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New York Magazine on John Friend ‘Karma Crash’ and Anusara Melt-Down – Post-Scandal Interview

in YD News

John Friend and his "shadows" (photo: Dan Winters via NYmag.com)

The Anusara yoga community has gone through hell since accusations about their grand leader John Friend surfaced online in early February of this year. Sexual escapades, pot smoking, the use of employees as pot goafers, Wicca covens breaking up marriages, pension freezing issues have plagued the grand master, and thus the Anusara empire that was fast on the rise, but has since fractured. Vanessa Grigoriadis, a praised writer and NYC yogi, took on the task of covering the latest and biggest yoga scandal in the past decade, and her article for New York Magazine provides extraordinary insight into the mind of the accused and ostracized John Friend on his home turf, in his blue shirt and jeans and his Bill Clinton looks in Woodlands, Texas. Indeed, she was granted access, a hang out sesh with the “yogic John Coltrane” and the article is the result of a conversation with John Friend on John Friend and the trouble he’s seen. You might guess where this is going.

The article begins and sets the tone with:

Crisis or not, this afternoon, Friend exhibits the main characteristic of a charismatic—which is what a yoga teacher really is—the ability to shift energy in a room. He brings it up as we start to talk and appears as he always has been: glowy, levelheaded, fun, with a way of talking that makes him seem much more like a young Californian than a middle-aged guy from Texas.

We don’t fault anyone for giving John Friend the mic to speak his side of the story, after all, plenty of others have had their say, but talk about extreme comfort zone and kula-colored glasses, not to mention moody and dramatic photos. Or is that the way to set the stage.

With the first one-on-one interview since the less than clarifying post-scandal breaking messages, we’re just a bit disappointed in the opportunity here to bring balance to an otherwise one-sided conversation with John Friend talking about himself with an air of woe is me. Although, this is where we see the tear in the fibers. And it seems that John still doesn’t quite get it.

“I understood the shock from the inner community, because I was the ideal of the very levelheaded, conservative guy that knew scientifically good stuff and loved everybody,” says Friend. “But this was like, ‘Oh my God, you are into sex? You smoked marijuana?’ It freaked them out. I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t want to tell you that I actually have a Wiccan coven. But it’s just a prayer circle, it’s for healing.’ ‘Oh my God, a pentacle.’ This is what I was dealing with.”

And according to him they were relentless, demanding remorse and a break from his teaching schedule. When John taught at his previously scheduled Miami workshop February 12th-14th against strong recommendations by the Interim Committee, he did as they requested and left early to avoid any close encounters with students, which we’re led to believe was in line with cruel and unusual punishment:

“There was to be no asking for forgiveness. No nurturing. No love. It was a Puritan sort of punishment, a shunning.”

Really? We thought it was about taking responsibility for your behavior and acting with integrity and maturity. Of course, the other side of John’s story has painted a much different picture, one where teachers, Anusarans and members of the yoga community reacted with an array of emotions from disbelief to utter dismay to outrage at the launch of JFExposed.com, which Ms. Grigoriadis refers to as “Batman, responding to the rules of karma.” What goes around, comes around, with a mask and a cape.

One resigned teacher does get a few words in, and that’s Elena Brower:

“I don’t think John meant harm—he just made a series of bad choices,” says Elena Brower, an ex–Anusara teacher and co-owner of Virayoga, a Soho studio that has had Anusara classes. “He let a lot of secrets pile up, and as everyone who has done so knows, it will either kill you because everyone finds out, or it will kill you because no one finds out. I suggested to him a while ago that he make a list of all the lies he’s ever told, meet up with people, and make it right, one by one. It’s so simple, and it would serve him beautifully. But that was not in his wheelhouse at all.”

None of the turmoil and/or heartache is included in the NY Mag piece (not that we need more of either) and instead we’re treated to the same display we’re used to seeing: “the nice Texan dude in a Hawaiian shirt, facilitating healing for women with Hallmark-card sayings about opening to grace, melting your heart, and inner smiles.” Except now he’s got the blues.

