In the article and a follow-up video, Kaminoff described growing wary of the Jivamukti scene in the early 1990s, as Gannon and Life became increasingly clear about their intentions to “remystify” yoga. He described how they built their faculty and business through a culture of emotional surrender and free labour, noting that leaders in cult-like environments become incapable or unwilling to distinguish disagreement from disloyalty. He criticized their militant veganism, their penchant for showing animal slaughterhouse films during yoga classes, and their negative attitudes towards their students having children.
A Trauma-Sensitive Paradigm Emerges
Those who disagree with Kaminoff’s approach suggest that appeals to personal agency in student-teacher relationships are both insensitive and insufficient when a person’s power of choice is compromised.
Jess Glenny, a British yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in working with people who have experienced sexual, emotional and physical trauma, was one of many who begged to differ with Kaminoff’s statements on the Jivamukti case.
“This woman is an abuse survivor in process of recovery,” Glenny wrote in an online comment, referring to Faurot.
“This isn’t about her choices. It’s about the way her neurology has responded to abuse. It’s biologically determined by her experiences. If someone has lost a leg, we don’t chastise them for not being able to run when someone tries to mug them.”
“Some of my clients are very, very vulnerable to this kind of behaviour,” Glenny said, referring to Lauer-Manenti’s harassment of Faurot.
“They often don’t have an understanding of appropriate boundaries. They can be triggered into a reflexive passivity and a need to placate in order to survive when someone makes a sexual advance on them. People with these issues are in our yoga classes, and we all need to be aware of this.”
As both scholar and survivor, Wildcroft doesn’t see the belief in American-style free will as an eternal tenet of yoga philosophy, nor that it refers to an essential attribute of the yoga student. For her, it’s more of a placebo – which means it’s also a resource, and perhaps the privilege of those who haven’t been affected by trauma.
“Free will is a powerful story, she said via Skype. I’d caught her after her evening classes. “It’s a story we may need. But not everyone can tell it.”
I asked her what she thought about Kaminoff’s statement that people fall prey to abusive persons or organizations because they “choose to suspend their critical thinking.”
“No-one chooses to suspend their critical thinking,” she said. “This is an idea borne from immense neurotypical privilege.
“Over time, I’ve realized that my free will is not as free as I thought it was. My ability to choose as an adult through most of my life has actually been quite crude.
“If I’m caught unprepared, I might hug someone who’s hurt me. I might smile. I’ll say whatever it takes to get them to leave me the fuck alone. So how free is that? These are both symptoms of my history, and tools I’ve developed to cope.
“If yoga culture can’t understand this mechanism, and how it complicates power and consent, it can’t allow me to develop my power of choice further.”
spiring teachers at Jivamukti, the downtown Manhattan yoga studio famous for its sweaty, ecstatic classes and celebrity clientele, quickly get used to kissing the feet of founders David Life and Sharon Gannon. “They walk in the room and you learn to get on your hands and knees,” one former Jivamukti teacher tells me. “Everyone’s doing it, a hundred people around you, from the very first day of teacher training,” guru devotion is woven into the studio’s culture. Its teacher training manual lists ways to “keep a teacher precious in your life.” Among them: “Become an extension of your teachers—teach what they teach,” and “Do what they say.”
At Jivamukti, Lauer-Manenti was known as Lady Ruth, an honorific bestowed on her by Geshe Michael Roach, a tantric Buddhist most well-known for leading a three-year silent retreat in the Arizona desert at which one of his followers died. Lady Ruth was quirky and ethereal, heedless of pedestrian personal boundaries; former teachers I spoke with describe her probing for details of their romantic relationships and casually stripping in the studio offices to change clothes for class.
For the casual student, it’s easy to overlook the spiritual trappings—the chanting and philosophical instruction—that accompany Jivamukti classes. But for dedicated practitioners, the quest for transcendence is taken very seriously, requiring intense devotion. Teachers and apprentices say their constant presence is expected at the studio and at expensive retreats, immersions, and Tribe Gatherings—essentially yoga festivals—all over the world.
In reporting this piece, I spoke to a half-dozen current and former Jivamukti teachers in addition to Faurot and Kaminoff. All asked to remain anonymous, and all described an intense, all-consuming environment, where the lines between workplace and ashram were blurred and where supervisors doubled as gurus. “Now that I’m out of it, I’m like, yep, that’s a cult,” says a teacher who left Jivamukti last year and is digging herself out of the debt she amassed following Life and Gannon to various yoga gatherings. “Everybody follows it so blindly.”
If Jivamukti is a cult, it’s hard to elaborate its dogma. Certainly, it’s known for its commitment to animal rights and strict veganism; one former teacher tells me that the vegan militancy she developed at Jivamukti contributed to the dissolution of her marriage. Several teachers say that Life and Gannon frown on childbearing, both because of humans’ environmental impact and because children distract from spiritual practice. Mostly, however, the doctrine is about devotion itself.
“There are certainly people who go there just to get a workout, but the people who stay and do the teacher trainings are ones who really resonate with their message philosophically,” says Kaminoff, who now runs the Breathing Project, a nonprofit continuing education program for yoga teachers. “They’ve never been shy about what their message is and what their philosophy is, and it involves surrender to the people that are in charge.” In a video of a talk she gave on New Year’s Eve 2014, Gannon, robed in white and wearing a playful gold party hat, describes complaining—about anything—as “more poisonous than ingesting a poisonous substance.”
