Why Are So Many Male Yoga Gurus Really Perverts?

“The wholesome image of yoga took a hit in the past few weeks as a rising star of the discipline came tumbling back to earth. After accusations of sexual impropriety with female students, John Friend, the founder of Anusara, one of the world’s fastest-growing styles, told followers that he was stepping down for an indefinite period of “self-reflection, therapy and personal retreat.”

So reports the NYT, “Yoga and Sex Scandals” in an article by William Broad that concludes “the practice can fan the sexual flames. Pelvic regions can feel more sensitive and orgasms more intense” and that some yoga branches started as a kind of sex cult.  So we really shouldn’t be surprised at all that male gurus end up sex addicts.

Bull crap, says this yoga enthusiast. Sure yoga can open you up to better sex.  So can viagra. That doesn’t mean all morals go completely out the window. The most important tenant of yoga taught by my master teacher, Rolf Gates who is happily married with two kids and not sex addict, is to “stay on your matt.” That means yoga is a form of self-discovery, not a higher form of strip club.

Yogis preaching serenity and spirituality who end up sleeping with all the women are perhaps the highest form of male hypocrites.

???

Invoking Under the Banner of Heaven here may seem odd, but Krakauer’s account of Joseph Smith always comes to mind whenever we talk about gurus, spirituality and sleeping around. Just so Mormon readers understand me clearly, I am not saying that Christians, Jews and Muslims haven’t had their fair share of bad sexual behavior in the name of God. It’s just not as recent (save I guess a few Catholic priests raping boys here and there) nor as out in the open.

Joseph Smith was the kind of charismatic leader who brings a new religion to the masses.  Where before they were lost now they were found, kind of like modern day yogi masters and their followers.

The thing with Joseph Smith is that he decided along the way that God had a special job for him: marry lots of women.  His first wife, in Krakauer’s account anyway, was livid with the edict from God. But she went along grudgingly. And the practice of polygamy–men marrying multiple women–became the primary reason Mormons were persecuted by the federal government.  In fact, Abraham Lincoln won the GOP nomination in 1856 with a key plank “to prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery.”

I wonder what Lincoln would have had to say about John Friend?

My point is really that power seems to have a way of corrupting.  Religious or spiritual power has a way of corrupting in an even more hypocritical manner, whether you are Joseph Smith rationalizing your sexual appetites or a spiritual guru convincing large numbers of people to follow your yoga path.

???

Growing up, my mother spent a lot of time at Kripalu in Western Massachusetts. Founded in 1983 by yogi Amrit Desai (his sanskrit name is “Gurudev”), Kripalu quickly became a religious Ashram in which Gurudev required of his more than 100 residential followers that they take vows of poverty and celibacy.

To be very honest it kind of freaked me out that my mom was spending months at a time at this Ashram and herself taken a sanskrit name, though she didn’t take vows of poverty or celibacy since she already had a family.

Kripalu thrived in the 1980s, becoming very popular with numerous programs for outsiders and a style of yoga which spread across the country. But you know what’s coming, right?

In 1994 it was revealed that Gurudev was fucking the women and sucking hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the ashram on an annual basis.  He resigned and Kripalu ultimately had to pay $2.5 million to settle a class action suit brought by more than 100 unpaid staff by selling off a big chunk of its land.

In the years since Kripalu has transformed itself into a guru-less yoga center that does tons of good work.  But every time I go there, which I have more than once to practice yoga myself, I think of the founder who forced his disciples to take vows that he was incapable of living by himself.

???

I suppose in all things, forgiveness is perhaps the most important spiritual principal.  And it’s not like plenty of other men have behaved badly when it comes to sexual behavior, specially those with power or fame. But there’s something about the spiritual guru, the one who carries such a noble message of non-harming and being at one with the soul and the world, that causes me to want to scream.

The truth is that in practicing yoga with some seriousness for over a decade now, I have found great benefits.  I have also been taught by men, and women, who take their job as one of humble service not a chance to act out sexually. There is nothing inherent to yoga, or even religion for that matter, which compels male leaders to stray from the message they are carrying about devotion to honesty and sincerity and human compassion.

