Where are the true leaders of the yoga movement?
Who are the Good men and women in the spirituality business?
When will they rise with the jewels of the practice?
And how can you tell if your Yoga Teacher is just another a blood-sucking vampire?
The New York Times took a massive bite at the world’s US$80 billion yoga industry this year, with expose after expose in major media about predation, sex abuse and a general creepy vibe that appears to be slithering over yoga mats across the planet.
* since publishing this, men and women have also come forward in the first days of 2020, to out Yoga Barn guru, Mark Whitwell for sex abuse and grooming… you can read that story here.
Major news sources and police investigations have toppled one guru after another in the yoga scene, hauling big legacy names like Bikram (outed on megalomania, indecent assault, sex abuse, racism), Iyengar (same same), John Friend (found guilty of running a coven, grooming staff and students for sex, dealing drugs, and operating an occult-like yoga clique), Ashtanga guru, Patabi Jois (no prizes for guessing the crimes) and Bali’s Yoga Barn (on cult charges, hosting sex predators, and endangerment).
All these businesses were toppled from their pedestals after their leaders became intoxicated with easy money and influence. All have been slowly brought to account for crimes like those we’re seeing exposed in other powerful, abusive cliques, as victims and media expose school after school with proof of sex abuse, cult recruitment, injuries and drug scandals.
Huffington Post asked all its readers: Why Are You Still Doing Yoga?!
Many others have fallen – the count is endless, and growing. Yoga everywhere is in crisis.
John Friend, former American rockstar yogi, now yoga predator, pictured here, founded Anusara Yoga in the US, and was outed (in a very nasty public disaster reminiscent of Weinstein), for the same behaviour that is being enabled in many other smaller circles – unboundaried sex with students and among teachers, drug mischief, guru claims and witchy stuff involving yoga goddesses, sex, rituals, bullying, entrainment practices and predatory individuals using yoga as their cover.
If this is all so vividly on the record, and publicly admitted by the industry itself, then why still are owners and regulators of yoga schools and their allied trades in ‘healing’, detox, cuddle puddles, tantra, trauma work, breathwork, ayahuasca and cacao ceremony, ‘immersions’ and ‘unleashing the goddess within’ flat out REFUSING to set moral codes, professional standards of ethical boundaries and assurances that students are safe, and their teachers are clean? Where is the regulating body? Yoga Alliance? Care to actually do something useful?
These questions though, or daring to state the vividly obvious, are enough to get you kicked out of YogaLand for good. As I have been discovering.
Because many people claiming to be ‘yoga leaders’ but who really want to be wealthy influencers, business leaders and seen to be ‘inspiring others’ – are really well-constructed fakes, deliberately feeding off the ‘spirituality’ crisis all around them… and they do not want their covers blown.
They claim to be educators, healers, reborn visionaries, wisdom keepers and therapists, like Emily Kuser, who exploits all of these marketing tags but demonstrates a stunning lack of skill in her own words here., and at Bali’s Yoga Barn where she has had open slather to mislead and profit from thousands of women for years. She’s just one example.
Kuser’s own alleged history of trauma, drug addiction and abuse is the standard zero to hero biography peddled to validate predators of yoga dollar. It disguises lack of actual training, professional skill or adult focus and ethic, and appeals to the hurt and injured.
It’s how almost every spirituality player in bali builds their reputation: i survived drugs, depression, prostitution, abuse.. etc etc.. and now I’m proof that you can too. Except it’s a fake, mostly. And what this logic should warn us of is high capacity skills in tricky, persuasion and solicitation, which is a better way to describe the background of these people. They hunt on well chosen niches. Their credentials are all invented. They operate on the strict buyer beware ethics of the hunt.
Daring to open the topic in your own yoga community can result in being labelled ‘alcoholic’, ‘insane’, ‘schizophrenic’ ugly, jealous, and being muck-raked all over social media. As I experienced when I asked Meghan Pappenheim, the giant who feasts off the profits atYoga Barn in my home town of Ubud, whether her teachers are bound by any codes of conduct.
Meanwhile, there is overwhelming evidence that those questions should be informing every student, every where, as journalists attempt to help the industry exorcise its demons, point over and over at actual crimes, and urge students to be cautious about what is going on in yoga.
There are gifted teachers who can really improve your life. But how will you find them?
The Yoga Journal admitted, in 2018:
“There is something particularly foul about sexual misconduct in the context of yoga. Yoga is a path of insight into the roots of decency and desire—into both the glorious and shadow sides of human nature. There is a deeply personal and, for many, an intimately spiritual aspect to yoga. Students often come to yoga in a vulnerable position, pursuing balance, calm, and a clarity of mind. When a yoga teacher sexually abuses a student, it is not only hypocritical, but also incredibly damaging to the student and the tradition. This kind of behavior can throw sincere and innocent students off the path for years, if not lifetimes. It is tragic. Yet sexual misconduct within the yoga world is common.”
Nevertheless, the yoga fiasco just keeps on getting worse.
