Sunday, December 30, 2012

Adj. 1. Studied - affected, unnatural - speaking or behaving in an artificial way to make an impression

I wish I could embed the full scintillation of Gurumayi's Season's Greetings Card™ in this post, but you'll have to visit the SYDA website to see it in all its computer-generated animated gloriousness. Still, seeing is not fully believing! You'll also need to visit the webpage for the Study Guide to Gurumayi's Season's Greetings Card™.

A taste of what's in store for you there:

The card is adorned with international symbols, such as the peace symbol and the smiley face, as the essence of the truth these symbols convey is part and parcel of Siddha Yoga philosophy and culture. The card also shines with words of wisdom in different languages that direct seekers to follow the path of dharma.

Gurumayi wanted to ensure that during the first part of December, seekers around the world had an opportunity to enjoy the Season’s Greetings card and that they were able to make time to explore the card, both on their own and with their friends and family. Now, here is another winter holiday gift from Gurumayi for all of you who wish to study and reflect further on the elements of the card. The gift is entitled

Study Guide: Exploring Gurumayi’s Season’s Greetings Card

In this Study Guide, Gurumayi elucidates each and every element of the Season’s Greetings Card, shedding light on their significance.

Have fun with your exploration as you begin a dynamic engagement with this Study Guide. Believe me, it will lead you to the discovery of countless hidden treasures!

Comments are open for all to share the treasures that were revealed to them (special credit to anyone who had an epiphany contemplating the meaning of suffixes!) Also, any who care to speculate on what the New Year's 'Sweet Surprise™' might be, I'm sure we're all ears, even if it does ruin the surprise.

Smiley Face (and a sincere wish for a truly wonderful 2013 to all)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Last to Know!

Sometimes life takes a hard left and all you can do is swerve along and try not to go into a tailspin. Such has been my last six months.

For all those who visited here, and particularly for those who I invited to post to RoD but weren't able (Lucid I'm looking at you!) my sincere apologies.

Just yesterday I learned that Gurumayi had resurfaced in SMA for her birthday this year, for a videotaped celebration that is still available for viewing on the SY website:

(I haven't read through all the comments to my last post in May, but I assume this has been brought up and discussed at length. For those who haven't seen the videos, or who want a new and very belated thread in which to discuss them, please join in. I will be checking here regularly once again, and your comments are still unmoderated.)

It is hard to say all I felt while watching the videos taken throughout the day of Gurumayi. Certainly, I do feel some real nostalgia for Shree Muktananda Ashram, which was such a huge part of my life for twenty years, and at which I experienced such peace—along with the recognition that those days belong to a past that cannot be resurrected. I thought I would experience the old familiar tug at finally seeing Gurumayi, but that is well and truly vanished. The disenchantment I sought is complete. But, objectively speaking, she doesn't look comfortable, let alone blissful, playing the part anymore either. In the video taken during the 7:30 meditation in the Temple, in fact, she looks downright unhappy to me.

A friend who still practices, still does regular seva, still gives monthly dakshina, still visits his local ashram, told me of the build up and hype around this event--the worldwide sangham was instructed to visit the website for a surprise the day after Gurumayi's birthday, with the promise that Gurumayi would once again be available to her devotees. When he watched the videos, what he said he experienced was great sadness, realizing that he would most likely never be in Gurumayi's physical presence again. It's hard to square this. Looking at the very small crowd of people at the celebration, how are devotees who sacrificed so much for so many years, and who have remained loyal these last 8 or 9 years, supposed to feel about not even knowing this happened until after the fact, and then being invited to watch from the sidelines? Based on the comments on the SY website, many experience the usual feelings of joy and devotion and bliss, and watch the videos time and again to get their fix of the physical guru.

The more cynical among us might see this and think: money-making ploy. Post-disenchantment, that is my take. If all it requires is a once-a-year recorded visit by Gurumayi to SMA to keep devotees everywhere plugged in and contributing--well, that is a far easier lift than mounting the big, expensive summers that used to take place there.

