Head injuries, psychotic breaks, burns, sex abuse, eating disorders, suicide, molestation, pyramid schemes, fake shaman, predation, ostracism, bullying, porn and drugs… could Bali’s spirituality business be in crisis?
Last week in Bali, Canadian spirituality entrepreneur Nik Wood sustained massive brain and head injuries in an ‘accident’ at a healing retreat.
The longterm Ubud expat and member of the influential inner circle of Ubud’s spirituality industry was among a hand-picked elite, including a large number of American influencers who had been flown in to Bali to participate in a breathwork and yoga retreat to advertised as a cure for trauma and a way to and ‘activate their dream lives’.
The event was facilitated by a menagerie of Ubud’s up and coming own influencers, including those at Karma House and Yogi Lab, seeking dollar and power on the massive anxiety and motivation market, and by Marcel Hof , who is leveraging off the success and fame of the Wim Hof breathing method.
Trauma release and empowerment techniques were packaged as ‘healing’ technologies designed to make participants ‘limitless’ and involved, as far as I can discover, over 30 days, extensive hours of hyperventilation, special ‘pranayama’ breath pumping and retention activities, among other ‘yogic’ activities which even others who work in the industry describe as extreme. There were Anthony Robbins-inspired extraversion crowd mechanics designed for entrainment and loyalty-building, all interspersed with regular plunges into ice cold and hot water.
Organisers were cashing in on the current trend in trauma and limiting belief therapies. They were doubling that up with the promise to assist their attendants to become limitless – in pursuit of personal power, and to tempt the influencers into spreading the word, far and wide about this business, spring boarding the careers of the hosts into a fertile global market.
But there was criticism and concern even before Nik, tragically, sustained his head injuries.
And there is criticism bubbling away everywhere about Bali’s ‘spirituality’ industry, and the ethics (or lack of) and qualifications (and worth of) of those who dominate it.
Visitors at Limitless who witnessed the retreat said it was unsafe. They said there was not enough support or assistance given to the 30 or so people who were there, in case of physical or psychological breaks. They said it was high risk. They mentioned it and were not invited back.
This is normal in Bali, where critics or even non-conformers to ‘the yoga tribe’s’ ideas of body shape, eating styles, drug use, business ethics and extracurricular are swiftly and ruthlessly exiled. What this has created is an unregulated, narcissistic, predatory industry that has no boundaries and no critics whatsoever as it pursues its bites of the multi-billion dollr yoga and healing market.
Back at Limtless, Nik Woods was about to receive the logical dividends of all this.
As far as can be gleaned on the rumour mill, because the events organisers refused to comment when I asked them (which is standard in Ubud), and the media and police have overlooked this and other yoga business scandals here, Nik got up after days of hyperventilation, ice cold plunges, shouting, releasing his ‘limiting thoughts’, and activating trauma, became dizzy, collapsed, fell onto concrete, shattered his skull, sustained unknown brain damage, and the blood began to flow.
But was this really an accident?
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In my own view, this event was not only predictable, but practically inevitable.
It could be seen to have been a foreseeable risk. The potential for faints, blackouts and falls in an environment based on meddling with respiration, circulation and psychological states are OBVIOUS.
Soon, it is going to have to be asked – either at law – or within this community, if the culprits causing trauma through unsafe yoga methods, use of psychedelics, extreme diets, fasts, experimental healings, claims of supernatural powers and even nutritional and medical skills, are actually dangerous.
Where do ‘accidents’ end, and reckless endangerment begin?
Where does the yoga scene’s claims of healing powers end, and exploitation of the market begin?
And who is going to relgulate it? And who is – already – paying for the outfall of an industry gone maverick?
For how long will Ubud cover up its trail of wounded, celebrate its own fallen heroes and dodge accountability, ethics, boundaries ,and even punishment? How long until we all, together, agree that perhaps Limitless is not such a great idea, afterall?
But this has not so far been easy. Because there is a cover up.
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This week in Ubud, home base of those who organised and facilitated this retreat among many others, there are parties being advertised. A fund raising campaign is underway to Make Nik a Superhero. Yoga venues are hosting celebratory events to double up on promoting their services, and look benevolent on Nik’s behalf.
