Yoginis: Time to Woman Up! ~ Toongi Dasi

Via elephant journal
on Mar 18, 2012
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Photo: kristinmirabelle

Until recently I had no idea who John Friend is.

One of my guru-bheins (a co-practicioner in my Hindu-Vaishnava sect) is certified in Anusara Yoga and that’s about the extent of my knowledge of this particular yoga form.  When I read some of the articles here about him I admit to not quite getting what all the fuss was about.

Pursuing romantic relationships with yoga students?  Yeah, so?  Is a yoga class like the corporate world where co-worker and employer/employee dating is frowned upon (or sometimes even a breach of company policy) because it could prove bad for business and office morale?

Then I read something about married women.  OK.  But they are big girls and I’m sure John didn’t put a gun to their heads and force them to cheat on their spouses.  At some point they made a conscious decision to get a lil’ side helpin’ of mashed taters on their already full plate.

Then I read Kelly Morris’s EJ article, “Teachers, Keep it in Your Pants” and while I appreciated her personal policy of not dating her own yoga students, I felt she missed the forest for the trees when she talked about “power imbalance” because that power differential is precisely what attracts many women to men in the first place.

Kelly writes,“There is no such thing as consensual in a relationship predicated on a power inequity. Period.”

I disagree.  No two individuals are completely equal in all areas across the board.  Within a couple, one will be making more money while one will be better looking.  One may be physically stronger while one may be smarter.  Some couples are such that one person is all of the above more than the other.  So what?

By saying there is no such thing as consensual in a relationship predicated on power inequity one is essentially saying such a relationship is non-consensual, or in other words “forced” and guess what?  That’s called rape and rape is illegal.  So why not just have the guy arrested?  Because no matter how much we may want to paint intelligent, autonomous adult women as cognitively challenged little girls who need the protection of smart grown-ups, the truth is we women are very often attracted to men who are taller, bigger, smarter, richer or more successful/famous than we are.  Or at the very least taller, bigger, smarter, richer or more successful than other men.

That’s called “hypergamy” or in a by-gone era’s lexicon “marrying up”.

Some women are so hypergamous that they are willing to put their own marriages and families at risk in order to be with a man who they perceive has something “more” than their own husbands.   By laying the blame solely at the feet of the man who has more, we conveniently overlook the role of the intelligent, autonomous female who is making an independent conscious choice to engage in such a relationship.

We American women are on the cusp of what, our 4th wave of Feminism already and we are still playing the victim card?  Pfft!  Let’s get real here.

After doing a little reading about John’s creative birthing of Anusara Yoga I could understand why he had the oppurtunity to, as TIME Magazine puts it, “sexually betray(ed) multiple girlfriends.”

He’s a healthy looking, smart, creative and successful guy who’s “in touch” with his “feminine side” and let’s face it, such a combo is cat nip to new-agey yoga women everywhere, ain’t that right gals?

Yep, such a “more” man will inevitably cause a few married students to compare and contrast him to their hubbies, and many single students will of course prefer him to the unenlightened inflexible new-comer dude awkwardly rolling out his yoga mat in the back corner.

We can write until the sacred cows come home (and in India they are no longer sacred nor coming home but going to slaughter to supply the global leather industry, please see PETA’s video here)  about how yoga teachers should keep it in their pants, but until we address why women are attracted to the John Friends of the world and the lengths they are willing to go to get a guy like him, a change ain’t gonna come.

Ladies, it’s time to woman up and ask ourselves, “are we by nature hypergamous?”  If yes, let’s own it.  If not, then why do so many of us still prefer men who are at least a little taller than us?

In closing I’ll leave you with Spengler’s Law of Gender Parity to ponder:

“At all times and in all places, the men and women of every culture deserve each other.”


Editor: Hayley Samuelson


Toongi is a third culture person who has lived most of her adult life in India studying the literature and lore of Bengali Vaishnavism under the guidance of her guru. She currently resides in the United States where she teaches meditation techniques and dishes out unsolicited advice to the lovelorn in the tradition of Vatsyayana, the celibate sex guru of Kama Sutra fame. She can be reached on email here.


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31 Responses to “Yoginis: Time to Woman Up! ~ Toongi Dasi”

  1. Vaishnavi says:

    I prefer women-only classes (at Om Centre, Adelaide, South Australia).

  2. Vinode says:

    This is a very thoughtful article, Tungi. I feel very sad to read daily the reports of female abuse and exploitation, with no end in sight. Your article provides a balanced view of the dynamics at play, that yes, there is no true equality, people are all unique, and that the so-called "power imbalance" is precisely what is attractive about many relationships. If everyone was equal, then why would we be attracted to another? We need to hear more about this, to clear the fog of "female victimization" . Thanks again.

