Yoga Teacher Scandals

Yoga Teacher Scandals

Yoga Teacher Scandals

I would love to say I was surprised when I heard of another yoga- sex scandal coming to light.  About a year ago John Friend, founder of a multi-million dollar yoga corporation called Anusara, was publicly outed for sexual misconduct with his students and withholding teachers’ pensions (among other accusations).  Then last week came accusations toward Bikram Choudhury, founder of multi-million dollar yoga corporation called Bikram Yoga.  We may think this is a new phenomena, but this is most likely as old as time.  The same thing happened with Amrit Desai of Desai Yoga (former head of Kripalu) and Rodney Yee (Iyengar teacher in San Francisco who has the long flowing hair, you can see his DVDs in Target).

It didn’t make sense to me that yogis with decades of practicing and teaching yoga were at the heart of these scandals.  After speaking with several trusted teachers and friends we came up with a few thoughts that may just help you understand as well.

First, these teachers are human.  My acupuncturist and friend said when the ego gets too big, so does the temptation.  He used to live in an ashram with John Friend decades ago.  He believes that having so many people around who adore you could give you a power trip and then you just can’t resist the temptation.  The human side wins over the spiritual side.  John’s actions were confronted by his top tier of teachers who had been with him for over 15 years.  When he refused to get help or admit any wrong doing, it caused a a mass exodus of 33 top teachers who discovered the truth.  Even though his human side won out, he was unwilling to face up to what he had done and work toward healing.

Second, some teachers are spiritually advanced but psychologically weak.  In the case of Amrit Desai he was a powerful spiritual leader.  People flocked to him and his ashram.  He preached strict celibacy for all of his unmarried disciples and then it came out that he had (confirmed) affairs with at least three of his unmarried students over the years.  Amrit Desai was married at the time.  In 1994 he was asked to leave Kripalu and his students took over the center.  Amrit Desai could inspire people spiritually, but had never done his own work.  He had never unpacked his psychological shortcomings or his “shadow side.”  Unfortunately, this damaged many people in the process.

Third, ethics are rarely taught as part of teacher trainings.  As my teacher Max said, “You hear the word Bhakti all the time in yoga, but you hardly ever hear about the words honesty and forgiveness.”  Max was scheduled to lead a workshop called “Yoga Teachers and Ethics” in Washington, DC.  He had seven people sign up.  A year later, he changed the title to “Bonfire of the Vanities” and taught to a full house.  What does this say about us yoga teachers?  Are we unwilling to look at what we stand for?  We can’t just assume all yoga teachers have good intentions.  We can’t assume that all teachers live by a code of conduct.  We need to have a personal code of ethics now more than ever.  We need to review it, live it and follow it quietly with all of our hearts.

I truly believe that those of us that are called to teach have many sides- we have the human side, the psychological side and the spiritual side (body, mind and heart).  We must learn to inhabit all of these and heal them from the inside out.  I know for a long time my human side hadn’t caught up to what I knew as a teacher.  Some truths came through me teaching and then I was able to apply them in my daily life.  It is one of those things I cannot fully explain in words.  One day the human me finally did catch up and what a relief that was.  All of a sudden teachings made even more sense and I became comfortable in my own skin.

My message to yoga teachers is this– Getting to know yourself on all levels is messy, sticky and uncomfortable.  It takes courage to face up to those un-shiny parts.  However, I believe, in facing up to the un-shiny parts we will find a sense of wholeness that allows us to lead with authenticity and grace where we can become the trusted instead of the scandalous.


Elizabeth Delaney