For Yoga’s Sake. ~ Micah Springer

Via elephant journal
on Oct 4, 2012
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Recently there’s scant honor in identifying myself as a yoga instructor, studio owner or practitioner.

There has been unprecedented malice within the yoga community, in word and deed, yogi against yogi. And it pains me to think how an intelligent, non-practitioner of this ancient and revered art would perceive us. I see them shaking their heads with dismay, doubtful we’ll ever find our way to yoga.

I hesitate even as I write this article. I cannot say with words, I cannot elucidate via social media or through elephant journal the profound grace and beauty possible from a devoted yoga practice. On behalf of Vital Yoga, and because we see ourselves as stewards of this practice, our intention has been to restore honor to hatha yoga—if for no other reason than for the practice itself.

Because of what we tout, it has bestowed.

The real gifts of yoga are honed in silence and stillness, amidst a sea of breathing practitioners, with hope to become better and the possibility to evolve despite the state of the world. We are like islands, alone on our mat, with none but ourselves to be accountable to, and yet we practice alongside each other. How did we ever take this gift for granted? How did yogis begin to speak poorly about one another, to judge, to defame?

My answer: not enough awareness about our intrinsic interconnectedness. Not enough driving desire to become free of our judging and harming thoughts and actions. Otherwise, we would never have found ourselves here, in a combative, disheartening demonstration of ego and illusion.

My sister Desi and I developed a series of poses, a set sequence called “Vital Roots,” sometimes referred to as “The Roots.” We know its benefits. We’re fortunate John Friend helped make it more therapeutic and developed its efficacy. (Learn about John Friend’s involvement and history with “The Roots.”) We are committed to healing. What our yoga practice has taught us is that we’re all fallible and capable of compassion and healing in various ways, some in privacy.

I cannot judge how or where or in what time we heal. That it happens is crucial for humanity.

The true forum to explore Vital Roots is on the mat. We teach it at our studios. If our collaboration serves Hatha yoga practitioners, we’re grateful. John is teaching it next month when he returns to public teaching. We will not herald it as better or worse than another style. That’s for the practitioner to decide.

But it has offered us insight, an opportunity to explore this fascinating relationship between the body and mind, and one another. My life has become more joyful, freer from conditions and cultural/social expectations. I choose my thoughts, as opposed to being victimized by them. And my desire to cultivate a relationship to the Divine has evolved.

My friendships and understanding of community have matured. I have learned to be accountable to my inner wisdom, and to forgive my imperfections, as well as other’s. I feel good, and desire to share that with my students.

Regardless your style of practice, its name, its popularity or lack thereof; if you witness an enhanced life, an expanded capacity for joy, forgiveness and contribution, thank you. Some of you have remained quiet, despite the acrimony in pockets of Hatha yoga communities, a bitterness which has reflected poorly on us all. You’ve been on your mats with inner truth and faith as guides and I’m grateful to you. You are the teachers and practitioners whose sublime integrity will again inspire populations to practice.

Yoga is only one path to freedom and clarity, but it’s a good one.

Let’s stop harming and begin employing what we say we’ve learned, for yoga’s sake… because if our communities can heal, yoga will again be a compelling source of transformation in a world desperate for wholeness and wisdom.

 

Micah Springer, along with her sister, Desiree, co-own Vital Yoga Studios, a Denver-based business concerned with yoga asana, Ayurvedic nutrition and meditation. Micah began practicing yoga in 1994 and was first certified to teach in 1998. She has many teachers amongst which she considers nature, practitioners of body/mind disciplines, devotees of spirit and divinity, her students and nomadic cultures, as well as her life’s challenges. Her favorite poet: Hafiz. Author: William Faulkner. Inspiration: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai and the character Celie from “The Color Purple.” Her desire is to cultivate wellness-seeking communities whose intention is to be better stewards of the earth and each other, with a sense of humor, humanity, contribution, humility and simplicity. She is currently writing her memoir of her travels to nomadic Africa, as well as teaching Ayurveda and yoga at Vital Yoga.

Editor: Anne Clendening

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Comments

100 Responses to “For Yoga’s Sake. ~ Micah Springer”

  1. Miz James says:

    What is it about JF supporters that they all think "voicing their concerns" to him somehow is the magic bullet? You "spoke directly to John and voiced (your) concerns". Really. And then what?