Yoga is a great thing. Yogi’s who are perverts really suck.  Let’s just keep that straight.  And if you are capable, pray for the guy who is great at teaching yoga but can’t keep his manhood in his lululemon pants.

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. Why Are So Many Male Yoga Gurus Really Perverts?
    Because they have seen that yoga is a way to get their jollies. Just like chat rooms, playgrounds, and any other location the yoga environment has been marked as a place for sexual predators to find prey.

  2. Jamie Reidy says:

    A female friend of mine posted this on Facebook last year, “Sure, my hot Brazilian yoga instructor, please correct my posture in down dog anytime!”

    I thought that was pretty funny. I do not think svengalis using their influence to get laid is funny.

    • In all fairness, yoga students are usually adults, and so is the teacher.

      The yoga teacher doesn’t have real power over the students. Sure he/she is higher status, and usually respected in the group, but it is totally different to other situations in adult teaching, where the teacher makes real decisions that affect the student’s lives.

      If by sexual impropriety they mean sexual assault, then that is different. But simply respectfully hitting on one of your yoga students, or having consensual sex with one of your adult yoga students in my opinion is fine.

        • My reading of that article, is the following.

          Points relevant to my post;

          - She got into two consensual unhealthy relationships with students where she was ‘pedestal-ized’ and their relationship had an unhealthy power-balance (with her as the powerful one)

          Then she blames the yoga … WTF!?!.

          She is an adult, who got into consensual un-healthy relationships. She needs to own her shit and work out why she wants men who worship her. It was a dynamic between her and her ex-boyfriends. Not the yoga.

          Kinda-relevant;

          - Inappropriate touching by male teachers. In yoga classes that I have attended there is a kind of un-spoken rule that the teacher can gently move students into different positions. This rule should be more explicit and everyone should explicitly consent, as different people think different things are appropriate. However it is not really relevant to the dating question.

          Not-relevent to my post;

          - She was hit on by a married man who she was teaching. (What a Douchbag, but my point is about mature healthy people who could date if they didn’t meet at yoga)
          - She quite rightly points out that rape and sexual assault are horrific, but that is not relevant to how healthy non-rapey people behave.
          - She also talks about power differentials, but the differential in power between yoga teacher and student is negligible. A power difference is when a boss has a hot employee, or a professor controls who gets into medical school.

          • I think what you’re referring to is explicit power based on the exchange of one thing for another – salary & benefits for work, admission to a school, in your examples. The power some followers give their yogis or gurus is more implicit – the kind of power that comes with adoring, unfaltering respect. And to the hoodwinked follower, it feels just as concrete as explicit power.

            From the follower’s point of view, it’s a mentality of “You are so wise, so clearly anything you ask me to do is informed by your wisdom and therefore correct & moral. And if I suspect otherwise, it’s just because I’m not as enlightened as you are.”

            Or conversely, from a corrupted guru’s POV, “I am wise and enlightened (and in Joseph Smith’s case, an appointed spokesperson of God). I am the holder of the Truth. Those who doubt my Truth are unenlightened. Those who follow my Truth will do as I request of them because I speak with the authority of the religion/philosophy I represent, and if they refuse or resist, then they are not true believers.”

            I say “a corrupted guru” specifically for yoga because the teachings of yoga would discourage (prohibit, forbid, depending on interpretation) the yogi from ever thinking he is more enlightened than his students, and ESPECIALLY from using his wisdom to manipulate. Any yogi who does so is betraying the very philosophy he purports to live by & promote.

      • There’s a subtle difference in this case – a yoga teacher or guru is not just teaching how to do the poses, but usually at least SOME of the philosophy behind yoga. There are some who do purely physical yoga, usually at gyms/fitness centers, but that’s not the type of teacher Tom is talking about here. One would expect that a yoga teacher asking his or her students to adhere to certain practices of yoga would adhere to those same practices him/herself.

