2019 in Ubud, Bali: The strange fruit of Yoga sours, bloats and swells on the vine as this town heaves with goddesses, shaman, healers, vampires, food addicts and scams – is it time? can we admit it yet? That there is a worm in the soul of our yoga story?
Once upon a Time, on a paradise island, word of a healing fruit brought travellers from far and wide to seek the eight-limbed tree bearing wisdom of human goodness, health, clarity and peace of mind in troubled times.
But this story is not for children. This story is rated VAMPIRE.
This story is about how good things can be made rotten by silly people in leggings, and cynical people who ride with the worm, and how the fruit of knowledge is being deliberately poisoned by ordinary people under spells of greed, vanity and lust which they have cloaked in yoga.
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….sigh….. Yoga Teacher Trainings…. I’ve done five now, and many “immersions” too.
Despite the raised eyebrows of my ‘real-world’ professional friends, who warned me all along that this was going to end up a disappointing fiasco involving unscrupulous entrepreneurs, sham healers and dangerous narcissists, I have always had faith in Yoga.
Why? Because it makes sense.
To care for your body, to discipline the mind, to learn equanimity, to exercise restraint, to study, to learn how to live in a respectful, accountable, active and kind way. And because my own culture has lost that ability, and I wanted to learn from another.
I set out to find where that might lead, buoyed by instinct, and perhaps something like fate, and the beautiful hopes of my mother, who also hoped all along, that the mystic path was laden with sweet fruits, and encouraged me to find them, to bring them back for others.
Yoga became a serious focus for me in 2008 when I paused a successful writing career to dedicate myself to studies of the ethical, moral, health-giving pillars of Yoga, and I remember in the beginning, my one yoga friend in Sydney giving me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and saying… “just hold on, these courses always bring up your ‘stuff.”
What she implied, of course, was that Yoga; the physical practice, the meditation, the philosophy, might cause suppressed issues or negative traits, or weaknesses or difficult tendencies to get triggered or irritated. And that would be a good thing, in the safe hands of Yoga experts. And that I should trust them, and stick with it, and sometimes suspend my judgement, and even my instincts.
It is because of this assumption that I was then, and many are now, taken advantage of, deliberately bullied, injured and exploited by people who abuse the status of Yoga Teacher and gaslight their students, or lure them into sex, drugs and pyramid schemes.
It is because Yoga promises to ‘re-wire’ us that students are vulnerable to being persuaded that abuses or trust issues are their own fault, or are actually good for them.
It took me five years to realise this. And I have Psychology training.
It took me three years to grieve it.
Two to sit, in the wilderness, thinking it all over.
And now this year, to start the lonely walk back into the Yoga story, to tell it as I have seen it, for the benefit of others, and hopefully bring accountability, limits and transparency to the vast league of incompetent and unethical teachers who have infiltrated the yoga scene.
From the start, I loved Yoga. I loved moving my body, exploring its strengths and weaknesses, stretching, pushing, relaxing, exploring. I loved the benefits of breathing techniques, mantra, the reading and the meditation. But from the start, I did not like a lot of what was going on around me.
The boob jobs, the bulimia, the vanity, the Instagram poses, the snobby vibe outside classes at Yoga Barn, the cliques, the injuries, the bizarre food fetishes, the bullying, the swearing, the goddesses, and the lectures – on things like sex, death, grief, shamanism, leadership, gynaecology and love, which the so-called yogis who were teaching, didn’t seem to have the smarts, or the morals, to understand. But who made US$thousands, every week, to packed rooms at Yoga Barn, teaching.
Who was I to judge?
Judgement is bad. They said. Judgement is mean.
That was a good insurance policy for them, and a bad one for all the students, who were too scared from the start to dare say what was chillingly obvious; that these people were becoming corrupt, and nobody was going to stop them.
Everybody knows here, that if you criticise, you will be ostracised. Or worse. That is why, after I have posted these stories, most people contact me to ask me first: Are you safe?
That is because anybody who has been here awhile knows: that things are most certainly not safe at all.
This, for example is how the owner of the biggest yoga school in Bali, Meghan Pappenheim, writes about me on public forums because I have made this and other criticisms of sexualisation and exploitation of students by yoga teachers in Ubud.
You can see the thread here, about this post.
Her response to questions about integrity, pyramid schemes being networked through Ubud’s yoga teachers, accidents and bullying has been to mount a public hate campaign. Not against those who abuse Yoga, or students. But against me, personally.