“I always said I’m not a saint, a prophet, a guru, a god man—there’s no cosmic energy pouring through me to the point that I know all things,” says Friend. “But as Anusara grew, I think people super­imposed the idea of a guru on my position, and now they hate me. I mean, I’m not only getting hate e-mails—on my phone, I’m getting hate texts.” He says that he plans to be alone, without a girlfriend, for a while. “I have been unfaithful my whole life, to be truthful,” he says. “I’ve also gotten speeding tickets, but this time I ran over somebody. And I hurt not only other people, I hurt my soul.”

Oh boy. Are we all overreacting snivelers and John Friend just a misunderstood merry magician? Are we just living out our dharma as the Buddha killers? Says one unnamed student:

“The hardest part of all of this is the deep beauty of the awakening that occurred, because that is the true function of the guru: If you see the Buddha on the path, kill him. At some point, John’s students had to grow up and kill their dad.”

Buddha bopping aside, we’re looking for some real, balanced and uncut peace talks, with or without John Friendese. What seems odd, somewhat disappointing and completely expected all at the same time is the painting of John Friend (primarily by John Friend) as a victim in this scenario, being meanly punished by previously doting devotees, and unjustly bullied for simply being a charismatic guy who has made a few mistakes going through growing pains and dabbling in a little bit of pot smoking and lady friends.

But perhaps Vanessa Grigoriadis is in fact a sort of crafty Bat(wo)man herself, providing the space for John to continue speaking his spirals, giving us a glimpse into the ‘what now.’

“Maybe he will rebirth himself as one of ­yoga’s bad boys, explaining how it feels to have promulgated a message about the goodness of the universe.”

Maybe. But we’re pretty sure Bikram has that scene covered, minus that mushy universe stuff.

We invite you to read the entire article and share your comments here.

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Earlier

30 comments… add one

  • Hi, Yogadork. Enjoyed reading your analysis of this extensive article, which I just read.

    To tell the truth, I didn’t get the feeling Vanessa was buying any of it, just faithfully reporting what he said, with what to me was a very skeptical and almost mocking tone. I wouldn’t say he comes across looking good in this article, if that’s what you’re afraid of. There have been a pile other articles by insiders that fully expressed all the pain and suffering. I’m guessing Vanessa was trying to give us something new, like “what’s John saying about all this”, without endorsing any of it herself. I viewed this piece as straight reporting. If she had wanted to press him on anything, then she probably would have chosen the interview format.

    Just my thoughts for the sharing. Anxious to see what others think.

    Bob W.
    Associate Publisher
    elephant journal

  • Barb

    You mean an interview format like that mutual masturbation session between Waylon and John a few months back on Elephant Jagger?

  • I thought the article was very sympathetic to JF. If you know the back story, it doesn’t make him look like a victim, but if you didn’t (or had a different take on it than I do), it most certainly might.

    If you keep it to sex and pot, it just doesn’t seem like there’s really much to object to. I would say that the glaring omission in the article was the hypocritical and damaging disjuncture between the sunny Anusara philosophy and the lying, controlling, and manipulation that went on to keep everyone rigidly in line and on message (until jfexposed was reported on here on this site).

  • You make a very important point, Carol. I agree that his general business dealings are one of the most important, most upsetting, and least reported aspect of the story

    I also see your point that many of us here do know the back story in great already, so it takes a bit of a leap to see how this would come across to someone who hadn’t already read all the resignation letters and other articles.

    Bob

    .

  • I agree with this assessment.

    True Story: once I went with a friend to see a movie, and after the movie she asked me, “What did you think?” And I said “I love the lighting.”

    You know that when the best thing you have to say about the way you spent the last two hours of an expensive artwork produced by a large group of people is that you “loved the lighting” that the artwork failed in total.

    That being said, what did I love about this article? The photography.

  • Stewart J. Lawrence

    The biggest omission – which hopefully much of the Yoga Dork discussion has already helped bring to light – is that cults, including yoga cults, aren’t really about one man.