    This sounds like a script from a bad made-for-T.V. movie about domestic abuse. Just for comparison, let's look at some information about the cycle of abuse (from the domesticviolence.org site) and compare it to the JF scandal:

    *Incident (any type of abuse occurs–physical/sexual/emotional)

    *Abuser may apologize for abuse
    *Abuser may promise it will never happen again
    *Abuser may blame the victim for causing the abuse
    *Abuser may deny abuse took place or say it was not as bad as the victim claims
    *Calm
    *Abuser acts like the abuse never happened
    *Abuse may not be taking place
    *Promises made during 'making-up' may be met
    *Victim may hope that the abuse is over
    *Abuser may give gifts to victim

    And the cycle starts again.

  2. Mike Hunt says:

    ugh of course he did!

  3. jar says:

    John doesn't speak to anyone, he only preaches. Well, unless you have been granted sexual favor. But that is another story.

    ~B L E S S I N G S

  4. jar says:

    Did he tell you to sign off on your posts with ~Blessings or was that you?
    ~Blessings

  5. the jar says:

    I'm just waiting for the next deposit… it's been awhile.

  6. the jar says:

    yes it's me, how have you been bearskin rug? Man we had some good times together didn't we!

  7. Livia says:

    ah yes precisely micah…relational reflection. but here is where i think your statemnt falls flat. "and in order to see myself more clearly, I must see you more clearly. " this what you describe is not differentiated awareness its fusion which may lead to collusion. if you think getting to your know yourself happens by knowing me then you are allowing the outer world to solely determine your sense of self. this is in direct contradiction to your solo venture you describe as necessary on the mat. i offer a reframe…as i begin to know myself i might come to understand the experiences of others. as one learns their own biases they understand how they can be open to the lives of others. see yourself clearly first and then others will become clear. the fact your statement seems to suggest that you look to others to know yourself and that is perhaps precisely how jf got involved in your roots series and your life. also if we learn relational skills on the mat than this means that the seat of the teacher in its power and privilege must not be abused and when it is it must have repair. perhaps you think jf's reparative work to his students will come in his offering the roots. i will wait to see but i certainly wont hold my breath. at least we can agree that 'transformation is rarely silent' which is why i simply must reply to this comment.

  8. bearskin rug says:

    Perhaps the next one will share DNA?

  9. ktlady says:

    Self-proclaimed "master manipulators" who abuse women and an entire spiritual community do not deserve a refuge that includes the privilege of teaching.

  10. Mike Hunt says:

    OK, this is really annoying too: ~

  11. Mike Hunt says:

    Hi John, you douchebag! ~ blessings.

  12. Erin Hansbrough says:

    I find the strange phenomenon of separating "yogis" from humans (as this article does from the outset) rather disturbing, and quite reliably a red flag that shouts: "warning! Herein lies manipulation." Because really: if any of us worked at an organization in which the head of the company was using his position to abuse people; if he was both harassing women on staff, and promoting those who slept with him; if he was threatening to destroy the careers of people who disagreed with him: we would say "this is abuse. This is a terrible way to treat people. This person should be fired and never hired back into a leadership position." We would not sit around debating his dharma. We would not, I hope, be lining up to compete over who is more forgiving while the boss ducks and runs; and we would not pat ourselves on the back for our silence. I'm afraid this article reads as nothing more than an apology for the worst of what yoga (for yoga's sake–really?) has to show the world.

  13. Lara says:

    I have nothing to add, as I think "unFriend's post really says it all. Such a clear response to more spiritual bypassing and hiding under the blankets of "intrinsic goodness."

  14. lucyyogini says:

    As I began reading this article I thought it might have been one of EJ’s tongue-in-cheek editorials. However, it quickly became apparent that this was from another John Friend apologist, this time, as I understand it, the sister of the latest woman to be romantically linked to John Friend. And though it might be gratifying to dissect this missive, provide point-by-point retorts to balance the feel-good emptiness of the article, I no longer have the time or interest to waste on this lost cause masquerading as legitimate practice. Plus previous critically thinking folks have done that quite well in the comments above.

