Update: two more key interviews/letters: Douglas Brooks, longtime colleague of John Friend’s, & Amy Ippoliti, senior Anusara teacher who recently resigned.
Update: my interview with an Anusara Yoga teacher who resigned today: an inside view re the Anusara teacher resignations and a conversation re: how to avoid repeating history. ~ ed,
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.
FIFTH AND FINAL QUESTION
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,