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William J Broad on John Friend Scandal: Yoga is a Sex Cult and We’re All Ignorant Minions

in YD News

Swami Muktananda

Subtitle: Are you effing kidding us?

After the ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body’ debacle we cut author William J. Broad a break. Heck it wasn’t his fault the New York Times went for the shock value, and some reviews of his book actually made it sound worth reading. But his latest article on yoga and sex scandals, basically Broad’s response to the latest John Friend/Anusaragate, confirms that WJB is just as annoying in his delivery about sexifying yoga as he is about it wrecking your body. In fact, it’s idiotic.

Let us tell you why.

For instance, the title: ‘Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here’

Oh do tell, Mr. Broad, why yoga and sex scandals are so closely related.

But this is hardly the first time that yoga’s enlightened facade has been cracked by sexual scandal. Why does yoga produce so many philanderers? And why do the resulting uproars leave so many people shocked and distraught?

Read those questions again and for the word yoga, insert any of the following: business, politics, ego-tripping, narcissism, sociopathic tendencies, money, greed, power. In this, yoga is not so unique.

One factor is ignorance. Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise.

And because yoga is said to have come from Tantra then it’s all about sex right? And with sex comes scandals, obviously! Boy we yogis are so naive. Because, honestly, having male and female genitals and practices that sometimes engage these parts must mean we are all sex-crazed nymphos. Similarly how Al Gore’s Information Superhighway is still just “an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system” not a place for incessant status updates, gossip mongering, pinterest postings and impossibly cute puppy videos?

While we’re not Tantra scholars, we’re pretty sure it’s not all about sex. Other practices said to have stemmed from Tantra? Buddhism and Hinduism. So we invite you to take that up with Rajan Zed and just about every Budddhist monk. [ed note: Tantra scholar (who also has a new book) Christopher Wallis addresses “Factual Errors” in NY Times Article]

The rest of the article goes into further detail of yoga and sex connection and its famous philanderers – Swami Muktananda (1908-82), Swami Rama (1925-96), Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002) (and dared to leave out the controversy-riddled Osho?) and closes with this abominable statement regarding the outrage and disappointment from the community over John Friend:

But perhaps — if students and teachers knew more about what Hatha can do, and what it was designed to do — they would find themselves less prone to surprise and unyogalike distress.

We’re not arguing that there haven’t been guru scandals in the past (“Sexy Sadie” anyone?) or that yoga can’t help improve the sexual experience. But for crying out loud, Broad, are you really saying John Friend behaved the way he did because he had a predetermined predisposition to do so due to the fact he was a leader of yoga? That is silly and just plain dumb.

We’ll remember to tell that to the veterans who are able to sleep better at night, the kids who can focus better in school, those prone to heart disease who lost weight and lowered risk of heart attack and stroke and the cancer survivors who’ve found strength, calm and community all due to the help of a regular yoga and meditation practice.

Saying it’s yoga’s fault doesn’t seem like the answer.

We don’t discredit Mr. Broad’s scientific researching abilities, but we have a suggestion. Go back to writing the science of nuclear war and atomic bombs and step away from trying to speak for all of yoga. We sex fiends will continue our journey to better O’s and Ohms without you sprogging all over it.

[Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here NYT]



83 comments… add one
  • Maybe this guy just wants to get his next 15 minutes of fame. Surely anyone with a working brain can see that his M.O. to be in the spotlight. Let’s see if his latest opinions on yoga cause a great a stir as his last. It’s all about the being in the limelight.

  • I thought this article was *weird*.

    To say that yoga asana (or hatha yoga) stems out of tantra sex cults is simply incorrect according to the history.

    From what I can tell, hatha yoga (or asana yoga) is part of both raja (patanjali) and tantra yoga. They are the same tool used in slightly different ways/methods depending upon the perspective. In raja, it’s utilized to calm and then transcend the body toward the divine; in tantra, it’s used in an integrative process to experience the divine through the body.

    Tantra itself is widely diverse, with only a small aspect of tantra being in the “left hand” realm that had the particular and peculiar sexual practices that might be considered a “sex cult.”

    But, most tantrists practice in the “right hand” of tantra, the part that follows the exact same yama/niyama disciplines of raja yoga.

    So, it is incorrect to say that “yoga” comes from a “tantric sex cult” — largely because yoga is older than tantra, and in particular “left hand” tantra.

    And this would be according to the scholar Georg Fuerstien, as described in his book Tantra, Path to Ecstasy. It’s an easy ready, provides a great history and context for Tantra. And, honestly how Hatha yoga fits in.

    It’s strange how this author takes a very small thing and extrapolates it out to being a big deal. It’s like saying because there are transgendered/sexual people ( a very small and unique manifestation of being — one that I value highly), *everyone* is transgender/sexual.

    It’s so bizarre.