    So I’ll simply offer my opinion. SAVE yoga, the practice? No, the John Friend followers, including this author, simply want to SELL yoga. Why? Because the one who actually broke the yoga is broke. For if saving yoga were the real purpose, why go public defending your actions supporting, no promoting your “new” system based on collaboration with John Friend? And if saving yoga were the real purpose, why not simply follow your own point that, “The real gifts of yoga are honed in silence and stillness,” which, by the way, links to another EJ article, “Ode to Silence,” about pratyahara. That article makes the valid point that, “It is also the graceful acceptance of one’s weaknesses as much as one’s strengths, and not the act of glossing over one’s infirmities, as narcissism is prone to do.”

    So, my advice, which I feel free to offer since you publicly offered yours, is to let go of any new system that you and your sister developed and that John Friend has helped refine (sounds a bit like the birth of Anusara yoga from its Iyengar yoga “roots”). Instead, why not quietly, purposefully, and with intent to truly evolve, focus on your local studio, your local practice? Why not let go of any effort to promote a more national following in the form of “The Roots.“ Why not let go of the idea of national celebrity yoga teachers and bring back the local focus that was always the home of yoga before it became overly commercialized. Come back to what’s good for the student, come back to rediscovering your own space and letting others find theirs. Because that, in my opinion, would truly yield what you say you desire, “the profound grace and beauty possible from a devoted yoga practice.”

  15. sarakimm says:

    Beautiful, intelligent response. Love "the one who actually broke the yoga is broke"!!

  16. edie swensen says:

    Truth.

  17. edie swensen says:

    Big truth.

  18. edie swensen says:

    Eloquent. To the point. Thanks to all of you for posting truth in answer to this thinly veiled advertisement.

  19. edie swensen says:

    Bravo. No fear here.

  20. edie swensen says:

    Preach it, Reality Check. Don't let's permit John Friend's apologists to hide behind yogaspeak.

  21. edie swensen says:

    Sarcastic Yogi, where have you gone? This gentle wrist slap from you, for that much blathering hypocrisy?

  22. edie swensen says:

    Truth, and aptly put.

  23. edie swensen says:

    "Recently there’s scant honor in identifying myself as a yoga instructor, studio owner or practitioner." The irony of this headline is almost painful, Micah Springer. Perhaps if you kept more elevated company, you wouldn't feel dishonored. I applaud the yoga community for not letting your transparent John propaganda stand unchallenged.

  24. edie swensen says:

    You are hilarious, Mike Hunt.

  25. Guest says:

    What?

  26. Guest says:

    As an AY instructor I'm urging everyone to be cautious with their words here. There was NEVER a physical sexual abuse charge! Having an affair might connote emotional abuse, but all women were consenting adults, and most likely aware of JF's preference for non-momogamous relationships. It was apparent to me and I was never that close to him. Stop playing up the victim/perpetrator dynamic. Take responsibility and move on…and if we all spent a little less time processing this pathetic scandal, myself included, we might actually start to heal, if we ever felt manipulated that is.

  27. After reading this and the replies from John… hmm… Micah, I'm not sure if I should feel sad or just laugh. Somebody is genuinely as far gone as the creationists who believe Jesus and dinosaurs were neighbours.

    You want to stop harming, Micah? Lets start with John directly acknowledging all the harms he's done and offering a sincere apology. Yeah, that means without fluff or PR spins, or presenting himself as the second coming of Jesus.

  28. more approriate says:

    "For Yoga's Sake?" More like, for fuck's sake. Come on. This is rubbish.

  29. Kelly says:

    Any intelligent, non practitioner who has been given the circumstances of the disagreements within the former Anusara community would be shaking their head, wondering why any yoga teacher would want to work with and promote another teacher who has a significant history of mistreating students, teachers, and employees.

    “Unprecedented malice…” By whom? Speaking out against an abuser is hardly malice madam, nor is it acrimony. It is the opposite- it is an act that requires great strength, kindness, and consideration for, as he would even put it, the bigger picture. The welfare of the students precedes his career and teaching position (talented or no).

    Because, you see Ms. Springer, this is indeed about yoga, its teaching and student community, and what is very much at stake is the standards and terms that we set, allow, and accept. There are many of us who do not view abuse as acceptable within the yoga classroom or the student-teacher relationship. We will speak out against such abuses.