I suggest that everyone read the official public court complaint, before forming opinions based on tabloids. [assets.law360news.com]
No one could make this stuff up. Blaming the victim is a cheap and cruel ploy.
What we need to do is to support the victims (I believe there are more in this case) and prevent these things from happening in the yoga community. Jivamukti has its particular issues, but the the issue of sexual harassment and manipulation is not unique to Jivamukti. It is up to us as a yoga community and as individuals to see where we might be at fault for giving up our power to teachers, or turning a blind eye when inappropriate things happen.Quote
I was in an psychologically abusive relationship with a narcissistic, borderline bi-polar yoga teacher and his wife for nearly 20 years. I first met them when I was a vulnerable young adult. I was using yoga to escape drugs and using drugs to escape a sadly dysfunctional childhood. I had no self-esteem and was glaringly unaware of myself. Easy pickings to get drawn into a yoga style that prides itself on a Victorian Indian disciplinarian type culture – non-native to me or anything else I had known to that point.
People like us don’t leave sooner because we don’t even realize we need to at first. I felt like I finally belonged somewhere and that my seniors, with all their moral superiority, actually cared about me (mother and father projections abound). But we’re just minnows swimming in a bowl full of predator fish that feed off us as part of their narcissistic supply food chain. Seemingly trapped with no apparent way out, we come to depend on the big fish for everything (sustenance, care, acknowledgement), and we desperately try to please them for scraps.
In the end I had a massive health crisis that was exacerbated in part by some crazy advice I took from my teacher. I was quite brainwashed by then and would have jumped out a window if he had told me to. Thanks to the crisis, I finally woke up realized I had to leave. Even that took a while. It wasn’t till I got out that I realized how insidious and cult like the situation had been. I was angry for a long time. I thought about reporting him to higher-ups in the organization, but it would have gotten me nowhere and would have opened me up to victim blaming, which I didn’t have the strength to take at the time. I needed all my spare energy to get well physically and emotionally. I’m now moving forward one step at a time and rebuilding my life.
I tell my story here for those like me and those who struggle to understand what brings us into these relationships. I’m sure there are countless dark paths to take along this route. I still practice yoga, but follow no teachers anymore. It’s taken me years to learn to appreciate my practice again, though the innocence is lost. To my mind, there are no teachers or students – we’re all just fellow practitioners sharing the path. Anyone who positions themselves as higher up on some imaginary spiritual ladder is a charlatan who’s lying to themselves and their “followers.” We need yoga for a new age, to hell with these caste systems and snake oil salesmen. Gurus be damned.
Thanks for sharing your story, Annie. So glad to hear you survived and got out.
For those in doubt that this level of manipulation can happen to someone, please read:
David I was a student of both Ruth and Holly and a regular at Jivamukti for a long time. My impression is that the place is basically bonkers and that David and Sharon actively cultivate a totalitarian atmosphere based on a very limited understanding of Indian culture. I participated in the teacher training, which felt like cultic indoctrination. The whole thing was super immature and a number of the “teachings” were lightly veiled catechisms on total submission. Any sort of skepticism or inquiry was frowned upon and we were pressured to view David, Sharon, and Ruth (one of the facilitators) as god-like, or “holy beings” in the JM idiom. I increasingly felt like there was an undercurrent of something sinister or, at the very least, psychologically immature. I have a lot of respect for Ruth and learned a tremendous amount from her over years of classes. That said, I felt pressured to call her by a strange honorific “Lady” (as in “Lady Ruth”) and at times experienced her mood as somewhat unsettlingly unpredictable, i.e. she would get nasty to regular students or apprentices. Overall, Jivamukti is a volatile environment. That isn’t to say it is all bad, but the dysfunction is definitely palpable. I think Sharon in particular considers herself some kind of demigod, which is all fine and good, but such spiritual dress-up or play turns nefarious really quickly when there isn’t any sort of responsibly adult, countervailing reality principle. But you can see the same gunk pretty much everywhere, especially in New York . Even the more somber Iyengar Institute promotes a rigid authoritarian hierarchy, and one teacher in particular, Naghmeh Ahi, is actually abusive. As at Jivamukti, at the Iyengar Institute “abuse” is considered spiritual instruction, and as long as yoga organizations are promoting that kind of nonsense spirituality things like this will happen again and again and again. Maybe a more realistic and nuanced understanding of Indian culture (including the brutality of the caste system, the ways religion is used towards oppressive ends) will encourage us to stop assuming that everything with a Sanskrit name (i.e. “Guru”) should be accepted as infallible.
I spent a good deal of time at the local jivamukti centre and I’ve done a lot of iyengar yoga. Many of your comments ring true.
When the John Friend thing kicked off I was pretty sure jivamukti HQ breathed an enormous sigh of relief that it wasn’t them. I know of a number of incidents which very much do not fit at all with the basic ethics of good business, never mind the supposedly “spiritual” cod philosophy these organisations drone on about.
That said, poor employment practice, bullying, and low teaching standards which I have seen in abundance, are not the same thing as buying sexual favours from junior colleagues with preferential treatment (and the threat to withhold it if denied). So far no evidence and there is a lot to be proved, much of it extremely difficult to evidence. I’m withholding judgement.
If we want to stop this sort of thing going on its fairly simple. People vastly more coherent and intelligent than any one teaching at these yoga centres have written accessible books on all of the philosophy and “spirituality” their yoga teachers ramble about. There are plenty of much better independent teachers offering their own classes much more cheaply.
