My interview with John Friend regarding jfexposed accusations.

Via Walk The Talk Show
on Feb 8, 2012
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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.

SITUATION
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.

FIRST QUESTION
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.

~

SECOND QUESTION
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.

~

THIRD QUESTION
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.

~

FOURTH QUESTION
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.

~

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,

Waylon

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Comments

464 Responses to “My interview with John Friend regarding jfexposed accusations.”

  1. yogijulian says:

    thanks andrew – yeah i mean no offense braja, but clearly i rub you the wrong way and will continue trying to shift my tone so as to not do so.

  2. Terry Post Anusara student says:

    The hypocrisy of JF was probably the motivation for JFexposed website. The ethical guidelines for teachers was disregarded. To say it was consensual sex, just says that he didn’t rape them.

    On the pension issue, to provide one document and say that’s all there is to it is disingenuous.

    JF is an amazing teacher,

    now he can teach us about telling the truth and throwing the cloak off.

  3. Kris says:

    Please everyone; stop calling this a “mistake”. I said this earlier; a “mistake” is something you didn’t mean to do. Or, it’s making one bad decision, having a momentary lapse in judgment. John made the conscious decision to behave this way, and to lie about it OVER and OVER and OVER again.
    You are correct, no one is perfect, and no one was asking JF to be perfect. We just expected basic decent good behavior.

  4. Just posted to the elephant Love Facebook Page

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  5. Cici says:

    Does anyone seriously think that John Friend is the lone ranger engaging in this type of activity? I'm wondering when the shoe will drop on some of the other male rock star yoga gurus.

  6. karlsaliter says:

    Thanks!

  7. yogadivina says:

    Its just yoga people, and we are just humans.
    Jai ma the the teaching of non JUDGEMENT!

  8. kuberoot says:

    What about the shipping pot allegation?

  9. karlsaliter says:

    Dude. "Alignment in all things….includes your dick." Comic GOLD.
    Thank you for making me completely grateful I am reading this thread this morning
    instead of warming up rice.
    That was awesome and I can not guarantee you I wont steal it.

  10. karlsaliter says:

    Word. (If that's the word I'm looking for.)

  11. diane says:

    The first impression of JF that I had was that he always had a lovely groupie's assisting him–a friend who has long time certification told me oh she to this young girl or the next is John's new paramour. It was well known that he exploited and then discarded one for another. As far as I know

  12. Chan says:

    This from an Anusara teacher’s page. I’ll leave her name out.

    enthusiastically joined the Anusara staff in the summer of 2009. Since meeting John Friend in February 2002, she’s been dedicated to serving the vision of Anusara yoga and John in whatever way she’s called upon.

    She was someone who was featured prominently in a section on jfexposed.com

  13. sarah says:

    super wise insights and truths. thanks for sharing!

  14. chan says:

    it's a cliche at this point

    Bikram, Yee, Desai…

  15. karlsaliter says:

    How softball is "WTF why did you lie to me?" as a question?

  16. chan says:

    putting others at risk

    not ahimsa

  17. chan says:

    John Friend/Anusara's main draw is the message

    if jfexposed info is true and accurate, then his message is BS, a joke at best

  18. Agni Hotra says:

    A million hits? Really? All press is good for business. If Anusara and John Friend wasn't "on the map" before, he certainly is now. He should be jumping up and down with joy. I'm sure he'll feel his bottom line rise. Sure there will be people leaving his organization, but I'd bet he experiences an uplift in members — especially men "intrigued" by all this "tantra" stuff and the plethora of young girls willing to sleep with middle-age guys with money. I've always wondered what it would take to interest more men in yoga. John Friend may have just hit on the right marketing message. Bravo.

  19. another yogi says:

    Thanks Waylon for the article and for asking those questions.

  20. Maggie says:

    There is your answer above T.A.H.

    And the negative psychological consequences of those students and employees who got involved who may need to deal with feelings of shame, guilt, anger, sadness or betrayal or feelings of inflation as a result of being the chosen one (for sexual relations or being given greater power/influence within the organization for looking the other way).

    Sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg……If any one else has direct experiences or witnessed an ethical violation in the organization, air your grievance here in this public forum because in an ethic panel with his (John's) peers, there is a high probability of complacency.

  21. innocent bystander says:

    Anusara Center in Encinitas ?? Here's link to the story, dated 2/06/12, of 2 people who searched for it & could find NO trace of it. The plot thickens. http://bitchinyoga.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/looki….

  22. Is it just me, or did he almost entirely dodge all of Way's questions?

  23. Padma Kadag says:

    Though Friend states he has never called himself a Guru, yet he allegedly teaches tantra and is the face of Anusara, he has in western legal PR style put himself in the position to appear as a Guru…knowing full well the inherent mistrust of westerner's label "Guru". He is not a Guru in my mind. He is nothing more than a businessman who deserves all of the critisism and legal responsibilities a businessman is liable for. He is selling a product and has been successful yet he is not, apparently, an ethical businessman whether it is the sexual allegations or the pension plan still yet to play out. So…in this world of business he will deserve all that he has reaped, good and bad.

  24. Kris says:

    People's lives have been touched by YOGA. Anusara is just a brand name. You can find these teachings everywhere

  25. Absolutely! My life has been made richer by yoga! I do know friends who love Anusara, and my hope for them is that the can continue to enjoy their path even after all this. Does that make sense? My comment was just generally supportive of those who love Anusara and have felt hurt by all of this.

  26. TCB says:

    In fact the author has no idea why it was deleted.
    Hilary Lindsay
    February 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm
    "Seems Elephant didn’t appreciate it is all I can say.I’m a bit confused myself. I’m hoping they put it back up but thanks for finding me here. All the best, Hilary"

  27. I am the one who worked with Hilary on the post in terms of editing. I’m sad to see that that was her response. It is different than the impression she gave in her emails on this issue. ~ Kate

  28. Teacher says:

    Kris, I practiced yoga for 10 years before entering Anusara. All types of yoga have the ability to do the above but it was only Anusara that really brought me into a deeper level of awareness. No other "brand" of yoga did it for me. Therefore, I firmly stand by my original wording.

  29. Carlos d Silva says:

    John Friend shows in his replies how all his answers were basically defenses. I don't see him expressing any sorrow from it all. If he is a student of life I don't see him learning.

    I had long suspected that Anusara was a market scheme and a authoritarian model. And at the heart of every cult and authoritarian model there is always a John Friend or other creepy power hungry nut.

  30. Andy says:

    Who cares really? What precedent are we holding Friend to? Pattabi Jois was photographed giving vagina adjustments. John Friend is not our representative to congress or a minister. He is a savvy businessman and a good yoga teacher.

  31. Kris says:

    Several people have commented that they hope the Anusara teachings are not thrown out with the teacher. I’d like to point out that these teachings have been around for thousands of years and do not belong to Anusara yoga. Anusara is a brand, a brand that was built out of the ego of an unethical, immoral, deceitful person.
    I actually think the whole branding thing is a huge part of John’s deceit. Trying to make people think that his brand was better than someone else’s or that the teachings were specific to Anusara. I feel bad for the many teachers and students who bought into this nonsense and gave much time, energy, and money to this very expensive brand, which now has a very tainted image. My hope is that like other brave yogis (Darren Rhodes, Christina Sell, Elena Brower, Amy Ippoliti, and Laura Christensen) people will move away from branding and back to the heart of teaching/studying yoga.
    At the beginning of Nicolai Bachman’s translation of The Yoga Sutras he has this quote.
    “To Ishvara, the light of all knowledge. May we be grateful for the understanding that occurs from tapping into this knowledge and never for a moment think that we own it.”

  32. GetReal says:

    Thanks for your sense of humor. ;-0

  33. Jessica says:

    Thumbs up, Kate!

  34. SdSb says:

    The plot thickens?? Oh great, now the conspiracy theories get going. Gimme a break. You know all the people surrounding this Anusara issue are seriously creeping me out. Friend *and* his attackers. Just give it a rest already.

  35. ahahaha! Thanks! I love how people decide to randomly downarrow anything positive. I thought jr. high was over?