        In a less philosophical, more fitness-oriented class where the deeper principles of yoga are not taught, I would wholeheartedly agree with you that consensual sexual relations between student and teacher, or between students themselves, is nothing to get all lit up about. But this is a case of someone violating an established trust. Yes, it takes two (or more) to tango – the students who engage with a hypocritical teacher are no less hypocritical themselves, especially if vows have been made. But I can see how abuse of power under the guise of spirituality does really happen in some communities, and if not completely concealed up until the point of public exposure, might be explained away with spiritual or dogmatic justifications.

        Not to say that women should be distrustful of popular & well-loved yogis or gurus, but something I think all people should do – don’t put so much of your trust & faith in another human being that you risk becoming blind to that person’s faults. Because ALL. HUMANS. ARE. FLAWED. And some are very good at masking it.

        • My experience of yoga is entirely in the fitness type class.

          But I still don’t really see the problem with her being impressed with his teaching, then they go for coffee, then they chat, get to know each other and start dating …. they are still consenting adults.

          The consenting adults argument is hard to beat.

          I can think of three main ways.

          You either have to show how what the adults are consenting to is so amoral and damaging to society, that they shouldn’t be allowed to do it. (Such as consensual cannibalism)

          You infantilize one of the adults, ie, they are not capable of consent. (Which is what it feels like you are doing here.)

          Or you accept that the power differential is so great that consent is not possible as the consequences of a no would be worse than the act that the weaker person is being asked to do. (Such as a prison guard and prisoner)

          • Maybe I wasn’t clear. The two adults involved are capable of consent, yes. But in the context of yogic philosophy, which cannot be ignored in a situation like this, a sexual relationship between student and teacher is at the very least inappropriate, if not downright immoral. In a class that is 100% fitness and 0% philosophy, I’d probably grant more leniency to this rule. But in a yogic community, or in a class taught by someone revered as a guru (which is not a title that can be applied to just anybody), this is a boundary that is not supposed to be crossed. And if that is the understanding of the teacher, and the expectation of the students, then a violation of that social contract is not exactly ethical – would you agree?

            A Catholic priest (or minister or reverend – I’m not sure at what level of ministry the celibacy requirement comes in) who engages in a consenting sexual relationship with one of his unmarried parishioners would fall under similar scrutiny, because in the context of their shared dogma & doctrine which is supposed to guide their behavior, such a relationship is inappropriate or immoral. And this too is a relationship of implicit power, because objectively speaking the priest has no direct influence on the parishioner’s life circumstances the way a boss or admissions agent might. Believers might go as far as to say the priest has an explicit role in the person’s path to God and Heaven – either way, there is a power disparity in such a relationship.

            If anything I think Yoga gets more public scrutiny because it is less well-known and familiar than a traditional church environment. I know several Christians who are suspicious of yoga because they view it as a potential cult activity, idol-worshiping, a spiritual experience in the absence of God, etc. – therefore, deviant. I’ve known some who have walked out of yoga classes because of the use of chants (ohm), Sanskrit words like Namaste, and other references to spirituality outside of the context of God. So when a sex scandal breaks out in a yoga community, this reinforces the belief that yoga is somehow inherently evil or leads to immoral & deviant behavior.

            • wellokaythen says:

              Could it be that other cultures have a different view of the guru-student relationship, and in the context of that practice this is not inappropriate?

            • I will allow for the possibility that there may exist some yogic community or variety of practice that allows for guru-student relationships, just as there are some denominations and sects of Christianity that allow things that other sects/denominations do not. You might even say that the 100% fitness yoga classes would count as such a “culture” or variation because they exclude the philosophy that would otherwise bind them to such standards.

  3. A guy I used to know in 8th grade who grew up to write an awful memoir about growing up with a feminist mom and an abusive music critic dad (who eventually divorced….big surprise!) now teaches yoga in his spare time! In junior high and high school, he would use any available topic of conversation to get close to the girls…even if it meant pretending to support feminist views….once I figured he was a phony and really mean and manipulative inside, I avoided him….My guess is that he does yoga now probably to get close to unsuspecting women and flirt with them….

