Finally—Major Media covers John Friend scandal (and every other yoga scandal). By same author as Yoga will Wreck your Body!

Via Waylon Lewis
on Feb 27, 2012
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NY Times breaks John Friend scandal—a month late. By same author as Yoga will Wreck your Body.

For reference: two key interviews/letters: Douglas Brooks, longtime colleague of John Friend’s, & Amy Ippoliti, senior Anusara teacher who recently resigned.

We’ve covered it for a month, since getting some facts, multiple firsthand interviews and sources to come forward. So has Yogadork, who took the first tip-off that we, and Recovering Yogi, had skipped.

Now…finally…at last…some non-blogging real media has tuned in—and the yoga world can count itself lucky (not) to have the coverage come from the Times writer behind the Yoga will Wreck your Body article. Even better, this article quotes neither Dork nor Elephant nor my Walk the Talk Show interviews with John Friend or three of his colleagues, but a single recent article by Elena Brower in the Huff Post, and reads like a casual mishmash of yoga scandals put together while he was doing something else.

As a former journalist, now blogger, I’m a NY Times fan of fans, and am disappointed not to see some real and original research and facts, here—but, since it all is a month late anyways, there’s very little news left to report, perhaps.

Click either image for the story.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


49 Responses to “Finally—Major Media covers John Friend scandal (and every other yoga scandal). By same author as Yoga will Wreck your Body!”

  1. elephantjournal says:

    Arianne Stiles ugh. stay classy, NYT!

    Jennifer Street Thomas I have to say that, while all of this is so disturbing and shocking to followers of Anusara, John Friend is a human being. We shouldn't place all of our faith, nor the validity and beauty of an entire discipline, in a single person. I for one will continue to honor the Anusara style and all it has given me.

    Michele Mathiesen Yoga I don't know who has more of an axe to grind, the NYT or William Brand…..disgusted by all as well as John Friend who turned the work I love into a cocktail party joke now. Unintended as it was, consequences it has.

  2. brad says:

    Mr. Broad should probably read… and maybe… before writing such disappointing articles on subject matter he has very little understanding on. So the New York Times is just another National Inquire.

  3. I have to confess I found the article entertaining.

    But factually it's exactly like taking a single strand of a complex tapestry and presenting it as the whole tapestry.

    It's not clear to me whether Broad does this out of intellectual ignorance or ratings-driven dishonesty. Either way, as history, it borders on the silly. But hey, silly can be entertaining, right?

    For the rest of the tapestry (and the sexual strand, too) read Georg Feuerstein's 550 page summary overview The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice.

    Bob W. Associate Publisher & Head Coach
    elephant journal
    facebook, twitter, linkedIn
    Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

  4. kathik says:

    letters to the editor… WRITE

  5. elephantjournal says:

    I wouldn't go that far on the last line…one can't hold an entire publication responsible for one writer, and Mr. Broad is by no means on the level of the Enquirer, besides. But I get your gist. Just don't think hyperbole helps our case…when we're arguing for fair and precise reporting. ~ Waylon.

  6. benjywertheimer says:

    On one level I could agree that I found it entertaining as well … but, aside from offering a passing reference the obvious (and most recent) target in light of the recent Anusara scandal, it really fosters the link (already all too prevalent in the American mind) of tantra ONLY being about sex … thanks, Bob, for providing the link to Feuerstein's work for a more substantive resource.

  7. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    Look, there is A LOT of truth in what Broad is saying – more than American yoga enthusiasts really want to admit.

    He's zeroing in on the issue of the Tantra, and he's mainly talking about what happens to yoga — and Hatha specifically — in a materialistic, and sex-obsessed culture.

    There are non-Hatha, non-Tantric yoga traditions – Vedanta anyone? – and they are more strictly focused on meditation and spiritual goals.

    Many people claim that Tantric yoga – which Anusara proudly proclaims to derive from – is rooted in the Vedas and Patanjali's Yoga sutras. Well, not really. Tantra appears to have arrived in medieval times, and there has remained a serious tension and conflict between these approaches – and their goals.

    Many people in the US haven't read their history, either? They assume that what they know of yoga here, based largely on this received Hatha tradition, is THE yoga. They also don't realize how all this got started, even in India.

    Kudos to Broad, I say, for recognizing that wherever yoga goes, especially in the West, sex scandal naturally follows. If it's not sex, it's an obsession with glamor, fashion, and beauty – and the commercial exploitation of the erotic.

    Do you really think Kathryn Budig, for example, is an avatar of spiritual enlightenment?

    Now, all that said, it's possible to conceive of a Vedanta/Tantra synthesis, but only if the Hatha aspect is really placed on a deeper spiritual foundation – first. And that takes years, and requires enormous discipline, and usually, very strong spiritual guidance.