    Ms. Springer, you are entitled to your opinions but you are not the guru. You are not the one who gets to judge the value of any one of us yogis. You are not the referee. You have indicated that you think that those of us in these very serious discussions, over a very serious matter (abuse in the classroom, a place where trust and safety must be maintained at all times) have not met your criteria of what it is to be good yogis. That those of us who have chosen to engage and take a stand, to choose a side by using discernment and not turn away from the reality of this situation are less than those who remained quiet and have “been on your mats with inner truth and faith as guides.” Moreover, WHO ARE YOU to assume that those of us that have spoken out against his malicious treatment have not been on our mats, have not been moving from a place of deep strength and wisdom? Shame, shame on you for making such assumptions. You call yourself non-judgemental? This is hypocrisy. Again, you are not the referee.

  30. Kelly says:

    And yet you still continue in your comments to try to play the referee- “not enough awareness about our intrinsic interconnectedness. Not enough driving desire to become free of our judging and harming thoughts and actions. Otherwise, we would never have found ourselves here, in a combative, disheartening demonstration of ego and illusion.”

    You would do much better to address you own dire lack of awareness and interconnectedness as you bring such a poor choice of teacher into your own studio. And, madam, it would also do well for you to stop skirting the REAL reason for a “combative, disheartening demonstration” which was that a teacher with a lot of power chose to treat others exceedingly badly. That is the real reason, but, just like him, you try to blame the people who won’t be silent.

    “The real gifts of yoga are honed in stillness and silence…”- again, another shaming tactic on your part to try to demean those who speak out against him. Plus, it is fair to notice that you are way off base about the entirety of what the real gifts of yoga are and how they are found. In silence? Perhaps, sometimes. You show a lack of undersatnding the full spectrum of the yoga world at large. Please study more yoga philosophy because you will also find that the teachings of yoga encourage us to take a stand, find our voice, and that the yoga is not just inward stillness and silence.

    “if your communities can heal…”
    In order for something to heal the wound and the illness must be addressed. This man wounded many and a potential for greater sickness manifests by those that want to bury their head in the sand and ignore the reality of what he has done. So far you are revealing that you are failing greatly in this capacity. Of all of the people that you could have chosen to work with, every yoga teacher on this planet, you chose him. This speaks volumes.

    “I cannot judge how or where in time we can heal…” Then don’t. Again, you are not the spiritual referee.

    Hatha yoga did not lose its honor. Let’s get this straight. This man that you promote dishonored himself. There is nothing for you to do to restore honor to yoga. And, what you really do not seem to understand is this- you are not bringing honor to anything by bringing a teacher who demeans those around him into the picture. You do the opposite.

    For the sake of yoga we must speak out against those who abuse others and not bring teachers into the classroom who have made the choice again and again the mistreat others.

    Ms. Springer- you can think of yourself as a steward of yoga, you are entitled to your opinion. Since you have joined forces with a man who abuses and manipulates students and crosses healthy sexual, emotional, professional, and financial boundaries with his teachers, students, and employees I do not. I will support the teachers that stand up for their fellow woman

  31. Bernadette says:

    Micah, I'll answer your question if you like–but you should think hard about whether you want that can of worms opened because I won't pull one single punch. My reply is not going to do your cause any good whatsoever.

  32. Katie says:

    There is never consent in the teacher-student paradigm, nor the employer-employee paradigm. I agree, the women made choices, but John is the one ultimately responsible for taking advantage of the power differential and violating boundaries.

  33. Alison Alstrom says:

    Hello, Guest.

    You're right about the fact that the charge of "sexual abuse" was not levied. What I said was:

    "sexually degraded…" by which I referred not to said affairs, but to female yogis routinely being slapped on the backside during pose demos in front of hundreds of their peers, having their bra straps plucked over lunch, being actively pursued by john during workshops, and other such incidents that have been revealed and discussed as a part of the public discourse on this subject and even written about in this journal.

    "… and abused" – all of the above behaviors are abusive of the trust and emotional openness present in the relationship of aspirant to teacher, but I was referring as well to the types of abuses of power embedded in the business practices of Anusara Inc. such as inconsistent certification standards, and inappropriate conflating of licenses with certification, the use of favoritism, punishment and reward among licensed teachers to manipulate the field of business, all of which, again, have been publicly discussed.

