This does not involve Bikram Choudhury.
A Jivamukti Yoga teacher has been accused of sexually harassing a student in a $1.6 million civil lawsuit filed against the teacher and the studio, a major staple in the NYC yoga scene for decades.
Yoga teacher Holly Faurot says 20-year veteran Jivamukti Yoga teacher Ruth Lauer-Manenti sexually harassed her between 2009 and 2013 while Faurot was training to become a teacher at the studio. Lauer-Manenti was her mentor in the process and, according to the lawsuit, started staying over Faurot’s apartment where she slept in her bed and “spooned and cuddled” with her student.
Via the NY Daily News:
Gradually, court papers say, Lauer-Manenti’s conduct escalated — in addition to grabbing Faurot’s breasts and trying to get between her legs during 25 additional sleepovers, the guru asked her apprentice, in the staff bathroom, to examine her teacher to see if she had inserted a tampon.
Lauer-Manenti also persuaded Faurot to pose for nude photos in sexually suggestive positions, court papers say.
In exchange, Faurot got special access to Jivamukti’s founders, David Kirkpatrick and Sharon Gannon, and other yoga luminaries, and prime teaching slots.
That stopped in the fall of 2013 when Lauer-Manenti “lost interest” and focused on another young apprentice, the suit says.
“I followed their philosophy of total devotion and surrender to a guru with all my heart,” Faurot told the Daily News.
“That’s why I didn’t question her psychological manipulation.”
According to the suit, Faurot filed a complaint with the studio which was ignored.
While there’s no official word from Jivamukti, when reached by phone by the Daily News, one employee shared her support for, and ill opinion of, Faurot.
“Ruth is the sweetest person you’d want to meet. It’s very disappointing that a crazy person would do such a malicious act against someone who is so holy,” she said.
Teacher – student relationships have been a big topic in the yoga community for a long time, and the discussion isn’t always negative, but it’s the scandals that draw our attention back to the conversation of finding a balance between power, leadership, and responsibility. In a climate where being accused is virtually being convicted, we have to resist jumping to conclusions, but we also can’t start discounting the people who step forward to share their stories because while automatically blaming the accused isn’t right, neither is blaming the victims.
In other words…holy is right, but it’s more like holy crap.
- UPDATE: Bikram Choudhury Ordered To Pay $6.47M In Punitive Damages In Sexual Harassment Case
- Bikram Choudhury Breaks Silence, Denies Rape Allegations, Feels ‘Sorry’ for Accusers
Nice Post! Thanks for the Sharing.
Yoga Teacher Training
Men are not the exclusive perpetrators of sexual/mental abuse. A few years ago there was a movement that I brought to my students ( I am my own guru). So of course this begs the question of the role of the guru in today’s Westernized yoga. Often the word “guru” is said to mean teacher, but if we reach back into the tradition of India, a guru is more than a simple teacher. Teaching people the yogic traditions and teaching them to think for themselves I believe is key.
I started practicing yoga 20 plus years ago at Jivamukti on Second Avenue before yoga and Jiva blew up and Sharon and David actually taught at least 1 class daily. I had a ton of contact with them including going to Ananda for retreats , etc. I still practice yoga today with the some of the same teachers I had met at Jivamukti and in twenty plus years of practice and dharma talks I don’t recall anyone asking anyone else for devotion and surrender. I don’t know the details between Ruth and her Accuser but it takes 2 people to have a relationship regardless if one is a “Guru” or not and if one of those people opts out of the relationship suing them does not seem very Yogic to me. I am still unsure of the “crime,” is it she dumped me and I am angry?
throwing around the term “yogic” as if somehow the yoga world is exempt from reality is totally delusional. this is a situation of a teacher/apprentice and a relationship that seemed to be inappropriate. as as yogadork says, don’t blame the victim. if you have been practicing yoga for 20 years you have surely heard of brahmacharya and clearly ruth overstepped her bounds. there should have been no sleeping in the same bed or any photos. it is the teacher’s responsibility to hold the role of teacher. and if you have been going to jivamukti for 20 years then you have surely heard ruth’s holier than thou talks so maybe it comes as a surprise that she would find herself in this situation.