Two perspectives, two sides of the same coin that is now Siddha Yoga. Which face you see depends on whether you're still hanging on, or whether you've made your last pranham long ago and left the hall.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Disfunction Junction

Hello to all and in particular, Lucid. To say I've been having problems posting here would be a massive understatement. Work has been off the hook busy, and the new gmail account I set up to receive submissions to RoD responds to no password I can remember, and Blogger just instituted one of those periodic "upgrades" that changes all the behind-the-scenes stuff about how this website works, with no explanation on how to navigate. As a result, when I do find a half hour or so to try to get caught up and post the new stories that have come in, I just chase my tail in a circle and nothing gets accomplished.

It's enuff to make me think all that Reiki that G had her peeps doing to scuttle the New Yorker article didn't go away--it just revolved in that atmosphere looking for a target and finally landed here.

Please be patient and accept my sincere apologies! SeekHer

Monday, April 30, 2012


Note to readers:

This is the first installment of Lucid's experiences in Siddha Yoga.

My mother’s participation in Siddha Yoga preceded my own and began in the 1980s, while I was still in High School.  We lived in the southwest, at a safe geographical distance from things like Co-Evolution Quarterly articles, throne succession dramas and banished brothers – in fact, my mom and I remained unaware of all the above until nearly a decade after the fact, not until after we'd both been deeply invested in Siddha Yoga for many years.
During the early days of her participation, my mom left the door to Siddha Yoga propped open and always welcomed my questions, but to her credit never actively encouraged me to get involved. Back then I was still a teenager who often teased her about such things. When she’d play her rousing cassette recording of “Om Namo Bhagavte Muktanandaya” (which privately I thought had a pretty good beat) I’d quip,“Is this what they play during the Ashram aerobics class?” I figured as long as she could hang onto her sense of humor about Siddha Yoga, I didn’t need to worry. And she always took my teasing in stride.
By the late 1980s my mom and her local Siddha Yoga Center friends had become regulars at the annual summer retreats in South Fallsburg. She’d go for a week each July and come back with loads of unusual, sometimes astonishing stories. I knew scrubbing tiles on my hands and knees at 8am was not my idea of a vacation, but aside from that I didn’t have any frame of reference for most of what she talked about. I worried a bit when I heard her describe the daily ashram schedule, remark that “even though no one gets any sleep they still have plenty of energy,” and share the (torturous-sounding to me) details the course she took where she had to dress all in white and sit locked in a lotus for an entire day – but she always returned from her Fallsburg adventures refreshed, excited to get back to her life. And, although increasingly something didn’t sit right with me about Siddha Yoga itself, I could always take a step back and say that my mom hadn’t shaved her head and wasn’t dressing all in orange. She was still my mom. Still the most intelligent, loving and beautiful person I’d ever known. Despite my simmering concerns about what really went on at the mysterious far off place in the Catskills, it did seem that as a result of her participation in Siddha Yoga my mom’s life was getting better.
In June of 1989, I moved to San Francisco just as my mom was completing a sabbatical across the bridge in Berkeley. As it happened, Gurumayi was also Oakland, concluding an extended series of public programs. There I was, having finally arrived in the city that for years I’d dreamed of making my life in. Something about embarking on that big adventure at a time when the three of us – mom, Gurumayi and I – were all in the same place, made the timing seem meant to be. Just prior to moving I’d also had my first dream about Gurumayi. Over the years I’d heard from my mom’s devotee friends that Gurumayi often spoke to them this way. The sensations from that first, brief, REM-state encounter in which Gurumayi held my face in her hands, kissed my forehead and my jaw went numb, were still reverberating in my head. Maybe that dream meant something that would be revealed to me later.
The day after I arrived in San Francisco I told my mom I was finally ready – I wanted to go check Siddha Yoga out for myself. When I made the announcement she contained her excitement, perhaps not wanting to over-hype my expectations, but I could see in her eyes she was elated. “When the student is ready,” she affirmed, “The teacher appears.”
I attended two evening programs, met Gurumayi and believed I’d been changed forever.
In the weeks that followed, my feet barely touched the ground. I was flying on a high I’d never experienced before, a feeling I could only compare to the feeling I had the first time I fell in love. But the feeling was far more vast and deep than that. It was as if a curtain had been drawn back and I’d been welcomed into some private cosmic club, like I’d slipped into an alternate reality, one I could only conclude must be the secret, astonishing, actual reality of the Universe. I felt like I was experiencing life as it really was meant to be experienced – rich with endless, intoxicating wonder and profound meaning.  As I walked down the street, I often saw Gurumayi’s gaze beaming out at me from the eyes of the people I passed. I felt recognized by total strangers. I felt seen, accepted, even loved. There was something different about me people noticed and were drawn to, and something different I saw in them too. It was as if somehow, deep down inside, we all knew each other. I felt like I was living in a state of heightened awareness that had always been there just waiting for me to discover it. Somehow, through all the years leading up to that one I'd missed it but now, for lack of a better expression, I felt like I was in on the joke. And the joke was that up to that point my experience of my life had been largely a delusion.