    • beatchk

      So glad you mentioned Georg. I’ve been thinking a lot about him lately & missing his input in the yoga community at large. People need to re-visit his extensive contribution to our understanding of this vast subject. Its great that we have newer scholars like Chris Wallace to cogently respond to Broad’s innacuracies, but if someone had just consulted ANYTHING that Georg Feuerstein has written about the history of yoga and tantra in particular none of this nonsense that Broad published would have made it past the editors. The Yoga Tradition should be required reading, and I am just now ordering Chris Hareeh Wallace’s new book (finally) which I feel will fill in more than a few gaps that Georg was unable to address, since his work (on Tantra in particular) was not utterly comprehensive.

  • Mark

    Good response to the NYT article.

    Per your comment of

    “Read those questions again and for the word yoga, insert any of the following: business, politics, ego-tripping, narcissism, sociopathic tendencies, money, greed, power. In this, yoga is not so unique.”

    Add all organized religions. It’s a pretty search to find hundreds on examples of ministers and priests taking sexual advantage of their parishioners…

  • This article displays disturbingly poor knowledge of history. Yoga most certainly did not stem from Tantra. Neither, of course, did Hinduism and Buddhism.

    The author made it a point out to spell out that the article wasn’t written by a Tantra scholar. No kidding.

  • Jane C.

    Good response YD. You’re patient. William Broad quotes Mark Singleton in his book – but doesn’t seem to have actually read Singleton – or he’d know better. His article is a misleading mishmash. It makes you wonder about his Iran coverage. Its like he’s messing with yoga as a hobby so he doesn’t have to research, think through implications, etc

    In any event – with his original article, and creepy John Friend’s assist – I think we’re seeing the yoga bubble burst.

  • jeremy

    Yes Good response , the article was indeed strange , I felt mr Broad had possibly overexcited himself and couldnt stop , anyway a missed opportunity around the JF situation . The mainstream press are going to focus on the sex for sure . Im no expert on tantra but the version and slant that is presented in this article seems very off the mark and salacious .

  • Already in his NPR interview he said that yoga historically has been “closely linked to sexuality” and that in the 1920ies Indians “tried to CLEAN UP yoga”. Sadly enough, the woman interviewing him didn’t question this any further. If you’d like to listen to the interview, the bit quoted is around minute 25:

    • That is because people who do the interviews do not know yoga and have no knowledge on how to assess and respond to these statements. If he is a reporter and a published author, he is taken to be an expert who cannot be questioned on his “facts”. His book was reviewed in the NYTimes by someone who had no knowledge of yoga. You would think that the paper would find an objective, scholarly expert on yoga to do a creditable book review. It is the blind leading the blind.

  • I agree with Broad that Hatha yoga, and yoga in general, was born from and is aligned with tantra, but Broad has a major misunderstanding of tantra. I understand sexual desire and sex is an important part of life but just a sliver of what tantra really is talking about. If anyone is interested in true and authentic, science, and practice based tantra there are plenty of offerings out there (including my favorite http://www.livingtantra.com). It’s only a matter of time that the authentic and expansive teaching of tantra flourish because there are literally thousands of scriptural texts on the exapansive nature of tantra as it relates to all aspects of life and not “what to do in the bedroom”. For now the majority of the west thinks tantra is a sex cult, however tantra is a way of spirituality to turn everything mundane into an act of spirituality. After a while, I grow tired of convincing people otherwise so I let my actions and practice do the talking.

  • John

    Glad some one is willing to publicly point out the errors in the NYT piece. Have already had people with no knowledge tell me all about the “true” history of yoga after listening to the NPR interview. Don’t need any more ignorance spread about.

    Didn’t the same paper do an informercial for/”in depth portrayal of” JF a few months ago and spectacularly fail to spot any of the problems?

    Being positive, raising the legal consequences of such missdeeds and listing a brief history that includes many “Indian” teachers should help clarify some of the discussion. This isn’t a problem that happened because JF is not “Indian” (a truly racist assumption people have happily been throwing around) and we aren’t going to get a full account from either JF or the organisation because they’ll be terrified of similar lawsuits.


    • Billy

      Calm down Waylon. We know how distressing it is to have comments deleted from your website.

  • great points in the comments, that the “sex problem” has been present in all things human, and is probably helping “burst” the yoga bubble

    but there seems to be more alarm about there being sex in yoga than about the sexploitation of yoga that’s already being done commercially

    that seems to say something well known about american culture, one can show/tell/talk about violence and horror much easier than sex

    so this is, i think all to the good: more open conversation

    kudos to ms dork et al 😉 yes includes mr broad 😉

  • One of my central interests in the current events is how people who are acclaimed as very advanced practitioners, by people who should know, are found to be enthralled by the very same frailties the practice is intended to overcome.

    Likewise with Broad, for someone who has practiced for as long as he claims he has, he apparently has a very shallow understanding of yoga. Maybe he does know better and is just being commercial and sensational and maybe he just likes the attention. All of which would put him in the same class of exploiters that he purports to expose.

    • David D

      “One of my central interests in the current events is how people who are acclaimed as very advanced practitioners, by people who should know, are found to be enthralled by the very same frailties the practice is intended to overcome.” This is it. Whenever you think yoga has made you better than other people, you have failed to heed the teachings. Whenever you claim some form of superiority through yoga or any of its “pure” forms, you have failed to apply the teachings to their very own subject matter. No one can fix our problems for us; instead, our problems must be dealt with by us whenever they arise.