Specialists are being called for on social media, seeking more ‘healers’, and actual medically trained experts, and money… to patch up what the do-it-yourself expat entrepreneurs trading in healing and psychotherapy have caused.
And while most people are buying in on it, either unaware of the path that has lead us here, or drunk on the sociopathic madness of all of this, or maybe just actually hell-gone cynical about turning every possible thing into a marketing opportunity that feeds the spiritual machine… others are aching over it.
Conversations are quietly bubbling…. is this all right? and what is going on here? and what about my own part in this? or my own wounds, sustained by alternative healers, tantric predators, Lotus scheme vampires luring tourists into their rampant pyramid racquets, or in workshops here ever more treading into dangerous territory.
This wave of more careful thinkers, of whispering critics and casualties is building, because this is not the first time that serious catastrophe has been caused by healers in Ubud.
At the same time as all this is going on another member of the Ubud ‘tribe’ is also languishing. But his bed is in a Bali psychiatric hospital.
This Briton, who brought his issues to Bali for healing, experienced a psychotic break, was arrested by Bali’s local police and instead of being handled in law, was mercifully assisted by the Balinese into a mental hospital where he is receiving professional care. And daily deliveries of organic food from Sayuri’s restaurant, the famous hub of Ubud’s elite yoga gang, and visits by those ‘healers’.
One of them told me this weekend that what he has learned through this experience is that there are things which are beyond what the entrepreneurs here know about medical and mental health. “It’s true,” he said. “We need to admit that there are limits. We need to pull back and reconsider how far we have gone with our assumptions about what we’re actually capable of.”
In this case, the yogis handed this man to psychiatric professionals, and to his parents, who are going to have to deal with the fallout that they have caused.
This man, also, has no insurance. There are costs involved. Who will wear them?
Earlier in the year there were two known suicides in the ‘spirituality tribe’, one murdered baby, and several psychotic breaks involving Bali police and emergency evacuation.
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Last year, high profile yoga teacher and so-called “women’s empowerment leader” at the increasingly notorious Yoga Barn, Bex Tyrer, sustained life-threatening burns in a massage ‘accident’. Yes. You read that right.
Despite a secure job at a wildly lucrative yoga business, Bex Tyrer also did not have insurance. Neither did her employer. And neither did the practitioner involved. They said it was because ‘Bex is so low tech, so pure, so not aware of all that first world stuff’. They made it sound sort of cute.
Instead, Bex Tyrer and her employer’s networks made her story the focal point of a massive local appeal for money. Parties were held on her behalf. A huge international outreach for expert medical assistance, evacuation and emergency resources was organised. And more than US$100,000 was raised (now removed online) to offset the consequences of injuries that the spiritual industry here had actually caused.
And which ‘first world stuff’ was going to have to fix. And which Bex, being an expat, and being tapped into ‘first world stuff’ was able to convert into enough money and enough goodwill to make a recovery – unlike millions of Indonesians who will never see that sort of help, and who presumably will now not benefit from the generosity that this case absorbed.
You can see her wrestling with the ethics of her situation here. In this clip, Bex Tyrer, like her other ‘spiritual guru’ peers here, demonstrates how far over their heads they are, teaching yoga philosophy, and passing themselves off as wisdom keepers and healers.
But this moral tension has not stopped them raking in the yoga dollars, or hushing up the secrets as the Bali Yoga juggernaut rolls on.
After lying to doctors and the public about how this accident happened, and absorbing a massive amount of public generosity, Tyrer set about making more profit from her experience, by selling herself as a guru and spiritual teacher.
In this interview, she admits herself, that she has, for years, at Yoga Barn in Bali, been abusing yoga, and had not understood the practice, or used it safely, despite teaching thousands of people and heading up teacher trainings and leadership courses.
And… you guessed it… then managed to exploit this injury as a business opportunity, when she credited her recovery to ‘yoga’, and not to the massive generosity of doctors, nurses and a public who bailed her you when ‘yoga had actually gone wrong’.
Yes, in Ubud, the streets are finally beginning to talk.
Everywhere this week there are quiet conversations going on among those who are observing, those who were involved in these cases and others, that perhaps… perhaps things have gone too far?