    It's not what's happening in the US of A.

    These are real issues here, guys. Every time someone tries to shed some critical light on yoga, every movement practitioner goes into defensive denial mode. Why not look at things more objectively?

    Broad isn't telling the whole story – it's a complex story – but since when has the yoga movement told the whole story.? In fact, since when has the yoga movement even KNOWN it's own story?

    You can ignore Broad, or write a letter to the editor. Go ahead, but before you do, why not embark on some critical inquiry of your own? Yoga's not just about looking and feeling good, and there's really no Fast Track to Nirvana at $20 a pop at your local studio.

    We might actually be getting somewhere.

  8. brad says:

    Thank you Waylon,

    You are correct. I don't normally react so fast. I like to think I am better than that. So I totally take back the "So the New York Times is just another National Inquire."

    Thanks again. ~ brad

  9. Benjy, how are you doing with all this.

    Your music has inspired me for years.

  10. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    I thought it was the Divine Spandex of the Universe

    Only guy in the class? Wow, talk about living in a world of psychic imbalance!
    Yikes. Broga anyone?

  11. elephantjournal says:

    Amen brother, thanks, no worries—we all react, we're human! I do!

  12. elephantjournal says:

    Broga! Good to see you on there, Stewart! Great comments.

  13. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    Wow, everyone is out to get yoga Jennifer! This poor defenseless $6 billion industry that successfully lobbied state governments to prevent any public oversight whatsoever — all in the name of free market capitalism and religious freedom,. of course. (The usual Tea party virtues).

    The $6 billion industry – and growing – that's made more than a few people at the top quite rich, actually, and given quite a few others a lifelong professional facelift

    People should stop worrying about yoga consumers, and dammit, should stop asking so many questions, unless we approve them first. Don't they realize that our "kula" has their back.

    Corporations are people too. Meanies!

  14. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    I have to say, being a sometime Catholic, all these knee-jerk reactions sounds just like the way the nuns I know – bless their hearts, they haevn;t discovered yoga yet – always react to charges of priest abuse.

    "They're out to get us."

    It seems to me that if you're confident and comfortable about who you are, and what you're doing, you react less defensively?

    I mean Sarah Palin also sees "conspiracies" everywhere.

    i support a yoga that's strong and humble enough to withstand scrutiny — collective internal as well as external scrutiny.

    If not, why bother pretending?? Thus endeth the sermon. I'm sure something good will come of this?

    People in yoga are so busy evangelizing ablout their superior truth, that they forget that life is actually a dialog. You're supposed to take questions, and wrestle with them.

    Welcome to the Democracy of the Spirit. if yoga wants to get beyond the 15 million, expect to grow.


  15. benjywertheimer says:

    Thanks for asking, Harlan! It has been a rough ride, though I still hold out hope for a couple of future possibilities.

    First, I'd hope that there might someday be a forum where the allegations against John Friend (they aren't limited to sexual transgressions, by the way, though the NY Times article suggests this) can publicly be put forward succinctly, clearly and in as unbiased a way as possible (like, say, on Elephant maybe?!?) and that John would be given the opportunity to fully and honestly respond to each and every one of them. Given the legal ramifications and other considerations, however, I know this may be overly optimistic or even naive.

    Second, it is always my hope that people in the larger yoga community – whether they were part of Anusara Yoga or not – can deal with each other with respect and compassion, even when they disagree with one another (and I'm quite certain they will). When what could be constructive dialog descends into invective, labeling and vitriolic venting, it makes it very unlikely that the listeners (who may very well need to hear a point of view that is at odds with their own) will be open to receiving the message.

    I also want to thank you so much for your kind words about my music, Harlan … it means a great deal to me to hear this!

  16. tanya lee markul says:

    Well done on all the fast and respectful reporting, Waylon! It's always, always easy to focus on the negative – for all of us. Misery loves friends and for most of us it's our best friend. It's also easy to clump everything together, make broad assumptions, so that we don't have to do the work to see or understand the truth or what is real. xoxo

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  17. Brilliant answer.

    One thing I've learned is that the intelligence of the community is usually greater than any one individual.

    I hope the Anusara Kula keeps this in mind.

    Personally, I'd nominate Douglas Brooks to be the big boss.

    His teachings are so inspiring.

    Hope to see you live again soon.

  18. Guest says:

    Nominate the guru within.

  19. earth bunny says:

    Here is another way of looking at this whole mess… by looking within…. much love all…heart…earth bunny brian sun

  20. AnOldTimer says:

    I agree with a lot of what you've said, Stewart J. Lawrence (pretty much most of it actually), but you cannot deny that Broad is a sensationalist. He's got books to sell, after all. He's not doing this for charity. Admit it — he likes to rile people up.