Jivamukti is not just a chain of yoga schools. It’s a workplace. As such it’s owners have responsibilities to the people who work there. There are any number of problems there – the financial arrangements for retreats, senior teachers openly bullying junior in front of students and studio managers facilitating it, studio managers hiring and firing at random based on friendships not ability, some teachers forbidden to work elsewhere others free to…. Not Sharon and David’s fault? They’re happy to put their name on it and take home the money.
It’s also a place where the public come to improve their health and physical well being. On this level, too, it’s a joke. I’ve seen senior teachers come out with complete nonsense, stuff that doesn’t stand up to a moment’s analysis. At best the instruction is watered down astanga with a dose of sub iyengar alignment.
Tragically it’s a place people go to for spiritual development. The “philosophy” is a joke. To call Sharon intelligent is an insult to intelligence. To claim they teach questioning is a farce. If you want people to assess an issue you calmly present both sides and let them make up their minds. You do not put them in shoulder stand for 10 minutes while you harangue them with an extreme and poorly informed version of one side of an issue. Saying “but question everything” afterwards is just self deceit.
So, no, it’s not a good yoga studio. It’s a brand, a place of employment, and a centre for indoctrination of the weak minded. It’s also extremely well marketed to attract rich hippies willing to pay stupid money for nonsense.
Despite all that it sometimes employs some good teachers for a while, till they get fed up and move on.
"...the pebbled footballs are perfect for yoga mats. But they cost an arm and a leg — ranging between $495 and $1,000 depending on the length — because they are mostly handcrafted from high-end skins at the Horween Leather tannery based out of Chicago.
But that’s all part of today’s high-end yoga play. The company boasts it is introducing “a premium tier to the yoga accessories market” — because yogis need another excuse to drop hundreds of dollars on a practice that’s supposed to shun competition and commercialism
I asked Lucas why she thought her story had met with silence. Her insights are informed by being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, along with decades of therapy and activism.
“Senior male Ashtanga teachers have told me that Jois was a father figure for them,” she said via Skype.
“In a dysfunctional family, if you’re not in, you’re out. In wealthy dysfunctional families, all the children are bought off. The silence is paid.
“I think it can be the same in the yoga world: there’s a legacy of power and that power governs people’s livelihoods.
“If the brother who sees the father inappropriately touching his daughter stands up to the father, he’s going to lose his inheritance.
“The guru is dead, but everyone is still silent. Nobody wants to taint the minds of the new people coming in.
“Whereas it’s really the opposite: everyone is tainted who is not informed.”
Four former employees of Jivamukti who wished to remain anonymous said that other former employees and students have been prohibited from commenting on the school’s culture through non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) they have been invited to sign in exchange for cash payments or tuition refunds. These sources worked at the company between 2001 and 2016, which suggests that the agreements have been a common Jivamukti management practice. They said that NDAs are used to smooth over student grievances against teachers, or teacher’s grievances against management.
“It is very disappointing to realize that Jivamukti applies fear politics and silencing methods under the flag of spiritual anarchism, activism, and veganism,” one source wrote via email.
“NDAs create an oppressive environment in which there is no space for open discussion or critical thinking.”
Another source wrote that “there is a subtle, but very strong atmosphere of internal silencing from the management at Jivamukti.”
“It encourages self-censoring amongst its employees. Even in teachers’ meetings — a supposedly open forum to discuss problems — we didn’t bring up our concerns about power abuses. Things were discussed in a roundabout way, wrapped in spiritual platitudes.”
Gannon and Life did not respond to a request for comment.
More than 20 years ago I was a therapist at a community mental health centre that provided treatment to women who experienced sexual abuse. I remember one woman who came to see me after being assaulted by Jois in India. She reached out to the yoga community in North America and was silenced and ostracized. This has been going on for a long time. Thanks for writing so well about this issue.
Like · Reply · 16 · Jun 2, 2016 7:57pm
The silencing was comman. When I was first made aware of the absues prepretraded by Jois everyone made excuses for him and many pretended that they didn't happen becuase they didn't see them happening with thier own eyes. I had an incident with Lino M. one of Jois's main teachers, when I talked about it in my community, same thing happned to me. The other male teachers just wanted to pretend that it was OK for Lino to stick his finger in my butt. He was showing me where my moola bandha was! I guess it's never too late to talk about this stuff. It still makes me mad to know that my own community supported this abuse and thought I was being overly sensitive.
Like · Reply · 14 · Jun 5, 2016 5:46am
DBi thank you for your bravery.
I was sexually molested by one Jivamukti teacher after a class he was teaching, when I least expected it. I was shocked that he did it and I did not do anything to provoke his behavior. I later realized that he caculated his moves and approached me when I was in an area where no one could easily see what he was doing. (My reactions after yoga class are usually slower than usual and I felt he took advantage of that situation.) When I realized (to my horror) that he was actually fondling me, I forcefully told him to stop, but I still was very upset that...See More
Like · Reply · 8 · Jun 5, 2016 9:55am · Edited
DB I think we have alot of stories to tell each other about some of the behaviour in the yoga community. Spiritual communities of every kind are given a 'free pass' for stuff that is far from deserving of a free pass. Its important to give voice, create understanding and underscore credibility to experiences some of us may have had with teachers like Jois or others. Otherwise, like you, we blame ourselves or say we are too sensitive.