In threads on her own wall, and online in Ubud Community, she spent days ridiculing me as a ‘failure’ and a ‘bitch’, for these questions, and then produced this image of herself and posted it on Facebook.
Can we assume this reflects her attitude to Yoga, then?
I suppose it could explain the quality control at Yoga Barn.
Is this what ‘spirituality’ has produced in Ubud? Is this the actual reality of the healing arts and ‘female leadership’ workshops they sell? This is what is offered up as public discourse by one of the most influential and wealthy entrepreneurs in ‘healing’ in all of Bali?
I have to ask then, and maybe you should too: Is this the true face behind the mask of yoga in Ubud?
By writing, what I want to open up is a conversation. But that is is apparently, The Last Thing that is allowed.
I had no idea this was an unwritten law in modern yoga land, nor that I was getting mixed up with people like when I signed up to be taught about spirituality, and trained as a teacher in Ubud.
I bought in to the heavy overlay of marketing, spirituality and healing that these people use to make their money. Marketing which is all about a new earth, a better humanity, a solution to illness and anxiety – marketing, actually, which is about anything that can make a buck.
Meanwhile, Yoga teachers here who have been selling themselves as high vibe and bubbly have become precarious cult figures in Bali and around the world for no other reason than that they had the mates to enable it. And the silence of the crowd.
It is becoming increasingly clear that these people, especially the women, have used their access to thousands of students and massive marketing lists to run lotus pyramid schemes across Oceana, seduce students into sex, drugs and a general mess of delusion here, and in other countries, raking in $millions as well.
All this under the cover of yoga.
All this going on in schools around Ubud.
And nobody, anywhere, putting a boundary on it to protect their students or their customers.
The most ambitious teachers, who mostly began as scuba divers and backpackers, never were trained by actual, pedigree yogis. They didn’t need to be. Allied together, mostly via Yoga Barn, and Bali Spirit, the biggest spirituality enterprises in Bali, they became larger than life. Untouchable. Able to invent workshops, lectures, yoga poses and techniques out of thin air and sell them for upward of $250US for an afternoon sessions drawing in upward of 20 to 30 other students – they teach with no credentials, and no accountability.
Some of which has lead to disastrous accidents, or more minor problems, like injuries, or falls, or emotional breakdowns, or to whispers among more educated students who began to see that the Ubud gurus were lacking.
Most have become intoxicated with limitless opportunity for influence, huge followings, zero leadership at their work places, or boundaries anywhere – with notions of superpowers, shamanic abilities, earning power, unlimited influence and the spoils of easy pickings, every where, every day in Ubud.
One yoga ‘goddess’ told me she wrote an entire women’s leadership and healing program over a weekend on the Gili islands, with zero actual depth skills on those subjects, and sold it at Yoga Barn for a return of more than US$60,000 over the several years she milked that niche.
Another, this one, Emily Kuser, for example, began speaking to packed rooms in Ubud about death, but had such an anxiety attack about her incompetence to do so, that I was called out as a consultant for an emergency session one night to assist her on philosophy and ethics.
I warned her then that she was out of her depth. But I suppose the money is intoxicating.
Tell us, Emily Kuser, how are you now qualified to teach about Death? And Sex? And wealth? Do you sleep at night, knowing you are drawing vulnerable people into a deeply personal conversation you don’t actually have the skills to host?
How have you progressed since I saw you shivering in Ubud, overwhelmed and ashamed that you had dared to sell tickets to an afternoon lecture about these things, which you knew you had your own serious issues with?
On wealth creation: what is your comment about ponsy schemes run through yoga networks in the yoga world? On death: what is your comment on head injuries, abuse and anxiety caused by ‘healing practitoners’ in Ubud?
Do I have to book in to your retreat to be able to ask you a question? How do you claim yourself as an authority on these matters, while refusing to be accountable for your reliability in the public domain?
Is this right? Is this ethical? Is any of this actually Yoga?
Tell us. And I will gladly publish your insights here.
Where are you? Yoga teachers? Where do you stand?
Was any of this, I wondered, painfully, really the best that Yoga had to offer?
Was this Yoga at all?
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It’s very distressing to go home, secretly, day after day in Ubud, and fret and wrestle about deception in plain sight. I experienced that for years.
The remedy in Ubud, among the many people I know in the spirituality industry is to gossip behind the scenes, but never admit the hoax. Because that would upset the flow of dollar. And nobody wants that.
The end of distressing or awkward conversations here is to exile or ostracise anybody not totally following the yoga line. Freeze them out. Shrivel their supply to resources. Make them lonely.
