So you may have heard about this John Friend/Anusara scandal. Continuing the recent resurgence of media coverage comes an article from The Daily Beast, this time getting down to the nitty gritty on the now infamous Blazing Solar Flames, the alleged Wicca coven that went beyond the axioms of paganism and into the realm of sex cult and abuse of power according to an ex-member.
If you’ve been turned off so far by all the attention surrounding the sexploits of a popular and yoga-worldly powerful teacher then you may want to avert your eyes for this one.
A much different approach than the New York Magazine piece, published online on the same day, TDB’s intro starts straight in with racy details.
On a chilly New Year’s Eve in 2009, John Friend—the popular and charismatic founder of Anusara yoga—lay naked on a bearskin rug in front of a blazing fire at his home in the Woodlands, Texas, while three underwear-clad women hovered over him, massaging his body with sweetly-scented oil. One rubbed his head, neck, and shoulders, another worked on his hands, while a third rubbed his inner thighs and pelvic region, her whole body writhing sinuously to the new-age sitar melodies playing in the background.
The article focuses on an account from former coven member and “High Priestess” Melissa, the “Hermione” to John Friend’s “Harry Potter” in sharing interests in pagan traditions and philosophies as well as sharing them to Anusara students. But Melissa (whose real name was not used) says there was more to John Friend’s Wiccan rituals than she was used to.
Traditionally, Wiccans worship pagan deities and celebrate seasonally-based festivals or “Sabbats.” Friend suggested to the other coven members that sexually charged rituals would heighten everyone’s senses and therefore raise more energy, according to Melissa.
“It was certainly never the way that I had experienced Wicca,” Melissa told The Daily Beast, but she was initially open to the experience, in part because of her intimate relationship with Friend and because of her confidence in him as a leader and teacher. “A teacher’s voice is so deeply engrained in your brain, and you implicitly trust them because that’s what helps you do great things in your practice,” she said.
Recalling a particular experience in the coven’s practice of regular sensual naked massage,
“Suddenly I started crying and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t tell if I was embarrassed, even though these were people I was supposed to trust.” When it came time for Friend’s massage, she recalled suddenly feeling the situation “was like something out of Hustler orPenthouse, and I just thought, ‘Wow, this guy is living the dream.’”
There seemed to be a bigger plan for the group and Anusara as a team, but by then the master plan was starting to show holes, and John, his tendencies.
Earlier that spring, Friend had explained to Melissa what she described as “a world-expansion plan” for his yoga school and company and his desire to trademark the Anusara philosophy.
But also by that time, according to another former teacher who wished to remain anonymous, Friend’s original philosophy of “intrinsic goodness” had become watered down by his brand, and the dynamic within his inner his kula—Sanskrit for “community”—had become tainted by a “culture of favoritism.”
Melissa said Friend rewarded students and employees he liked, while effectively blacklisting those who questioned his power or philosophy. At one point, Melissa said, she was on the receiving end of his favoritism. “He called me HP [High Priestess], but it became clear that I was serving at John’s pleasure and that at any moment I could be demoted out of coven,” she said. “John would say things like, ‘Eventually, we might have to find another HP.’ But meanwhile, he was always going to be the GM. It was his clubhouse.”
This habit of choosing favorites and keeping secrets has been echoed by other teachers who have since resigned from Anusara including Elena Brower and Amy Ippoliti, outside any Wicca coven or sexual circles. NYC yoga teacher Kelly Morris sums up the situation: “Attending a yoga class where a teacher is generating bed-buddies while expounding on spiritual matters is like attending church only to find out the priest is bonking the altar boy.”
Or the wizard has come out from behind the curtain. We believe this account to be a truthful telling of one person’s experience within the circle. In the very least we hope this will help spare the reputation of Wicca and paganism, which many readers have pointed out are not the “evil” nor the problem here.
It all sounds very fantastical. As one facebook commenter said, we’re waiting for Blazing Solar Flames The Movie. Is Mel Brooks still in Hollywood?
[The Daily Beast John Friend Anusara Scandal: Inside the Wiccan ‘Sex’ Coven]
- New York Magazine on John Friend ‘Karma Crash’ and Anusara Melt-Down – Post-Scandal Interview
- Running Timeline of Anusara Controversy, Updates and Teacher Resignations
- True Confessions of Former Anusara Teachers
- Elena Brower and Amy Ippoliti on Leaving Anusara and Recent Controversy
- New ‘Rock Your Yoga’ TV Show Will Star Yoga’s Rock Star Sadie Nardini
- Wanderlust LIVE Becomes the Magic Kingdom Anusaraland Could Have Been
I’m so confused here. Wasn’t DAILY BEAST John Friend’s coven name? And his doctrine of “intrinsic horniness.” Did it come to him in a revelation – or a wet dream? He clearly was inspired to use his Staff of Righteousness to delight, as well as to enlighten.
“Friend attempted to heal a woman’s migraines by massaging her urethra”
Say what!?!?! This is way beyond betrayal of trust!
How can people still campaign for him, while he still hides behind his PR machine and plays victim?