Matthew Remski ·
Thank you for reading, Debra. If you word-search this page, you'll find that I specifically avoided using the word "cult". Same holds true for the first article. My phrase here was "culture of silence", and that's fair when interviewing 17 former employees who won't go on record, not to mention the culture of silence pervading similar cases -- which half of this article was about. I don't think JYS meets the standard criteria for a cult, except perhaps for its inner circle, but that's totally speculative. For many, however, it is definitely an immersive and totalizing experience, orbiting a vertical charismatic power structure.
Debra Devi, Holly's complaint refutes your contention in paragraph one about consensual relationships among consenting adults, according to NY State law, and according to the context of their relationship at that time. There are other sticky issues that would not exonerate Jivamukti had the case gone to trial. Additionally, word on the street is that while Jivamukti is insured for $100K the $50K figure is inaccurate.
Jivamukti's record is not as untarnished as you think. They have been sued before.
The notion that the school is on notice and will be extra careful in the future, is the same thing they have said numerous times before when dealing with a number of serious complaints that have been brought to their attention. However this is merely lip service as that is their way of falsely pacifying people. These are the same false assurances that have saved them in the past because the complainers believed these false assurances and end up doing nothing. Jivamukti also has a history of heavily intimidating those who are brave enough to complain, until they get discouraged and go away. This process of intimidation is quite unyogic.
Jivamukti's culture of seemingly benign "see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil," has evolved into the unbenign "notice no evil." The result of this has been two fold: people censor themselves and are discouraged from making complaints, especially if they know that Jivamukti's process of handling their complaints is, in reality, no better than having their concerns disgarded in a circular file. This has happened a number of times.
In fact, Holly's lawsuit has marked the first time they have not been able to successfully shut people up. The reality is they will do nothing of substance to address serious concerns unless and until they are sued because these problems have been endemic at Jivamukti.
Thank you for this article. The yoga community white-washing egregious behaviors by teachers and gurus needs to end. I have seen it again and again and have been on the receiving end of psychological abuse. I am happy to know that you are writing a book about this!
Like · Reply · 1 · Jun 20, 2016 7:36pm
Here are some ideas on how we as teachers and students can work to decolonize the yoga retreat.
Talk about this dilemma both before and during yoga retreats. Become aware of the implications of yoga vacations abroad and the power dynamic that comes through that. Open the space for collective conversation about how this makes students feel.
Host a retreat in a small, locally run hotel or yoga center. Visit it first. Meet the owners and ensure they are treating their staff well.
Invite staff members to join your retreat classes for free.
From food to hotels to transportation, invest your yoga spending into the local economy instead of into wealthy foreigners’ pockets.
Get to know the workers. I have been to far too many centers where the staff was treated poorly by retreat owners. Ask them what they think of the retreat—you may be surprised by what you learn.
Learn the local language (or at least some of it). Include a language class in your retreat or a volunteer opportunity in the community you visit.
Learn about the culture and the economy before you arrive.
On the first night of your retreat, host a community orientation where you and locals unite to share histories, stories, and cultural conditions. As a yogi, can you help facilitate the union we preach when we teach?
I wasn’t then aware that Jivamukti instructors are required to give a 15-minute dharma lecture before class. They’re told to stress the yamas, or codes of conduct, for yogic living. These include: Non-harming, non-stealing, non-lying, non-attachment, and the always unpopular sexual continence.
“I like to think of myself as an ethical vegan,” the teacher continued. “And that informs my yoga practice, and it helps me to heal the world. Did you know, you guys, that research has shown if you eat meat, you’re doing more harm to the environment than if you drive an SUV? Think about that while you’re doing your yoga. If 98 percent of the people who drove SUVs stopped driving them tomorrow, it still wouldn’t help the environment because of all the damage that meat-eaters do. So when you’re eating meat, think about all the harm you’re doing to the world because you’re selfish and greedy and don’t think about others.”
This particular dharma lecture confused me. Weren’t yoga teachers supposed to present themselves as humble servants of a higher power rather than moral paragons above reproach or laughter? Also, while I’ve had some raw food episodes in my life, and understand and appreciate the philosophy behind veganism, her science was almost as faulty as her manner was condescending. Someone needed to take her down a notch. The right time to do it, I figured, was during a yoga class attended by a hundred of her followers, while I was toasted to the nines.
“Bullshit!” I said.
My friend looked at me, pained and nervous, pleading with her eyes for me to stop. The teacher heard because she was right in front of me.
“If someone disagrees with what I’m saying,” she said, “they’re obviously not well-informed and are speaking from a position of insecurity.”
“I’m not the only one,” I mumbled under my breath.
This wasn’t going to go well. She huffed haughtily and resumed her dharma talk. Finally, our physical practice began. It pushed way beyond any level I could handle. The flow moved too fast, and many of the positions were new to me. I stumbled around, flinging sweat off my head onto other people’s mats, huffing and sighing. The instructor, by now, had me in her crosshairs. She kept giving me adjustments, though the most effective adjustment might have been to put me in a chair and leave me there.
“Maybe you should practice a little bit before you start criticizing,” she said.
“Maybe I should.”
“Maybe you should.”
“That’s what I just said.”
She walked away. I don’t think I was her type of student. Then again, I’d yet to find a yoga teacher who was naturally drawn to sarcastic, incompetent fat asses. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the practice. Then the teacher’s voice lowered about two octaves, and she started talking much more slowly. In fact, it sounded like another voice altogether.
“Now,” said the voice, “keep your heart open — wide open — and move your shoulder blades apart as you slide your hands into warrior two.”
