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Anusara Pension Documents and Timeline Support Claims

in YD News

These documents and timeline (below) were received from an anonymous former employee of Anusara, Inc. and pertain to the claim of pensions being frozen and the violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) as listed in the accusations that surfaced last Friday.

Anusara has been contacted via email and phone and given the opportunity to confirm the authenticity or falsehood of the documents and they have not replied. We have the word of the anonymous source that these are 100% authentic, with second anonymous source corroborating the pension issues. If Anusara responds and can prove the documents are false, we will retract them and apologize. Either way, we await a response.

Timeline:

  • In December of 2010, the employees in the Woodlands office were told that their pensions had been frozen. When questioned a bit further, management revealed that the freeze had happened in January of 2010.
  • Two years later, nobody had received proper 204(h) notice. In December of 2011, they were reported to the Dept of Labor in mid-December.
  • At the end of December, I was informed that nothing illegal had happened and that there was nothing I could do. I was unsatisfied with this because what had happened was clearly a violation of ERISA. I pursued further dialogue with the Dept of Labor.
  • On January 4, 2012 I received a retroactive freeze notification from January 1, 2010 and a letter apologizing for not receiving it in the timely manner required by law. It even says that they didn’t attempt to be deceptive.
  • Soon after I received this notice I spoke with Lisa Reyes at the Dept of Labor. She can be reached at 972-850-4583. She informed me that she believed there was a violation of ERISA and that she would look into it further.
  • On January 22nd, 2012 Lisa Reyes called to inform me that Anusara, Inc had been found in violation of ERISA and that she was going to send them correspondence stating that they would have to bring the pension funding current to avoid being cited and turned over to the enforcement department.
  • On January 24th, I received the second notice with the attached letter.
  • Anusara has since brought everything current. However, the ERISA violation was still an illegal act even if they were not cited, but instead given a grace period to comply.

UPDATE #2: Letter From John Friend to Anusara Yoga Teachers

UPDATE #3: Anusara’s John Friend Responds to Accusations in First Public Interview

——

Earlier

36 comments… add one

  • B

    are these the documents that elephant journal hasn’t posted (or chose not to post)?

  • Karma's A Bitch

    obviously they are. it’s clear that YD will post anything and has no issues with whether or not they are truthful. YD has turned into the national inquirer of the yoga world. It’s a shame how much respect for you has been lost through all of this, you used to be a reputable site, it is clear now that you will print trash.

  • yeah

    Looks legit to me… And has a phone number to call, if you are so inclined. I’m sure glad Yd has the balls to stand up for innocent bystanders who don’t wish to be named but just want to tell their story even if that means the Anusara lynch mob won’t be satisfied.

  • Jen

    Wow. If you don’t like the site, don’t read it. Your vitriol will get noone anywhere.
    Side note- In my (anecdotal) experiences, such abuses of power are sadly very widespread in the yoga community. YD is not publishing anything as fact until hard evidence appears, such as the above post.

  • Kristina

    Seriously? “If you don’t like it, don’t read it”? That’s all fine and good if the site’s content isn’t hurting or slandering someone, but having had personal experience with the fact that if someone is pissed and crazy enough they can say whatever the h*** they want about you the internet, as well as the pain of trying to do damage control and defend yourself against things that never happened, I have a tought time going with the “if you don’t like it don’t read it” argument in this case.

    I’m neutral on John Friend…I practice Anusara and love the method but honestly I think JF is sometimes worshipped by those in the community to a ridiculous extent, and am pretty ambilivent about him as a person, so I’m not trying to be his white knight. I just think that in this age where documents can be falsely created, and fake news can spread to millions of people in a matter of seconds, putting people’s hard-earned reputations at stake forever, we need to be a little more careful about what we share as “news.”

  • JHL

    KAB,

    You should read and try to understand the documentation before you post your apologia for JF and Anusara, Inc. or dismiss YD out of hand. Your bias is showing. I’m sure your own apology is forthcoming or has already been sent.

  • Thankful

    Thank you for digging a little deeper and providing enough information and sources for readers to do their own research and come to their own conclusions.

  • A

    Thanks for posting the full timeline with documents.