  3. Miriam says:

    Yes, agreed, Tungi. I think this issue goes in line with putting people in boxes and judging anything and anyone that isn't fitting the mold. Looking in the mirror is never easy! Everything is rather relative, including "equality" and "balance".

    Hugs! Keep writing!

  4. Sudevi says:

    Yes, Toongi, very good points. Excellent to call things what they are and gain clarity on a situation. The truth shall set us free.

  5. Renata says:

    Ah finally Toongi in her element with spicy comments and get real attitude. I like it, finally the passion in the article. I do very much agree with your article, however there is unspoken rule that this guy should have followed and that is: "You don shit where you eat." Only person here in fault is him making bad business decision, and being very unprofessional about his own business which of course is now more less dead, so he is basically dumb. As for women, cam on.. "I'm sorry darling I love you but my yoga teacher had put pressure on me to have sex with him, if i wouldn't have it he said he will no longer teach me yoga".. lol… i'm just trying to really find an excuse.. but it's not working.. responsibility is in their court.

  6. Srila Dasa says:

    While the article makes cogent points, I disagree. I will say it outright: John Friend is a "fiend" and a womanizer. As a member of the healing profession myself (therapist), he breaks the very premise of the practitioner-client, teacher student relationship which is to uplift and not exploit. The power differential is precisely what's at issue here because that is what is being abused. High-status men (or women) using their positions to prey upon subordinates is a breach of professional ethics as well as a disgrace to the code of proper conduct for yoga practitioners. Depending on how you read it, he breaks 10 of the 10 spiritual principles as described by Patanjali in the Yoga-sutras. John Fiend should be classed as charlatan and debauche. Boycott him. Throw rotten tomatoes. He's a jerk. (period)

  7. Krishna Rose says:

    I think people should keep their sex lives private, within sanctity of marriage or monogomy, and as far as I'm concerned, Yoga instructors who 'abuse' their positions, with students, who come to them, not for sex, but for healing on some level, should be castrated! Loose sexual behavior in our society is the ruin of all family lives…. breaks up the happy home, and it's the kids that suffer…. and ultimately, when the next yoga student comes along, the wife broke it all up for nothing….. she'll be dumped…. and for what? A 15 minute bang? There is no intelligence in such things… and it is pure selifshness on the part of the Yoga teacher, who knows his own nature is thus. Yoga Instructors, should wise up, and lose the sex vibes… put it away for their girlfriends and wives, and use their time in the Studio to help people raise their vibration, instead of their linghams.

  8. aqalyogi says:

    Toongi, thank you for posting these thoughts. I've expressed them myself to my friends, but I fear the scorn of those without a clear vantage point. Event my friends did not seem to understand where I was coming from.
    Your expression is lucid, to the point, and without drama and hyperbole, unlike the detracting comments.
    Looking forward to more insightful posts.

  9. Richard says:

    I think the article raises awareness to the point of double standard in society at large. How women and men relate and interact with one another occurs in the course of relationship. Of course, people (men and women) on both a societal and individual level are naturally attracted to characteristics/factors which in some way seem 'superior'. More money, better looks, great body, active lifestyle, active listener, charisma and charm have been desired, capitalized and usually abused in the opposite gender since year 1! I think the enlightened being who 'knows themselves', is in a far better position to allow this attraction its due while still knowing what's best for themselves. Good think Toongi is around to help these poor souls! (scribbler included 🙂

  10. Tito says:

    Ok, good. So it's ok to use people who are willing to be used. Perfect. I can now go to bars and mislead and lie to women to get them in bed with no feelings of guilt because they make the choice to sleep with me. And, the drunker they are the better, particularly since it was their choice to drink. Cuz, you know, I'm a good guy, and I certainly don't want to abuse anyone who isn't willing to be abused and, if they happen to be vulnerable in any way for any reason, well, that's their choice. Ok, maybe choice isn't the right word, but they need to "own" their vulnerability, right? Now if only I can figure out a way to get my hands on their pensions. Thanks Toongi!

  11. Amanda says:

    I think it was less "pursuing romantic relationships" and more "looking to get fucked." Let's think about this. What does "romantic relationship" imply? Did he buy them chocolates, flowers, did he call them before he went to sleep to see how they were and to whisper lovingly to them across the miles? Did he take them to movies, concerts, go walking with them in parks, hold hands in public, meet their families (husbands? kids?), did he envision a "relationship" longer than a night? I saw another article, I think here that framed the argument as "what happened to John". Not what "John did" but "what happened" to him. Just like calling a bunch of shallow trysts "romantic relationships" or sex in a coven "sexual therapy." Please. The guy's a cad. Maybe he'll change, maybe he won't. But if he won't do it on his own, if all he's doing is the minimum necessary for public relations, I say screw him. Not literally. Figuratively.

