By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
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By Sean Pendergast
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Whether or not people wanted him in Denver, Friend says he found inspiration in his new home. It began with his consideration of "the Roots," the posture sequence Desi had created with Micah's help, which focuses on practitioners arching their backs — usually a no-no among the long, straight lines of most yoga poses. "Genetically, Micah and I have accentuated lower back curves," explains Desi. "For several years, our teachers tried to lengthen them."
"But the more we did that, the more we were in pain," adds Micah. "I like my curve; it actually feels really good. When we embraced the curve, it changed everything."
Desi had first brought these new postures to Friend's attention while Anusara was thriving — and he wouldn't even consider them. "I was considered an expert," he says. "I couldn't conceive that this woman would have something that would be that earth-shattering." But once Anusara collapsed, once he had nothing to lose, he tried her sequence — and was blown away. "It gave me strength and a level of balance that was extraordinary and unusual," he explains. "Even the smell of my sweat was different." The way he saw it, the arched back allowed the body to function like a loaded spring, with the taut muscles holding everything in place. The posture enabled people to hold difficult yoga poses far longer, increased positive attitude, helped them reduce muscle and joint pain, and, in his case, led to striking results. "I trimmed off 40 pounds," he says. "And I'm now doing stuff that I was doing in my 20s."
Suddenly, Friend's one-time student was his teacher. Still, it took time for him to fully embrace Desi's program, since it went against many of the tenets he'd spent years developing in Anusara. "It was the opposite of what I had been teaching," he says. "I had to question major elements of my alignment system." Eventually, with Desi's help, he realized this new system was so radical that it couldn't be integrated into Anusara at all, that instead it held the seeds for a new school of yoga. In early 2013, the two of them named that school Sridaiva, Sanskrit for "divine destiny."
Friend asked Desi to be his business partner, to help spread the word of their discovery. She took the lead, conveying her experience using Sridaiva's alignments, while Friend, the pattern guy, worked on verifying, organizing and simplifying the methodology so it could reach a wider audience than just those capable of Desi's demanding "Roots" sequence. "There is no way I would have done this without him," says Desi. "I am an introvert. And John provides the why — he's an expert at systemification and simplification, synergizing an idea and making it accessible." The two believe the spring-loaded posture isn't just for yoga; they think people the world over can adopt it as they go about their daily lives to improve their physical and mental health. As Friend puts it, "I really feel like you can do this at your job and leave work feeling like you've worked out."
And with his new program, says Friend, he's using the lessons learned from his mistakes. "I know what I did with Anusara, and I can take the positive things and clean up the dysfunctional things I screwed up at the beginning," he notes. For example, in Sridaiva there are teacher-training classes but no demanding certification programs, which might keep top-level infighting to a minimum. More important, says Friend, "We ask that students first and foremost take responsibility for their own health and positioning." This time, it won't be Friend's responsibility to build everybody up — so he won't be held responsible if they all get knocked down.
So far, the system's working. The two have upcoming events booked in Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, the Caribbean and elsewhere, and Friend and Desi are co-authoring a book, Optimal Posture, on Sridaiva. "There is buzz," says Friend. Yes, some of the attention might be from those wondering what happened to the disgraced John Friend — but it's buzz nonetheless.
Unlike medical professionals, yoga teachers don't need a license to practice. The closest thing the industry has to such a program is a volunteer credentialing system run by the nonprofit Yoga Alliance, which certifies that teachers have completed a certain number of hours at training programs that meet the nonprofit's standards. According to Yoga Alliance CEO Richard Karpel, there are currently about 40,000 credentialed yoga teachers — one of whom is John Friend. The organization is revising its credentials program and creating a new code of ethics that will weigh in on whether yoga teachers can date their students, Karpel says, but he admits the program "is not the most rigorous credentialing system there is." And that's the way he thinks it has to be: "The idea of certifying yoga is difficult to begin with. Yoga has been around for 5,000 years. There are lots of different lineages and lots of different styles. Different people have different ideas of what it is and what it isn't."
That means that Friend is free to start a new style of yoga, which others are free to embrace — or they can continue with Anusara, since in late 2012 a group of Friend's former teachers launched the teacher-run Anusara School of Hatha Yoga. "We are taking the foundation that John built and we are moving it forward," says school co-founder Doc Savage, who says more than 400 teachers have joined the program.