  • I think William Broad’s so-called expertise on yoga is going to his head and he has the medium through which he is allowed to come across as an authority on yoga. It has come to the point where some real yoga masters need to come out and set the record straight.

    Yes, there have been these scandals but yoga is not the culprit—it is the way people choose to use it that creates a certain outcome. The point of yoga practices is to annihilate the ego but the errant yogis used yoga to inflate it. These errant yogis must be held accountable like anyone else.

    Yes, yoga is tantra but people know so little about tantra. One path in tantra uses sex for enlightenment but it is a very small number, and it is supposed to be a very difficult path and those gurus are almost impossible to find.

    Tantra does not deny any aspect of life. It is life and it does not vilify sex. But it is also not a path for the vast majority of the populations. Brahmacharya (celibacy) is a crucial part in raja yoga, and kriya yoga (taught by Swami Satyananda and Swami Paramahansa Yogananda). Moola Bandha, sahajoli/vajroli mudra are taught to diminish natural sexual urges. These are parts of tantra that forbid any sexual activity. Tamasic foods that are believed to generate sexual urges are forbidden–meat, alcohol, garlic, onions.

    There is no question that yoga teachers and gurus have abused and misused yoga due to the inflated sense of self (ego) they get from all these followers. It is no different from anything in life–life is yoga. There are many yogis who have no scandal attached to them–Swami Satynananda, Swami Niranjan, Swami Satsangi, Swami Sivananda. Many shun the limelight and fame knowing that those may inflate the sense of I-ness/ego inside of eliminating or reducing it.

    I did write a vigorous response to Broad’s first article in the NYTimes–In Response To How Yoga Wrecks Your Body–on http://www.yogamedblog.wordpress.com. Kofi Busa has done a point-by-point review of Broad’s book that can seen on Busa’s website and YouTube.

    The more people practice yoga, the less they seem to know what it actually is.

  • Bryan

    Look, the reason NYT keeps running yoga exposes is because we yogis can’t stop ourselves from getting worked up over each and every one. We’re moths to the flame for this stuff. If we want the ridiculousness to stop, all we have to do is ignore it.

    • Stewart J. Lawrence

      “Me thinks the Yogini doth protest too much.”

    • john

      Seems a bit too much like saying that if we stopped complaining when they print lies the papers would only print the truth.

  • I would like to add that celibacy is interpreted in many different ways–some view it as abstinence (for sannyasins). Others view it as being faithful to one partner.

  • Thanks for this piece. It expresses my own feelings, but I’m an artist, not a writer. Frustrating to be faced with such an idiotic piece in the NYT…again.

    I heard him on NPR and he seems to take a smarmy delight in the attention his “yoga” articles have attracted. And then there’s even that Jane Brody yoga column in last week’s Times, inspired by his Wreck article (spending most of the typespace on “wreck” potential, with a tiny mention of possible benefit).

    Of course, I hate crowded yoga classes, so it looks like there may be fewer mats in the studio for a while, although a real shame if even more studios close.

  • What is now called “Hatha Yoga” has deep roots, way beyond the medieval era in India. For example, the ancient Greeks used the term “Gymnosophists” to refer to persons we might now call ancient Yogis. Certainly there have been additions to this deep tradition in the medieval era and even currently. So to ignore a part of the history while fixating on another portion of history does not speak well of Broad’s research.

  • C Gajowski

    In this frenzy about that article, where is the reflection on the central issue which is that “guru” adoration leads people to abandon their own minds and judgement, and to accept behavior that is exploitative? Stop worrying about the sex connection ( and I do recall being taught that even meditation can have a genital response ); look at how too much reverence for anyone can lead to dreadfully poor treatment of other human beings that is presented as a blessing to them. Lots of people who have done horrible things may have also done good things – but that doesn’t mean they are excused from responsibility for their acts.

    • The central issue of the article isn’t that guru adoration leads to abandonment of judgment. It is that sexytime with the guru should be expected because yoga is “designed” for sexytime. And that’s the problem. It’s not only rife with errors of all sorts, but makes a stupid point. And that’s one of the many problems with the article.

  • Well, it’s not John’s fault! He only wanted to become “one” w/ several different women a week, what’s everyone’s problem about this?
    His name was also spelled wrong all that time, cuz his real name is
    John Boyfriend, so I really don’t know what’s all that confusion about.

  • Tyenrex


  • Imagine.....

    I’d also like to add that I find it the height of hypocrisy that John is going to Israel to ‘pray for world peace’ when he is leaving behind chaos in the actual small corner of the world he occupies. Where is the accommodation and consideration for his students? Where is the consideration for the individual teachers who have written so movingly on websites and blogs about the reasons they left Anusara? Where is the consideration for the individual families he harmed with his behavior? Shouldn’t his actions be focused on redressing the harms he has caused?