Equally scandalous if not outright reprehensible is that the accuser states she was awarded “prime teaching slots” in exchange for her cooperation. The biggest betrayal is to the student body and teaching staff when teaching slots are awarded not on merit, but on the basis of clandestine and unscrupulous deception.
That is a total lie. I can tell you that much for sure. As well as the getting close to Sharon & David. No one is close to them. They keep their distance for this very reason. The studio manager decides who teaches what classes & if you’re not popular you won’t be teaching them again. An apprentice gets to sub for their mentor. That’s part of the reason you choose a mentor. Holly wasn’t that popular & she completely copied Ruth. I am not excusing Ruth’s behavior but these are LIES. Those are the two things that bother me about this article. Total tabloid bullshit. Everything else I can’t say cause I wasn’t there. Jivamukti philosophy does not tell you to be a puppet head. They actually tell you to question. I think Ruth came on to Holly & Holly didn’t know how to handle it & by doing so led her on. I am sad for everyone.
“An apprentice gets to sub for their mentor”, leaving asside the implication of “gets to”, that is an immediate way to bypass the studio manager and award prime slots to an apprentice that behaves as desired and less popular slots to one that doesn’t. So not necessarily lies there. I’ve seen jivamukti studio managers behave in ways totally inappropriate to a workplace many times (and one get fired subsequent to landing later employers in court due to such behaviour) so I’ve no faith their managing scheduling offers apprentices any protection. Another reason this may not be a lie
“Getting close to Sharon and David” define close. Some teachers are closer than others and control access. There may or may not be strict limits now but there have not been in the past and we have no way to know in this case.
philosophy teaches questioning???? A little lip service is occaisionally paid but no, indoctrination is the norm. No lies there either.
“Holly wasn’t that popular” here we go, this is what it comes down to… Guess what, this is totally, completely irrelevant.
It’s worth bearing in mind that all the accusations at this point are unsupported. My personal inclination is to doubt most of the story, or at least the parts suggesting coercion, because I adore Ruth, as many, many people do. That said, it’s true that the traditional mentor student relationship is open to abuse – a story is even told in the teacher training, the moral of which is that no matter how evil the teacher, the teachings themselves are so true and good that the student who properly absorbs them will achieve enlightenment. I hope this turns out to be a case of small human failings and misunderstandings, not of hypocrisy or corruption by power. That would be a tragedy on so many levels.
There is an organization called the International Yoga Alliance for Ethics. You can search this link internationalyogaallianceforethics.com/code-of-ethics/
3.05 Sexual Behavior with Current Students/Clients
Yoga teachers/therapists do not engage in sexual behavior with current students/clients.
They have many other sections to cover all the things that are reported in this story.
Yoga Alliance and ethics!? It is that organizations pathetic standards that allow this sort of thing to happen. Unless this is a different Yoga Alliance.
completely different yoga alliance. they’re good; look them up.
Yoga Dork, I have a complaint. You have published this story using unproven allegations. I was going to write more but the concept of innocent until proven guilty and Ahimsa, (this is a yoga site right?) should be enough. It is very harmful to spread rumors without proof. Maybe consider removing the story until the truth has been shown.
My comment above is still very worthwhile for everyone. And there are many good things in yoga to publish. I prefer to read about those.
Publishing a story does not require proof of all facts. If that were the case, all news would be severely limited. Innocent until proven guilty is a legal standard, not a journalistic standard. If the yoga industry adhered to yoga standards, that would be truly newsworthy.
As a outsider reading the comments, it sounds like the situation at the studio has been tenuous for awhile. I am sure that is not unique to NYC or this studio. I agree that anyone, no matter how ethical and well intentioned can fall into abuse of power, there just seems to be a lot of this behavior reported in the media. While no human is perfect, in my own head and heart, I expect ethical behavior from our yoga community.
Regarding yogic abuse of power, let’s consider Sally Kempton:
“To enable is to “give power, means, competence, or ability” to a person or behavior. Clearly, for the past three decades, a number of spiritual luminaries surrounding Marc Gafni, most notably Ken Wilber and Sally Kempton, as I noted in my previous article, have defended or minimized Gafni’s behavior in the face of glaring evidence of his culpability. Without their enabling, the human suffering caused by Gafni’s sexual assaults would not have been swept under the rug by the New Age movement at large.”
