that the idea of poverty being noble is not appropriate for all; however, someone who has personal issues with greed and lack, and who is motivated by money for fulfillment, can be harmful to others—and the presence of great financial gain is, honestly, a possible warning sign warranting further scrutiny.

    What I take from the article is that we should address the complexity behind any one thing or person. I appreciate that the author questions Americanized yoga as a whole and not just John Friend and Anusara yoga specifically. There are fine lines between a workout/spiritual practice/calm demeanor/healthy pastime. Is there an outcome we “should” pursue, and are there any we “should” avoid? “Should” we judge Friend’s entrepreneurial endeavors, and “should” he be acting differently? For me, the answers to the questions the article raises are best addressed…through my yoga practice… (Did you see that coming?!?) Thanks for some serious food for thought!! I look forward to your next post. 🙂


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