I opened my eyes as I moved into the pose. One of the women in white was now guiding the practice. This teacher had assistants, for god’s sake.
“Is this some sort of cult?” I said.
My friend, realizing she’d made a horrible mistake by inviting me, drew her lips together with a loud SHHHH.
the instructor made a joke. By now, we were doing the seated poses, so I could at least breathe. I don’t remember the joke, but, for some reason, I laughed.
“Oh, so the comedian thinks I’m funny,” she said. “I must be doing something right.”
Lady, I’m no comedian, I thought. I’m a comic writer. There’s a difference.
Finally, we got to savasana. Boy, did I need it. I lay down on my rental mat and prepared for ten minutes or so of sweet relief from the nightmarish yoga journey I’d just endured. Then I heard a voice. Some sort of recording was being played. The voice was British, with the hint of a Middle Eastern accent, and as preachy as Noam Chomsky being interviewed by a college-newspaper editor.
“The United Nations estimates,” said the voice, “that more than four hundred thousand people have died in Iraq since the start of the Gulf War. The estimated profits made by U.S. corporations since that time have equaled …”
“Are you kidding me?” I said.
“Please don’t do this,” said my friend, rapidly becoming my former friend.
“In 1980,” said the tape, “Saddam Hussein met with Donald Rumsfeld …”
I stormed out, mat in hand. Sure, I was against the war in Iraq and all, really against it, big time. I’d organized a group to march against George W. Bush’s first inauguration, for god’s sake. My lefty bonafides didn’t need proving. But the last thing I needed to hear during savasana was a recitation of recent U.S. war crimes in the Middle East.
I am so sorry you had to go thru that.
Yuck! How annoying!
It is totally wrong for a teacher to force their ideas on you when you are captive and have little choice in the matter.
I would say yes, teach yoga precepts, but allow the students to figure out what that means and don't force it down their throats.
I've had the same experience in a Buddhism class with an unsufferable teacher. I went to experience Buddhist thought and meditation and much of the time I was a captive audience to my teacher's negative views on this country and the world.
It was totally irritating and arrogant of her...so I am with you.
I don't blame you for reacting the way you did but just for yourself, even if you are in the right, it would be good to learn to not get so upset...just for yourself.
Oh, I am an ethical vegan as well...but this just gives me the creeps.
THURSDAY, AUG 12, 2010 02:47 PM PDT
Loved this, but. . .
Why the hell did you feel the need to apologize? Okay, perhaps to keep your friend, but seriously, she needed to tell you exactly what type of yoga class you were going to.
All of this new, trendy "yoga" - the sauna-like temps, the spouting of inane anecdotes in the name of "spirituality" - is exactly what you called it: bullshit.
I do it to stretch and move my body. If I get "enlightened" along the way, fine, but that's entirely up to me, not the "instructor." Help me with my poses, yes. And thank you. But leave me to my own inner self.
I'd rather pop in my Lilias tape at home than suffer through what this author unexpectedly was exposed to.
But then, I wouldn't be "cool" or "trendy"
THURSDAY, AUG 12, 2010 03:37 PM PDT
Jiva's founders are seriously rich, so I find the self-righteous bit tough to swallow. Plus, they sell a lot of merchandise, for goodness sakes! All that consumerism isn't good for the environment
stchrsbTHURSDAY, AUG 12, 2010 04:53 PM PDT
You should have called her on more.
I don't get all the criticism about calling bullshit "bullshit." Presumably he paid for what he got and I'd have probably said the same, or just walked out and asked for my money back.
While I'm sure there is plenty good in the exercise people get from yoga, "Spiritual advisers" of any kind are parasites. The world will not be free until the last cleric is burned in the entrails of the last gullible parishioner. Yoga is no different than any other set of religious lies.
In terms of calling him on the pot, sure lots of peoples *have* died to get MJ where it is today, but him talking about taking is not going to effect that in any way, shape or form. The future is total legalization. Obama talks a talk about not raiding legal grows, but the raids are happening regardless against sick people and stoners alike. Every raid against sick people is another grandmother jailed ro arthritis.
The saddest thing in the article is that the guy actually felt guilty about responding to an insult to his intelligence.
THURSDAY, AUG 12, 2010 05:55 PM PDT
Ah, so facts are irrelevant?
We all learned this in kindergarten. Take turns. It wasn't Neal's turn.
I entirely disagree. When someone is spouting empirically false bullshit, you call them on it when they reach the period at the end of their sentence.
A class is not a play where you'll somehow break the spell of the entertainment for the other students. A class is a place where you go learn things based on facts. If the teacher is factually wrong, allowing them to present a known falsehood is doing everyone else in the class a disservice.
It would only have been Neal's "turn" somewhere far out of earshot of the other students, who after all are the teacher's cash cows. In this instance being "polite" only serves the lie and the liar.
THURSDAY, AUG 12, 2010 05:57 PM PDT
Sorry, you were in the right
The incident continued to trouble me, though. The teacher had preached, didactically and unpleasantly. But what I'd done in response, I finally realized, had been totally wrong and disrespectful
You had every right to tell the person to shut the hell up.
Captive audiences shouldn't be subject to the stupid rantings of any "instructor."
If this particular branch of Yoga requires some kind of cleansing sermon, it should be rather tame.
For example, if I went to a lesson, and had to sit there and hear someone ranting that evolution is the work of the devil, and dinosaurs aren't real, that person would hear that they are an idiot. Even if it's a religious event. I know, I've done it.