Some fairly uncanny “coincidences” occurred in the months that followed those first two encounters with Gurumayi. I had no context for any of it. Part of me could not wrap my mind around the belief that what was happening was the result of "Guru's grace.” That seemed too outrageous. But another part of me eventually concluded it was the only possible explanation. The feeling was a mixture of awe, humility and fear – fear of a force so powerful it could completely transform my entire experience and understanding of myself and my life.
After Gurumayi left town I didn't go back to the Ashram. I didn't take up what anyone would have called a formal “practice”. I placed a small puja in the corner of my room, just a small dish of sand from the desert, a few shells and a picture of Gurumayi beside a box of Blue Pearl incense and a small stack of my mom’s Darshan Magazines that I thumbed for pictures but never read. I played a tape of the mantra each night, a solo recording of Gurumayi singing the mantra  – “I don’t how you can possibly fall asleep to that!” my roommate Melissa groaned – and that was about it. I didn’t feel drawn to pursue things further. I had been walking around mesmerized in the months that followed meeting Gurumayi and those first few doses of Shakti felt like more than enough. Perhaps, just as my mom had done in her early years as a devotee, I was keeping myself at a safe distance.
Then, four years later in the fall of 1992, gutted from a devastating romantic betrayal, still reeling from a brutal break-up and feeling dead inside, I had my second dream about Gurumayi. This one was for more elaborate, drenched in potent imagery, mystical symbolism, and specific initiation instructions – none of which I understood. The timing of the dream and its precise, vivid details seized my attention, but I had no idea what any of it meant. I began a quest to find out.
A few months later I learned Gurumayi was returning to Oakland for her first public appearance in the bay area since I’d last seen her in 1989. The announcement felt like yet another sign – personal, significant. I was in a state of emotional and psychological ruin when I heard the news. Learning she was coming back, just when I needed her most, felt like a miracle.
I heard a full month of evening programs were planned. Maybe if I was lucky I could switch a few shifts at work and make it over to Oakland in time attend one or two. Then, shortly before Gurumayi's arrival, I was laid off. My schedule became completely free. I could plan on attending every talk she gave. It was meant to be.
Upon her arrival I attended the Sunday “Welcome Gurumayi” program and over the next three weeks attended all nine of her evening programs, back-to-back each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night, with darshan often running until past 11 p.m. (Those were the days!). No experience prior to or since quite compares. During those three weeks I was submerged deep in an inner ocean and believed I'd discovered a multitude of treasures. In retrospect, the experience was so potent it’s a miracle I wasn’t spit from the earth like a watermelon seed!
As Gurumayi’s ‘93 visit concluded and I stood mere steps from the precipice of tumbling headlong into the life of a card-carrying, full blown devotee, the “Have-you-heard-about-her-brother?” and Co-Evolution Quarterly bombs dropped. That’s a chapter I haven’t written yet. But suffice to say that in retrospect it tells me so much that both those bombs exploded right in my face and my response was to charge straight ahead and become more deeply involved.
In 2007, when “The Guru Looked Good” was still up as a blog, Marta shared that one of her goals was to write about her Siddha Yoga experience “without all the fairy dust.” Well folks, as a disclaimer may I suggest that before reading my story you strap on your protective glitter goggles? My “Tell All” does contain its fair share of sparkle, but that’s because so do my earliest memories of Gurumayi. To this day I still haven’t fully figured out that “Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo!” factor. But sending myself back, then taking a stab at writing my way through did help.
This morning, in a moment of warped amusement, I had an idea to draft a “spoiler alert” in preface to this first and only chapter of my Siddha Yoga story. Then I realized there’s no point. RoD readers already know it has a happy ending. Still, the irony is not lost on me: being here at the finale of my exit process, just now posting the overture . . .
Thank you once again to Marta for inspiring me to write about the adventure; thank you to SeekHer for providing a safe harbor for the travelogue. And thank you to all who have tuned in and contributed, here and elsewhere, for all these years. Somehow, down this long and winding road, we’ve come to know each other – in ways that have made a big difference to me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tall Tales and Tell Alls

