How to Get Over a Yoga Divorce. ~ Michelle Marchildon

Via Michelle Marchildon
on Dec 6, 2012
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My teacher broke my heart.

I have a girlfriend who went through a terrible divorce and she was bitter for several years. Then one day she was not. She shared her secret with me over dinner:

“I had to own my part in it.”

As far as I was concerned, the whole mess was 100 percent his fault and not hers, but whatever. Of course, this conversation is only a little bit about her divorce and a lot about yoga.

I wrote in my book that, “Yoga is just like love. We have to be willing to try over and over again until we get it right.” Well, this year showed me that it is also like divorce.

In 2012, we woke up to a lot of yogis behaving badly. One after another guru confessed to smoking pot, having sex with married women and underage girls and being narcissistically cray-cray. In my case, I was devastated to discover that I had been taken in by a middle-aged man dressed in a yoga diaper.


I’m embarrased to admit, this was my teacher.

The wisest among us have taken time in private to process their emotions and feelings about their spiritual split from their yoga teacher. I was not that smart. I processed all over the pages of various newspapers, blogs, magazines and Facebook. I processed in the car taking my children to soccer.

I processed so much that the “f” word is now a regular part of my family’s vocabulary. Same with the word “douche,” which I did not ever use before I practiced yoga.

Though the smart thing to do, and certainly the politically correct thing to do would have been to mull this over privately, and perhaps resign my Anusara license privately, and you know, go to a cave and meditate on the whole shebang privately, I did not. I felt as a writer it was my dharma to provide a voice to the feelings of anger and betrayal that were coursing through the yoga community. I thought that by providing a glimpse of my own pain it might reassure others that suffering is normal.

“Yooo hoooo. Do you feel lost and angry and betrayed? Me tooooo! Let’s hang out.”

The best part of my misery is that it loved company. I made a lot of really cool friends through our shared heartbreak and disillusionment in yoga. We have been through a war together. Together we have cursed at the world and cursed at yoga. They are my compatriots.

However, I have some news. Like many, I was bitter for months. And then, one day, I was not. Here is the secret to my newly discovered contentment:

I have owned my part in this.

Yes, I had a part in this. Although I wasn’t a coven girl and I was never invited to the hot tub parties, I had a part in this nonetheless. Here it is: I gave my heart to a man who did not deserve it. Oh there’s a newsflash. Stop the presses: Michelle Marchildon fell for the wrong man. (Hint: In the past, the wrong men usually looked pretty damn good in tight jeans.)

Yes, I thought my teacher had discovered a unique way to practice yoga and that he was a good guy. Turns out, I was both right and wrong. The power I invested in him, I should have invested in myself. Freaking duh.

But before I go any further, I want to say that most of the five years and $10,000 I put into Anusara yoga was time and money well spent. I didn’t get to say I’m a “Certified Teacher” and charge outrageous sums for other teachers to go through the process. But learning how to practice yoga in alignment certainly enhanced my life. I might even say it saved it.

Before I could own my part in this, it was much easier just to blame the teacher, or my ex-husband or any other cowboy in tight jeans that loved and left me. Right? It takes two to tango.

For a while I was so upset I quit yoga. I made it two days. The thing is, I love yoga. I love all that it has to teach me, the good and the bad about myself and life.

Living in Colorado has been a daily confrontation of the ghosts that haunt from this thing as my former teacher is now just down the street. I have students tell me every day, “Well, he didn’t hurt me and he is a great asana teacher, so I think I’ll catch his Thursday class.” Okay, you do that.

It made me sad that people still want to study with a man who so blatantly made a mockery of the Yamas and Niyamas and who has never, not once, apologized and owned up to his indiscretions. Instead, he blames his followers for his downfall because he was just a human trying to wear big shoes.

And then one day, I didn’t care anymore. Or at least, not as much.

If yoga is to recover and thrive, if it doesn’t go the way of the gurus who behaved badly, then I still want to be a part of it. I feel that it is time to move on. My divorce is finalized, and I want to fall in love again. I only hope I choose better this time.

