John Friend: A Business-Yogi & Brand Guru


Me and the clean-cut Anusara master, John Friend.

It was just another ordinary day, chatting with John Friend, Anusara yoga founder, over tea and lemonade at a café in Union Square, NYC...OK, not really. It was the kind of afternoon a yoga studio owner, practitioner and instructor like me only dreams of.

The celeb Hatha yogi happened to be in town, reached out to TreeHugger (Bonnie, too, chatted with him at Wanderlust), and our dear editor Meg, put me to the task of meeting him for the NYC leg of his tour.

In addition to a general picking of his brain, I had to ask: in this ever-growing multi-billion dollar, "bling," Bikram-era yoga industry for which John is so steeped in (ahem, Anusara has presence in 70 countries!), could his mega-brand that's seemingly all business still be green? (And perhaps on a more self-indulgent note, how the bleep did he create such a yoga empire?)When Meditation Meets Microeconomics
Sharing his quick childhood history, John quickly brushed past the fact that his family was well set, and politically influential. I told him he answered my million-dollar question without me having to tackily ask. (He laughed.)

But while it's easy to build a brand when a favorable financial situation lands in your lap at birth, I discovered John still clocked in the hours necessary for said empire building, studying physics, finance and accounting in school.

Hatha yoga as a career choice was never really on his radar. It was a lifestyle, introduced to him at the tender age of 13 by his obviously very savvy mom. Coupling his work on the mat, he studied the Bhagavad-Gita, the Upanishads, and Chinese and Japanese philosophy.

A Yogi's Left Brain, Brewing Up Business!
Post-university, his business degree and love for yoga brought him to the Iyengar Institute, where he not only studied with the great Hatha yoga guru, but also helped grow the Iyengar brand for ten years. Aspiring to be of greater benefit to the world, and equipped with the trainings of his teachers and business experience, John was ready to branch off and create what we know today as Anusara.

John quipped casually taking a sip of lemonade,

Not many yoga teachers operate from the left side of the brain. I knew I could use this favorably.

It seems he may have. John is nothing other than a living example of both yoga coolness and business acumen. One on hand he has this charming, quick to smile personality, with one ear pierced and an edgy neck pendant. Very rocker, very yoga. On the other hand, he exudes all business, dressed in basic suit attire. He walked in, and if I hadn't known who I was looking for, I would have passed him up for one of the bankers catching a midday cappuccino. No long, flowing dreadlocked Hatha yogi here. (In fact, fellow TH colleagues, does he not have a striking resemblance to our very own biz guru, and VP, Ken?!)

Anusara: Philosophy, Technique & Community
It isn't until you get John talking about his Anusara brand, when one could misinterpret his language as hippy, free-spirited, etc. And unless your familiar - and/or open to -- terms like tantric, asanas, "seeing the spirit in everything," and "creating harmony with ourselves," good luck navigating the first of the three Anusara tenets: philosophy.

More concrete seekers may however, find greater comprehension of his second and third tenets: technique and community. Under techniques lie yoga asana (poses) and principles of living that, according to John, tie right into green consciousness. He asks his Anusara disciples to question for example, "What is the source of this product I'm buying?" By community, John is referring to the tightly woven group of Anusara practitioners who are quick to take their guru's call to action. John enthusiastically adds that if he wants the focus of the week to be composting, they compost!

The Potential of Business-Savvy Bleeding Hearts & Yogins Inspiring Change
When I asked if John could cite a specific example of political influence his devotees may have possibly had in the green arena, he asked if he could get back to me. What political influence can a yoga instructor have, you ask? This staggering stat might help: John has ¼ million people working for him in 70 countries. Oh yes, he has quite the following.

In terms of his business operations, his digi-press kit touts the fact that the Anusara HQ office is:

Dedicated to supporting energy efficiency wherever possible and is working on utilizing solar power, installing a roof garden, as well as a cistern system for the recapture of rainwater.

Perhaps the one thing that got me most amped talking to John was his business acumen dashed with a good dose of open-ness, receptivity, spirituality and enthusiasm for green living often lost in the business world.

Looking at John, I thought, yes! Yoga practitioners can still have bleeding hearts and business savvy. Positive power and positive political influence--each tempered with sensitivity.

With an ever-growing yoga community out there, Anusara devotees or otherwise (there are tons of yoga methods out there, for all different personalities and dispositions), we yoga fiends have the opportunity to use our expanding community (cultivating John's 3rd Anusara tenant) to create positive change. Especially in the realm of green, more conscientious living.

Like John, we must continue asking and re-visiting: how can we use our collective yoga power and influence for good?

PS--I'll practice John's philosophy of seeing the highest potential in each individual and their divine qualities, and won't point the TH finger of shame at him unwittingly. He is gifting the world with yoga. But imagine my surprise when in urban NYC, he rolled away in a giant SUV and not a sexy, small smart car or Prius!

More on Yoga:
John Friend- Walking The Walk At Wanderlust
Nude 2010 Yoga Calendar Pulls Double Duty as Sexy Wall Art
NYT Spotlights Yoga for Seniors, Not Just the Svelte

Tags: Communities | Yoga