    Creepy yoga teachers are easy to avoid….just switch instructors!

    • Oh my god an unattractive man flirted with a woman who wasn’t interested … LOCK HIM UP

      Your post is classic presumption of male guilt.

      If you have abusive parents, then learning to manipulate is a vital survival skill to make it through your home life. Hopefully he has found solace from his abuse history through using meditation and yoga to free his mind and calm him. Also hopefully he has been through therapy and learnt that being honest is the best way to deal with non-abusive people, such as yourself. Maybe his female students like and respect the adult that he has become?

      • Also I can see in my post how I have subtly bought into the misogynist idea that women are the arbiters of morality in our society. What I should say is maybe his current friends and students like him.

  4. That’s all well and good, but why are so many female staff in juvenile prisons sexual predators? And why do they target boys almost exclusively?

    “Approximately 95% of all youth reporting staff sexual miscon-
duct said they had been victimized by female staff. In 2008, 42% of staff in state juvenile facilities were female.”

    From “Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2008-09″
    http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/svjfry09.pdf

    Another question the GMP has decided not to ask in favour of _yet another_ article on women-as-victim-class.

    • Wow, that is horrific.

      I think the “women can’t be sexual predators” lie exists so that we can have a group of people who can safely be trusted with children.

      Unfortunately it is a lie, that hurts some of our most vulnerable children.

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      Does admitting that women can do this too mean we can’t relate stories of men doing it? Also, I’m not sure I equate statutory rape of a minor with two adults consentually having sex, even if one of them is actively involved in preaching celibacy.

    • This is no problem. These women yoga students are adults, are not being raped, coerced, molested or sexually assaulted. You dont need to worry about them. Let them take responsibility of their decisions. If they had a problem you’d see them complaining. Stop trying to infantilize adult women.

      Have you come across any complaints by female yoga students? Guys like Tom Matlock should stop trying to save the innocent babez. We dont need your brotherly protection.

  5. Great article, Tom!

  6. The Bad Man says:

    I don’t understand what’s wrong here. He had sex with more than one adult woman and he wasn’t even married.

    Women are just too gullible and need to take some responsibility for jumping in the sack so quickly.

  7. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    Tom, I liked the article, but I think we throw the terms “pervert” and “creep” around too much. They’re almost always used against men.

    Hank

  8. wet_suit_one says:

    See guys? This is why prostitutes are the better outlet for your sexual desires. You pay them, you have sex, they go away and no problems. No front page news. No “drama.” No going on about “power imbalances.” Just good ol’ honest sex. You pays your money, you get your jollies, everyone goes away with what they want.

    A bridge too far? Yeah, probably. However, it is remarkable in its simplicity.

    Oh well. I guess our species is “too smart” to figure out something so simple. So it goes…

  9. wellokaythen says:

    First off, full disclosure, I don’t think the word “pervert” is necessarily an insult. It’s one more word that needs to be transformed by people who have nothing to be ashamed about, like how there are “Queer Studies” programs. Name it, reframe it, and claim it, I say.

    That being said, I’m not sure what the accusation about “perversion” is really all about. If sexual assault makes one a pervert, then there are so many perverts out there that the word has no meaning. If all it takes are “accusations of sexual impropriety” to be called a pervert, then the word really does apply to a very broad segment of the population.

    And, let’s not forget that yoga practice can cover every part of one’s life. There’s yoga to be a better warrior, better mother, better businessman, and yes, even a better lover. Let’s not pretend that yoga is not supposed to have anything to do with sexuality ever. If having a “wholesome” image means that there is no reference to sex at all, then you can’t have a holistic approach to yoga that’s “wholesome.”

    • Call a man a pervert publicly and you’ll probably jeopardize his reputation. Being a pervert is seen as a highly negative thing, and it’s a highly negative insult cast at men quite a lot. I don’t see any positives in the word.