I am wiser now, less trusting of the gurus, but by the same token, I am willing to try again until I get it right. That is yoga. It is just like love, and sometimes like divorce too.


Ed: Kate B.


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About Michelle Marchildon

Michelle Berman Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist, and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga. Her second book, Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga, is for yoga teachers who want to inspire their students. Michelle is a columnist for elephant journal and Origin Magazine and a contributor to Teachasana, My Yoga Online and Yoga Journal. She is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance and teaches in Denver, Co where she is busy raising two boys, two dogs and one husband. You can follow her on Facebook at Michelle Marchildon, The Yogi Muse. You can find her blog and website at And you can take her classes on


19 Responses to “How to Get Over a Yoga Divorce. ~ Michelle Marchildon”

  1. Shannon C says:

    Good article. I remember when you wrote, "if anyone tells you they are a guru – tell them to suck it." Your insight was there long before – we are all students, even if you get paid to teach. In fact, I think teachers learn more about themselves and their practice than their students.

  2. judi knight says:

    Bravo. Breath of fresh air. I have been wondering about the effects of all the hate on the people that were feeling it and on their students. The only way to change something is to take 100% responsibility and then to do it. It feels like shit to be a victim. Yes, I usually have to go through the tears and f words but feeding that negativity only prolongs it. Since you wrote a lot in the negative space, you also have a lot to say about this process of healing and moving on. Thanks for putting it out there.

  3. Michelle Marchildon says:

    Thank you Judi. I believe it's important to spend time in the negative space too, as a way to understand what is happening, and to learn from it. Those who run from their feelings of hurt without fully comprehending their role in it, will not learn and move on in a way that can bring meaning to their lives. I was critical of the "pollyannas" who were so quick to forgive without thinking it through. They will be the first to sign on to the next guru, or cowboy in tight jeans when they come through town. And make no mistake, I am not "forgiving" anything. I am just letting it go. It's going into my file with my ex-husband, a few really bad jobs I had, and the men I loved who didn't deserve it. Actually, the women too. I've had girlfriends break my heart with betrayals worse than many men. Who hasn't?

  4. Well done, as always, Michelle. Glad I finally got around to reading it! ~ Cheers!

  5. Brad says:

    So much for ahimsa and compassion. I've never practiced John's yoga but I I did follow the meltdown. Judging by your article you have learned a lot from John on and off the mat. There is nothing like crazy wisdom to teach us. I suggest a dead or at least a Guru who has left his body they are less troublesome.

  6. Julie says:

    I study under Karina Ayn Mirsky and what she tell's us is, never believe anything she says. She guides us to have our own authentic practice and wants us to have our own experience and form our own beliefs from those experiences. I'm truly sorry for those who have had a bad experience with a guru. I hope those who have been hurt by this experience put their faith back in the practice itself.

  7. Great article. You should consider falling in love with its author.

  8. Ahimsahome says:

    Especially to some of the audience of Elephant, what do you think will almost always happen when you put another human above yourself and call them your "teacher"? What Michelle says was her part in it was "falling in love with the wrong man" I would say that is still blaming. He is somehow "the wrong one" I would say that you gave away your power. That can never work out well and for the one you put on a pedestal the only way is down. Any hierarchal relationship is fucked up. We are all here finding our way through this mystery equally, from a serial killer to some former Tibetan gussied up some crimson robe or better yet one with a gold necklace, driving a Range Rover in a cashmere sweater (have seen him around) oh yeah and telling his "students" that in order to really get the "secrets of the practice" they need to be imparted into then via his penis! Lock him up!!!!!!!! So really as far as owning your part in it I would suggest going deeper and taking responsibility for giving your own intelligence, knowing, wisdom, and power away to another human. Giving them your love is the least of it. That is one thing that we can still give freely without giving the other things away.

  9. yoga bear says:

    there was something in you that felt like you needed a "guru". I was told a long time ago, never put people on pedestals-especially those who think they belong on one.

