Faith

Spiritual Incest': Yoga 'Guru' Under Fire for Alleged Naked Wiccan Rituals & Misconduct

"...like attending church only to find out the priest is bonking the altar boy."

John Friend is the founder of the popular Anusara yoga movement, but he's also the center of a scandal surrounding alleged Wiccan parties involving naked massages, kissing and drug use, among other things.

Friend, who stepped down as the head of the Anusara movement in February to focus on what he called "self-reflection, therapy and personal retreat," is having some bizarre accusations thrown his way. Critics claim he launched what the Daily Mail calls a "coven of women" called the Blazing Solar Flames. These girls would allegedly give him nude rubdowns in an effort to increase "energy."

The Daily Mail continues, highlighting some of the purported issues arising:

He admitted to having sex with students, married women and his employees, cheating on his girlfriend and smoking marijuana.

There were also allegations about financial mismanagement in relation to pension funds.

More than 100 Anusara yoga instructors have now quit in disgust and the future of the movement which was once championed by the likes of model Gisele Bundchen is unclear.

A woman named Melissa (not her real name) came forward to explain that she met Friend in 2002 when she became an Anusara student. She eventually became a teacher and described how she became close with the Yoga guru as a result of their shared interest in Wiccan philosophy (she even claims that Friend dubbed her his "High Priestess").

Melissa claims that the situation became sexual when Friend suggested that they get oil and give one another naked massages to commemorate the winter solstice (a holiday in the Wiccan faith).

"John wanted us to do the ritual in sexy underwear and kiss each other on the mouth, tongue-y kissing," she explained. "It was certainly never the way that I had experienced Wicca."

The Daily Mail continues, providing more details about how the coven of Wiccan adherents apparently came to be:

The first meeting of what could become an official Wiccan coven took place in the summer of 2009 in Montreal when Friend hosted a yoga workshop in Montreal.

On New Year’s Eve that year they met again at his home in Woodlands, Texas when he and three of his women got together.

The plan was that they would take turns to massage each other and raise their spiritual energy, making it a more intense experience.

While Melissa claims that no literal sex took place, she said she found herself uncomfortable with the situation while engaged in the massage ritual.

Among other allegations, others claim that Friend engaged in sex therapy and that he encouraged students to share explicit images with him. Others have said that there's even some financial management issues going on when it comes to pension funds -- an allegation Friend has denied.

The Daily Beast provides even more context to the allegations that have been waged against the former Anusara yoga head:

Betsey Downing, a longtime teacher considered the “grandmother of Anusara,” confirmed in an email to The Daily Beast that she was on a conference call with Friend and other Anusara teachers during which Friend told everyone that the photo exchanges were a way of helping his married student heal from a sexual trauma earlier in life. “‘But I never kissed her,’” Downing recalled Friend saying. [...]

But in another instance, said Bernadette Birney, a former Anusara teacher, Friend attempted to “heal” a woman’s migraines by massaging her urethra—an admission Birney said Friend had made to a close friend of Birney’s.

Reaction to these allegations has been swift. While many yoga instructors have left Anusara, others are defending Friend and even claiming that he should be -- pending the charges are true -- redeemed.

"We could focus on the shadow or we could focus on the good John has done for the world," said Jackie Prete, an Anusara teacher who works in New York City. "People have been redeemed for doing a lot worse."

But others disagree.

"It really reeks of spiritual incest," said Livia Shapiro, a yoga instructor from Colorado who recently gave up her Anusara teaching license, the Daily Beast report. "I think these people are still under the influence of the anesthesia of John’s power."

Kelly Morris, another yoga instructor from New York, also weighed in, taking aim at the notion that Friend may have been using his position to also pick up women.

"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," she said.

Friend apparently reacted to some of the questions regarding his conduct in an interview this year (Feb.) with Elephant Journal. YogaDork.com provides some key excerpts:

JF: This has been such a painful time for me as I self-reflect on how my personal decisions within my private life have become a source of deep anguish for my friends and community.

I am so deeply sorry for any harm that my actions have caused anyone.

JF: …first off, I do not use the term “Guru” to describe myself, and work hard to stay away from being so designated. Above all, I am a student of life and yoga, and then a teacher, and the founder of Anusara Yoga.

Secondly, it’s true. Over the course of my private life I have had consenting sexual relationships with women, some of whom have been my students and also my employees, some of which included married women.

JF: For the community, my deepest hope is this brings us closer together, in a more intimate and honest conversation around life. Some students and teachers will inevitably decide to move on, others will become more involved and take an expanded leadership role within the Anusara organization.

So, I envision the future of Anusara as including greater cooperation from all of our community.

We must all remember that any mis-steps by me do not invalidate any of the greatness of the Anusara yoga method.

Currently, there are 1,500 licensed instructors and 600,000 students under the Anusara yoga umbrella. There's no telling how these allegations will impact this massive movement.

(H/T: The Daily Beast)

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