    I have long studied with both Iyengar and Anusara teachers. The warmth of the Anusara philosophy has appealed to many of us. But this course of conduct suggests that the philosophy was a very hollow shell covering the same kinds of bad behavior we see all around us in the world at large – greed, self-centeredness, sexual aggression, cult of personality, financial impropriety and hypocrisy.

  • Mike Gorski

    The NYT article is spot on in pointing out some issues yoga needs to address when its leaders engage in sexual misconduct.

    First, YD saying that philandering exists in “business, politics” and any where else misses the point that we are talking about yoga. Nobody gets a free pass because misconduct exists in other types of human endeavors.

    Next, the issues involving sexual misconduct of yoga leaders is real and needs to be addressed by the yoga community. These aren’t one off problems with one random teacher. These are respected leaders of schools. As an analogy, it’s easy to dismiss a local preist’s misconduct at a small rural church of 25 members. It doesn’t mean much in the larger context of the religion. But if a senior church bishop engages in misconduct it shakes the core of the religion. It makes many question everything about the religion.

    This is the case with John Friend and other leaders.

    Broad is not suggesting that yoga leads to sexual misconduct. But by not denouncing the misconduct every chance it gets, the yoga community is becoming more and more insular to criticism. That criticism is honest and will only make yoga better.

    And finally, no article talking about misconduct in yoga has to mention all the benefits of yoga. Misconduct is bad and should be treated that way independent of any good that has been done.

    It’s time for the yoga community to get serious about criticisms. Instead of dismissing them by arguing historical details and nitpicking the community should be working to make yoga a better and safer practice for all.

    • David D

      You have it backwards. The problem isn’t pointing out that yoga has had sex scandals. It has and always will have sex scandals because people, as in humans beings, do yoga.

      The problem was that Broad, in a historically inaccurate way, attributed the sex scandals as being inherent to yoga itself. He made it a yoga problem, not a people problem. (That’s the point of YD saying it happens elsewhere.) As a side benefit, it keeps his name in the press and his book in the papers.

      If he’d said “of course yoga has sex scandals because people, including yogis, like to have sex” then I think people would be less offended. If we acknowledge that sex scandals (be they religious, business, or yogic) are a “people problem” and stop acting like its because of the something else, we might be able to address the situation with clarity. (It would also help to understand the societal rules that have grown up around sex, marriage, and male-female relationships, but that’s another topic.)

      Trying to portray this as something that “other people” (in this case, the other people are “yoga people”) have a problem with because of their decision to practice a “tainted art” is disingenious at best. The blatant historical ignorance does not help matters, but it will likely cause him to sell more books.

      • Mike Gorski

        No, this is a yoga problem not a people problem. The problem doesn’t exist in my company. The problem doesn’t exist in my child’s 4th grade class. The problem doesn’t exist in my family. In fact there are many organizations and human endeavors where the problem doesn’t exist. If this was a people problem, I’d expect to see it more widespread.

        • ommare

          This problem DOES exist in my company, or rather, in more than one of my prior companies. It exists in variant forms in the Catholic church, at prominent university sports programs, and the Girl Scouts, too. It is a people problem.

          • Mike Gorski

            And those scandals in other communities, are you ok with them?

            I’m not ok with them. No matter where they happen.

        • David D

          So your response is that, since it doesn’t happen everywhere, then it’s a yoga problem?

          Sex is universal across domains. Students have sex with teachers, and teachers have sex with students. Fourth grade students have sex with each other. Families have sex. It happens, and there’s a special word for it: incest. People in companies have sex when they are not supposed to. We have a whole set of laws about it. People in churches have sex. There’s a whole scandal for the Catholic church (which isn’t special in that regard, they just have the most recent institutional problems, see Jimmy Swaggart for another version). Prisoners have sex, sometimes with each other and sometimes with the guards and sometimes with people not in the prison system. Soldiers in battle have sex. Barney Frank, Bill Clinton, Anthony Wiener, what do they have in common? For goodness sakes, people have sex with objects. If you think sex scandals aren’t a people problem, then you need to look around a little more. Google it, and you’ll see news reports about it. Seriously, google fourth grade sex and you will see the news reports about it. And remember, that’s just what is reported. It *is* widespread.

          Everywhere people interact, there’s the potential for sex. That’s just a fact of life. Sometimes it’s acted on; other times it’s not. But there’s always the potential because we’re human and that’s how we make more humans. You’re getting lathered up over the fact that certain yoga teachers have sex scandals, but blaming yoga for the problem. Assign responsibility to where it actually lies: people. Sex scandals are human nature staring you in the face. If you choose to ignore that, that is your choice. But ignoring it does not change things.

          But let’s reverse it. Are there orgies at your studio? Is every one of your yoga instructors sleeping with numerous students? Are you sleeping with your fellow students? According to you, if not, then it can’t be a yoga problem because it would be more widespread. But how could it be a yoga problem anyway? Yoga doesn’t even exist outside the practice of individual people and, perhaps, existentially speaking, in some texts, videos, or audio recordings. It’s the people, not the practice, that become engaged in sex scandals. Because people like to have sex, whether they are supposed to do so or not.