Perhaps we have over-stepped the boundaries. Perhaps it’s time to speak up. Perhaps it’s time to stop.
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Those who are not part of the dangerously inflated Ubud elite are encouraged to bear injuries in silence. They will not receive the benefits of charity, parties and public support or protection as they lurk in the shadows feeling hurt, or abused or ashamed.
Mostly, they will be told they are ‘negative’ or receiving their ‘karma’, or risk being ostracised by the cool who’s who that rule this town, and face the primal fear of exile if they speak up or complain.
They might become prey to the sirens here who lure outsiders and the vulnerable into their Lotus pyramid schemes, ‘healing sessions’ or ‘shamanic wisdom courses’, where they promise to ‘heal them’ and make them ‘special’ . -for a fee. And without any regulation, or even any actual skill or education.
Or, tourists and yoga students might be passed into the busy hands of the quiet and marginalised crew of people here; nurses, mentors, doctors, or more safe workers in the subtler arts, who mop up the mess caused by the spiritual entrepreneurs on these fields of war, and do not trade in ‘cool’.
They might read this, about the subtle ways we can be used by predators... and understand.
Sometimes, they actually do report.
The Yoga Barn, for example, has received numerous complaints about sexual misconduct by its teachers, about the gross unchecked behaviour of ‘the tribe’ who have turned their dance events into virtual orgies, about trauma allegedly incurred at its breathwork and other classes. These, they have all ignored.
They have been legally challenged over facilitating an infamous Ubud cult, and sued for that, but the juggernaut refuses to set any boundaries about either their teacher’s ethics and actual skills, or safety of their clients.
When I asked, last year, about the appropriateness, and the consequences of Yoga Barn teachers openly sexualising their classes, workshops and bodies, I was publicly chastised by the barn’s owner, Meghan Pappenheim.
Instead of actually discussing the merits or possible over-stepping of this sort of role modelling and enabling at Yoga Barn, Pappenheim wrote on facebook that my concerns were those of “a pre-menopausal bitch.”
Which sounds a lot more like Trump than Yogananda. As we can all agree.
When formally asked, in the public domain, about whether Yoga Barn would state its position about teachers pursuing sex, or recommending drugs, posy schemes or recruiting cult followings – Pappenheim refused to reply, and instead accused those who asked for this assurance of being “psychopaths”.
She said it was not her job to regulate abuses, or to intervene on the marketing of pyramid schemes, ayahuasca retreats, claims of shamanic capabilities and other misconducts that might be going on at Yoga Barn.
“We’re all grown ups,” she retaliated.
But that is not good enough. As events are proving.
And as questionable offerings like Shamanic Yoga, from white entrepreneurial juveniles like this are pitifully enabling.
This little spat didn’t stop Pappenheim from using my help to mobilise medical networks to the aid of Bex Tyrer though, a few months later.
When her prize yoga teacher sustained third degree burns to a third of her body, I was woken up at 4am for days to pass the pathology, the prognosis and images to my own network of elite surgeons for appraisal and intervention in Australia where I work as a medical columnist for several journals.
Help, the Sydney surgeons willingly gave. For free. As well as offers to initiate mercy evacuation protocols.
This was all taken as a given.
But once this story was over. Once Bex had made a large sum in charity, and was sent to the UK to put her hand out for free National Health care, and the life-and-death panic settled, I received messages from these surgeons saying they were disappointed about how things had gone.
They said that the Bali medical teams had given burns care that looked to have been of world class skill, but that the Ubud yogis had been wilfully difficult to handle, and disrespectful of doctors on the island, and to them as well.
They sent me a note saying, kindly, that would I please be aware that they would no longer participate in offering benevolent assistance to my acquaintances from the yoga world because they felt there that the conduct of entitlement, recklessness, rudeness made them both unsafe and unhelpable.
They asked; “Who are these people? Why are calling themselves healers? And why, in God’s name, don’t they have insurance?!“
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Today, while Nik Wood languishes in a critical condition in a Bali hospital, (where one can only hope that his friends might finally be coming to some sort of sensible respect of actual nurses, doctors, and the expertise of classic medicine, which they claim to loathe and distrust) and Bex makes her phoenix-like return to Ubud after her extremely lucky escape – there are hundreds of others here who have sustained injuries of body, sexuality, pocket, trust and soul whose whispers grow ever louder.