I've been reading a lot lately from people who woke up to the falsity of their spiritual path after a lifetime of unquestioning belief. It started when I began looking more deeply into Mormonism in order to better understand America's presumptive Republican nominee. After trying to read the Book of Mormon and quickly realizing that the title was misspelled (one too many m's) I opted for the straight dope offered at There, I found post after post after post written by Mormons who stumbled onto internet accounts detailing secrets that their church leaders had zealously withheld. Secrets which, once revealed, cratered and then crumbled their faith. Tellingly, the arc of their stories dovetailed nearly exactly with my own, and with many of those shared here at RoD—the initial fear of betraying deeply held spiritual convictions, followed by discovery of the truth and searing self-examination, inevitably leading to the courage to leave falsehood behind, no matter the personal or psychic cost.

A similar mass apostasy is befalling Scientology, the leaders of which have found their house of cards listing perilously in the winds of the world wide web. It seems both Xenu and Joseph Smith's harem of thirty-four wives are just a Google search away from disenchanting the most devoted of disciples.

The last example came this past weekend on a visit to my sister, when she passed along a book that friends in her reading circle recommended, "An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service and an Authentic Life," by Mary Johnson. Before committing to its 500+ pages I skipped to the epilogue, where I found what I suspected; the book's purplish title belied its contents—a bare-knuckled account of twenty fraughtful years spent with a 'living saint', written by an ex-nun who had seen it all and survived to tell the tale. I considered borrowing the book for the train ride home, but then remembered I had something better on my Kindle: Marta Szabo's excellent account of her years with our own Nearly Departed One.

Many here will remember that Marta's book, "The Guru Looked Good," began as a series of posts on her blog of the same name. Back then, I eagerly read each new chapter as soon as it was posted online. I had known Marta from the Manhattan ashram and later, South Fallsburg; we were friendly if not exactly friends in that ashram way, and I felt I could vouch for both her good heart and scrupulous integrity. But even if I hadn't known her personally, I knew that this simple, unadorned account of her years devoted to Gurumayi would have struck a deep chord in me. Her tale was our tale.

It was the ashram-instigated smear campaign against her that, more than anything, shocked me into the crisis of faith that precipitated my starting Rituals of Disenchantment.

When her book came out I bought copies, distributed some to friends, and dipped in to reread some of the chapters I had loved online. But for some reason I never read it again all the way through. Now I wanted to, and once I started I found I couldn't put it down. I anxiously turned the pages whenever Madri (Marta) was given an impossible seva to accomplish, and squirmed through ordeals when she was called before Gurumayi to face the music for some ridiculous infraction of the rules or imagined mistake in protocol. But there are achingly beautiful accounts here, too, that capture the fatal allure that held us all captive for so long. The small chapter on her seva spent devoutly washing and dressing the murti of Bade Baba, moving as silently as a shadow among the muted blue lights of his numinous nighttime shrine, is a miracle of evocation.

There is much here, too, that I don't remember reading online; juicy tidbits of hidden ashram life as well as wonderfully moving anecdotes that parallel tracked her rise in the ranks of Gurumayi's inner circles, and the growth in self-esteem that eventually led her to leave it all behind.

But it's the quality of Marta's writing that captivated me most. Her prose is limpid, spare and illuminating. Reading it I thought—maybe when we die our life doesn't flash before us, maybe instead we'll be called upon to tell our story ourselves, once for all time. If so, this is the voice I would hope to speak in; clear-eyed, unstinting, invoking neither self-justification nor blame.

I still don't feel I'm doing "The Guru Looked Good" justice; if you haven't read it I hope you will.

Some of you have begun posting your own stories in the comments section. I've found them all equally moving. I hope anyone who wants to share their stories will use this forum to do so. Just tell it like it was, and is, for you. All are welcome.