People need to keep their extreme crazy to themselves, or expect to hear from people that they are crazy
FRIDAY, AUG 13, 2010 03:53 AM PDT
Has it occurred to you that crying "bullshit" to nonsense is a sign of SECURITY, rather than the insecurity the teacher upbraided him for?
She wasn't interested in "enlightening" anyone. Her response was intended only to stifle dissent. The tactic she used is as old as the hills, It's the same sort of thing other religious freaks do when they're questioned. They parrot a platitude (God loves you.) that they've been rehearsed in because their church doesn't want them to think too hard about what they're actually saying.
Independent thinking is very dangerous to people like that yoga instructor. If enough people wake up and smell the bullshit, her income will drop precipitously - and it's ALWAYS about the money in the end
FRIDAY, AUG 13, 2010 07:10 AM PDT
stretched more than a hamstring
I may be the only one here to thank you for your unabashed honesty. It's a horrific situation that you describe--between you being higher than a Lohan and the sanctimonious non-yogic teacher--you managed to drape it in humor.
Yoga is a noun as well as a verb. The noun 'yoga' calls for 'non judgment' on the part of the instructor. That was no teacher--she didn't teach you anything, you were getting hurt and she was stretching her 'power' and did not apply any compassion (because she has none, she only has judgment of you and everyone else in that room- including your friend). As far as the verb 'yoga' goes, that calls for strength with softness, power without being rigidity, and--most importantly-- requires an application of what is appropriate for the individual at the time. Yoga is NEVER a one-size fits all. But that's what you got and you got hurt (not just physically).
I teach yoga. I eat meat. So there. Okay okay so it's organic grass-fed beef (my efforts to clean up food chain). Truth is, every time I enter a room as a yoga "teacher" I need to reassess who is standing in front of me and apply what they need on that day, not what I think they "should" do (I've been teaching the same people for almost 5 years and they keep coming back).
If you had walked into my class as someone who I had never met, I'd have to know something about you before I could 'prescribe' a yoga practice. If I was able to discern that you were mixing your herbs I would not have risked the liability of you doing a full on asana practice. No matter what my ego may have wanted.
If she had an ounce of true integrity as a teacher (and not as some lecturer) you'd have been given a quiet corner with a mat to lay down and a chair or a bumper holding your legs at a 90 degree angle and let you enjoy your high.
East Indians see how Americans are bastardizing yoga, and some will take advantage of that. That's human nature versus our better nature. It's a shame really--it's turned into a bit of sham.
FRIDAY, AUG 13, 2010 07:24 AM PDT
I'm Glad I'm Not Alone
I'm glad I'm not the only person on the planet who has incurred the wrath of a self-righteous yoga teacher. Ten years ago, I was taking a yoga class that was sponsored through my workplace by a fellow employee who was a certified yoga instructor. (Incidentally, I paid for these classes.) I attended five classes with no incident. In fact, he didn't do any "evangelism" - he just taught the class straight, and explained alot of the physiological benefits of practicing yoga, which I liked. Everything went downhill when one day, because of a bus schedule change (it was scheduled to run only certain times - if I had missed it, I would have had to take a cab home), I had to leave class earlier than expected. I couldn't speak to him before the class due to him being in a staff meeting, so I made sure I placed my mat right next to the door so I could leave quietly without disturbing anybody, which I did. The next morning, when I said "Good Morning" to him, he proceeded to scream at and lecture me in front of a room full of people, about how I had "soiled" the "dignity" of his class. This went on for nearly five minutes, until a co-worker pulled me away. I found out from this co-worker that this guy (who worked in different department than I did) had a history of yelling at co-workers over stupid things (e.g., dishes left in the sink) and that I needed to tell human resources about it.
Needless to say, I didn't attend any more classes, registered a complaint with human resources, got my money back, and called the local yoga center where he gave lessons to tell them about how he treated me, a student.
About a year later, I found out a couple of months after I left the company that he got fired for, you guessed it, verbally abusing a staff member. I realize people are flawed, be they Christian, Buddhist, or believe in the Wizard of Oz, but I always wondered why, if yoga was such a stabilizing, peaceful path, this particular practitioner was such a hotheaded son of a bitch.
Post-script: This guy still teaches yoga at the center where I called to tell them about his behavior towards a student. My friends who practice yoga refuse to take classes there
FRIDAY, AUG 13, 2010 09:37 AM PDT
I've been practicing (iyengar) yoga for more than 16 years, and if someone were to start a practice like this, I'd have rolled up my mat and quietly departed, irrespective of how "hot" the instructor was.
FRIDAY, AUG 13, 2010 05:37 PM PDT
Like yoga class, it would just obnoxious and wrong to interrupt any of these events to hold forth with one's own opinion or offer factual evidence.
I'll agree that he handled his response poorly, more likely because he was stoned, but I disagree that it was the wrong time and place. It's exactly NOT a wedding.
Con artists prey on our desire to be polite all the time. Maybe Neal will never be the type of person that is able to respond to those kind of con artist tactics, with something like "98 percent?! Where do you get your figures?" But he at least *started* something. Other people will notice and pay attention and maybe ask the next time.
Calling a "teacher" on the facts is service to rest of the class, not a disruption. When you buy, you get to ask. The teacher works for the student not the other way around.
