the anusara controversy: ethics, responsibility & integrity

John Friend at Wanderlust 2009

It has all the elements of a trashy movie. A yoga empire with a charismatic leader. A series of public departures by senior teachers. And now accusations of possible misconduct, provided by an anonymous tipster and a shady website (jfexposed.com, which has recently been removed).

If we look at the pieces, it appears all is not well in the world of John Friend and Anusara Yoga. The delivery of this latest blow also brings up big questions about blogger/journalistic integrity in the yoga community, and how we respond to controversy and rumours. YogaDork broke the story yesterday afternoon, with details (all gleaned from the website, none verified) of a “wiccan coven,” sexual relations with students and frozen pension contributions.

YogaDork acknowledged the anonymous tip and didn’t present any of the information as fact. At the end of the post, she left it up to readers to draw their own conclusions:

While this information may be difficult for some to swallow, it’s not so outrageous in a time when power can so easily be misused, which we’ve seen time and again in the yoga world and beyond. Do we care what JF does in the bedroom with his Wiccan Coven? Not really. But we do expect taking responsibility for actions, and truthfulness and transparency when it comes to adhering to your own principles that thousands of people around the world believe in.

Elephant Journal made the wise decision to not repost the information but simply acknowledge it, without any links. I am, clearly, falling somewhere in between. Links, ahoy! Along with questions. In the yoga community, what kind of responsibility do bloggers have when addressing controversial subjects? What is the line between news and gossip? What does it mean to blog with integrity?

I few weeks ago, I declared my desire to respond to viral marketing with silence. But I feel differently about this. I don’t know what I feel, other than a desire to say something. If there is indeed something sinister lurking beneath the shiny glow of Anusara Inc, it needs to be brought to light. If the leader of the community is acting unethically and against the principles he preaches, then he needs to made accountable.

I’m hoping the story develops and some actual facts emerge…

  1. Hi, my opinion: the line between news and gossip is not too difficult to discern, usually. I would put this story on the gossip side of things, it mostly involves the personal life of a person (except for the pension thing), which is a private matter and shouldn’t be considered “news”, no matter what position the person in question holds.

  2. This sounds mostly like gossip, to me, and I largely agree with yogatrail2.

    I’d like to add that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with anonymous sources, but if the information is SINGLE sourced, then that’s a problem, because that could just be someone committing character assassination under the cover of anonymity. You might recall in “All the President’s Men” that “Woodstein” had to get separate confirmation for the things Deep Throat said. That’s journalism, and that’s something we don’t see often today, sadly enough.

    Printing single-sourced gossip should never be confused with journalism, and in my opinion shouldn’t be promoted. This may all turn out to be true, but whatever the case, the damage has been done. Was this story sourced well enough, and important enough, to cause that kind of damage? I think we all know the answer to those questions.

  3. if this stuff is any way true, I predict JF will publicly apologize, all teary-eyed, saying how he is sorry for letting everyone down, just like Jim and Tammy Faye Baker did and just like anyone else whose followers put them on a pedestal and then got caught with their pants down or hands in the cookie jar. people of their ilk are supreme masters at spinning shit like this for their own good to come out smelling like a rose.

    Amrit Desai got kicked out of Kripalu and he still travels yoga conferences with his minions.

  4. p.s. Yoga is and always will be bigger than all this nonsense anyway. People always move on to the next controversy, it’s the American way….;)

  5. I agree with Linda! Yoga is bigger than this nonsense. If any of this is true, it will make me very sad, but it doesn’t change anything about the practice of yoga… And it’s not really relevant to what that means to me. I’m not an Anusara student, but the Anusara principles have taught me so much. I respect JF as a teacher… even if he’s made some mistakes (no matter how epic and icky) along the way.

    • i agree with erica and linda-sama…yoga is bigger than all this nonsense…all modern yoga styles are founded by humans, and humans make mistakes, so can we please just move on? unfortunately, our society loves to focus on scandal, gossip and what’s wrong with the state of the world. it’s irresponsible of yogadork to publish an article with such dubious foundations just as it is irresponsible of someone to blog about john friend scandals and not even owning up to his/her comments by putting a name to their words.
      as a teacher of anusara, i will obviously be surprised and concerned if the controversial blog is true, however i am deeply grateful for everything that anusara yoga has (and continues to teach me)…i teach yoga in the anusara method, not “john friend yoga”.
      like erica said, i respect john friend as a teacher and and for founding Anusara Yoga. i’m sure the truth will come out sooner than later, so let’s focus on the yoga and not on the people

  6. I’m not going to comment about this. Seems too flimsy and unverified as yet to say anything that would fall under “right speech.”

    However, reading a recent post from Elena Brower inspired me to write the following on my blog about what I have long felt to be a real “shadow” of Anusara.

    http://mindfulness-yoga.blogspot.com/

    metta
    frank jude

  7. YogaDork’s post wasn’t journalism. It was, potentially, the beginning of journalism: a lead. It was a cue to check the veracity of the frozen pension claims with the Department of Labor. It was a tip to shoot of emails to Anusara, the departed teachers, friends in Texas, whoever… and ask for a statement. Then perhaps we would have gotten real news. Instead, we got horrid defamation. Looks to me as though YD was so keen on breaking this one they didn’t do diligence. If you don’t have the evidence and you lose the story, you weren’t meant to publish it. That’s my take.

    And JF and Anusara? There are problems in any organization, no matter how shiny it looks. If you’ve found one that is illegal or otherwise newsworthy, you substantiate it and you leak it to the real press, not toss an anonymous website up about it. The NY Times would have a field day with this, if there was actually any evidence of serious dirt.