Yeesh, it seems like stories like this are popping up more and more lately. Hopefully, whatever happened here, justice will prevail in the end.
I was a student of both Ruth and Holly and a regular at Jivamukti for a long time. My impression is that the place is basically bonkers and that David and Sharon actively cultivate a totalitarian atmosphere based on a very limited understanding of Indian culture. I participated in the teacher training, which felt like cultic indoctrination. The whole thing was super immature and a number of the “teachings” were lightly veiled catechisms on total submission. Any sort of skepticism or inquiry was frowned upon and we were pressured to view David, Sharon, and Ruth (one of the facilitators) as god-like, or “holy beings” in the JM idiom. I increasingly felt like there was an undercurrent of something sinister or, at the very least, psychologically immature. I have a lot of respect for Ruth and learned a tremendous amount from her over years of classes. That said, I felt pressured to call her by a strange honorific “Lady” (as in “Lady Ruth”) and at times experienced her mood as somewhat unsettlingly unpredictable, i.e. she would get nasty to regular students or apprentices. Overall, Jivamukti is a volatile environment. That isn’t to say it is all bad, but the dysfunction is definitely palpable. I think Sharon in particular considers herself some kind of demigod, which is all fine and good, but such spiritual dress-up or play turns nefarious really quickly when there isn’t any sort of responsibly adult, countervailing reality principle. But you can see the same gunk pretty much everywhere, especially in New York . Even the more somber Iyengar Institute promotes a rigid authoritarian hierarchy, and one teacher in particular, Naghmeh Ahi, is actually abusive. As at Jivamukti, at the Iyengar Institute “abuse” is considered spiritual instruction, and as long as yoga organizations are promoting that kind of nonsense spirituality things like this will happen again and again and again. Maybe a more realistic and nuanced understanding of Indian culture (including the brutality of the caste system, the ways religion is used towards oppressive ends) will encourage us to stop assuming that everything with a Sanskrit name (i.e. “Guru”) should be accepted as infallible.
I spent a good deal of time at the local jivamukti centre and I’ve done a lot of iyengar yoga. Many of your comments ring true.
When the John Friend thing kicked off I was pretty sure jivamukti HQ breathed an enormous sigh of relief that it wasn’t them. I know of a number of incidents which very much do not fit at all with the basic ethics of good business, never mind the supposedly “spiritual” cod philosophy these organisations drone on about.
That said, poor employment practice, bullying, and low teaching standards which I have seen in abundance, are not the same thing as buying sexual favours from junior colleagues with preferential treatment (and the threat to withhold it if denied). So far no evidence and there is a lot to be proved, much of it extremely difficult to evidence. I’m withholding judgement.
If we want to stop this sort of thing going on its fairly simple. People vastly more coherent and intelligent than any one teaching at these yoga centres have written accessible books on all of the philosophy and “spirituality” their yoga teachers ramble about. There are plenty of much better independent teachers offering their own classes much more cheaply.
I appreciate this very interesting and honest comment David thank you
Yeah. I know a yoga teacher who was friends with Sharon ‘before’ she became famous. Let’s jusst say that these are yogalebrities that are, in fact, actually human beings, and not, um, special beings that have special yoga siddhis. They got back pain, even if they say they don’t.
The other thing. On my mind. This studio will go the way of all silly things.
I really liked David’s post and although I have never met Sharon or David, they strike me as being narsicistic, egocentric and vain, the latter being a very pervasive issue in the yoga world. Two things immediately arise out of this ordeal, abuse of power and lack of accountability. Additionally as a woman of color, and not a rich one either, teacher trainings cater to primarily rich white people, there seems to me another issue here that comes from people who earn power through money, they become almost Hitleresque in their sense of selves and self importance takes the wheel from there leading everyone involved as either victim or perpetrator, which is the very, very sad part. Add to that, their avid celebrity chasing, I.e having Sting write the forward to their latest book is revealing enough. How sad this is, I personally would never step inside the doors of the JM studio, and bowing down to them is fing out of the question, why don’t they come to my studio and bow down to me? I do not believe in gurus due to the power dynamic and on that topic, I’d really like to know how much, if any money and other donation they give to India? And the saddest part of this story is that they are making this young woman, Holly, ou to be a culprit of her own victimization. Disgusted!