In my own weird way though, this all became my own full time spiritual experience here. I remembered my friend with the Bhagavad Gita… I remembered about my stuff, I let it come up.
The ‘stuff’, mostly, was a slow-rising moral panic about the background messages around losing weight, becoming pure, making money, being beautiful, aspiring for a goddess image, and the mental and metabolic hell of trying to believe that one can become fit to educate others, and influence their souls and destinies after 200 hours of what really amounts to an awful lot of cheap aerobics and mumbo jumbo in most yoga teacher trainings.
Ubud became, after 2008, and because of all this, a breeding ground for cashed up Occidental vampires and predators, dressed up as mystics, gurus and goddesses. Many of whom use those labels to seduce their students, each other, and host increasingly corrupt workshops as the competition escalates.
Many of whom began to trade in ‘sisterhood circles’ that were really pyramid schemes, sucking $millions from tourists. Or dressed up as shaman to trade in ayahuasca.
These sorts of people now run the influential and lucrative yoga, cafe, breathwork, sexuality and women’s healing scene here, and have free reign to pollute the souls of thousands of new arrivals with this crap… as well as pick their pockets.
They creep into other markets, like leadership, trauma, grief, birth, parenting, death… anything they can see a niche in, to trade on.
I was at a workshop here last month where a twenty something digital nomad was telling budding entrepreneurs how to google search new markets, invent products for them and work social media to flog them. This is a headfirst dive into disorder and deception. And the yoga industry has role modeled all this.
There are some commentators who say it’s all just an innocent mistake, or growing pains. But those who have been here longer know full well that none of this is happening by accident.
These are consciously operated, cynically driven cash dollar enterprises ruled by a networked clique who cross-pollinate the business, employ and protect their own mates, ostracise their critics and live beyond the law.
In other words, what’s going on here, is like a cult.
All the iffy sex, financial abuse, gaslighting, ambient violence, drug use, secrecy and delusions of superiority that go with cult culture are alive and well, and advertised on noticeboards, everywhere in town – with no evidence anywhere, that shoppers should beware.
Emotional abuse is known as Tantra, financial scams are known as Lotus schemes, bullying is known as ‘tribe’, eating disorders are known as fasts, detox, veganism etc, psychological abuse is known as education, trauma bonding is known as yoga teaching, orgy is known as dance, drug sessions are known as medicine work, and ostracism is undisguised high school level politics… that’s how you break the code of Ubud’s cult-ure.
And all of this has led to the easy herding of the vulnerable into traps hoaxed up by Ubud’s inner circle and enabled by schools who validate them.
Yes, I and others have seen too much in the dire halls of Ubud yoga.
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I have seen owners of lucrative schools smash blind drunk, chain smoking, wearing bindis, pretending to be gurus as they mock and ridicule their own clients.
I have seen Ubud yoga teachers off their heads on LSD, arranging the sexual exploitation of tourists. I have seen an ex-convict, dressed as a Swami, given a public venue to teach from and use to scam vulnerable young seekers out of their inheritance. I have seen prostitutes remake themselves as healers and mystics, then destroy marriages, including their own.
I have seen yoga teachers suck up hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit or donations from this community and others, while the true needy of Indonesia starve, and those who rescue animals beg for $10, and local artists and entrepreneurs shrivel from lack of support and seed money.
I have seen ‘the tribe’ join forces to shame and exclude outsiders. And I have seen high profile people here get away with overt abuse of plant medicines, pyramid schemes, fake claims of guru, wisdom, shamanic, sisterhood, womb healing, wokeness virtues…. and spit acid in the eyes of anybody who dares to admit that they are seeing through it.
In short, I have seen worse behaviour than I ever saw when I had an active profession among people who were eating chicken nuggets, drinking beer and watching Netflix in tracky daks.
In double short, those most dressed like yogis, who claim Yoga status in Ubud are those most likely to be dangerous sociopaths.
How did we get to here?
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In my own case, all this caused dissonance. I didn’t have the filter to see it for what it was at first.
Outright, in plain sight, completely conscious con was not on my list of possible realities.
I wanted Yoga to be real. And I was willing to believe, at first, that my difficulties were my ‘stuff’, and that I should admit that what I thought I saw was really a projection, or my own warped sense of reality.
Everybody here is passed that Kool Aid.
Everybody here is invited to drink the delusion juice and dance with the Worm.
Rewards for signing up, suspending judgement and joining in are belonging, status, beauty, sex, dollar and ecstasy.