    I practice Anusara, LOVE Anusara, but — news-breaking wise — also think that people should be able to reveal their names / identity / documents to the journalist, and the journalist alone. I can understand why people would not want their name out there in the internet with some of the not-so-nice comments and emails that I’m sure have been circling around.

    Now, as you say, Anusara is free to respond and we are free to think critically about the issue at hand and form our own opinions. We are all adults.

  • julia

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  • Pension Discussion

    Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Painful situation, but nothing to hide = nothing to fear.

    Disclosure: I am not an Anusara teacher. I practice Anusara along with other systems of yoga, but my primary occupation is as an investor in and operator of of companies (i.e. I’ve been CEO of two of them, employees from 40 in one case to 700 in another).

    Without commenting on the other issues in play at the moment related to John, this is one where I would respectfully offer that some more understanding of how pensions work might be helpful so that people can think critically and form their own opinions. And as I offer this, I do so with the understanding that many of you are also in business, but as someone commented in another post when YD originally posted on the matter, sometimes the yogis aren’t great at the worldly matters like paperwork. So take it for what it is and use it as you’d like.

    First – please start off with the understanding that ERISA law (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) is extremely complicated and the regulations are part of it require extensive expertise and specific knowledge in order to comply. This act does not require a company to offer anything, it only governs what happens once you do. Compliance includes paperwork, notice provisions, plan changes, funding mechanisms, etc. Small companies run afoul of ERISA all the time, and while I don’t want to minimize the importance of ERISA compliance, the fact is that small businesses mess up on ERISA all the time b/c they simply do not have the internal resources to ensure compliance and hiring outside resources (consultants, lawyers, etc.) is extremely expensive. As Anusars has not responded yet, I don’t have a view on whether they violated ERISA, but I would be surprised if they didn’t b/c this happens all the time.

    Second – ERISA violations are civil infractions and not criminal infractions. The overarching ethical construct of whether there is more or less severity for civil/criminal is an individual determination, but the way this all works is you mess up, you make it all right monetarily to regain compliance and you move on. Employees under the law are not entitled to any plans, they are entitled to certain notices and protections once that plan is offered. But I would point out, in the context of (for example) the pot stories from the original source of this discussion, it is not consistent to say “who cares about the laws about pot”, which are criminal laws, then to get very upset about civil infractions of retirement law.

    Third – from the docs, it looks like Anusara was offering a defined benefit plan, which is to be compared to a defined contribution plan and to a 401(k). For starters, defined benefit plans are where employers guarantee that once someone retires, they will be paid a certain amount of money for life (a defined benefit). These were the plans that larger auto companies utilized (which some have cited as one of the reasons the companies ultimately were uncompetitive with their japanese competitors and went bust) and which many cities and states (including pensions for public sector employees) use now. But these have become very uncommon b/c they guarantee benefits many years out irrespective of what happens b/t now and then with the money invested to cover those benefits. By way of example, if Anusara (or anyone else) set aside each year a certain amount of money to cover these benefits 20 years out, and investment returns were not as high as expected, then in 20 years Anusara would have to make up for it. Why is this a problem? Anusara has no way of knowing exactly what investment returns will be for 20 years. In the context of what is happening in the country today, this is what many cities and states face – promises made to employees years ago and b/c investment returns have had shortfalls, there is not enough money in the plans. So current tax dollars are going to make up for the difference and that current money is not available for schools, road, etc. It’s the exact same potential issue.

    I have no knowledge of whether Anusara was setting aside enough money to plan for this when they decided to change it, but I do know that I cannot think of a many examples, other than public sector unions and certain other highly unionized industries, where these exist. Anusara should be commended for even trying.

    What has replaced them are defined contribution plans (employer contributes x per month and the employee gets what they get in the end based on how the investments do in the meantime), and 401(k) plans, where the employees do most of the contributing and the employer can match it. This trend toward shifting the burden to employees began in the 80s.

    But again, irrespective of how the situation turned out, the fact that Anusara (and John) went in the direction originally of offering the most generous possible solution to employee retirement in my view should be noticed and appreciated. I would challenge folks to speak to the Gaiams and the Pranas and the Mandukas and the Lululemons of the world and find a single example of anyone who has attempted to be this generous. You will not find one.