  12. Savitri says:

    Thanks Toongi for a fresh look at this subject. I agree that (some) women have been playing victims for too long and it is about time we reclaim our own power and be responsible for our actions. However, I also share the sentiments of those offering comments here. To put simply, all Yoga teacher-practitioner know that John Friend has violated a few basic moral guidance as set out in Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga, most especially the Yama and Niyama. Most good certifiying schools have "code of conducts" that clearly guides the relationship between students and teachers (to uplift, inspire and become a good role model to students). While John Friend's actions were reckless, irresponsible and fit the term "abuse" (the misuse of power by those who has) perfectly, the women involved also need to re-examine their involvement in this mess and stop enabling/perpetuating such behaviour.

  13. Lesli says:

    The men figure out how to exude that power and attract women, the term is 'cocksure', but there is no basis, it is just a facade, and sadly, they do not know how to treat women. If sexuality and liberation is the idea here, the dudes totally fall short and are not intelligent, let alone compassionate, about the matter. So, beware of these jerks, until there is a shift in consciousness, what you see is not what you will get.

  14. Siri Peterson says:

    Thank you, from the bottom fo my feminist heart….

  15. Tony says:

    I wish people would stop framing this in the context of male taking advantage of female and see it for the problem of fundamental decency and respect that it is. It could be female/male, male/male, female/female, and the underlying issue wouldn't change – we should all act decently towards each other, not take advantage of our position particularly when it might hurt someone or their loved ones, and not act in such a way where our actions hurt another whether the action is a fleeting sexual gratification, an abuse of trust, financial malfeasance or anything else. Just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should and that goes beyond any male/female dynamic.

  16. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Bob W.

  17. jean says:

    Interesting article. Yes of course women are autonomous agents, and it would be somewhat patronising to those women to lay the blame at John Friends feet. However this is a fairly limited understanding of the socio cultural context in which all of this has occurred. It reminds me of the 'level playing field' argument for equity.

    I think you would like what Rita Gross has to say on this – she somewhat blames the women too.

    Regardless, yoga teachers have a responsibility to their students in a somewhat similar way to doctors, teachers, psychologists etc.

  18. jean says:

    Yes, completely. However, when it comes to sexual misconduct, sadly it usually is a male/female dynamic. With the male being in the position of authority..

  19. shaktipetal says:

    I like the lines from this old song………
    "Let me in pretty woman ,let me in,won't you please……
    let me in pretty woman" ,……….cried the snake.
    "Well you knew darn well he was a snake, before you let him in."

  20. bobcat says:

    Thanks for a great article. I own my hypergamous self hence, the sex thing does not bother me. Sex certainly sells. Anusara is a big money making machine that JF has created. Power, sex and money go togeter. Anusara, Inc. is deeply embedded in illusion where no clear insight or clarity can be found. There are many wonderful Anusara teachers (or ex teachers) but several that I know are completely out of touch with the basic teachings of yoga (and I don't mean asana). Their websites are beautiful and their words are uplifting but there is no substance underneath. They are PR and marketing geniuses (check out Amy Ippoliti's infomercial on her website) but not spiritual leaders or yoga teachers. The JF scandal is simply a natural evolution. You can't make something spiritual by dressing it up with words like shakti, shri, lila or yoga.

  21. Brian says:

    thank you toongi for a very well-articulated account on the trend of pop-yoga culture…..it'd be great if yoga was done blindfolded every once in a while….

  22. Penny says:

    Toongi, you are so right. Those husbands, too, had it coming a little bit. Why are they playing the victim card? If they “manned up” a little more, the ladies would not have sought someone with a little more power, like John. Face it guys, he has what it takes. Maybe you did not.

    Why do we in yoga insist on conforming to social mores? If somebody wants to take a short cut to success, what is wrong with that? You are griping that she got ahead of you in teacher certification? Okay, then: Woman-up as Toongi says. Put on the big girl panties. Do what needs to get done.

  23. Penny says:

    And aren’t these people complaining about John having a little fun probably just jealous he passed them over for attentions? I admit I’m a little jealous.

  24. Dan G says:

    Smoke and Mirrors trite. Who cares about the sex? It is a distraction from the corporate tyranny that was "exposed" with the sensationalism of shagging your employees/yoga students. People who don't have any investment and or understanding of the issues are writing about sex, not about corporate corruption in the yoga community. The man tried to sell a spiritual yoga mat with a straight face….. that should be enough to turn people away, but instead, I'm sure they're buying the mat (and all of the promises that come with it).

  25. NotPenny says:

    Obvious troll. Probably a guy.

  26. […] skilled at trying to convince my life coach that I there was no way I could be a yoga teacher. How could I be having these desires and questions about my sexuality? I can’t be a yoga teacher if I’m having sex with more than just my […]

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  28. Natalie Baginski says:

    love it.