The Last Downward Dog (for now)

Well, well, as I wrote in the comments thread to the previous post, there's nothing like a good old-fashioned sex scandal to bring all of us Disenchanted folk together for a reunion. If you're jonesing for more on the John Friend/Anusara Yoga implosion, check out the links over there that helpful (and totally well-meaning!) gossips have posted--pssst, don't miss the link to the Daily Beast article on Friend's naughty, all-female Wiccan sex coven. As Friend's complications continue to unfold I'll monitor the sitch to see if any merit a new post. In the meantime, here's a brand new shiny comments thread for Anusara watchers to play in.

Tucked in among the comments to the last post were a number that shared stories of SY ashram days long past, or recently fled. More to the RoD point, I think—especially as these contain info on the recent whereabouts of our Nearly Departed One. The next post will take up that thread.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Yoga Dork's excellent run-down on the accusations against John Friend, as well as links to a timeline of the scandal, can be found here. I'm posting this separately from the Elephant Friend interview (below) as I think the issues of what went down and how he is now handling the fall out in the press merit separate threads for discussion.

 Have at it yogis, yoginis and foregoinis!

John Friend Invents New Asana (open mouth, insert both feet)

Posting the content of the "Elephant" website interview with Friend below. It can be found here, although you must be a member to read any further than the first page, or to access the page more than once.

From where I sit it looks as if Friend has had the benefit of a good deal of "media training" (read PR coaching) as he certainly seems to be master of the lawerly apology-that-admits-nothing-concrete. What do you all think?

5 Questions for Anusara Yoga’s John Friend regarding “jfexposed” anonymous accusations.

You and I go back for a few years. I like and respect you, as many of us do. That said, there’s obviously a situation here that’s serious, in that it affects people and, since that jfexposed exposé web site and then Yogadork’s blog has had much of the yoga world talking.

I hope you regard the below as tough questions that give you an opportunity to respond as fully as you are able. I acknowledge that there are legal issues that may prevent full answers in some cases, but here are the questions.

So I’d like to ask you five succinct questions.

These questions are important beyond the specific circumstances of what that web site alleged, in that this entire situation, it is my hope, can best serve the international yoga community as an example of honesty, transparency, learning from difficult “teaching moments,” and how we as a community can rise above gossip and rumor, and communicate to one another ethically and with sourced facts. This is why, until now, the only thing elephant has reported on is why we’re not reporting on this situation–until we have non-anonymous/agenda-driven public sources. This is what the NY Times’ Public Editor does, for example.

Reporting gossip and anonymous accusations that hurt real human beings isn’t what we do. This is how we do it: we aspire to deal with difficult situations with patience, guts, transparency, fairness and compassion. We as a community don’t chase gossip. This isn’t fun for anyone, but it can be an opportunity to show the wider world how we deal with crisis and scandal by example.

One final pre-ramble: elephant is not afraid of controversy, and we do not hold ourselves above any other media out there. We simply are aspiring to do responsible journalism—a craft and tradition I respect and aspire to practice. But in situations like this it’s important.

You understand I have to ask tough questions, and in so doing will do you and everyone concerned, on all sides, some small favor by giving this situation some air and light. If I’m accused of being a sycophant here, no one will respect a word you offer.

1. The situation is this: many of your senior teachers—Darren Rhodes, Christina Sell, Elena Brower, Amy Ippoliti, Laura Christensen, have resigned from Anusara over the past few months. We talked about that, you and I, here. Then, on Friday morning, this jfexposed web site, an anonymous web site alleging all sorts of things that we’ll get into here, appeared online. It was quickly passed around the yoga community. When I received it, I was depressed by the material in it, particularly the explicit photos, and asked my friends to stop passing it around. Clearly this was something serious that should be treated as more than gossip or entertainment.

The web site, which was hosted internationally so it was legally difficult to get taken down, alleged various things:
a) that you’d had various relationships, affairs with married women who in some cases have children.
b) That you had run some sort of corrupt pension scheme, which we detail in some legal context here.
c) that you smoked pot and had it shipped around
d) It showed graphic photos (with no face, so seemingly not adding anything to Mr. or Ms. Anonymous’ accusations, and skype screenshots of your conversations).

When I saw this I couldn’t help but think of these women’s families.

So the first question is, why should anyone care about this interview, when the last time I interviewed you about those teachers leaving, you were not fully honest about why they were leaving?


John Friend: First of all, thank you, Waylon, for giving me an opportunity to present my truth in the face of these accusations.