    He writes that "the discipline began as a sex cult" and then only a few sentences later says, "The rites of Tantric cults, while often steeped in symbolism, could also include group and individual sex." Could. Not 'always does include', which is what his first statment so salaciously implies (well, not implies, 'says') — that all of yoga began as a sex cult. He does this logical sleight of hand throughout his book too (which I've just finished and in a great many instances liked), making a broad controversial statement and then backtracking a few sentences later to qualify and then hit closer to the truth. But it's the big statement and the salacious impression that sticks with the reader.

    I too think that American yoga needs a good hard look at itself and that Tantra as it is being consumed in the West is so very often off-base.

    But you cannot criticise people for getting their backs up about Broad, when he plays games like that in his book and articles. It boarders on intellectual dishonestly at times and that's not good. It's as if he wants to set himself up as an 'Anne Coulter' to the yoga world — well, if so, he and his supporters cannot then cry foul and say people who object to his sensationalizing of the truth are all hypersensitive and need to stop moaning.

  21. timful says:

    I heard once about some popular musicians who were taking advantage of fans for their own gratification. I still like music a lot. Power is attractive. Attraction is one of the joys in life. It often comes with a dose of pain. If a yoga mat now feels a little less like a badge of moral superiority, that is probably okay. If less than perfect beings are nevertheless able to inspire and move people to make positive change in their life I admire that and try to grasp its essence with my own imperfect grasp.

  22. elephantjournal says:

    Livia Shapiro this article on the nyt is trash

    Peter L. Sutphen I just found this in the NY Times. What a horrible, misinformed article.

    Bubba Seethos Take a look at the response in EJ from Ramesh Bjonnes. It is extremely informed by history(as opposed to imagination) and intelligently written.

    Rob Heyduck Yes, poor article NYT. bubba seethos, can't find Ramesh's response, can u link?


  23. jonathan says:

    The more I read about the "mainstream Yoga community", the more I just want to develop my home practice and avoid all of it. Isn't that kind of the point anyway?

  24. Locayoga says:

    William Broad might have a personal vendetta against yoga, but the general public, esp. the ones who are newbies to yoga, need to know what can go down when joining a studio that might have a sexual predator teaching who calls himself a guru.

    I worked as a yoga teacher with a studio owner who would go up to students while in Tadasana, press his entire body against theirs, full frontal, and kiss them passionately on the forehead (he did this to me while I took his class). People need to know that this behavior is not the norm and that yoga "masters" like this need to be called out.

  25. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    Thank God someone who is not a complete yoga ideologue living inside his or her own yoga bubble is writing here. I have been around the yoga world for a good 13 years, and this kind of stuff comes up ALL THE TIME.

    Sometimes the women encourage it,. frankly, and so do many teachers, male AND female. It's horrible to see yogis with issues try to use their personas and "mojo" to dominate or "intrigue" with their students.

    I have seen it, and I don't even do studio yoga that often. We had to protect one girl, because she was just being overwhelmed, and he was an elder and she was very confused by what he was doing, which was as much a problem psychologically for her — as it was literally sexually.

    It could be that people who frequent EJ and other yoga sites are really living in the most enlightened corner of yoga. I doubt it, but if so, they should get out more. The dominant attitude seems to be, "Oh, that could NEVER happen here."

    I am strongly considering setting up a new organization, YOGA WATCH. To have a safe place where abuses of various kinds might be reported and discussed. If nothing else, its existence might be a deterrent of sorts.

    That is, if the reigning Yoga Mullahs don't mind? I realize that accountability is still a four-letter word for some.

  26. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    I'm not sure it's Broad, or pressure from his editors to market his "goods" for the paper in a certain way. Sometimes papers tell you, hey, what's really new in this, and you feel pressured to create an edge. Not sure what's happening in this case. He certainly could have brought out some of these issues in a different, more nuanced way, and asked more interesting questions about the nature of the problem, which exists, and I think we all need to acknowledge it, regardless of where we think it comes from.

    I favor viewing it more as a clash between Tanta and sacred Indian yogic traditions – which are not inherently good or bad — and which originate in a completely different social context and cosmos anyway — and then what happens when they become blended with Western values, culture and socialization.

    It can be beautiful — and it can dangerous and toxic. Knowing why, and what to do about it is the challenge. What Broad's latest piece does is say, look there's a deeply rooted pattern here, and always has been. Laying that at the foot of the Tantra alone? It's a stretch – but drawing attention to a recurring problem – perhaps caused through a different, more historical process – well, not a stretch at all.

  27. John says:

    Lying POS. Another one who doesn't practice what he preaches.