  10. Thinking of another human being as “enlightened” is just plain ignorant. Thinking of yourself as “enlightened” is just plain arrogant. Ignorance and arrogance are often found together, even in yoga studios where the teacher is some kind of guru for a herd of yoga sheep who want to develop better buttocks and a more shapely toned midsection. I think the real problem is the lack of spirituality in our society today – sheeple seek outlets to deal with their lives that the church (and a more disciplined moral code) used to fulfill – even if the priest of the church was screwing the alter boys. At least there were some folks in attendence who had good moral fabric and followed the guidelines for a better world. Too many Yoga® Studio® Gurus® are really just trying to make a living by promoting their own brand, and getting others to follow them into their financial bliss. Nothing egregious about that, save, maybe if they’re not honest about it.

  11. lars boga says:

    how refreshing to read that some think women should take responsibility for their sexual adventures w/their guru. unless you are mentally incompetent, underage or you were forcefully coerced it is a consensual relationship. my wife(at the time) had a 12 yr sexual affair w/our guru(having 2 abortions)without my knowledge. when she finally had enough and we left the ashram life,started a ‘normal life and very soon
    she had an affair w/my so-called best friend. our marriage ended and months later the guru affair was revealed to me. of course she called it sexual abuse. what a cruel joke!

    • Why are you commenting three times on the same article looking to stir up an argument? You are clearly a troll.

      • Go ahead. My point still stands. Commenting three times on the same article, and two of those comments being essentially exactly the same in nature, and the intention of all three comments clearly being to start an argument – that’s classic internet trolling behavior.

        Unless you’d like to say something that convinces me you are actually here to have a discussion/debate – but it sounds like your mind is made up already.

  12. I dont know. There was this really hot yoga instructor where I used to go, and all the women wanted to hook up with him.

    • Herschele Ostropoler says:

      Cathy

      It is understandable for young impressionable women to develop a harmless crush on a good looking male teacher. It is even understandable if a female yoga teacher develops a liking for a particular male student who is very attractive and they have a physical relationship.

      That is totally different from what Tom is talking about here. It is unlikely these older male yoga instructors are physically attractive. Yet they are still sleeping with their younger female students. This is a disturbing trend and points out whats wrong with our culture that looks at women as sex objects.

      • I think I may be a bit confused here.

        That is totally different from what Tom is talking about here. It is unlikely these older male yoga instructors are physically attractive. Yet they are still sleeping with their younger female students. This is a disturbing trend and points out whats wrong with our culture that looks at women as sex objects.
        How does the attractiveness of the guys in question figure into this? Does it follow that him showing interest in younger women is something to be called “disturbing”?

        • Only hot teachers should be with the students? I have no idea why their looks are coming into this, these women are adults and make choices for themselves. What is the fetish with infantizing young adult women when it comes to sex and consent? Should we stop them getting loans as well? Should we make the age of consent 25? Seriously….Are these women incapable of making a choice for themselves as to who they want to have sex with? Some may regret it later on banging the teacher or professor but unless there was coercion at play I fail to see the big issue between ADULTS.

          “young impressionable women” See, phrases like this just further infantize those women, Impressionable implying they’re easily controlled and that they hold less agency. What about young HORNY women who just want some fun with the yoga teacher who apparently some sound like gods in the bedroom? Is it not part of their own healthy experimentation and exploration of their sexuality? What power really do these gurus have over their adult students?

    • Any yoga teacher, male or female, who purports to live and practice yoga as a lifestyle and philosophy should NOT CONSENT to a sexual relationship with a student, much less pursue one. Even when the parties in question are adults and capable of consent, within the context of yoga, it is highly inappropriate.

      Any yoga student, male or female, who has respect for his/her teacher and for the practice of yoga, should NOT CONSENT to a sexual relationship with his/her teacher, much less pursue one. Sure, they’re allowed to feel attraction to the teacher, and they’re allowed to make comments about that attraction if they so desire, but taking the intimacy of the student-teacher relationship to a sexual level is inappropriate.