This has been such a painful time for me as I self-reflect on how my personal decisions within my private life have become a source of deep anguish for my friends and community.

I am so deeply sorry for any harm that my actions have caused anyone.

I appreciate the opportunity to clear the record today since not all of the accusations were true, and yet they were posted on the internet six days ago without any verification. These are complicated issues about private matters involving many innocent people, and I will be as open and transparent as I can be. So, again, thank you Waylon for being the first person in the media to ask me about the truth in this matter. Thank you for being patient and waiting for the facts, the truth.

So, to answer your first question, every teacher has their own unique reason for moving on. When you asked me why the teachers left Anusara Yoga in the last few months, I shared with you the official reasons each teacher shared with me. Unequivocally, I can say that none of these teachers told me they were leaving because of these accusations or a problem with my ethical behavior. Every teacher has their own path, and I honor that wholly. I am grateful for the teachers who are standing behind the teachings of Anusara Yoga during this tender moment in time.


WTF? I’m not personally concerned with your relationships, or the relationships of the women who were outed on this web site. That’s not my business, or the business of my readers. I’m not very concerned with the wicca/witch/coven/tantra stuff, I personally find religion generally to be full of wonderful and rich myth and tradition. The Bible, for example, has all kinds of fantastic stories and rites or rituals in it.

But what is our business is ethics, and as a spiritual teacher and leader you are of course held to a higher standard. That said, we’re all adults here and the relationships were consensual, I understand. No one should be put on a pedestal as “perfect” only to be torn down. I don’t worship you, or anyone, and we all need to take responsibility for our own actions. That said, there is a power differential in any kind of intimate relationship between a student and a certified teacher. And while you’re not a medical professional, you have described yourself as a guru.

We all make mistakes. That said, how do you explain your actions, when obviously they have resulted in confusion, pain, and broken families?


John Friend: Waylon, first off, I do not use the term “Guru” to describe myself, and work hard to stay away from being so designated. Above all, I am a student of life and yoga, and then a teacher, and the founder of Anusara Yoga.

Secondly, it’s true. Over the course of my private life I have had consenting sexual relationships with women, some of whom have been my students and also my employees, some of which included married women.

It’s not fair for me to explain the intimate details of each relationship in a public forum, nor do I want to further violate the privacy of others as has been the case by this malicious attack. The most important thing to say here is I made some mistakes, yet my intent was never to do harm.

But as the details are spread across the internet, I see clearly where I can rise up as a man, and walk differently in my relationships with women.


Why is whomever is behind jfexposed accused you of all of this? Various web sites have been approached by him/her for some time now, s/he’s been trying to get her/his version of the story out there. Why is s/he seeking some sort of revenge? Are you suing her/him? What’s the overall situation?

John Friend: I do not know the motivations behind the viciousness of the attacks. It is clear to me that he has chosen to attack in a malicious, indiscriminate, and likely illegal way, which has been so hurtful and damaging to so many innocent people.

It should be noted that neither Anusara nor I have ever been in a lawsuit.

Lastly, I am practicing compassion for this guy, although very difficult, and yet I have no hate. I only pray for peace and healing for all.


Pension? Below our readers will see a legal document exonerating Anusara of accusations of impropriety. But what’s the story with that, from your pov?


John Friend: As you can see from the following documents and public statements, here is the entire story regarding the pension.

> Pension Documents here.


Going forward, on a personal level, how are you going to wake up and grow as a human being? Has this situation helped?

On a professional level—if it’s possible to separate the two as perhaps the world’s most famous and successful yoga teacher—do you have a career left? Will you be teaching? What’s going to happen with your community? Are more senior teachers going to leave? Will you be leading teacher trainings over the next 12 months?

On a greater community level, how can we all use this as a learning experience for how to rise above gossip and yet still be painfully, bravely transparent both as individuals, as a community, and in elephant’s case, as media?


John Friend: This is quite the one question!

…Study and practice is my life, and teaching is my dharma, which brings me the greatest joy.

I am awake to choices I have made that have opened the door for others to question who I am, and I know this is ultimately a gift. I am committed to being transparent and open, which I have not always been. To this end, I am fully evolving as a man, teacher and friend in the community and on this planet.