    Fourth – the change and the retroactive letters, etc. Clearly looks like a mistake. No question there. And not one that I would defend because I think the real issue ethical issue here lies in “what were they thinking” and not in “did they give notice on time.” Only Anusara can answer this, but the fact that they decided to change the plan is consistent with the decisions many if not all businesses have made over the last 20 years. The legal infraction here was not in the change, but in the lack of notification of the change. Yes there are personal ramifications for the employees involved when they retire (years from now), but in a practical sense, this is similar to forgetting to give notice to your landlord that you intend to move out. You tell them late, you’re on the hook for more rent b/c they didn’t have enough time to find someone else, you pay, you’re done. You’re within your rights to move. They are within their rights to ask you to cover it since you forgot. If you don’t settle up per the contract, you go to court and work it out. If they sue you and they win, you’ve committed a civil infraction.

    Which is apparently what Anusara did here. But Anusara didn’t steal from the employees, they changed a retirement plan and forgot to tell the employees. Or worst case they changed a plan and never intended to tell the employees but would have eventually gotten caught. Leading me to think they changed it and didn’t know. But they can answer this for you.

    Finally – what one thinks about the the other matters covered in the bigger disclosure are not the purpose of this post. My intention was to provide some context for this piece b/c a number of comments have said “x, y and z are part of John’s private life and all I care about is if he broke the law with the pension thing.” So I offer this to provide some context on that direct question.

    In thinking about the above, I would ask people to consider whether their employer offers a defined benefit plan, whether their employer offers a defined contribution plan, whether their employers matches their 401(k) contributions, and whether they or someone they know has had these benefits scaled back in the face of the economic reality of the last few years. From my experience, I’ve seen no defined benefit plans, few defined contribution plans, and many scaled back matching contributions for 401(k)’s. And sometimes no 401(k) period.

    The rest of the accusations are for another time. But I offer this to you not to defend John or Anusara, but to contextualize.

  • Wow, this was really informative. I wish you would copy and paste your comments to latest piece from Elephant Journal.

    Personally I don’t really care for the details of JF’s personal life. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with practicing Wicca, if that’s what he does, and as for the other things, I just don’t really care. God knows if people looked into my own checkered past plenty of regrettable things would be found. The thing that does make me sad though is hearing about people who consider/ed JF as their Guru, and now feel all confused. I think yoga teachers need to acknowledge that sometimes students develop this kind of view, and that we can support them in their growth by being transparent and humble and forthcoming about our fitness (or lack therof) to take a student across the ocean of samsara to the final goal. We can be really great asana teachers, and even be really positive, inspiring people who do great things and lead by example in so many respects, but let’s be clear about what a Satguru is.

  • Also I just want to say that I’m not making a judgement about whether or not JF is a qualified Satguru or not. People can of course use their own discernment. I think he’s a wonderful asana teacher and has done a lot of good things for the yoga community, and I truly hope for the sake of many that these allegations turn out to be baseless. I was just trying to make a point about people taking yoga teachers as their guru. Not that a yoga teacher couldn’t be enlightened or fit to initiate disciples. Possibly there are several, I don’t know, but I do know that sometimes people assume that yoga teachers are more “spiritually advanced” and I just wanted to say that becoming a yoga teacher doesn’t make all your bogeymen go away. Ok, I’m rambling now. ;)

  • David

    You’re rambling good, though. I know just what you’re saying, and I think that all this introspection (and criticism) that’s going on now is healthy – as long as we don’t get so absorbed into the stories that we lose perspective. Many teachers probably have known the student that is getting more out of it than the teacher put into it. The teacher/student relationship can be delicate and it is incumbent upon the teacher to keep it real. I find it heartening that there are very highly evolved people among us. Anyone receiving that mantle in a public way has to use their wisdom to wear it carefully and honorably.

  • Innocent bystander

    Would appreciate the effects of freezing pensions ?

  • Innocent bystander

    Would appreciate information regarding the effects of freezing pensions, e.g for how long can they be frozen, how long has Anusara frozen them ?

  • Can you gather the feathers?