In the eighties, while Friend worked for a few years as a financial consultant for oil companies after graduating from Texas A&M, he became a part-time yoga teacher at a local YMCA. Soon, he decided to switch professions—he wanted to be a yoga teacher, and studied the Iyengar method. But he wasn’t entirely happy. “Iyengar believes that to gain freedom from suffering, you must strongly discipline the mind-body to the point where you actually create isolation between them,” he says. “The teacher would hit us, physically, to say, ‘Why are you getting hooked on your body? You’re not your body.’ I thought, Wait, I love my body. It’s temporal, but it’s still a manifestation of God.” He also felt that this style of yoga was too complicated. “I’m an American,” he says. “I wanted to make things simple.”
Now Friend had the technical skills to teach, but he needed to connect with his spirit. In 1989, he took a trip to Ganeshpuri, India, where he visited Swami Muktananda’s ashram, now led by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda (Muktananda, an authority so revered that members of his Catskills ashram sat in his bathwater and saved the trimmings of his haircuts, is thought to have sexually preyed on young women). Gurumayi would later become a controversial figure, but when Friend first laid eyes on her, on this “magically mind-bending day of grace,” the energy around her was so thick that her mouth moved but the words came out in slow motion. In her presence, he was able to rise up into a handstand without effort. “It was like someone took a blanket, wrapped it around me, and lifted me up,” he has explained. “I felt totally supported. It was magic.”
At the ashram, he started to connect with people who also felt like they wanted to swap out of Iyengar and other older, didactic systems of yoga into something more fun. Someone needed to innovate here—why couldn’t it be him? In 1997, after some help from Douglas Brooks, a Tantra scholar, Friend revealed a new yoga system at a retreat of about 30 teachers at Feathered Pipe Ranch, a center in Montana run by a devotee of Sai Baba, the Indian guru known for manifesting gold trinkets in his palm.
Certifications were offered at very favorable terms—Friend wanted to keep the merry band happy. “I remember a friend wagging his fingers at me, saying, ‘You’re letting them run, and one day you’ll say, “Come back in the corral,” and they’re going to say, “Fuck you, man, I’m not going back in there,”?’ but I didn’t believe it,” says Friend.
Friend wanted to be ethical about dating his students, too: In 2009, he even changed Anusara’s guidelines about sex between students and teachers. A bylaw that used to say that teachers should “avoid sexual relationships with students” now stated that a romantic relationship was permitted, as long as the role of teacher and student was maintained within the classroom. This raised eyebrows among some of the senior teachers, but they kept their mouths shut.
Friend was always a bit of a weird guy, with his love of magic and Madame Blavatsky, but he never really flirted much with the edge, at least until about 2010. Yoga was exploding in the U.S., and Friend met a couple of branding entrepreneurs in Southern California who told him that they could take him to the next level. Their grand vision for Friend was his own institute for the study of Anusara, in an 8,000-plus-square-foot building that once housed an ad agency in Encinitas, California. The beachy enclave is considered one of the most important yoga towns in the U.S.—Yogananda wrote his Ur-text, Autobiography of a Yogi, there; Ravi Shankar and George Harrison collaborated there; not only was it the first place in the U.S. that the Ashtanga guru Pattabhi Jois stopped when he came from Mysore, India, in the seventies, it’s also home to the Jois center, which billionaire Paul Tudor II’s wife has just built.
Friend quickly became bewitched with the idea of the Center, a place where he could become less of a traveling teacher and more of a curator—it would be a new Esalen Institute, the experiment observed. But there was a problem: He needed money. Another yoga paradox is that for all its popularity and the celebrity of its leading practitioners, it’s never been much of a cash cow. The gear and clothing companies, like publicly traded Lululemon—which has promoted a Landmark Forum–based system for its employees and whose founder recently relinquished his operational role after the bad PR around commissioning a line of shopping bags bearing the words “Who Is John Galt?”—may make a mint, but there are very few yoga teachers who have become wealthy from teaching. In its best years, Anusara Inc. took in about $2 million in revenue, 80 percent of which was composed of Friend’s teaching fees—but almost all it went to overhead. His annual salary was roughly $100,000.
When Friend began raising money for the Center, he praised the auspicious gods, because he soon had a $1 million loan from an Anusari in the Seattle area and had entered discussions that he thought were promising for $3 million to $5 million. To buff the company’s balance sheet, Friend froze his employees’ pensions. He says he didn’t realize that he had to send certified letters to each employee informing him or her of the change.
Desperate for cash, Friend had started to think it was time for the children to pay back the parent. He asked some teachers for a 10 percent cut of videos, books, or other products made by teachers in exchange for allowing those products to bear the Anusara trademark. Unhappy with this request, the senior teachers started to talk among themselves: Who was John Friend anyway? He had been their teacher, but they’d been on their own for so long; they were in their forties and fifties now, too old to be under anyone’s thumb.
And they had started to hear odd rumors of Friend’s secret life, of what he was doing in California. The core of this group were conservative, quiet yogis focused on building serious careers, not interested in being part of an organization that was starting to feel like “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll yoga,” as one put it.