          This diversion from the real issue is only compounded when someone tries to link yoga to ancient “sex cults” in order to sell their books. It creates a division to try and explain how yoga is dirty and different and responsible for the scandal. But, really, sex scandals have been happening for as long as people have been having sex. For once, it’s not about the yoga.

          • Mike Gorski

            I completely agree. The act of sex is universal. In fact, it’s even beyond people.

            None of that has any bearing on issue at hand – yoga and sex scandals.

            Maturely addressing sex scandals involving leaders in the yoga community will only help yoga become better.

        • Den

          Mike Gorski – you want us to believe you’ve never heard of a sex scandal existing outside of yoga? Catholic Church? Penn State? Mary Kay Letourneau (schoolteacher)? Sara Strahm (schoolteacher)? Vanessa George (nursery school teacher)? Rev Jimmy Swaggart? Rev Eddie Long? Eliot Spitzer? Bill Clinton? Silvio Berlusconi? Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Thomas Friggin Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemmings?

          Man, what rock are you living under and why are you asking us to crawl under there with you?

          You know what,don’t crawl out — it must be nice and shiny where you life. Be happy, my man. I, though, have the real world to contend with.

          • Mike Gorski

            I’ve heard of many of those scandals. And many of those scandals have even caused lasting damage to the institutions surrounding them. I’m not ok with sex scandals happening any where. Are you saying you are ok with sex scandals?

            I really don’t want to see the same damage done to yoga.

        • David D

          Earlier you clearly stated that it “is a yoga problem, not a people problem.” You erroneously indicated that, if it was a people problem, it would be more widespread. After several people pointed out that this type of problem *is* widespread, you’re still resistant to it being a “people problem” as opposed to a yoga problem? You are not making sense at this point.

          Of course the yoga community must figure out how to handle potential sexual problems between teachers and students. No one is saying anything different. This is even historically codified to some extent in yogic doctrine with Brahmacarya. Studios all around the country have rules, etc. addressing this, like many other businesses do. But it’s not yoga that causes the problem and it’s not a “yoga problem.” It’s a people problem that does not depend upon whether they practice yoga or not. Any realistic attempt to fix the problem has to correctly identify the source.

          Creating lurid tales about yoga’s past and implying that yoga is pregnant with sexual misconduct from this made-up past is ignorant and distracts from anything beneficial that might be able to be done (if anything can be done). But, again, Broad can’t sell books by just noting that yoga has sex scandals because people do yoga and people like to have sex, whether authorized or not.

          You appear to be concerned about doing something. Doing “something” is a bad idea; doing “something that, overall, makes things better than they were before” is a good idea. Knowing the difference between the two is where wisdom lies. Part of knowing the difference is identifying the actual problem, not the perceived problem.

          • Mike Gorski

            I completely agree with what you wrote: “Of course the yoga community must figure out how to handle potential sexual problems between teachers and students.”

            I’m sorry if I implied that yoga causes sex scandals. That is not at all what I meant. I meant that the sex scandals that exist with some yoga leaders need to be addressed by the larger yoga community.

    • Seriously?!?!?!

      While I seem to be in the minority, I agree with you Mike!

      • The anusara community seems to be taking the scandal seriously. Broad, on the other hand, isn’t advocating that at all. In fact, he seems to mock it:

        “The angst of former Anusara teachers is palpable. “I can no longer support a teacher whose actions have caused irreparable damage to our beloved community,” Sarah Faircloth, a North Carolina instructor, wrote on her Web site.

        But perhaps — if students and teachers knew more about what Hatha can do, and what it was designed to do — they would find themselves less prone to surprise and unyogalike distress.”

        His article doesn’t advocate taking these scandals seriously–in fact, he says we should expect them. It is also full of half-truths and total inaccuracies. That is why it’s such poor reportage. He’s getting his 15 minutes of fame, but he’s destroying his credibility as a reporter in the process.

        • Mike Gorski

          That’s great to hear that the Anusara community is taking the scandal seriously.

          I’ve read much debate about the last sentence in Broad’s article. I read it in a positive light. Learn about the history of yoga and what it can do for you and you will not be surprised when long-discarded skeletons are found. You will know when and why they were discarded.

  • kate

    I actually thought this was a good article. I think it points to how our society has a very unhealthy & often puritanical attitude toward sex… which has had a major impact on yoga in the west.

    The big problem with the recent scandal is transparency and that seems to be a thread that runs through all these scandals. On the surface a teacher is promoting one type of values and beliefs, while in private, they are doing another. Sex is not evil, not even non-monogamous casual sex… provided that it is honest, open and in harmony with the ethics of all parties involved. That’s where all these yoga teachers went wrong & as long as we have this double standard that doesn’t address the sexual element within yoga head on and incorporate it into the practice with integrity and openness… we’ll see this problem again and again. Broad points this out well, even if the article isn’t perfect.

    And Yoga Dork – you brought this scandal to light and now you fault another journalist for writing about it… can’t you come up with a more meaty response than simply dismissing Broad’s conclusion as “silly and just plain dumb”?