Read the comment posted by one of the women interviewed in the article on Daily Beast. What a sad little enabler. Anyone still supporting him at this point needs deprogramming and a good hard slap.
Just a note from a yoga guy who is also pagan — this kind of behavior is seriously uncool from a Wiccan standpoint, too. Calling yourself the “Grand Magus” and building a harem is not standard Wiccan practice, as his friend “Melissa” mentioned in the article quoted.
Pagan, wiccan or whatever, this is cult-leader behavior. John Friend was and, as far as I know, still is a follower of Siddha Yoga, the birthplace of Anusara Yoga. The favoritism, elevating of position, insider scoop, and sexual hijinks have followed SY, Sw. Muktananda and Gurumayi around for years. Denial works wonders for those who did not directly experience enough of the cognitive-dissonance producing craziness masquerading as some 20/21st century Mahabharata to get out and speak out. Authoritarian leaders insulated from checks and balances seem to go off the rails in very similar ways, regardless of what tradition they represent. The capacity for denial seems limitless. I am sorry for the people who have invested years and money in the Anusara brand; hopefully, they will be able to continue teaching hatha yoga without the kula kool-aid.
Aside from all that, Kelly Morris’ comment “Attending a yoga class where a teacher is generating bed-buddies while expounding on spiritual matters is like attending church only to find out the priest is bonking the altar boy” makes her look like an idiot. Pedophilia and hook-ups w/ a yoga teacher…..um….not the same, don’t ya think, Kelly? Please explain to me how they are even remotely similar? It blows my mind the complete stupidity that issues forth from the mouths of some yoga “teachers” wrapped in some self sanctified eastern pseudo spirituality. Hence generating the same environment where the vulnerable being easily led by those who would prey on their naivete while robbed in the mists of yoga.
Technically, John Friend’s is a “lay” ministry, as opposed to a more serious priestly one? Does that help? :o)
That made me go *snort!* Stewart. LOL
A better comparison is where the priest is dating parishioners.
It’s only a problem when there’s a vow in place, or an ethical determination about it. A lot of lay ministers — such as those who might run the choir or the social justice committee or what have you — have no real ethical barriers against dating parishioners.
In fact, it’s how a lot of them meet devote people to marry.
Anyhoot. Probably not relevant. lol
No, most of them need to stop teaching yoga altogether until they have grown up, and/or been deprogrammed. Most of them are still completely in denial about this experience and their reception of it. They run around desperately distancing themselves from John Friend to save their yoga studios and their own reputations – which have largely existed on Facebook anyway. These were people who were spouting the quotations of Chairman John like he was Mao or Buddha and yet they now claim they were never into “that Guru stuff.” It’s complete 100% malarkey. They’re still possessed with the megalomania that drove them to build up such a destructive and deluded movement to begin with. Cults never reform, or evolve. You have to disband them, and dismantle their networks completely. Scatter them to the wind. Otherwise they just wait out their negative publicity storm, and slowly reconfigure. It’s a form of mental illness writ large.
The whole thing stank like manure from the beginning. Now it’s starting to smell like stale manure.
This is part of the reason why I left the yoga world, too many enablers, new age pablum being touted to justify almost any form of narcissism, and people unable or unwilling to take ownership of their mistakes and then rectifying them. Elena was right to tell John to make a list of everyone he lied to and hurt and then go and apologize personally and directly to them but the fact that John refuses to do even a simple thing like that, and a deceptively powerful tool to heal, speaks volumes about the man, methinks…
Yes but Elena Brower was part of the problem for so long her credibility is pretty screwed. She lied for the guy, and then covered stuff up, and then left and lied about why she left, and then came out with this lame excuse of “I was afraid of losing my place in the yoga world” — in other words, her status — and has the gall to castigate YD for a supposedly salacious article. Then she gets with a rich boyfriend and starts marketing herself as a “life coach.” WTF? Amy Ippoliti still cobines slick self-marketing with a sense of entitlement to big $$$$, a smiling can-do attitude, and they ALL still spout pseduo-spiritual bullshit. A LOTTA nerve, these princesses. They themselves should take a year off and do heavy community service, in the dirtiest most unglamorous most dangerous places available, and no, NOT IN INDIA. Here.
Raw truth. Bring it.
Its quite clear John abused his role as a teacher, healer, and CEO. I am still surprised to read articles where Friend is surprised by the fallout, that’s how you know he still hasn’t gotten it. I wish everyone in the anusara community, including John Friend, the very best in discovering truth, healing, and surrender.
what boggles my mind is that no one had the guts to say, “listen, honey, you’re not all that. whip that thing out again and I’m cutting it off…”
I mean, really?? these goofy women put up with his crap? REALLY?!? I agree with the above comment that they need to be deprogrammed!
I guess people were afraid to hurt his feelings…..;)
YES! I can’t imagine being drawn in by those happy feely charlatans… it’s the same story over and over again, susceptible sheeple being drawn in by charismatic idiots who spew quick fix spirituality. Yoga is about finding your OWN answers and knowing yourself better, not buying claptrap!