  10. Zee says:

    Nice read. Love and other drugs… Anyway, you have learned a lot. The greatest Anusara Guru and his ideas in the history of yoga contain no more truth than the bleating of sheep.

  11. nephrol says:

    We all like to think that we are smarter than to leave our better judgment at the guru's feet. But I have seen how a relationship that requires trust in a teacher or a counselor can still the disciple's inner warning bells. This process may take years as, little by little, the disciple finds him or herself being led down a path that winds up in a place they didn't anticipate in the beginning. Perhaps the guru starts out with good intentions but sometimes power can take him/her into dark places.

    Fantastic and honest article! I agree with Brad about choosing a guru who has passed, less troublesome.

  12. Bry says:

    Here's the thing. John Friend was not a guru. Most of these "hatha" bread yoga teachers in the west aren't. They're not even hatha teachers proper if you understand yoga history at all. Even someone of the stature and respectability of BKS Iyengar ( who Friend incidentally stole and branded a lot of his teaching from) is not a saint or enlightened being. HE is a genious of the subject of asana and pranayama and has probably helped humanity more than all of us combined ever will but he is just a teacher. While his followers call him "Guruji" he has many imbalances as do a lot of the people under him.
    What westerners need to realize is that there are many types of gurus in India for different functions. Most of them are just teachers of different levels of learning and maybe some depth of realization. Then there are "sat gurus" which are the true teachers and actual enlightened people who are absorbed in God ALL THE TIME. They exist. You can find them if your heart and intention are pure enough and you want to find God and not just something to tack onto your sense of ego and brand it as spirituality.
    There is a reason so many people got sucked into this marketing machine and it is a tough lesson in yoga, but don't let it flail your hope that there is a deeper spiritual dimension to yoga and true teachers out there but try and learn to find out what the truth is and let that be your guide. It is not an easy path nor all flowers and roses either even if you do find a real guru. You still have to do your work and deal with your crap. Which is exactly what most of us try to avoid…

  13. REALLY? says:

    what i dont understand is that when students get involved with yoga teachers…consensually – then what is the dam problem? 1. lonely single/married women screwing a yoga teacher – where is the betrayal in that?
    2. yogis smoking pot originates in the b.c time of practicing yoga i.e. shivaji – so again…who cares if a yogi smokes pot. how is it anyone elses dam bussiness???
    3. the west has taken our spiritual teachings and pissed on them but you dont hear us being outraged

  14. MatBoy says:

    I enjoyed reading your article Michelle and, after all, that is the highest result from any piece of writing. You connected with me with your words, made me feel better about my own and our shared humanity.

    Part of that shared humanity is our tendency to want to be part of a community, to be included and accepted into the warm embrace of friends and family. Some people will manipulate this vulnerability in us to their advantage and well-meaning individuals will be made to look foolish and feel ripped-off when a disappointing leader is exposed. Some estimate that up to 20% of the population are sociopaths who prey off others' vulnerability and take a 'free-ride' on others' goodness and altruistic nature.

    Knowing this I have become more skeptical and my BS radar is increasingly sensitive. The question I always return to is how much of my humanity am I willing to give up in order to avoid falling for another disappointing person or scheme. If so many people are out to take advantage of all aspects of the system, I don't expect I can completely avoid them.

    Some prey on our economic needs, some on our desire for transcendence, some on our need to be loved and included, some on our need to feel we are right or doing the right thing. I fall, then I stand back up and know I will probably fall again. I do appreciate it when someone writes well about this experience, makes me laugh and let's me know that we are all in this together. Thanks

  15. Yoga Babe says:

    Shame on John Friend for trying to have sex with a woman! I thought I was paying him to be my gay friend! I feel so betrayed.

  16. Get Over It! says:

    As one of my yoga teachers confessed to me, 'I am not upset that JF screwed around. I am upset that he didn't do it with me!'

  17. sigh says:

    We yoga people sure do tweak when somebody has sex.

  18. Michelle Marchildon says:

    I am not upset that John Friend did not have sex with me (but he could have at least made a pass at me!) I am upset that George Clooney has not had sex with me.

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