    Finally, I am of the opinion that there are no consensual relationships where there is a power dynamic present such as the one between student and teacher. It is the teacher's responsibility to wield his power with discretion. This issue has been addressed eloquently in other comments on this thread. Perhaps it would be different if there were a clear statement made on John and Vital's website about the very things you mention – that John prefers non monogamous relationships, and considers any students signing up for his workshops to be a part of his dating pool. I don't remember being made aware of this in my nine years with Anusara.

    I agree that we who have been a part of the Anusara community can, even must, learn from these events to own our power more definitively. But I also feel a responsibility to at least try to share the lessons learned with the new students of the "new" John Friend method, who may be at this moment stepping into our same old starry eyed shoes.

  34. Alison Alstrom says:

    Micah,

    It was my impression that you *were* advocating silence, or more specifically, that you were condemning those who have spoken out, with these words: "The real gifts of yoga are honed in silence and stillness" and "We are like islands, alone on our mat, with none but ourselves to be accountable to," and "How did yogis begin to speak poorly about one another, to judge, to defame…"

    As to your speaking to John about his trespasses, I don't understand what I'm supposed to take from that – that his apology to you, or his apology to someone else in your presence, if there was one, should be a salve to the global community? That John's decision to completely ignore and disassociate himself from a significant percentage of his teachers when they beseeched him to come clean, step down, and get help, that his flagrant disregard of so many in his former community, has been rectified within the confines of your personal friendship with him?

    What sticks out for me the most in your response to my original comment is this line: "I have learned that no spiritual guide or text advocates trusting our fellow man. Love them, yes, but trust the divine. This understanding has served me well, in business, in teaching, in my relationships, and in being able to accept my fallibility."

    I can see how this would be a good mode of thinking to follow in business. I think what you are saying is – one should always watch one's butt. Fair enough. But do you mean to say that this position makes it acceptable to you to bring teachers who have lied to and manipulated their students into your studio and offer them up to your community as examples of yoga? I, too, endeavor to teach my students to trust themselves, to learn to hear the guidance of their own hearts and minds, and I, too believe that as humans we are by definition fallible, will make mistakes and sometimes harm one another. But I choose to do the best I can to behave honorably, and to me that extends to calling it out when others do not.

  35. Guest says:

    I'm guessing that, given his addictions and mental illness, John doesn't remember 90% of the messed up stuff he said in February thru April, or who he said it to. Those of us who knew John for over a decade have his number without needing further conversation with him. Interestingly, addiction and abuse experts also can tell from John's writings what a messed up person he is. Micah, I feel so sorry for you. I really do offer you blessings, because right now you are in the belly of the beast. I know you think you are doing a good deed. Instead, you are participating in the delusions of a sociopath. And forwarding the agenda of a predator. Godspeed.

  36. Guest says:

    So sad. This is the best, most articulate list of issues with your piece. How convenient that you refuse to reply.

  37. Guest says:

    Miz, didn't you know? Really spiritual people don't ever laugh at other people. They chuckle. It's more spiritual.

  38. Guest says:

    "As an AY instructor"

    …do you mean "supporter of a corrupt organization operated by a deluded sociopath"?

    "Preference for non-monogamous relationships"

    …do you mean "preference for relentless infidelity and sexual exploitation of his students"?

    Wake up, Guest. You're a scumbag by association.

  39. Guest says:

    It's not ahimsa to give a nutjob a platform.

  40. Guest says:

    Hey! John Friend is looking for you!

  41. Miz James says:

    Guest, as an AY instructor, of course you are urging everyone to be cautious with their words. That's part of the AY culture. Oh yeah. /And/ the main reason JFs abuses and bad behavior went on for so long. People were afraid to speak to him, or out against him for fear of retaliation, or because the "always look for the good" business was hammered in so deep, people questioned themselves if they weren't constantly farting rainbows.