    I hope Yogadork and/or Elephant Journal will publish and highlight your comments as a separate post.
    In addition, it would be great to have some analysis of the corporate/administrative structure of the Anusara organization for those of us not involved. Just recently reading that there are 350 some certified teachers and remembering that it’s a multi-stage process, not a weekend course, I’d guess the business is not a one-man operation where John Friend independently made decisions like changing benefits or was the one to send out notices/inform staff. From the NYT article, it seemed he was very involved with constructing and programming the new center in California as well as traveling to give workshops.
    Yogaworks, in contrast, was started and managed by business people who did not teach or develop teaching curriculum, but hired others to to that, even though they had experience and opinions as long-time enthusiastic students. Is it possible/likely that despite his business background, John Friend was not soley responsible for the administrative aspects of Anusara as it grew and changed?

  • Pension Discussion

    If Yoga Dork wants to post it separately, they are welcome to do so. It is highly probable that although John was involved in any decision about what to do, he likely has zero idea about the administrative pieces. The only reason I ended up learning about it was through planning the mechanics of an acquisition integregration and migrating people from one set of plans to another. The complexity is dizzying. The intent of the change is the issue here and folks can make their own choices about that.

    With respect the post below from “yeah”, he is right that notification should have occurred. But it is factually inaccurate to describe this as “borrowing against the employees future without their knowledge”. At the time the plan is closed, the assets of the plan are officially segregated from the company that offered a plan and the assets supporting the build up of the pension are segregated and safe. And besides for that, the federal government insures pensions. So there’s no possible way to “borrow against the employees future.”

    Not a nice thing to do, but not as bad as the language below makes it sound. And the money wouldn’t have been “invested” somewhere else. It was likely used to manage and grow the business. And my understanding is that John lives well enough. But he’s no Bikram with his lifestyle.

  • yeah

    If they promised those benefits as part of employment and then took it away without saying anything, leaving the employees thinking they were receiving this benefit, then investing the money somewhere else I wouldnt say that is flat out stealing but it is shady and pretty Damn close to stealing. Sort of like borrowing against the employees future without their knowledge. I would also argue that notification should have been common sense and the honorable thing to do regardless of any law.

  • yeah

    Also, wondering what the reaction would be if this was Walmart and not Anusara.

  • Not yeah

    The reaction, generally, would be that big corporations are terrible and capitalism is terrible. The naive and reflexive liberalism of most yoga practitioners would accept no less.

  • Timothy

    Looking forward to hearing about YD’s conversation with the Labor Dept contact listed above.

  • Desiree

    I think the anonymous is stretching a little too far with this…where are the dates on some of the documents and signatures? Are there second pages? Employers get overwhelmed and lose sight of compliance with government regulatory agencies all the time. It’s unfortunate but it is REALITY. There’s no story here…. Thank you Pension Discussion for sharing your insight -

  • it says

    It says the employees weren’t even told. That takes minimal effort.

  • Shassy

    Does this mean nothing to you Yoga Dork? Check it out, and let us know what you think. Are these fake documents from Anusara? To all you haters out there, I think you just like to see people suffer. Yes, it is important and great when the truth comes out, I agree, let’s face the truth. However, I think some of you’s get off on when other people suffer and fall. Seems like misery loves company.

    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/02/13-1st-document-pertaining-to-jfexposed-allegations-re-john-friend-of-anusara-yoga-pension/

  • Janet

    Thanks for having this discussion here. With Elephant Journal being a fan club for John Friend and the amount of posts the site deletes, it’s impossible to have any kind of real dialogue there. It may not be pretty here at times, but at least there is an openness that the other site lacks.

  • I’d like to commend Yogadork for her work here. I believe that she did exactly the right thing. She tried to check the accuracy of the documents with Anusara by email and phone. She cross-checked their veracity with another anonymous source. She invited Ansusara (or anyone else) to come up with concrete evidence that they’re fakes. She offered to retract this post and apologize if they prove to be so.

    Honestly, what more could anyone reasonably demand? To insist that some individual Anusara employee step forward to be crucified when all those famous teachers are afraid to say anything is unreasonable. (I notice that some of them make cryptic comments, but no one makes a real statement one way or another.) True, some Anusara teachers and affiliates are offering insults and sweeping denunciations of Dork. But they’re not offering any solid evidence to dispute any issues that have been raised.

    That said, I must say that I’ve never felt so positively about JF as when I found out that he originally set up these pension plans with a 3% annual vestment! I think that’s very generous, and more than most employers do . . . Plus, while it seems to have been handled badly, I can see why Anusara, Inc. would want to pull back from this commitment given the ongoing recession. And, as discussed above, these issues are complicated.