  28. Ramesh says:

    You may read my off Broadway Broadside criticism of the New York Times article about John Friend and mostly Tantra and others here:

  29. WhatTheFahootie? says:

    Okay, and why the heck did you put up with it? Students? More than one? More than once? I mean where are these classes happening, because in all the classes I've been in around the globe, I have never seen a teacher just walk up to a student and molest them right there in front of the whole class. And no one says or does anything? Really? Because in most people's understanding of these things, the naughty or illegal behavior happens behind the scenes. But if a teacher walks right up to students in class and starts passionately kissing, why in the heck is anyone still going back to the class?

  30. Lor says:

    Please send this insightful piece ro the editor of NYT. I've shared it with several yoga groups I belonged to, and the general reaction was a sigh of relief that there is a voice of sanity speaking:- someone who knows what he's talking about and can actually cite references.- the real science of yoga.

  31. Lor says:

    sorry should read belong to

  32. Locayoga says:

    I quit; I did not feel his kiss on the forehead and the long embrace was a gesture of compassion, which would have been his claim. Numerous complaints were eventually filed against him, also stating that his "adjustments" were invasive and the owner's West LA studio was shut down. Sexual harassment does occur in the workplace and yoga is not exempt from "leaders" abusing their power. Awesome that you have never been exposed to it in the yoga world, but believing that it doesn't happen is a pretty sad statement to make.

  33. Locayoga says:

    Tadasana is a standing pose, I wasn't talking about Savasana; he would say that he was giving an adjustment while the students were in an active asana. The teacher would claim that he was "giving a hug and spreading love and compassion " while pressing his body against his students. Other women/victims were not buying it and his studio in LA was eventually shut down.

  34. Harlan, I've been VERY involved in Yoga since 1976, and have also not found those experiences either.

    In fact, it's been the opposite, if you ask me. … I've NOT found any of those Hot, Tantric Yoga Sex Babes ANYWHERE!!!

    So don't feel bad.

    I bet, however, if Mr. Broad knew who you were, what you do, and how much you could probably help him sell a whole BUNCH of books, he's answer you in a heartbeat.

  35. Ramesh says:

    Hi Lori, yes, I did send a shorter version of my article to the NYT, but I am not holding my breath, would be surprised if they publish it…glad to know that my article has been useful to you!

  36. Sonam says:

    When Yoga arrived in the West only physical aspect was the focus . Back in time Patanjali designed a method to look at Yoga from the mind perspective. Hatha Yoga without Raja Yoga is handicap. There are many streams from which Yoga developed in India and Nepal . According to Buddhist teachings the same asanas are tough in Kalachakra Tantra and very similar system was tough by Shiva and Parvati . Buddhist teachings distinguish between Maha Shiva and Shiva as two different beings. Shiva supports disciplines like yoga and related , but his nature is very sexual . Practising Yoga as thought by Shiva will naturally have energy of sexuality , if one do not focus that ones mind need to be tamed as well .

  37. […] and a complete lack of depth in investigating the history of the practice of Hatha Yoga, as Broad has done repeatedly in the New York Times). Please take a look for […]

  38. Jacqui Hargreaves says:

    You may find the response by Jason Birch (a scholar from Oxford University) helpful and supportive in correcting the many historical inaccuracies in the NY Times article:

  39. […] psychotherapist’s views on the John Friend […]

  40. sadieyoga says:

    Jacqui–GREAT link! Really puts the NYT uninformed reporting into clear perspective. Gotta love those voices of reason.

  41. […] I first heard about the scandal concerning John Friend, I was completely stunned. It was hard for me to believe, at first. I had taken a weekend workshop […]

  42. Maurice says:

    I honestly have to admit that Waylon's interview with John Friend was a joke. I realizes the 5 questions he asked were not part of a normal "live" interview allowing no chance for any follow up. Given the severity of the charges Mr. friend offered very scripted vague responses not worthy of being quoted by the NYT. The article in general did not dwell on the Anusara anyway so don't but was trying to broaden the story beyond the limited scope that has been discussed ad nauseum on this website.

  43. yogasamurai says:

    No shit. Thanks.

  44. jane says:

    Totally agree with you. I am a registered nurse and yoga instructor and am reading his book. Extremele well researched.

  45. Barrett Pleshe says:

    Spartacus IS Stewart Home. It’s like the Matrix virus. Soon you will be him too

  46. […] much long after, John Friend fell from grace and William Broad published the Science of […]

  47. […] Every goji berry snorting prAna fiend was happy and willing to be the first to hammer nails through his wrists in what was to be America’s finest public execution. All the while, rumors came fast and furious: “I heard John Friend has sex with dead people!” […]

  48. brian gerbrandt says:

    Yes, women instructors are just as able to abuse their postion of trust as men. And more likely to get away with it.
    I speak from experience on that. Let's keep in mind, we sexual assault issues are not primarily the domain of men.