Some of them are part of the Ubud central crew. Where it is exquisitely dangerous to criticise, or break ranks in any way with the growing ‘tribe’ of yoga entrepreneurs who rule the inner circle, and thereby control access to the lion’s share of networks, influence, money and the rest.
Punishment for challenging Ubud’s dominant healers, shaman, yoga teachers, foodies, kirtan singers, mystics and breathworkers is immediate banishment to the nervous flock of oblivious tourists or Ubud’s Unwanted. Or, punishment is more violent than that.
In my own case, as a writer and critic of the scene, I have been hauled through the mud by some of the ‘sweetest’ of Ubud’s healer goddessses: Tina Nance, womens’ empowerment leader, yoga therapist and influencer, set her dogs on me when I commented on the wisdom of sexualisation of women’s yoga.
And Lindsey Wise, her lullaby singing sister, and member of Ubud’s ‘tribe’, muck-raked me all over social media.
And Meghan Pappenheim published a public statement accusing me of mental health disorders, and sent staff to my villa to see if they could bribe my landlord to evict me.
Yes. That is what happened.
These are people who claim to be ‘spiritual’. They also set themselves up as teachers, leaders and wise light showers who are healing humanity and improving on the culture of bullying, sickness and lifestyle that we are all growing more and more concerned about.
… and I received street justice and rape threats.
No mud no lotus … as the yogis like to say.
But perhaps it’s not only the lotus that thrives in the mud?
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Professionally, I have worked 30 years in crime and investigation, so all this is more like high school bullying by nasty spoilt brats, than the things that I have seen in reporting. But it’s not far off from criminal…. and that we need to admit.
Nobody in Ubud stepped in to draw a public boundary or a limit on this situation, or in others. That is a shameless FAIL in both ethics and leadership from a ‘community’ that claims to be dishing out wisdom, guidance, spiritual health. As some of us on the fringes say, in a sort of amused and horrified way, as we observe the Ubud scene; That’s not yoga!
And though people may not like what I say, the truth is that I am a professional at what I do, and I take the time to make enquiries, I ask for the facts, I check them best I can though they are scrupulously hidden, I make myself accountable, I encourage discussion, I offer those under scrutiny a chance to comment before I publish – in this case, and all the others, they have refused.
To be clear here, those involved with Nik Wood have declined the invitation to contribute to this story, or to tell their side of it. Marcel received my request, and after saying he wanted to speak, and would ask his team, he simply disappeared.
I don’t mind wearing SOME of the mud that will be stirred in forcing a dialogue this way. because I will cut this step for those who also know that we need to correct our course in the yoga world, and that also, we may need to weed out the predators, psychopaths, the mentally unwell and outright toxic who have infiltrated the ranks.
We need a system of accountability. Regulation. Some sort of counsel of wise overseers and certainly safe places for independent review, repair, complaint, and we most certainly need insurance!
What Yoga Alliance, the overseeing body of so-called ‘professional’ accreditation, is doing to ensure safety and competence is heading toward criminally negligent. Let alone what business operators are enabling and promoting.
All of this, to me, is so profoundly sad that even though I will be criticised here, and marginalised, probably, as a bitch, for daring to publish, what I would like for you to understand is that it actually pains me to have to do it.
I feel weak in my bones as I type here, at 4am.
And I wake up in the night, with implications exploding in my mind, and the stories I have been told as I have investigated this story on the streets of Ubud all week, and deep moral questions about what’s going on in Ubud.
Fears for the safety of those of you who don’t really get it – what is happening here. And how it works. And those who are already injured, in more subtle ways, by this culture of free range yoga, and sociopathic yoga, and fake shamanism, and plant ceremony, and abuse – but do not have the protection of what they call ‘the tribe’.
And sorrow too, for what Ubud could have been.
please feel free to comment here, contact me privately if you have another story to share, or – if you think any of these facts are wrong, please discuss. I make a 100% promise to correct any information here which can be shown to be untrue. However, ALL the relevant parties have refused to be interviewed, responded by public bullying or simply disappeared.
great leadership! Not.