    As far as your outrage about there never being a physical or sexual abuse "charge"? I would say, number 1: Not yet. Number 2: My point by posting the abuse cycle information (if that is what you are responding to) is that abuse is abuse is abuse, and the cycle seems clearly in play with many (not all, but many) defenders of JF. He has shown no real remorse or regret, he paints himself as victim, he blames the people around him for his downfall, he appears to have taken no steps to do the real work of healing, choosing instead to vacation with his (rumored) girlfriend, co-opt her hard work, present it as his new offering and pretty much immediately return to teaching. And when you ask them "How can you trust him? Why would you trust him, when past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, and it seems clear he has no intent of changing his behavior anyway?" You hear things like "I had strong words with him! I told him how I felt! I told him he screwed up!"

    Yes, and?

    Yes and nothing. That's pretty much the extent of it. I assume he apologized, promised he'll change, or that he's different now, promised he'll never do it again. Sound familiar? It should. It's directly from the script above.

  42. edie swensen says:

    This thinly veiled critique of teachers with the integrity to say no to John Friend's abusive business practices, cult leader expectations and urethral massages reminds me of the Pharisee's prayer:
    The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: 'I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don't cheat, I don't sin (New Living Testament).

  43. People ask me who my teacher is and I say I am a student of yoga.

  44. Katherine says:

    Micah,

    This article was beautiful and a breath if fresh air. And what is so amazing and fascinating is how so much of the malice and unyogic behavior that you mention in your article, and which many of us in the larger, non anusara yoga community have had to suffer through with endless posts and web articles by disgruntled ex anusara folks, is so clearly on display in the comments to this article. It is mind blowing. John Friend, an excellent yoga teacher and flawed human being (like most others, by the way) is beig called an abuser when not even a formal complaint of abuse or any charges have been brought forth, and is also being likened to the third reich! Wow! This is sad, alarming and utterly mind blowing. And it is also, disturbingly non-compassionate, non loving and decidedly non yogic by the definjtion as j have come to yoga by.

    I pray for the yoga commhnity as a whole to practice compassion for all beings, flawed or not, and i pray that these very angry people, who truly are giving yoga a bad name, find some sort of solace and peace for the unchecked anger that is running rampant in their minds, hearts , actions and words.

  45. […] had been practicing yoga for a while, and after the death of her mother she comes to find solace in the practice, but she needed to go deeper than just the poses. Indeed, the physical postures do bring about a […]

  46. Save your prayers says:

    Typical Anusara "always look for the good" response and shaming of questioning and anger and any other uncomfortable display of emotion as "unyogic". Christan leaders supported abusive priests in exactly the same way, by shaming people who demanded justice as "Un-Christian".

    I suppose one cannot fault someone who judges through the only lens they know, a lens that believes that yoga is all and only about compassion, love, and forgiveness. You have clearly been paying close attention to your studies with John Friend. He has been very selective in his cobbled together "Shiva/Shakti" brand of yoga. His brand allows no place for critical thinking, especially if it leads you to see his abusive behavior.

    My understanding of yoga is quite different. I don't pretend to be a scholar, but I have read a few of the ancient texts and you know what? They're not all about love and light. The Bhagavad Gita for example, is one of the oldest and most beloved ancient texts of yoga. It's all about taking a stand against unacceptable abuses of a people. It's short and fairly easy to digest. Give it read.

    Also have you actually spoken to even one of the people who angry about the abuses of John Friend and listened to their personal story of abuse? Why are they so angry? What is their story? Try asking. There are a lot of shades of abuse before one gets to a "formal" charge.

  47. not sure anymore says:

    don't John and Desi have a romantic relationship? why isn't that being shared with the public? seems like what happened before. John– come on dude, some honesty. That's all. No one would care if you just put the truth out there.

  48. Ariane says:

    Oh dear lots of " intelligent" back n forth ….. Live and let live get busy with yourselves and let others make their own mistakes … Namaste. Ariane

  49. Ariane says:

    What's the saying" let he who is perfect cast the first stone."
    Something like that . Sounds like you are all a buch of American prudes!! Who has not stepped out of line ever..? Screwed around. .. Gues the ladies" abused" were consenting adults , married or not who cares!
    Does that change the fact that the guy is a good asana teacher and has given good insight into yoga postures, therapeutics etc??? And if these two sisters are taking him in/on, it's their choice. Failure or success whatever is meant to happen will anyhow , no matter how much time everyone spends nattering on about it. Get on with your life's and stopp looking at faults in others. Enough we have with ourselves, or not?????

  50. Ariane says:

    Who cares of they are or not , why does it have to be public??

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