    Why is it okay for people within the yoga community to stir up scandal, but not someone in the mainstream media? Until we deal with the messy and confusing aspects of yoga and sex directly and honestly, we’ll never stand up to mainstream media scrutiny. This brings that to light rather well & for that reason, I think this article has value as a catalyst for self-study, introspection & (hopefully) a sea change of values in relation to yoga, sex, and spirituality in general.

  • my response yesterday after reading the nyt article…

  • AnoymousFactChecker

    This article is poorly researched and lacking in scientific thinking. For one, he is making an argument that Yoga teachers are bound to have inappropriate relations with their students because both of them are scantily clad and that it involves vigorous exercises! There are instances when Gym instructors have been similarly inappropriate with the patrons, so does that mean going to Gym is bad? Also, statistics used here is not researched. For eg-> its not clear what percentage of Yoga instructors have behaved inappropriately. I am not sure if this metric does have a higher statistical deviation from the normal (say a male instructor misbehaving with a female student).

    Now that said, living in the 20th century… why should you remove the Tantric “stain”? I also know that there was another article by the same author in NYTimes that said “How Yoga can wreck your body”, which was also poorly researched and mongering fear and disdain at Yoga!

  • I will fault Broad and his editors with, reflected solely in the NYT articles, poor “researching abilities.” Research needs to be done in the spirit of learning not prejudice. That Broad and editors could not be bothered to simply research the neck’s mobility is an egregious error when he claims to be an expert.

    As for sex, this is an ethical issue that should be discussed in relation to power. Anyone who wants power or has power can become an abuser, who could be a teacher, preacher, officer, parent, et cetera. Friend is a glaring example of this in the yoga world, but to say that yoga is the cause of the misconduct is pure ignorance. In a sense, the NYT article removes Friend’s responsibility for his actions by shifting the attention to a manipulated history and understanding of yoga and tantra yoga.

    Then there is the “medical evidence” that only supports his notion of yoga and sex rather than a broader picture. This JAMA article seems to indicated that sexual dysfunction is more prevalent in inactive segments of the population (http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/281/6/537.abstract), so wouldn’t that imply that beginning any exercise, including yoga, might improve sexual health? In other words, I doubt blood flow to the genitals is the sole reason some yoga practitioners report improved sex lives.

    I’m just a little taken aback that the NYT continues to publish such bollocks, which makes me question the paper’s overall credibility.

  • Beth

    I wrote this to the NYT this morning:

    So it’s the yoga that made them do it?! This article utterly discredits William Broad in his aspirations as a long-view yoga historian and scholar, with its tee hee suggestion that it’s all really Tantra anyway and practitioners are inherently susceptible to sexual excess because of vigorous practice leading in one (heterosexual) direction. This is the 21st century, not Vedic India. And the yoga teaching community is dominated by these charismatic male teachers who have bypassed the crucial legacies of feminist and civil rights histories that teach about abuses of power; they also know very little about what the field of psychology has documented about the workings of transference and the importance of the therapist/teacher NOT interrupting those processes by sexualizing the connection. To excuse the willful ignorance of many yoga teachers, to absolve them of responsibility as mature people in positions of power, is to perpetuate this abusive situation. There have been some strides in understanding and characterizing the power of the yoga teacher — the CYT’s Code of Standards is Excellent, for starters — but until teachers start to integrate *ahimsa* with contemporary analyses of power and sexism students will remain vulnerable to these abuses. “It’s the Tantra” — ?! Please. It’s the same old, same old. And the more *satya* we have about the *brahmacarya,* and lack thereof, the deeper we sit in the *dukha,* and eventually, thereby, transform in our own times.

  • Mark

    Broad’s assertion that Yoga began as a sex cult (i.e.Tantra) is not only incorrect but irresponsible.

    Tantra began in approximately the 2nd Century AD and is not Yoga . Yoga’s origins go back much further (200 BC) Some of the earliest and most classical references to Yoga begin with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Circa 200 BC) but there are earlier references going back much farther in the Upanishads and other texts of Vedic Literature.. Patanjali makes no reference to sex or sexual rituals in his Sutras. Yoga as readers know simply means Union and refers to the union of individual awareness with Universal awareness (not the sexual union between two individuals) did not have sexual practices. And even only part of Tantra utilized sex as a means for higher attainment. The highest form of Tantra (i.e. the non-dual Advaita Bhairavi Agamas of Kashmir Shaivism were for Enlightenment only and did not involve sexual practices).

    Yoga from its earliest origins was and is for the development of Moksha, Enlightenment, the development of full human potential. Even Hatha had this goal and sought to separate and purify the sorry , confused and improperly practiced version of Yoga that had become mistakenly inmeshed with the lower path of left handed Tantra during that time period in India. Sexual enhancement was never part of the goal of Yoga and Yoga did not originate with Tantra.

    And the implication by Broad that Yoga produces uncontrollable sexual behavior is absurd. Exercise in improving blood flow and testosterone improves over all health which in turn naturally improve ones sex life. Does exercise produce uncontrollable sexual urges? The implication that improved sexual experience was a goal of Yoga and that in turn somehow translates to sexual abuse is absurd and unscientific.

