John Friend and Sienna Sherman teaching yoga at Wanderlust (photo taken by Bonnie Hulkower)
Last weekend, at the heart of this year's Wanderlust Festival was Village Anusara, and in the heart of the village was John Friend, gathered with his disciples. John founded Anusara yoga thirteen years ago. He is a charismatic and popular teacher who blends philosophy, biomechanics, and humor. He has an enigmatic duality: he can come across as goofy but serious and brainy but heartfelt. John set aside some time from his busy schedule to sit with TreeHugger (in his tent!) to discuss how important sustainability is to Anusara and to him personally. Anusara literally means "flow with grace" and for John this is important because Anusara is geared to be an action oriented practice. DK, Anusara's creative director added that the name was Village Anusara not Anusara Village, so the focus would be on the inclusiveness, on the community, and not on their school of yoga.John was only at Wanderlust for a few days. He made a special, surprise, pit stop to Northern California in between European tour stops in Germany and Ireland (I didn't ask about carbon offsets). DK and volunteers, however, had been industriously setting up the village for a week. They built the village with the intention to leave it cleaner than they found it and everywhere around Wanderlust were bins for recycling and compost. (The festival was one of the most spotless music events I've been to). For decoration, volunteers used pine combs and other found objects to create Andy Goldworthyesque mandala sculptures. Through these forms, they hoped to evoke a simple but elegant atmosphere where festival attendees would feel inspired. When the Anusara community travels, they take their utensils on the go. The community encourages people in the community and in Wanderlust to feel like participants.
In addition to yoga, music, and nature, John wanted there to be a place where innovative ideas could brew. So in the village, there was a teahouse called Om Shan Tea which served traditional tea in a Bedouin-looking setting. Also new this year, was a "speakeasy" series featuring intimate discussions about veganism, home birth, sustainability, and social messaging.
OmShanTea Teahouse in the Village Anusara at Wanderlust (photo by Bonnie Hulkower)
John also brought sustainability into Anusara classes with sustainable products, including simple things like stainless steel water bottles and rubber mats. John collaborated with prAna to produce the Revolution Yoga Mat which has three layers of biodegradable rubber and is heat laminated. Instead of nylon or plastic, the interior scrim is a dual layer of cotton. The mat has a lifetime guarantee and claims to be the greenest mat on the market (I practiced with a used mat, but if I was looking for a new mat I'd check this out).
John has 200,000 students in 70 countries, so I asked John if he felt like a yoga rock star or the yoga mogul that the NYT made him out to be. John demurred that technically a mogul is a leader of a Muslim empire, which he doesn't feel like. But he said he does feel like "a leader of a community who is seeking a deeper life and real connections." John says he never planned a big community and his greatest pleasure is his close relationships. John says this ethos goes hand in hand with sustainability.
I will confess that I was a skeptic, but having taken one of John's "Melt Your Heart, Blow Your Mind" workshop series this past Spring, I can attest that, somehow, despite classes of 200+ people, John manages to let each individual know that he values their presence. John wants students to realize that they are part of something vast and powerful and need to be open to what is within and around them. Once his students do this, he believes they will step off the mat and look at the world in a state of wonder, not in a spaced out way but with focus.
It is a common yogic idea that spirituality should be connected with not accumulating material things: in a sense the less you have, the more spiritual you can be. John thinks about this in terms of living within your means, debt free, and without excess. This will enable the mind to be freer. Don't hoard or be greedy. John feels a responsibility to remind students of the higher purposes of the yoga practice and not the superficial ones.
John translates the experience of connectedness in yoga to practicing and living a green lifestyle. To authentically live a sustainable lifestyle not just one with a veneer of green you have to authentically incorporate long lasting practices. According to John, 20 million currently people practice yoga in North America, and many of them say they are green. But many people practice yoga externally and have not had an internal shift. Yoga and sustainability both end up being fads unless people experience a deep shift in their values and practices.
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