  8. I actually applaud YogaDork for publishing this and taking a stand instead of remaining silent like Elephant Journal did.

    The yoga community suffers from not enough scrutiny and these sexual shenanigans with the likes of Rodney Yee, Bikram Chowdury and now John Friend is pointing to a deeper problem within the yoga community itself. If it happened once or twice, so what? But when it’s becoming a repeating pattern, then there is an underlying problem. It’s not the yoga which is the problem, it’s the people who are leading it, making a lot of money and going on egotistical power trips so that they think they are so exceptional as to be beyond the reach of basic morality. Whatever happened to ahimsa, and the Golden Rule like treating other people the way you want to be treated yourself?

    There is nothing wrong with sex between consenting adults. However, there is a problem when someone gets hurt along the way, like a spouse, members of family or long term girlfriend, either through lies, deception or dishonesty.

    There is nothing wrong with making money. However, there is a problem when you’re making money at the expense of the future livelihoods of your workers (pension scams and Wall Street thuggery). As clients and consumers shelling out our hard-earned monies, we have every right to ask serious questions about the credibility of those we are paying. Yogis and yoginis alike need to understand that they have tremendous power in this.

    I agree with Jack that the Department of Labor should be tapped about the pension freeze, as well as the IRS and the organization perhaps needs to be audited independently for good measure to see that the books aren’t being cooked.

    In light of all of this, the recent defections from key Anusara players make complete sense now and speaks volumes.

    As for charismatic leadership, here’s an excellent link to help anyone fine-tune their radar about leaders and movements, yogic or otherwise: http://www.rickross.com/warningsigns.html

    I, for one, have had it with straight male yoga instructors. I’m generalizing but the ones I come across all seem oversexed and underhanded. From now on, it’s female instructors and gay instructors all the way. In an age of Wikileaks and exposing wrongdoing, kudos for YogaDork for standing firm.

    And kudos to It’s all Yoga Baby for creating a place where we can discuss this openly.

    • Re male Yoga Teachers……what a silly, unintelligent and unyogic thing to say.

      Gregory Angell

      • Peace Brother Gregory, I said I was generalizing. By no means do I mean every last straight male yoga instructor on Earth is as I described above. It’s only been my experience that those I was exposed to in the last 10 years in my geographic area fall under said description.

  9. Well, I hate to be the one to point it out, but perhaps, don’t ‘cha think, what I wrote about in my blog post might have something to do with the causes and conditions that could lead to this kind of behavior?

    Paraphrasing Jung: if you ignore the shadow, it WILL find a way to bite you in the ass!

  10. Frank, I’m in total agreement with what you wrote and that yes, the shadow does have a way of confronting us unless it’s dealt with properly and in a meaningful way.

    My axe to grind is with the way yoga is currently presented, marketed and sold. It’s being presented as some sort of panacea, an absolute cure-all for all physical, emotional and spiritual imbalances and problems when that’s not the case. Emotional problems need emotional cures. Psychological problems need psychological cures. Spiritual crisis’s need spiritual cures. Part of the problem is the people who are marketing it and teaching it. They usually have not taken care of their own demons yet yoga allows them to feel fantastic while they are doing it and shortly thereafter (endorphins), yet, the rest of their lives are a mess and then they go around and sell and preach how yoga can cure everything to people who don’t know any better.

    I personally can count on both my hands instructors who I have come across who were either sex addicts, substance abusers, egomaniacs, narcissists or with eating disorders. Sure, they were amazing at the asanas they did, they were also talented instructors, but they also brought those shadows which were still there in their personalities and it showed up in their lives and actions.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denigrating yoga, I think it’s a wonderful practice to know your own body and understand it’s limits and respecting them and that can be a spiritual exercise in itself. But if a person hasn’t faced the music about themselves, which in itself, is an extremely long, hard and painful process to do and no one wants to do it, then no modality whether it’s yoga, Reiki, transcendental meditation, chakra cleansing, coffee colonics, crystal healings or angel guides are going to do it for you.

    To me, this whole John Friend fiasco only shows up those parts of his own life which he clearly has not worked on. But it’s not just JF, it’s many, many others and as well as those who projected their own expectations onto him to only find that he too is human and has failings, even if covered up by a slick marketing campaign and company.

  11. John Friend is not your typical person b/c he has declared himself as one w/ answers, or with a system that holds answers. That’s different from the average human who falters. Most of us don’t lead others on spiritual journeys. Also, this guy did a LOT of yoga–so this shows that the asanas and the yoga system itself does very little to help someone on a spirtual level. There is more too it than asana, or following a daily practice. The world is broken, and we don’t have answers or we wouldn’t be here. This is a warning to me to wake up and stop believing that yoga will be anything more than something that makes me feel better each day–like exercise, and perhaps stress reduction. But it’s not a cure-all. At the end of the pose there is only the inner world.

    • Chassie I agree that asana alone is not the answer. But yoga has 7 other limbs and together they can elevate you. I think this story is a great reminder to look for the divine within for guru.

  12. Blogging to me is like occupy wall street except online and only those who know about it continue to read it. I mainly check out Blogs for Pinterest purpose but most of the time I move on given what are the credentials of a blogger to make them legit information.
    I just read the other day the world was going to end…from a blog?

    I think we control to much of someone’s growth. When you think about the personal information being shared be they true or not, are they truly relevant to your yoga.

    I question Bikram and kids I don’t hear parents complaining about that?
    Point is we follow everyone and anyone who make us feel good. How many senior Instructors are there for him? Its not even the President of America and all of a sudden John Friend is that Powerful? Seriously?

    To know people stopped believing in him just like that? As if they led that much of a perfect life. Jesus…

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