1) Re. “publishing” the story, the story had already appeared in the NY Daily News, and YD more or less repeated it.
2) Yoga sex scandals in America? Nothing new, been going on for over 100 years. You could find many examples in books like “The Great Oom”, “The Subtle Body”, “American Veda”, etc. etc.
It was in The New York Post as well …
The lead teachers Jiva school had always been suspect in one way or another, just nothing ever really leaked until now … Enough with this already. Those who are looking for followers will find them; and those who want to “be their own gurus” will continue to be, until they switch tracks. It happens.
I can’t comment on the weird but plausible story (don’t personally know any facts, and prefer not to get involved in tabloid matters). But I often attend Jivamukti classes and classes taught by Jivamukti-trained teachers in the Hudson Valley hinterlands (around 100 mi. from NYC), and have never seen any hint of such shenanigans. Maybe this is a Jivamukti Manhattan issue rather than general Jivamukti?
Holly fourot as the psychotic, manipulating one. Period.
Is “psychotic” a professional opinion or is it reserved for anyone exposing Jivamukti?
My opinion is that Jivamukti Yoga are charlatans and frauds. I would like to see their bank statements. The asana part of the practice is good, but the rest leaves a lot to be desired. I continued taking classes there because of their animal rights philosophy, however, even that turned out to be a sham, as I viewed fur coats hung up on the racks. I found several of their employees overly aggressive. This is a good school if you blindly follow and pay your bill, but as soon as there is a problem they will turn on you and even assault you. Stay away.
I’ve got to speak up here. Jivamukti Yoga School has long been and continues to be a terrific place to practice yoga, and the founders have long stated that they seek to foster independent practitioners, not cultish followers. There are signs next to all the coat racks politely asking that no fur be hung there but you can’t force people to not hang up fur coats sometimes. I’ve been attending for over two decades and have known Sharon and David for at least that long. They are very nice people and outstanding teachers–hard-working, intelligent and committed to providing the best possible teacher training and, yes, also very committed to animal rights. They are not exorbitantly wealthy (try paying the rent on a huge facility in NYC!) and give constantly both to people who need help and to causes they support.
I can also report that teachers at Jivamukti are never called “gurus.” They are teachers, and no one is demanding “devotion” to them. That’s absurd. It’s a yoga center that provides yoga classes, not some wacky cultish ashram. For Holly Faurot’s lawyer to say that in her suit is a misrepresentation at best.
At the same time, it’s absolutely wrong for a teacher in any field to initiate a sexual relationship with an apprentice. I don’t know Ruth Lauer-Manenti beyond a passing acquaintance and having taken her classes a few times but if what Holly is claiming is true, it should be thoroughly investigated by both the court and the school. Just wanted to remind everybody that Jivamukti is just a good yoga school, plain and simple. Let’s take some deep breaths and not get too nuts! 😉
Jivamukti is not just a chain of yoga schools. It’s a workplace. As such it’s owners have responsibilities to the people who work there. There are any number of problems there – the financial arrangements for retreats, senior teachers openly bullying junior in front of students and studio managers facilitating it, studio managers hiring and firing at random based on friendships not ability, some teachers forbidden to work elsewhere others free to…. Not Sharon and David’s fault? They’re happy to put their name on it and take home the money.
It’s also a place where the public come to improve their health and physical well being. On this level, too, it’s a joke. I’ve seen senior teachers come out with complete nonsense, stuff that doesn’t stand up to a moment’s analysis. At best the instruction is watered down astanga with a dose of sub iyengar alignment.
Tragically it’s a place people go to for spiritual development. The “philosophy” is a joke. To call Sharon intelligent is an insult to intelligence. To claim they teach questioning is a farce. If you want people to assess an issue you calmly present both sides and let them make up their minds. You do not put them in shoulder stand for 10 minutes while you harangue them with an extreme and poorly informed version of one side of an issue. Saying “but question everything” afterwards is just self deceit.
So, no, it’s not a good yoga studio. It’s a brand, a place of employment, and a centre for indoctrination of the weak minded. It’s also extremely well marketed to attract rich hippies willing to pay stupid money for nonsense.