    Why does Broad try and make the whole field of Yoga out to be something sinister because of the actions of a handful of individuals who used their positions of power for their own self gratification? This is the fault of human sexual nature combined with power, not Yoga. Otherwise we wouldn’t see sexual impropriety and abuse evenly distributed in all fields of life perpetrated by individuals with unfulfilled sexual desires where there is a big power differential between individuals (i.e Politics, business, religion etc) It is not unique to Yoga. It may stand out in the press when the perpetrators preached sexual abstinence but it is not more prevalent than in any other field.

    I fail to understand how a newspaper with the reputation of the NY Times allows such poorly written and researched articles to be published.

    Atlanta, Ga
    (Not a Yoga teacher)

    • Greg

      He doesn’t say yoga began as a sex cult. He says hatha yoga began as a sex cult. You can take issue with that certainly, but you ought to get it right first.

      • Mark

        Actually in Broad’s article, before he ever mentions Hatha Yoga, he specifically he makes this statement:

        ” Why does yoga produce so many philanderers? And why do the resulting uproars leave so many people shocked and distraught?

        One factor is ignorance. ‘Yoga’ teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise.”

        It is not until later in the article that he starts using the term Hatha saying that it originated in Tantra. This statement coming before any mention of Hatha along with the title: “Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here” leaves the average reader with the impression that Yoga has its origins in a sex cult.

        Also the majority of the less informed readers of an article like this will hardly make the distinction between Yoga and Hatha even though he starts using the term Hatha Yoga later in the article after he has made his sensationalistic splash.

        If his assertion is that Hatha Yoga evolved from a sex cult as a main point in his article to justify his conclusion as to why these sexual improprieties have occurred then he should have at least entitled the article Hatha Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here” and been specific from the start rather than being ambiguous about it in the beginning for sensational effect.

        Even still the assertion is unscientifically proffered and is an absurd conclusion as to the cause of the behavior he is highlighting. At the very least his assertions would seem less ridiculous if he had bothered to point out the distinction between Yoga and Hatha Yoga or been more specific from the start of the article including the title. But that would have been less of a spectacle.

        The bottom line for me is that his assertion is scientifically unsound, purposely hostile towards Yoga and smacks of another disgusting bid for notoriety to increase the sale his book and increase readership.

        • Time magazine has called Broad’s arguments pseudoscientific… http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/29/does-yoga-really-drive-people-wild-with-desire/

          “Broad goes on to cite research that supports the idea that yoga can improve sex life. But this is where the argument falters. The quality of the data is questionable: the studies he references are either old, uncontrolled or published in obscure journals. Two studies examine the effects of fast breathing, rather than yoga itself, finding that this does enhance genital arousal in women. Broad also claims that yoga can increase a woman’s ability to “think off” — or experience orgasm without any physical stimulation.

          However, while it’s possible that there’s something about yoga that is inherently sexy — perhaps it’s the scantily clad people exercising in close quarters? — Broad neglects to explore a critical issue. It’s not only powerful figures in yoga who have a tendency to stray.

          From John Kennedy and Newt Gingrich to Jimmy Swaggart and Warren Jeffs, top dogs — none of them yoga gurus — have long been known to take advantage of their position. It doesn’t take a yoga pose to arouse sexual appetites.”

          • Mark

            Well put! Classically in India I don’t think Yoga was practiced in huge groups as is typical in the West. The recluse tradition was very strong in the era that Hatha emerged. One gets the idea that Yoga Asana would have been practiced individually to support ones Sadhana by individual aspirants or if in an Ashram still that would have been gender separated.

            Yoga has been somewhat sexualized in the media (just look at promotional images) and its group practice with sometimes scantily clad practitioners seems to reflect fairly accurately the overall emphasis this country puts on sex and body image.

            Just go to India to get a sense of how differently this topic is handled than in America and though maybe things have become more liberal in the last 20 years, when I first started travelling to India if you went to a Yoga class it was only men with men and ladies with ladies. So to me if there is anything that promotes sexual relations about Yoga practice it is simply a reflection of Western values in general that applies to most things in the country too like politics, religion, business etc and nothing inherently about Yoga itself.

  • simply yoga

    Does the NYT have a place for comments on their articles? I don’t see a forum, unless I’m missing it.

    • Beth

      Unfortunately, you need to be a NYT subscriber to leave a comment. The old-fashioned “letter to the editor” is your only route if a non-subscriber; I do happen to subscribe (mixed blessing, obviously!)

  • simply yoga

    Thanks Beth. I figured it would be something like that. Well, glad you have the opportunity to respond.

  • simply yoga

    I am surprised the non-subscribers can’t even read the comments though. That’s a shame for everyone.

  • Scott

    I’m a little surprised how people are losing their minds in response to the article. Is all the defensive posturing very yoga like? Read the article, read the rebuttals, add it all to your knowledge base and move on with your life. All the demonizing isn’t healthy.