      If the yoga is being taught in a strictly physical way, as an exercise or flexibility thing, without emphasis on the principles of the yogic lifestyle, that is a different context. The instructor in that case is merely a fitness instructor, not a guru – that’s not a term that can be applied to just anyone.

      I’m a creative writing instructor who teaches workshops to adults. These workshops are voluntary, elective, not part of a university or anything – no credit or grades given, nothing really at stake. If any of my students were to try to initiate a sexual relationship with me, even if our relationship were friendly and the attraction were mutual, I would find it inappropriate and would likely ask the student to leave my class. It’s my responsibility as the instructor to not consent to such a relationship as long as that person is still my student. Likewise, if I found one of my students attractive, it’s my responsibility to not use my position of (relatively little) power and my intimate access to this student to pursue sex.

      • So guru gives much greater power than just teaching people how to stretch for 30 minutes a day? I guess that explains why I couldn’t see the issue as I was assuming it was more like meeting up to work out 3 times a week.

        I think teachers and students, both adults, in non-academic settings can have relationships. By that I mean someone teaching you how to do woodworking, photography, knitting, whatever for instance. I teach that to some people in a club but it’s not formal training and they don’t get tested but simply just we all share the same hobby and I seem to have more knowledge. Would it be inappropriate to have a relationship with someone in the club that I have taught, or still teach?

        • In general, yes, “guru” is distinct from simply “instructor.” The word guru is typically used to define someone who doesn’t just practice yoga, but lives it, and is dedicated to the principles of yoga – which do go deeper than simply “stretch and breathe.” In a nutshell, yoga has many components, and the poses (asanas) are just one. It’s possible to practice and benefit from the poses alone, but the “full experience” of yoga involves other lifestyle choices too, including rules for living that would very much discourage (if not outright prohibit) a sexual relationship between guru and student. John Friend, mentioned in the article, was operating under the title of guru.
          (Note that this is not universally applied. Some teachers call themselves gurus, or students call their teachers gurus, regardless of whether the person in question has actually earned that title. So I understand your confusion.)

          I made an analogy above, when this article was first posted several months ago, to a Catholic priest taking up with one of his parishioners. Yes, consenting adults – yes, it violates the rules/social contract of that relationship as it is understood by the involved parties (as well as witnesses).

          It’s up to you to decide if having a sexual relationship in the context of your club is appropriate or not. I’d personally probably lean towards saying it’s fine, since the group as you describe it is rather informal. You may be a de facto teacher because you have knowledge to share with the others, but there’s no formal boundary or leadership role, nor is there a higher set of rules that govern behavior in the group (which there is at the school where I teach writing).

          But here’s the thing – what I said above, about witnesses? Other members of a group may not agree with your assessment of the morality of the situation. If a yoga instructor (not guru) and a student form a sexual relationship and this becomes known to others, they’re free to judge it as inappropriate, or to suspect the instructor of abusing his/her position to gain access to the student.

          And that’s another important point to make – it isn’t always about influence, power and coercion, as it is about intimate access. In my writing circles, we can cover some pretty intimate ground – confidentiality is one of the rules we all abide by because of that. Yoga, too, can be intimate. And an appearance of using that intimacy as a gateway to a sexual relationship can look, if nothing else, a little skeezy. For the record, I’d say the same about a personal trainer who got it on with his/her trainee. If nothing else, a little skeezy, to outside eyes.

  13. Come on Tom- why the cheap shot a Catholics?
    You’re quoting from the NYT & you haven’t followed the Satmar molestation stories?
    You’ve forgotten about Warren Jeff’s?
    Ask,Cammeron about the Taliban camp boys.

  14. Yogi Sharma says:

    As long as these women are not being raped or sexually assaulted, I wouldnt worry too much about them.

  15. Perhaps they are compensating for non- traditional body types…
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/sunday-review/the-perils-of-yoga-for-men.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

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