Despite all that it sometimes employs some good teachers for a while, till they get fed up and move on.
Very good basic review of the situation… enjoyed it.
i also agree with elsewhere above that a teacher (generally speaking) should not mentor someone and also get involved with them physically/emotionally. So the teacher knew that was wrong and the student knew that was wrong, and both of them benefited from that situation in a way it was NOT intended.
Then here is a general but probably an unpopular approach – the minute someone enjoys their time in the limelight instructing others and being important as teacher it probably is going to show up as a trip. Humility and self importance don’t sit together. People who TEACH YOGA but CANNOT LIVE IT are unqualified. Very typically people who can lead people are people who can dominate through charm or another means, and at some point they are going to enjoy the power and power corrupts.
I suggest that everyone read the official public court complaint, before forming opinions based on tabloids. http://assets.law360news.com/0753000/753747/scony.pdf
No one could make this stuff up. Blaming the victim is a cheap and cruel ploy.
What we need to do is to support the victims (I believe there are more in this case) and prevent these things from happening in the yoga community. Jivamukti has its particular issues, but the the issue of sexual harassment and manipulation is not unique to Jivamukti. It is up to us as a yoga community and as individuals to see where we might be at fault for giving up our power to teachers, or turning a blind eye when inappropriate things happen.
I read the complaint. While I understand the student teacher relationship issue and fully agree with the policies, one should also consider that the accuser is 35 years old, a teacher herself, and seems to be holding herself to a different standard. Taking personal responsibility for your actions is something that we all have to deal with in life. Stupid decisions have stupid consequences. Personal invitation to her apartment, to her bedroom, repeatedly cuddling? This could have been stopped immediately in many appropriate ways. Her professional boundaries seem to only apply when the affair went off the tracks( as stated in the public record)and the teacher turned her attention to someone else). We will never know if it was a case of manipulation, jealousy, personality disorder, mixed messages, or unrequited love on the part of one or both. It will be a stain on both teachers records forever and will link them forever past death(through the Internet at least). A Sad lesson to learn.
The fact that Ruth controlled Holly’s terms and conditions (which class slots etc.) changes things legally – but obviously not ‘ethically’ to yoga devotees who, thank all that is actually holy, are not respected outside of their self-selected groups of fellow cowards unable to call a spade a spade.
Is Ruth’s decidedly advanced age relevant here too? Just curious.
I’m surprised that anyone hasn’t expected this basnt been going on in some shape or form. When I take class at Jiva, I just tume out all the philosophy garbage that Sharon Gannon and David Patrick are selling. They preach as though they are all welcoming and love everyone but when you pass them in the hall of their own business, they won’t even deign to speak with you. That alone should tell what kind of fraud they perpetuate. Blame the victim sure but they kowtow to the altar of celebrity. They are no more holy than the can of soda that I had for lunch. And for those who believe the nonsense they peddle (see the party for their vegan cookbook where they acted like pure fools and the crowd ate it up like bigger fools.. The emperors new clothes) they deserve to have their money ripped off.
Jivamukti are deceiving the public into believing they teach spirituality, when they are nothing more than yoga entrepreneurs. Money is their goal. I was disappointed when my favorite male teacher who I believed to be spiritual and someone of good character, mentored an apprentice for well over 800 hours. During her training and beyond, her claim to fame became modeling thigh high leather boots, wearing designer yoga clothing and sporting tiny thongs while staring into mirrors at dozens of photoshoots. She even showed the public on Instagram the tiny thongs she would be packing on her upcoming trip to Omega Institute. After 1,000 hours of spiritual training, not one Hari Om, not one Namaste. She too got all the prime teaching spots at Jivamukti. This only reaffirmed what a sham this school is.
It’s really sad to read this. And for some reason I have to say, miss Faurot was not a child, far from it(She appears to be in her late 20s or 30s). As so, she is a consenting adult. By here own admission, she saw the “perks” of being in that situation…. And therefore, like anything else, this is a version of buyers beware. You knew what was happening and were willing to pay the price.
I have just one question to ask her. At any point during the alleged abuse, did she say the word “no”. If the answer to this question is yes, than by all means I back her. But if not, then this lawsuit is just slander.
