“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.