Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Weekend with John Friend


I was more than my usual amount of nervous before going to the full weekend of workshops with the founder of Anusara Yoga himself, John Friend. You actually have to apply to attend one of his workshops, and well, I was a little more confident on my application than in real life. Previous Anusara experience? Oh sure! Ability to do a handstand unassisted? Of course!

I needn’t have worried. The first thing that struck me was how nice everyone was. I mean really, really nice and friendly. There were many master Anusara yoga teachers there to assist at the workshops, yet there were no egos. No divas. Just genuinely friendly and encouraging yogis.

The weekend began with his Dharma Talk at the beautiful Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn, PA.  Almost 200 of us sat on an intricate 150-year-old rug in the front room waiting for John Friend to make his entrance.

Since most of us didn’t know we would be sitting on the floor, we jokingly apologized for our tight jeans and any whale tails that might be showing to the person behind us. The woman to my right was a costume designer for the Pennsylvania Ballet Company and had studied with John Friend once before. The man to my left was from Washington, DC and used all his vacation time to follow John Friend throughout the year on his Melt Your Heart Blow Your Mind Tour.

I don’t think he got my joke when I asked if yoga tours were to our generation what Grateful Dead tours were to our parent’s generation.

And that’s when it occurred to me, this yoga tour has a name? Melt Your Heart and Blow Your Mind. Don’t rock bands name their tours? Who does this John Friend guy think he is? Elvis?

And then, kind of like I imagine Elvis did, John made his entrance. And like I imagine the young screaming girls at an Elvis concert, I was enchanted.

The theme of his Dharma Talk was Enter the Dark and Shine the Light. He asked who among us has not suffered this year?  We shouldn’t be afraid of the dark. Darkness is natural. Radical transformation happens by going into the dark.

He gave the analogy of the beautiful trees surrounding the estate we were on. The leaves were brilliant gold, orange and red. Yet it was almost winter. The trees were dying. 

That’s when I knew John was speaking directly to me. My mom very well may be nearing the end of her time. She is looking at the darkness. Yet earlier that day we had driven down to Bryn Athyn, and we parked under one of the trees John was talking about. As we sat there we said how beautiful the tree was.  It didn’t occur to me then that the tree was dying.  I still hadn’t faced reality that my mom was dying.

“When you hit the darkest bottom and you think this is it – wait a minute. That’s what the caterpillar said before he became a butterfly.” The most beautiful part is near the end.

I left the talk that night and already a shift was taking place inside me. I could hardly sleep that night waiting for the first workshop of the morning.

So how does John Friend teach a workshop to almost 300 people? With lots and lots of help! He had many master trainers from all over the country assisting, answering our questions and adjusting our poses. John himself hopped off the stage and walked between our mats for the two-hour sessions. He was no diva either.

He asked us to soften the limiting ideas of ourselves. Let go of the “I can’t” and the “I’m not good enough”.  He told us the name of the yoga tour was very intentional. Once we melt our heart to the possibility within us, what we’re capable of will truly blow our minds.

The first session of the morning was hip openers. One of my favorite. My classes will attest that I do love pigeon pose. But when John cued us to jump switch our pigeons, I thought, “What the…” But, I’ve set aside my own self-imposed limits so here we go.

Between sessions there was time to mingle and get to know the other wide-eyed yogi’s I was sweating and jumping with.

The man on the mat to my left was there because his son, a certified Anusara teacher  based in Phoenix, convinced him to go. His son was taking the teachers advanced training that weekend, and sat on the bleachers and watched as his dad took the multi-level training with the rest of us.  Pretty neat right? It gets better. His son’s very first yoga class was at 22 years of age when he was in a rehab facility for alcoholism. He was so taken by yoga and how it healed him, he got certified himself and now teaches at that same rehab facility. My new friend told me there were some very dark days when his son was younger, and he honestly believed there were times his son was going to die from his addiction. But he made it through. The power of yoga combined with the power of love.

The couple behind me were lawyers from New York City. She told her boyfriend they were going away for a romantic weekend, and instead surprised him with this yoga  training. And interestingly, there were way more men attending John Friend’s workshops than I’ve ever seen at any yoga training.

Day two arrived and although I was a little sore and tired, I was ready to melt my heart and blow my mind some more.

John Friend teaches his classes in such an amazing way that the progressions are natural and logical. He teaches while you are in the pose. What better way to understand the inner spiral of the thigh muscles than to actually hold trikonasana and micro-adjust until you find the full expression of the pose.

As we were moving through that first class of the morning, I knew we were building to handstand. I knew the time of reckoning was soon. Could I melt my heart enough to do this?

“Ok, let’s just do the pose.” And with that statement John pulled a woman from the audience to the front to demonstrate. But he chose someone who’d never before done handstand.  And it was her 60th birthday!  And yes, with John’s gentle guidance, she did a handstand.

As we walked back to our mats to partner up and try our own handstands, I asked the teacher assistant working my section some inane question about hand placement. The assistant was a young guy from an Anusara studio in Venice Beach, California. He looked like a typical surfer dude from Venice, not a master teacher. In fact, he didn’t even really answer my question. He just looked at me and said, “No worries.” I gave a really intelligent answer of “ok”.

Step 1 – breathe. Step 2 – hand placement. Step 3 – one leg up. Step 4 – am I still breathing? Step 5 – melt my heart. Step 6 – holy shit I’m in handstand! My mind is officially blown.

I came down and was beaming from ear to ear and looked at my partner and asked “Did I really do that?” Yes indeed she confirmed. And with perfect timing here came my Venice yoga guy.

As he walked past, he gave me a smirk and said in that Venice surfer dude voice, “Well alright then.” As John called the class back to refocus and move on, I was the last person to make it back to my mat. I wanted to do just one more handstand!

Yes, a radical shift inside me was happening. Performing advanced asanas and a deeper understanding of anatomy was secondary to the inner heart-felt shift that had happened.

I had to face myself and honestly say that what was holding me back was me -my self-imposed limits. Not just on the mat, but off the mat as well.

And it’s so much more than kicking up into a handstand. It’s the confidence to say no even though it will disappoint someone, to say stop when I feel treated unkindly and to stand up for myself and value my own being as much if not more than those around me.

Me and John Friend at Glencairn Museum
It’s knowing that if I melt my heart, open to the possibility and accept what the universe has to offer, that where I go will absolutely blow my mind. 


  1. My most favorite yoga trainings ever, have been Anusara trainings, not sure what it is, but they just take me to a different place. I think you may have experienced one of your "worst of times/best of times" in your life, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing your experience, my love to you and your mom.

  2. I love it! I was at the workshop too and i love reading about your experience with John and how it shifted you. He is so amazing, right? best of luck to you on your yoga teacher and motherhood journeys

  3. Hi Jennifer, thanks so much for your insight. Sounds like it was an amazing time! Your blog has been posted on the Anusara yoga Facebook page... Check it out:

  4. Beautiful and inspirational! Thank you for sharing your experience!

    Olga Rasmussen

  5. I was unable to make it to the workshop, but your blog brought me right to the mat in PA.
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience.
    Blessings to you...

  6. Thank you for this; the weekend was perfect.

  7. Wow what an amazing opportunity!! It really is amazing how one person can inspire so much change and love in our hearts. <3