I was in an psychologically abusive relationship with a narcissistic, borderline bi-polar yoga teacher and his wife for nearly 20 years. I first met them when I was a vulnerable young adult. I was using yoga to escape drugs and using drugs to escape a sadly dysfunctional childhood. I had no self-esteem and was glaringly unaware of myself. Easy pickings to get drawn into a yoga style that prides itself on a Victorian Indian disciplinarian type culture – non-native to me or anything else I had known to that point.
People like us don’t leave sooner because we don’t even realize we need to at first. I felt like I finally belonged somewhere and that my seniors, with all their moral superiority, actually cared about me (mother and father projections abound). But we’re just minnows swimming in a bowl full of predator fish that feed off us as part of their narcissistic supply food chain. Seemingly trapped with no apparent way out, we come to depend on the big fish for everything (sustenance, care, acknowledgement), and we desperately try to please them for scraps.
In the end I had a massive health crisis that was exacerbated in part by some crazy advice I took from my teacher. I was quite brainwashed by then and would have jumped out a window if he had told me to. Thanks to the crisis, I finally woke up realized I had to leave. Even that took a while. It wasn’t till I got out that I realized how insidious and cult like the situation had been. I was angry for a long time. I thought about reporting him to higher-ups in the organization, but it would have gotten me nowhere and would have opened me up to victim blaming, which I didn’t have the strength to take at the time. I needed all my spare energy to get well physically and emotionally. I’m now moving forward one step at a time and rebuilding my life.
I tell my story here for those like me and those who struggle to understand what brings us into these relationships. I’m sure there are countless dark paths to take along this route. I still practice yoga, but follow no teachers anymore. It’s taken me years to learn to appreciate my practice again, though the innocence is lost. To my mind, there are no teachers or students – we’re all just fellow practitioners sharing the path. Anyone who positions themselves as higher up on some imaginary spiritual ladder is a charlatan who’s lying to themselves and their “followers.” We need yoga for a new age, to hell with these caste systems and snake oil salesmen. Gurus be damned.
Thanks for sharing your story, Annie. So glad to hear you survived and got out.
For those in doubt that this level of manipulation can happen to someone, please read:
I will remain anonymous, but I was close to this when it all went down. Holly was enjoying getting close to Ruth. Why else would you have 25+ sleepovers?! Something happened, and it sent Holly (who openly admits to having struggled with mental illnesses such as eating disorders, depression, low self worth etc.) into a jealous rage. Now she is twisting the story to make it look like she was victimized. She is also doing her best to destroy Ruth’s reputation and image. Anyone who knows Ruth agrees that she is a kind and gentle soul. So Holly’s stance is, “since I consented to acts of intimacy, and wasn’t able to communicate clear boundaries to Ruth, that means Ruth abused her power and therefore I am a victim. Now 2 years later I am taking legal action in pursuit of 1.6 million dollars. And anyone who opposes me is a victim blamer.” I think she is simply a victim of her own stupidity.
Hi “Truth be told” — this sounds pretty accurate to a degree, but I’m wondering what you make of Ruth even pursuing that kind of intimacy with Holly. Holly is a young woman who comes across as fragile and traumatized to pretty much anyone who meets her. Ruth is undoubtedly kind and gentle, but does that necessarily mean that she can’t or doesn’t have a dark side? Could she be both gentle and kind AND acting out an ambivalent relationship to her own sexuality? I knew Holly and if I was in a position of any power over her, I would, if anything, have encouraged therapy and been extra, extra careful about boundaries. To me, it really seems that Ruth was acting something out that had been repressed. And it also seems like she wasn’t fully in control of what she was doing. At the very least, Ruth was being irresponsible with a very traumatized person. I can see the two sides, and jealousy definitely plays a part, but Ruth also had 20 years on Holly. Without being judgmental, I can’t help but think that Ruth really should have known better.
At least that’s what I think. But curious to hear more of your reflections.
Lady Ruth betrayed Holly. Holly betrayed Lady Ruth. Ultimately though, they each betrayed themselves.
“student relationships have been a big topic in the yoga community for a long time”
I do not agree with this.
How was this allowed to happen?