For the community, my deepest hope is this brings us closer together, in a more intimate and honest conversation around life. Some students and teachers will inevitably decide to move on, others will become more involved and take an expanded leadership role within the Anusara organization.

So, I envision the future of Anusara as including greater cooperation from all of our community.

We must all remember that any mis-steps by me do not invalidate any of the greatness of the Anusara yoga method.

I bravely step into the person I am today, and I am becoming in every moment. At once this is both deeply humbling and also a gift.


My best wishes and compassion to all involved. Thanks, John, for sitting down for these difficult questions.

I understand this situation is fully within a legal context and expect that you will be somewhat limited in your ability to answer. [editor's note: John and his friends did not ask me to get rid of any questions or say they couldn't answer anything above]. That’s not my concern. My job is to ask the questions thoroughly and fairly. I hope I’ve done that, and offer this interview in service to enlightened society.

I don’t personally find that exposed site fair, kind or helpful to you, the other persons concerned, or even the accuser. I think any of us could be exposed in such a way, with 80% being true and 20% agenda-driven anonymous stuff poisoning the lot. However, I do hope that site and yogadork’s report, and now this interview, plus your statement and document re: pension exoneration can ultimately be helpful.

We all need to learn to be more transparent and, as students, less caught up in rockstar syndrome. We can all embrace empowered non-theism as we Buddhists call it, and be kinder to one another as a community.

Deep breath! And deep bow to all concerned.

Yours in service as the ultimate smile,


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Friend With Benefits

As some of you may know, John Friend, founder of Anusara yoga and once a regular hatha yoga fixture at Shree Muktananda ashram, stepped down this past week due to sexual impropriety with students. I'm reproducing the New York Times article in this post below, as it details Baba Muktananda's sexual scandals as evidence of the prevalence of this kind of abuse by gurus and yogic teachers. Friend is not the first Siddha Yoga affiliated figure to follow Baba's lead, of course, we first had to suffer through the extremely oily dealings of George Afif, and subsequently, Ram Butler.

I'll keep posting news of the Friend scandal as it unfolds.


Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here

The wholesome image of yoga took a hit in the past few weeks as a rising star of the discipline came tumbling back to earth. After accusations of sexual impropriety with female students, John Friend, the founder of Anusara, one of the world’s fastest-growing styles, told followers that he was stepping down for an indefinite period of “self-reflection, therapy and personal retreat.”
Mr. Friend preached a gospel of gentle poses mixed with openness aimed at fostering love and happiness. But Elena Brower, a former confidante, has said that insiders knew of his “penchant for women” and his love of “partying and fun.” 

Few had any idea about his sexual indiscretions, she added. The apparent hypocrisy has upset many followers. 

“Those folks are devastated,” Ms. Brower wrote in The Huffington Post. “They’re understandably disappointed to hear that he cheated on his girlfriends repeatedly” and “lied to so many.”
But this is hardly the first time that yoga’s enlightened facade has been cracked by sexual scandal. Why does yoga produce so many philanderers? And why do the resulting uproars leave so many people shocked and distraught? 

One factor is ignorance. Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise.
Hatha yoga — the parent of the styles now practiced around the globe — began as a branch of Tantra. In medieval India, Tantra devotees sought to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness. 

The rites of Tantric cults, while often steeped in symbolism, could also include group and individual sex. One text advised devotees to revere the female sex organ and enjoy vigorous intercourse. Candidates for worship included actresses and prostitutes, as well as the sisters of practitioners.
Hatha originated as a way to speed the Tantric agenda. It used poses, deep breathing and stimulating acts — including intercourse — to hasten rapturous bliss. In time, Tantra and Hatha developed bad reputations. The main charge was that practitioners indulged in sexual debauchery under the pretext of spirituality. 

Early in the 20th century, the founders of modern yoga worked hard to remove the Tantric stain. They devised a sanitized discipline that played down the old eroticism for a new emphasis on health and fitness. 

B. K. S. Iyengar, the author of “Light on Yoga,” published in 1965, exemplified the change. His book made no mention of Hatha’s Tantric roots and praised the discipline as a panacea that could cure nearly 100 ailments and diseases. And so modern practitioners have embraced a whitewashed simulacrum of Hatha. 