  • me thinks Scott, above, is the author of the scathing HuffPo article on JF…lol

    • Scott

      I’m not aware of the HuffPo article your speaking about so I’m not sure if you’re being arrogant and condescending…but it feels like it.

  • dan

    I said it before, and I’ll continue to say it here: I’m reviving the ancient sex-cult, please meet me in the park, at dawn.

  • Beth

    Broad is a complete piker next to Georg Feuerstein. Anyone truly serious about yoga history, philosophy and the connections to practice needs to read GF.

  • Suzanne

    Mr. Broad is obviously piggybacking on the John Friend scandal to excerpt material from his book into an article so he can further promote his book. The tenuous connection he seems to be making is that if Mr. Friend had been aware that yoga makes you feel sexy, he might have been able to control his libidinous urges and not screw all those ladies. As it was, he was just gobsmacked by the sexual energy, having no idea that he was making himself horny doing the yoga, and couldn’t resist. Seriously dude? This argument is so full of crap it is amazing. Guess you got us all talking though, so, point scored for you Mr. Broad.

  • sandra nilsen

    how incorrect is their thinking. i am appalled they could not do research into the principles but concentrated on their short comings, well we now know why they are not yogi’s or yogini,s
    tantra and tantric are two separate things. those whom perform group sex are not of yogic nature. and this is why yoga is perverted by some sexually physical or base chakra people. the priciples of yoga the 8 or 10 limbs are not taught enough in the west,with people concentrating on physical form only,
    and shallow minds produce shallow effects

  • Simmonj

    Hatha yoga finds its origins in the nine nath gurus including Matsyendra.
    According to Furstein the yogi was interested in the tramsuting the body into a diamond body to allow a full awaking of energy in the central channel.
    The practices were more based on breath control and to some degree the cleansing techniques of the body. Asana as we know it today had not yet evolved.
    Krishnamacharya the famous teacher of Iyengar and Pattibi Jois was responsible for a large component of modern asana practice.
    The article in NYT has stirred a great debate that in the end help to elevate the awareness of yoga.
    The teachings of yoga are like blades of grass in the spring that will will always enjoy their day in the sun.
    The Anusara method is timeless wisdom and no adversity can deny the greatest of yoga and its ability to transform the human soul.

  • jeremy
  • Janet

    This Anusara-gate train has been going on too long.
    John Friend was a pig to be (b)oinking students and married followers and mishandling pensions. Yoga by itself didn’t cause him to do this HOWEVER Yoga Inc. and the ensuing power trip gave him the means and ability to do this but all it did was play up on an aspect Friend himself already had in him..
    I’m at the point now where I actually hope this yoga juggernaut falls so that the authentic and well-meaning teachers are left standing. Too many bad players on the playing field these days which is a direct by-product of not enough oversight, accountability and responsibility and that includes the clichéd “studly” male yoga instructors which seem to be the centre of all attention in one-too-many yoga studio nowadays in cities across North America. This includes the enablers who look the other way and allow these things to happen instead of speaking up and taking a stand against this sort of behavior and just go along for the ride because of the money of the popularity contest. John Friend had BOTH male and female followers pressing their hotel keys into his hand at conferences. Is JF the only one to blame here or are these followers who built him up to be this way just as guilty?
    I don’t agree with Broad’s insinuation that the “yoga made JF do it” or that yoga’s origins were strictly sexually cultic to begin with. Tantra, like the Dionysion orgiastic cults of ancient Greece, were considered to be the “forbidden teachings”. Teachings, if followed correctly would be the fastest route to Enlightenment, but were considered so dangerous to the mind that if a practitioner deviated even 1 centimetre, madness was guaranteed, maybe even death, which is why the teachings were never written down but are only handed down for teacher to student orally. This didn’t only include acts like excessive sex, but horrific practices like necrophilia, cannibalism, meditating in charnel grounds or on corpses, all means to help the mind get beyond the labelling stage of “good” and “bad” and just allow experience. I should add, Tantra in India and Tibet these days, is NOT considered popular or recommended to students and is only taught by a handful of teachers still alive. That doesn’t include the clothing-optional, open air Tantric couples weekend workshops in Hawaii either.
    It’s true yoga can be sexual but a lot of what you get out of yoga is what you put into it. If you want to put that sexual energy into it, that will come out. if you want to put in that compassionate energy, likewise, that will come out too. Broad fails to take that into account. John Friend mishandled his energy and responsibility to teachers and students in a colossal way. Maybe instructors and leaders who were acting unethically can see this as a cautionary tale that bad behavior always eventually gets outed. Always.

  • Cindy Z

    amen brother. I tried to say the same thing on Mr. Broad’s Facebook and got deleted.

  • Sadly missing are the facts:
    1. All aspects of (real) Yoga is Hinduism.
    2. Since Yoga is Hinduism (true to any religion), the teacher is a Hindu.
    3. True to all religions, no upfront fee–donations, ok.

    Since the so-called “yoga” of today strikes out on all three counts, what can one expect? Concerned Hindus and those who truly want to study Hinduism/Yoga need to stand-up for these injustices.

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