All you have to do is trade in your common sense. And we do.
Because we think that Yoga is better than common sense.
And Bingo! That’s where the whole thing collapses.
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In my own case, ethics, nightmares and accidents pestered me into the mystical adventure of Killing yoga, so that Yoga might Live, in my own life, and others’. This is a mystic path of snapping out of guru delusion and getting back on the path of sensible self authority described in the great book, If you Meet The Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.
Perhaps it is next level.. the way to escape the Ubud Worm is like the way to escape the dragon of old… slay it metaphorically, leave a trail for those who follow.
My critics, who are owners and participants at these wayward schools, always attack my character; they never defend their ethics or their practices.
I have other crusades too, like assisting street animals, and supporting writers – crusades are ok, when they are based on fairness and inclusion and safety. I recommend them. And so does Yoga philosophy.
The very essence of Yoga, and the foundation myth of the practice, I believe, is the study of Arjuna and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, on their chariot headed into war against their own kin and teachers, under the flag of Yoga.
This is what I am doing by writing: I am riding into battle, my aim is to help Kill yoga, so that Yoga might emerge…
…. out of the gooey cacao trainwreck of sex pots and sleaze bags and addicts and silly goddesses who ran away with it to their greasy nests in Ubud.
Many others, who know what I know, stay silent, slink away, or perpetuate the cycle, with a certain level of disrespect for the incoming avalanche of innocent new recruits.
For some of them, the lure of the Worm in the yoga bud is a dream come true: a way to engineer an image fit for influence, admiration, sex, dollar and the status they yearn for but have not really earned. So they shut up, sign on, sip the Kool Aid, and start to teach.
They know that if they can ‘look like yoga’, they can sell yoga – so they drape themselves in lycra, tattoos, sacred instruments, feathers, groovy wristbands, sacred geometry knickers and squirrel skin waistcoats – practice their aloof, superior goddess and shamanic pouts, work out for a month, and easily play at a game rigged so that the worst rise to the top.
Among ‘the worst’ are influencers and entrepreneurs. They run businesses preying on those who seek the true benefits of Yoga; the sick, the earnest, the vulnerable – and expose them to fake healers and bad teachers.
It is becoming ever more predatory.
And ever less accountable out here.
Women who trade on sex and ludicrous ideas of embodying the goddess.
Men who lick at their nectars, and prop up their weak masculinity on the thighs of ‘empowered women’ who want their adoration, but not their dignity or freedom.
Yoga, can i remind us, is a philosophy and a way toward peace of mind.
Yoga is based on Ahimsa – non-harm. Not by physical injury, nor by ostracism, by deception, debt, drugs, body marking, or persuasion.
That is the opposite of all this seeking, hunting, craving and glamour.
Yoga is the end of image making, not the source.
Yoga is the threshold that asks you to shut up, give up, work hard and enter your humanity.
It is not a technique for engineering your superiority, improving your odds in the hunt for dollar, sex or power, or disguising your addictions.
These things are not Yoga.
Yoga is courage. Yoga is honesty. Yoga is accountability. And answering for your self.
But what we have now, everywhere in the yoga industry, is a total reversal of wisdom.
A veiled craft promising salve for feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy, anxiety, grief or shame, but which actually undermines students’ virtues, trust and hope for a true experience of Yoga itself.
Yoga was designed to lessen the tension, to smooth the ripples, to teach the sorrows of quietening, and how to apply them to compassion, ethics and health – a rare and hard medicine.
But is is being used to increase craving, widen divides, encourage elites and overt vices.
As the years roll on, and the dividends of what is being offered here begin to yield, it is scorchingly obvious that we are reaping a bitter harvest.
I wonder if we have bred the worm in Ubud, instead of the holy fruit.
I wonder if the rest of you, who witness this, and know this is true, will speak and help to change things?
I wonder if those who disagree will turn up to show the true benefits of the Yoga they claim to teach, and join in on actual conversation to debate me, instead of just sledging me off on social media?
And I wonder what we are going to do about this.
September 18, a note from the author.. in the days following this post, as I expected, two things happened. Firstly, I was exposed to relentless public bullying and ridicule by Yoga Barn, some of which I have collected from their social media and posted in the comments here. Secondly.. the other schools and teachers observing said nothing. Except for one, who acknowledged the importance of this post, and another who said they knew what I have written is true, but will not comment publicly for concerns about their business. Beyond Ubud there has been a lot of support, comment and willingness to explore the subject by other prominent teachers. I will write what i have learned from them soon.