    He is merely the Supreme “Magus Maximus” expression of a pathological organizational illness, and many of his alleged “victims” – especially his jealous senior female competitors at the top – are perpetrators themselves.

    Unless this power transference dynamic is honestly understood and confronted – without further attempts from academic apologists and other fellow travelers – “reform” of Anusara will turn into the resurrection of a cult “by other means — “Friendism with out Friend,” a collective female-dominated oligarchy as oppressive and as dysfunctional as the male monarch — just better hidden, and more effectively rationalized.

    “The King is Dead. Ling Live the Queen.”

  • Stewart J. Lawrence

    I meant to say “LONG Live the Queen.” Or maybe”LINGAM” Live the Queen — and I just got confused midway.

  • Carol, thanks for Tweeting about Livia Shapiro’s article this morning. I liked it so much I just published it on elephant. I think it addresses some of the issues you raise in your comment above.

    John Friend: What the Daily Beast Didn’t Tell You. ~Livia Shapiro.
    http://bit.ly/HFYE2Q

    Thanks,

    Bob

  • third eye

    Reading the article and especially the comments from former teachers reminds me that saviors need victims. Now JF seems to play both roles.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    John Friend does NOT look anything like Bill Clinton. I mean, they’re both white men, but that’s where the resemblance ends.

  • Hillary Clinton

    Excellent comment. Really insightful. Thank god there’s a comment section and you chimed in with this fascinating and truly revealing tidbit. You truly prove why the public deserves a voice. Keep up the good work.

  • Bill Clinton

    Damn, a sex coven. Why didn’t I think of that when I was in the Oval Office

  • Monica Lewinsky

    You didn’t need no stinkin’ sex coven!

  • Paula Jones

    That’s for sure.

  • Linda Tripp

    Could you guys speak into the microphone, please?

  • Ken Starr

    Let’s assemble a Blue Ribbon Panel to investigate these allegations. Then after millions of dollars are wasted, we can try him on unrelated charges…Yeah…

  • The article portrays how much suffering and pain these events caused the entire anusara community. I think John definitely lost his way and misused his power through relationship and really bad business, which was the straw that broke the camels back. However, time is the greatest filter and healer so I do wish everyone involved the very best. The article does a good job showing the delusion and naivete of John Friend before and throughout the fallout. Time will tell what life he really wants to live.

  • Yoga Chick

    This article only further supports that John Friend is a narcissistic wanker. Give the man a cross and some nails. He’s clearly begging for them. The poor misunderstood little man. He gave everything and they all walked away from him. Oh boo flippin’ hoo…

  • hear hear

    As a rule of thumb, when he opens his mouth assume he will be lying. He’s learned nothing from his misdeeds but is nothing more than a sociopath following the prescribed modus to try to recover. Will get much worse before this is through, johnny boy…

  • Poor me. Poor me. Poor me. ..says Friend…

    Andrew Cohen did the the exact same thing.. Osho did the same thing when he was finally arrested and deported out of the USA for all that he and his cult (organization) did in and while in the USA. So like all power hungry authoritarian leaders with brains (and the hunger to continue to feed the ego with power) he simply just re-set up in India, changed his name from Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh to OSHO and reinvented himself and the ‘message’.

    It worked and today millions follow OSHO and pin up his little poems and sayings that he simply borrowed/took/stole from real poets and real spiritual seekers. Thousands flock to India to stay in the Exclusive OSHO Ashram Health and beauty resorts.

    Very few talk about who OSHO and the organization is actually was and what he actually did before. Few talk about the numerous books published by former members of his cult and about his origination and the abuse. Few more talk about how to this day in order to enter his OSHO communes (ashrams) you need to be tested for HIV and be HIV negative to enter.

    I am assuming based on John Friend’s demonstrated lack of real remorse of doing anything wrong he will simply find a way to rebuild (it won’t be hard). Because as shown with OSHO and Andrew Cohen there are always numerous people there who lack an identity of their own, are paralyzed by fear of being inadequate on their own and afraid to define their own identity on their own and ultimately are attracted to leaders and organization who will give them what they can not give themselves; the sense of unique identity and then tell them they are OK and in fact superior to those who once made them feel inferior.