  • Bruce

    This is fantastic, lets have more of it. So what have I learned so far:
    1. It is true, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
    2. Anusara’a pensions plan was, like many other companies pension plans, poorly conceived.
    3. Anusara pensions admin and human resources departments aren’t very good, but when they were pushed by an employee (well done that employee btw) they rectified their error and ended up doing the same thing they originally wanted to two year later – and of course it cost them a bit more.
    4. JF may well be a bit of a dog , his own ethics guidelines are OK for others but not for him:
    “Many students look to the yoga teacher as a guide and mentor, not only for physical development, but for emotional and spiritual development as well. Students tend to project high ideals onto the teacher, so they often think the teacher is more spiritually advanced than they are. Consequently, the student will tend to trust and open up to the teacher in a more psychically vulnerable and more emotionally receptive way than in most relationships. This creates an inherent power differential between the teacher and the student. Because of this power differential, we must be vigilant to uphold the integrity of the seat of the teacher. We must never exploit the vulnerability of the student for our own personal gain or gratification. Clear boundaries must be established and maintained in our role of serving our students.”
    5. It is very easy to get taken in by a movement (or dare I say a cult) and leaders are by definition manipulative, it’s a quality needed to get people to believe in anything
    6. Yogis love a good gossip and “bitch fest” as much as mere mortals.
    I love reading your stuff YD but I think you may have been duped a bit on this one there are huge pension issues affecting a vast number of companies, Anusara havent done things correctly by the look of it but they are not alone. I dont imagine you would report on all of the desputes that all employees have with theit Yoga based companies
    Do not despair Anusara followers, just because your leader appears to be ……… a bit less than perfect (allegedly) and has not gone with Grace (or perhaps he may have done, I havent met her) there are many, many good reasons to continue and some great Inspired and Certified teachers out there. Everything evolves and changes over time, focus on the good you can do and look across and down as well as up in Aunsaraland. Its not about money people!

  • Though I am hesitant to post here, this is a link to a blog I just wrote — not specifically about JF but about confusion surrounding any student-teacher relationship. It could be called “How to never get hurt by a guru while still honoring the Guru principle.” May it uplift those who read it. May all beings be free.

    http://bayshakti.com/how-should-the-teacher-behave-vs-what-can-i-receive-understandings-and-misunderstandings-around-the-role-of-the-teacher

  • Pavanatanaya

    Dont bother reading Wallis’ blog. If you make a comment that he disagrees with, he deletes it. Dont let him give you your opinion

  • Can you gather the feathers?

    Chris, the Anusara teachers & practioners I have practiced with were creative talented accomplished adults who dove into a philosophy and a culture without idealizing John Friend. As an outsider, it was his very individuality/humanity that was most appealing, as well as his humility in honoring those who taught him. But surely an ethics about teacher-student relationships was explicit in Anusara as it is in my own health profession. The allegations don’t violate these ideals/norms, but certainly having values and responsibilities is part of being a teacher s well being a student. Your blog post seems to say that because all experience is subjective, we should not value the experiences of others. But even if we have NO free will, we still have the feelings that we do, reflected in our laws and emotions. You seem to allow/accept human emotions as the only source of morality. this could easily mean strife, conflict and war if we don’t deal with other folks realities and they don’t deal with yours.

  • Timothy

    If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him

  • Sarah

    In response to:
    # In December of 2010, the employees in the Woodlands office were told that their pensions had been frozen. When questioned a bit further, management revealed that the freeze had happened in January of 2010.
    # Two years later, nobody had received proper 204(h) notice. In December of 2011, they were reported to the Dept of Labor in mid-December.
    It’s not December 2012 yet. It’s February 2012. 2011-2010=1, not 2

  • swf

    Pension was froze in January 2010. I ASSUME everything brought into compliance in 2012…2 years later.

    January 2010 – December 2010 is one year

    January 2011 – December 2011 is one year

    Perhaps the word order is incorrect for your standards?

  • yeah

    Sarah doesn’t seem to read/comprehend everything before commenting and defending Mr Friend.

  • Yogiberries

    Perhaps she is also sleeping with him? Gross.

  • vivian araullo

    Congrats YD. Shakti in action.

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