Teaching Yoga

Teaching Yoga
John Friend
Photograph by Kenny Braun

NAME: John Friend | AGE: 50 | HOME: The Woodlands | QUALIFICATIONS: Founder of Anusara, an increasingly popular style of hatha yoga / Has taught yoga for almost thirty years / Author of numerous yoga books, CDs, and DVDs, including Anusara Yoga 101 and Growing a Lotus

• I was precocious as a boy, and I wanted to know the meaning of life. My mother read me books about different cultures, philosophies, and religions. She read me stories about yogis who had supernatural powers, so as an eight-year-old, I thought, “This is the greatest! They’re better than Superman! They can dematerialize! They know the future and can read your mind!” I wanted to be a yogi because they knew the answers to the mysteries of life.

• When I was thirteen, I began to seriously study yoga and meditation. I was one of the only kids in my school to practice. I was very different.

• I went to Texas A&M for degrees in finance and accounting. I always figured if I got a business degree, I would have a job. But working as a financial analyst wasn’t fulfilling, and in 1980 I started teaching yoga part-time in Houston, The Woodlands, Kingwood, and Lake Conroe. I’d bring all my blankets and my mat in the car and drive thirty minutes one direction to teach and then all the way back.

• As an analyst, I’d evaluate a company and would have to recommend cutting jobs to save money. I was in my twenties, and I’d look at a guy in his fifties who’d been there for 25 years and think, “I can’t do this.” In 1987 I left my job. I wanted to follow my heart, to inspire people. I had to move back with my parents.

• I went to India and met a guru who gave me blessings. When I got home, people invited me to teach nationally. I never looked back. I became a national and then international teacher. There was a lot of grace involved—and destiny.

• People think yoga is mostly physical, but it’s much more. They think it’s for flexible people and therefore for women. They think it’s about stretching or that it’s really easy. But then they’ll try it and say, “Gosh, this is not easy.”

• I can tell how people will respond to situations just by looking at their bodies, because they hold their bodies based on patterns of mind. I’ll watch what parts they’re holding tight because of how they see themselves or trauma or abuse. You can tell if someone has been put down or if someone has been coddled. It’s fantastic.

• My favorite pose is handstand.

• The whole point of Anusara is to build people’s esteem and empower them to align with nature in ways that realize the best of their potential. Yoga is scientific. It’s thousands of years old, but it can be applied to twenty-first-century Texas.

• People think of Texas as a solid place of Christian thought, where yoga would be incompatible. In fact, there are a lot of people here who practice meditation and yoga and are interested in esoteric experiences. In the early eighties, Texans came to my class in overalls—people from Conroe or Cut and Shoot—just to see. My skill was to demystify it, to make it something that made them feel better. At first they’d just undo the fasteners on the overalls to try a pose, and I would say, “Look, it’s okay. But I think we can get warm-up pants, you know?”

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