Notsurprised Apr 17, 2012
I think John Friend is really just the tip of the iceberg, he just happened to be unlucky enough to get caught. I have known plenty of lascivious male and female yoga teachers who are out there "behaving badly" (in quotes for a reason). They are usually psychologically immature and impulsive and act like kids in a candy shop who can't resist all the acolytes who idealize them and fall at their feet. I still don't know why this surprises people, like somehow espousing yoga philosophy makes you less human? I do feel a little bad for the weak minds that they often unwittingly (John Friend is nothing if not unwitting, I truly think he is just so unwittingly narcissistic the idea of harming others with his behavior has not yet crossed his mind) prey on, but then the world is full of fragile people who get pulled in by superficial charm and charisma....I guess the true lesson is never abandon your faculties of reason and be your own teacher first...
anotherwhoknows May 16, 2012
@Notsurprised - Yogis behaving badly deserve to be exposed because they are totally counting on the people who "follow" them to "love" them anyway. I cannot wait until the next yoga master is exposed - I fear he won't be for a long time to come, not because people don't have plenty to expose him with, but because he threatens to destroy whomever speaks up against him. Will his students have the courage to do what the anusara yoga students did? I applaud the strength it took for those most senior teachers and all of the merry band to stand up and admit that something had gone very wrong. Why won't those of you (and you know who you are) whom have been wronged by another "guru" come forward now? The time is now . . . stop protecting a predator!!
knickerbacker Apr 17, 2012
I am genuinely surprised at how the article seems to minimize one thing: seeing the "freezing of employe pension contributions" as the JF talking point of a paperwork error. His employees were receiving a pension, not a 401k, governed by the US Department of Labor under the Employee Retirement Security Act.
ERISA governed plans are subject to specific protections because these are exactly the type of pension funds raided by corrupt employers, mafiosi, and union officials. Whether the proceeds go to "investing in our center" or investing in a continuing criminal enterprise, founding of a casino, etc. is irrelevant. It is a federal crime to misappropriate mandated defined pension benefit plan contributions and it doesn't matter if you are John Friend or Jackie Presser, it is still a crime.
JF was informed once by the DOL that he was in violation and STILL failed to meet his legally required duty of putting WORKER money in WORKER pension which required a second notice of violation. JF kept this secret. JF is ego run amok. As disgusted as I am by his lurid personal activities, I am more disgusted by his theft from the pension plan. Not putting money into it is the same as taking money out- it is illegal and if he was a union officer, he would be in jail now. ERISA was enacted to prevent this theft, which is what it is-plain and simple.
ksmyer Apr 16, 2012
Yogaliving -- the idea that it was "mostly people who willingly gave away their own power" is misguided. John was in the seat of the teacher. He held all of the power over most Anusara teacher's careers. If he decided he liked you, you were made. If he decided he didn't, you were screwed. And that's just the teachers; some of his coven-mates were his direct employees.
This is a gross abuse of power.
I implore you and the others who keep downplaying the serious nature of his actions to stop telling others to be "mindful yogis" and start thinking about the many ways in which John abused his power.
HarwoodRubin Apr 15, 2012
There are a few key issues that have been either lightly touched upon, or not yet written about, that I would like to post here. As one of the Certified Anusara Yoga teachers who resigned in mid-January, my reasons for leaving had more to do with an overall tightening of control in several major areas: Body, Heart, Mind, and Livelihood. This took many forms, and I felt that I could not in good faith remain in a system in which one person had such control over so many. I wrote on this in elephant journal, in addition to Amy Ippoliti's piece.
1. The tithing we received a series of emails from 2010-11 that were increasingly restrictive in terms of rules for any Yoga products that we might produce. At first, we were told that we could work with Anusara and would be promoted in exchange for 10%. Fair. Then this tightened to our having to offer our work to Anusara, who would decide whether or not they wanted to work with us. It would be their call. Eventually, we were told that we had to come to Anusara with our ideas BEFORE any product was produced, so that they could decide whether it was something they wanted to be involved in. In effect, our intellectual and creative property would not be our own. In addition, he held up certain teachers products, sometimes for years, which was damaging and disempowering.
2. The Shiva-Shakti Tantra Primer which outlined what we, as Anusara teachers, were told to teach as a spiritual world view. It was introduced well after we signed on to be Certified Teachers around 2010.
3. There was an ongoing manipulation in regard to which teachers were "allowed" to teach in certain countries and/or studios. Studios were told to work with certain teachers and not others. Blatant favoritism.
4. There was an ongoing intimidation issue with John telling us not to leave in order to go to the bathroom while he was teaching in the past 3 years. Considering that the vast majority of the people in the room were female, I always ignored this, as I dont let men tell me what to do with my body. Unfortunately, everyone did not feel equally empowered.
5. I found it to be highly insulting that John frequently harped upon what great studentship the Japanese students had, because, as he regularly said, they were quiet & did what he asked.
While this was not pleasant to write, I feel that it is important and needs to be said in order to have clarity about this situation. Thanks for reading.
yoganomad Apr 17, 2012
@SHarwoodRubin - Yes, the japanese are great students becuse they paid him a lot of money.....that and the geisha girl tradition which encourages submisison to the authority
emagenta Apr 15, 2012
I'm a formerly licensed Certified Anusara yoga teacher. My pal Angela Tomasetti, also a formerly licensed teacher (she was okay with me sharing this here), points out that she "completely disagree(s) with his quote, 'I always said Im not a saint, a prophet, a guru, a god mantheres no cosmic energy pouring through me to the point that I know all things.' John said on MANY occasions that he is so attuned to energy that he can feel what his students in the back of the room full of 399+ bodies are feeling, that he can tell whether you are vibrating with positive or negative energy, he could read anyone's energy, that he can heal any trauma, injury, pain, that his neighbors regard him as a healer and come to his house all the time with complaints that he can fix immediately with his knowledge of the body and its energy flows. What is that if not some god man?"