But over the decades, many have discovered from personal experience that the practice can fan the sexual flames. Pelvic regions can feel more sensitive and orgasms more intense.
Science has begun to clarify the inner mechanisms. In Russia and India, scientists have measured sharp rises in testosterone — a main hormone of sexual arousal in both men and women. Czech scientists working with electroencephalographs have shown how poses can result in bursts of brainwaves indistinguishable from those of lovers. More recently, scientists at the University of British Columbia have documented how fast breathing — done in many yoga classes — can increase blood flow through the genitals. The effect was found to be strong enough to promote sexual arousal not only in healthy individuals but among those with diminished libidos.
In India, recent clinical studies have shown that men and women who take up yoga report wide improvements in their sex lives, including enhanced feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as well as emotional closeness with partners. 

At Rutgers University, scientists are investigating how yoga and related practices can foster autoerotic bliss. It turns out that some individuals can think themselves into states of sexual ecstasy — a phenomenon known clinically as spontaneous orgasm and popularly as “thinking off.”
The Rutgers scientists use brain scanners to measure the levels of excitement in women and compare their responses with readings from manual stimulation of the genitals. The results demonstrate that both practices light up the brain in characteristic ways and produce significant rises in blood pressure, heart rate and tolerance for pain — what turns out to be a signature of orgasm.
Since the baby boomers discovered yoga, the arousal, sweating, heavy breathing and states of undress that characterize yoga classes have led to predictable results. In 1995, sex between students and teachers became so prevalent that the California Yoga Teachers Association deplored it as immoral and called for high standards. 

“We wrote the code,” Judith Lasater, the group’s president, told a reporter, “because there were so many violations going on.” 

If yoga can arouse everyday practitioners, it apparently has similar, if not greater, effects on gurus — often charming extroverts in excellent physical condition, some enthusiastic for veneration.
The misanthropes among them offer a bittersweet tribute to yoga’s revitalizing powers. A surprising number, it turns out, were in their 60s and 70s. 

Swami Muktananda (1908-82) was an Indian man of great charisma who favored dark glasses and gaudy robes. At the height of his fame, around 1980, he attracted many thousands of devotees — including movie stars and political celebrities — and succeeded in setting up a network of hundreds of ashrams and meditation centers around the globe. He kept his main shrines in California and New York.
In late 1981, when a senior aide charged that the venerated yogi was in fact a serial philanderer and sexual hypocrite who used threats of violence to hide his duplicity, Mr. Muktananda defended himself as a persecuted saint, and soon died of heart failure

Joan Bridges was one of his lovers. At the time, she was 26 and he was 73. Like many other devotees, Ms. Bridges had a difficult time finding fault with a man she regarded as a virtual god beyond law and morality. 

“I was both thrilled and confused,” she said of their first intimacy in a Web posting. “He told us to be celibate, so how could this be sexual? I had no answers.” 

To denounce the philanderers would be to admit years of empty study and devotion. So many women ended up blaming themselves. Sorting out the realities took years and sometimes decades of pain and reflection, counseling and psychotherapy. In time, the victims began to fight back. 

Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002) was a superstar of yoga who gave the invocation at Woodstock. In 1991, protesters waving placards (“Stop the Abuse,” “End the Cover Up”) marched outside a Virginia hotel where he was addressing a symposium. “How can you call yourself a spiritual instructor,” a former devotee shouted from the audience, “when you have molested me and other women?”
Another case involved Swami Rama (1925-96), a tall man with a strikingly handsome face. In 1994, one of his victims filed a lawsuit charging that he had initiated abuse at his Pennsylvania ashram when she was 19. In 1997, shortly after his death, a jury awarded the woman nearly $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages. 

So, too, former devotees at Kripalu, a Berkshires ashram, won more than $2.5 million after its longtime guru — a man who gave impassioned talks on the spiritual value of chastity — confessed to multiple affairs. 

The drama with Mr. Friend is still unfolding. So far, at least 50 Anusara teachers have resigned, and the fate of his enterprise remains unclear. In his letter to followers, he promised to make “a full public statement that will transparently address the entirety of this situation.”The angst of former Anusara teachers is palpable. “I can no longer support a teacher whose actions have caused irreparable damage to our beloved community,” Sarah Faircloth, a North Carolina instructor, wrote on her Web site.
But perhaps — if students and teachers knew more about what Hatha can do, and what it was designed to do — they would find themselves less prone to surprise and unyogalike distress.