  36. Williams says:

    As any psychologist can tell you, there are often times serious and negative emotional consequences to a student, employee or patient for being on the receiving end of an abuse of power like this. This is really a no brainer for those who know a family member, friend or who have been on the receiving end of abuse of power and whose lives have been dramatically and negatively impacted, indeed sometimes for a lifetime.

    As a society we have already decided collectively this violation is egregious enough to be a crime in some cultural contexts and in others, a serious ethic violation, and as a result we have created laws to protect the innocence of those who place their trust and their inner child-like innocence in the hands of their teachers, healers and employers to behave and act with the highest intentions.

    On an energetic level, spiritual seekers understand the profound archetypal power at work within the context of the teacher-student relationship. This is a relationship that is sacred and where safe learning and inquiry can take place in order to shift and expand consciousness and grow one's inner light. This is true within any context, spiritual or non-spiritual, where the teacher/healer/employer is in the role of showing the student/patient/employee the path. The teacher says, "Trust me, I will show you the way". The student says, "I trust you to reflect back to me my own inner light, in order for me to learn, heal myself, grow in consciousness, or support my family".

    This is just the tip of the iceberg and with lawyers and yes-men around, John has a long way to go before he becomes more conscious of the pain and suffering he has spread to so many people.

    This dialogue needs to stay in a public forum for all to see so others who have witnessed violations or have been at ground level in this organization can speak up anonymously without loosing their certification, job or future support from the kula.

  37. I completely agree that these are the questions that need to be asked…. and answered, honestly. No more sweeping this thing under the rug.

  38. Kelley says:

    Where are you getting this information that he would make the women more powerful or enlightened by sleeping with him?

  39. Cait1 says:

    Well put Anusara Yogi.. I totally agree.

  40. As a devoted Anusara yogini, I care. He violated the very code of ethics that he created, the high standards to which he demands all other teachers hold themselves. He thought he was above those standards. This is an abuse of power, and a betrayal of trust of the entire Anusara community.

  41. Louise Brooks says:

    I wholeheartedly concur Mewmew. This could have been an interview with Mitt Romney for all the smooth talk and evasiveness it displayed. I understand JF has likely "lawyered up" but come on. Where is your integrity Mr. Friend?

  42. Agree with every word.- A student of Anusara.

  43. Louise Brooks says:

    You did the best you could, Wayne. No fault on your part. It was the evasive answers that are so disappointing.

  44. Maggie says:

    There is a very serious lack of full accountability and awareness in John's responses in this interview and as a spiritual leader who reaps the rewards of fame, power and status he demonstrates in this interview his failure to understand the profound purpose of the teacher-student or healer/client/patient, ethical guidelines to protect the innocence of those who place trust in their teachers, healers and employers. He has an ego as big as Icarus, who flew to close to the sun, and the denial symptoms of an addict.

    And likewise….we never mean to harm our children when we don't strap them in with a seat belt but there are laws and consequences (like dead children) for such ignorance or unconsciousness.

  45. Louise Brooks says:

    Waylon, I'm really disheartened that you believe teacher-student sexual relationships are not problematic. You seem to base your position on one anecdotal story about your mom. It is great that she was able to say no and there were no negative consequences. However, that is not the case if you look at studies that examine boss-employee and teacher-student power dynamics. They are never consensual relationships as the student/employee is in a subordinate position. Job loss, low grade in a class, etc can result from saying "no". Your mother was lucky.

  46. Doug says:

    Not to be a weenie, but Hilary was rather surprised to hear that it had been taken down. But apparently the editing issue had to do with the choice of the lead graphic, so no harm no foul? You folks sure have a sense of timing! Already the pot is getting stirred on this issue.

  47. omiya says:

    My favorite comment so far in this entire mess of comments. Hear hear to the end of branding and just going back to teaching and practising yoga *as a discipline*, not as a trendy fitness new age routine.

  48. yup says:

    so they toured an empty building?

  49. Doug says:

    Actually, Yoga, like golf, will live on. The brands and the players come and go, and don't really mean much in the big picture.