boycott john friend, decolonize yoga: the new face of yoga slacktivism

decolonizing-yogaSo 2013 is off to a feisty start, isn’t it? Boycotts, protests, fallen teachers emerging from the shadows – the yoga-verse is keeping us on our toes! It’s no surprise that in response to this activity, there has been a flurry of digital disruption (commonly referred to as “slacktivism,” or acts of social good that require minimal effort, e.g. following a hashtag on Twitter or joining a Facebook fanpage).

First up, the Boycott John Friend’s Sridaiva Yoga page, created by an anonymous yogi on January 30 or 31. Originally titled simply Boycott John Friend (with the tagline, “Friends don’t let friends do John Friend yoga”), four days later the page has almost 150 likes and is growing exponentially each day.

Boycott John Friend’s Sridaiva Yoga appears to be an awareness-raising campaign. As explained in the page’s description:

This page is dedicated to making public the actions & character of John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga. Up until now, much of the discussion and detailed disclosure of his transgressions has happened in small, private groups. Now, only one year later, he’s poised to return to teaching under a new system of self-branded yoga call Shri Daiva yoga.

Currently he’s taken his “new system” of teaching on the road and could be stopping in a town near you. Please share with your family and friends that this alleged predator should be avoided because John Friend is a deeply unstable and unethical man.

The initial rush of new fans indicates that there is some support for this cause. However, the reactions are mixed. “An anonymous hate page,” wrote one commentor. “That’s really sad and pathetic and cowardly.”

boycott-john-friend“I do not boycott anything but hate and violence,” wrote another. “Directing negativity at John Friend is feeding negativity. I feel having compassion and understanding that we ALL have a dark side, and some feed it and get lost in it from time to time, while some others do not. No human, no yoga teacher, no anyone is purely light, nor perfect, and such is why I could not ride that train of the hero worship ‘guru’ ideal. Compassion is a powerful thing. Lets move on.”

And of course, the grand statement “Unyogic” turns up more than a few times among the comments.

There are also strong statements in support of the boycott. “… It is received as a principled stand when we boycott Mansanto for doing harm to our food supply. I think our communities are equally deserving of our standing up. For me this is not so much a boycott of an individual person (though certainly, that element is present). It is a stand for a practice, and for a large body of people, who mean the world to me.”

In addition to discussion about the worthiness and point of boycotting a yoga teacher, the page also shares resources and posts Friend’s upcoming teaching dates.

Then there’s Decolonizing Yoga, which sprung up after news of the Yoga Journal vs Hyatt Boycott broke and San Francisco yogis took to the streets in an unprecedented act of solidarity with hotel workers.

Decolonizing Yoga’s mission: “Challenging racism, patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism, ableism, heteronormativity and privilege within yoga and spirituality. A place for radicals, queers, activists, anarchists, feminists & revolutionaries to unite.”

The page has almost 700 fans in its first three weeks, indicating that there is a strong interest and a potential movement percolating here.

Decolonizing Yoga isn’t all talk, no action. The mystery crew behind the page plan on launching “trainings, online classes, articles, interviews and support for actions about the connections between social justice and spirituality/yoga” (sign up for the mailing list for upcoming news and developments).

Whether you consider these public statements activism or slacktivism, whether you believe social media leads to social change – the yogis are starting to rise up. Revel in the unrest, or run.

  1. Who is John Friend?

  2. Well I googled him and found out. I never would have known who he was if not for all his bad publicity. I guess thats why they say “don’t worry about what they are saying about you but make sure they spell your name right.” lol

    • good to hear! I guess it’s possible to be involved in yoga and not know who john friend is, depending on what circles you swim in. so the boycott john friend page is serving a purpose!

  3. For the record, I will be running.

  4. don’t be circumspect: if the man is a ‘predator’ people DO have the right to know and it is ethical to say just what, when, how, if it is fact. To those who say ‘don’t be negative’, wake up, dear one. It is negative to allow people to be hurt when you could have prevented it by speaking out loud and warning people. That sort of “negativity” can save lives, which is positive, right? So, wake up, grow up, take responsibility in the spirit of yoga, which means, life!

  5. I quibble with your saying “unprecedented act” for yoga and yogis have been involved in social change perhaps since its origin. I’ve forgotten the names of those in recent history, and they are Indian so it’s too much a bother to look them up. Slack at it’s finest. I’m running too, by which I mean walking.

  6. To be honest, I never paid any attention to the whole John Friend thing. I try to stay out of all that. I don’t know what to make of it, and it’s quite a crazy debate with really good points on both sides! Oh my! 🙂

  7. I think what is troublesome, beyond the fouffy “let’s not be negative!” silliness, is that Mr Friend has had virtually no professional recourse for his unethical and bordering on abusive use of power.

    I view this as being one of the problems with a profession not having a regulatory organization.

    Instead of being required to go through retraining, some sort of therapy or yoga recertification program of some type, he spent some time ‘meditating and soul searching’ on his own that we need to trust was sufficient after the harm he’s caused and is permitted to simply rebrand and go back out there.

    when power is abused in other professions, this is not acceptable.

    So no- the hate group and boycotting is a bit inflammatory, but I am also deeply concerned and troubled that Mr Friend is permitted to simply re-enter the yogasphere without any evidence that appropriate and firm steps were taken to assure harm isn’t caused again.

    • Thanks for this, EcoYogini. This is one of the things that really bothers me too. If John had been teaching anything else, his behavior would have cost him his license and his right to teach. It bothers me that yoga—of all things—has lowered the bar on ethical behavior. Does anyone else see the irony of this?

      If yoga is ever to be taken seriously as a profession/calling, its proponents have to be held accountable to definable ethical guidelines. And there has to be a defined and rigorous path back to teaching again, if it is allowed at all.

      • Charlotte,

        Another comment from you showing great insight and ethical coherence — sad but I cannot say the same about the overall contemporary yoga ‘community’ (such as it is!).

        Thank you!

  8. From what I can tell, and I’m new to this whole thing, John Friend engaged in a serious moral lapse. (Again from my limited reading on this topic) His largest indiscretion was his participation in an affair with a married woman. Possibly an equally unfortunate development was the confluence of him getting too big for his britches and many of his students buying into an unrealistic superhuman view of the man.

    Over the past month I was exposed to and practiced Sridaiva through a current student of his. And for the past two days I took part in a workshop with him, having never met him, but having read about his history for the first time the day before the workshop.

    After meeting him, working with him a little and talking with some of his longtime students, it looks to me like he’s learned from his errors, grown in surprising ways and moved on with a fresh perspective. Pretty impressive to achieve that in just over a year after this scandal.

    Meanwhile, the hateful discourse (like the nasty flier someone took the time to place on all our cars yesterday) tells me that there are people out there who haven’t forgiven themselves for their own lapse in judgement, contributing to the creation of a false god, and abdicating their own good judgement in the process.

  9. Thanks for keeping us up-to-date, Roseanne.

    Bob