    This pattern has been repeated since humankind first asked the question: ‘ Who Am I’? and someone seeing that then realized that the answer is hard to come by so ‘I will tell you who YOU ARE’.

  • Xan Go

    Ever wonder why tens of thousands of people would go and stay with Osho for months at a time at his ashrams in India and elsewhere? Mostly people with advanced degrees. ‘
    I’ll clue you in. He was INCREDIBLY powerful spiritually. He had the power to transform you (if you were so inclined) simply with his energy which was absolutely spectacular.
    How do I know? I spent 8 years with him beginning in his commune in Oregon. Even though a few of his followers were lunatics that he gave too much free reign to, Osho himself transformed the lives of thousands and thousands of people including my own and those of many people that I know. If you don’t believe me, you can visit his samadhi in India and feel the incredible power of his energy today.

  • I think you may be confused to my post. As I said in my post, I do not wonder why people follow authoritarian models or leaders such as OSHO or John Friend or Andrew Cohen, etc.. On the contrary, my post was sharing why in fact they do it.

  • simply yoga

    Oh Lordy! More pats on the back! More blaming the bad, bad “new media” coverage! It reads like a parody — but sadly… noooo.)

    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/04/truly-breaking-news-perhaps-the-1st-quality-real-piece-of-journalism-to-cover-john-friend-scandal/

    “It’s the first real interview (my “interview,” until now the only one, in which John first admitted to affairs and directly addressed pension accusations with legal documents—was vetted through his inner circle and lawyers—I received answers to my questions days later) with John Friend—one of the world’s leading yoga teachers and movers & shakers who was taken down by new media coverage of an anonymous, agenda-driven web site and subsequent sex-obsessed, tabloid-y media coverage, his own community and teachers‘ outrage, and perhaps most crucially his own (lack of) openness, blame-accepting or even conventional crisis management (obfuscation is not a winning strategy when it comes to yogis).

  • caroline

    I’m glad that there are Harry Potter references in this and the Daily Beast. This is a literate scene.

  • yawn

    more of that dipshit? Really? And yeah I’m sure WAILIN’ is all up in arms over his bud John Friend bein’ picked on again! Boohoo! Sniffle! Poor guys!

  • wayne

    I love the description, “Hallmark-card sayings about opening to grace, melting your heart, and inner smiles.” The thing is, no matter how self serving or pathetic he comes across, he will be right back on top in six months or so. People just eat that stuff up. He is a master of the spin and the folks that bought into it before will line up again.

  • hear hear

    don’t bet on him being back on top. he crossed the line in ways you don’t know about and it will get much worse in ways nobody can predict right now.

  • Bob Buddy

    I just want to know who the Bob Buddy fellow is, because I’d really like to have my anus illuminated! Sounds way more exciting than shaving my pubes and saving them in a jar.

  • Maureen Clyne

    I agree with Bob Weissberg’s observation that the author was for the most part simply reporting on John’s perspective, his comments and reactions to the situation rather than promoting his version of the story. His words actually speak for themselves. Carol does make a good point that if you weren’t familiar with John and the Anusara culture, one might think that Vanessa sympathizes with John’s version. I suppose it depends. One comment of John’s that I agree with is when he says that he never claimed to be a Guru and that students projected that role onto him. In my experience, there is always some sort of projection onto a teacher regardless if they teach physics or yoga. I studied with John for many years, and watched as the projections onto him grew and magnified over the years as he became more popular, the kula grew and students became younger. This is not to excuse his behavior in the least. As the teacher, it was his responsibility to live up to the behavioral standards that he set, and to maintain boundaries with students. However, I always tell my students that until we are completely enlightened beings, we are all flawed humans , subject to the foibles and follies that are inherent to the human condition. Whatever the case, it is ultimately a very sad story.

  • Anthony

    A yogi smoking pot and sleeping with lots of women…what a shocker! Stop the drama and hating peeps and move on and do what YOU need to do….sheesh.

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