More than 30 million people around the world are ‘doing’ something they call yoga, and those numbers are doubling every five years. But is what’s being sold out there actually yoga? And is it safe? And who’s selling it? And has the yoga gold rush attracted creeps, weirdos, vampires and charlatans? As gold rushes tend to.
And when will the industry self correct, begin to set real standards, proper boundaries and defend itself from failing to seize this magical window for revolutionizing millions of lives?
Why is it that boundaries are constantly pushed too far, and students’ concerns go unheeded?
And how do studio owners like Pappenheim, Friend, Bikram get to behave in overtly violent, cruel and greedy ways before they are brought to justice?
In medical, psychiatric, psychology, trauma, addiction, motivation and other wellness and human improvement circles where yoga should be having a positive influence, and bridging us away from the claw-grip of Big Pharma and the doldrums of Western medical models, yoga is becoming a laughing stock.
And it isn’t only because some of its heroes have been brought down by crimes and scandals. There is rot from top to bottom.
While the world focuses on the disgrace and fall of famous names, here in Bali, every day, every person involved in offering yoga, healing, coaching or education at grassroots on our little island carries around a nasty little secret. Or at least, a painful dilemma.
Because the Fall of Yoga, even if not yet measured in dollars, is well underway in terms of the ethics, morality, safety and the quality of what’s being offered. And we all know it.
Poorly trained, capitalist, unstable and debauched individuals enjoy zero regulations here if they can turn yoga dollar, and the culture of the ‘yoga tribe’ forming across the world is one that fosters clique, secrets, pyramid schemes, ostracism, intoxication, body cults, sexual misconduct and all sorts of not very enlightened behaviour that’s not much of an improvement on anywhere else power, money and influence infect a system.
Both on the yoga mat, and in the exclusive, luxurious backstage inner cliques of bali, there are those who have come for easy access to the minds, bodies, pockets and souls of those who dip their toes into the ‘sacred waters’ of the spirituality scene
And who do not know that these be shark-infested waters. Because nobody dares admit it.
What I want to ask – as a direct question to all of you who make a dollar teaching, advertising yoga, healing or spiritual education in Ubud, Bali, is this: how many of you really, are actually diligent forces for good in this game? And why are you silent?
And to those who say yes to that, this: how much longer will you stand by as the good work you could do is undermined, and your colleagues, in rising numbers, predate on your students?
When will the yoga industry deal with its demons, so that the best among you can rise?
When will you clean up, so you can be taken seriously by those who really need you?
Here in Ubud, Bali, a world hub for the millions seeking yoga teachers, yoga bodies, yoga wisdom or just deeper roots into the glamorous and notorious ‘yoga tribe’, things have always been, shall we say, experimental.
The big schools here; Yoga Barn, Radiantly Alive, and Ubud Yoga Centre, were never intended to be ‘spirituality centres’ where spiritual or even yogic values underpinned the business and its code of conduct. All of the big schools were business ventures that sold yoga on capitalist terms, which quickly led to major issues in ethics, boundaries, safety and a valid conversation, which I want to support, about authenticity.
Yoga Barn keeps a stable of teachers curated for marketability, and employed on the basis of their ability to attract students and turn dollars. The ethic there, according to the Barn’s owner, a rather unbridled American businesswoman, Meghan Pappenheim, is strictly Buyer Beware! Those are her words.
While ethical teachers welcome this conversation, including the industry journal, power brokers like Pappenheim and other capitalists running profit schools want to shut it down in any way they can.
This has led to several law suits over cult activities and injuries at Yoga Barn, a couple of bankruptcies, the resignation of a string of longterm teachers, complaints and injuries, and the rise of some extremely dubious characters offering workshops, courses, initiations, personal coaching and ceremonies which are starting to irritate, if not alarm, more reputable teachers everywhere.
Yoga Barn’s Mark Whitwell, selling ‘Heart of Yoga’ guru courses has, on the dawn of 2020 been widely accused of sexual predation. But Yoga Barn kept wheeling him out to hundreds of students who hadn’t heard the news.
The Yoga Barn’s formula of ‘if you can sell it, and they will buy it, then we’ll give you a platform to make bank’, has produced, for example, teachers who were only recently just college kids, or tourist scuba divers, or community college yoga volunteers, or film industry washups, or deadbeat dads (like Whitwell, who does not let it be known how he abandoned a disabled child and a woman, on his way to ‘Mastery’), or friends of friends, with golden tickets to cash in on reinvention here as goddesses, shaman, activists, healers, psychologists, nutritionists, trauma therapists and gurus. And, in the Whitwell scenario, alleged predators.
The others benefit from the Bali veil of secrets. Like Bex Tyrer. Who plays coy, but has made a vast profit in the middle of a scene which is rotten at heart – no matter the pretty face, and the pleady, earnest youtube videos it produces.
These teachers, not content with just selling boring old ordinary yoga, have had to sex up the persuasion stakes to attract sales, and so yoga, in its ancient, scientific, sacred status has withered off to be replaced, first by Yoga Barn, and then by its competitors, with spicier and more seductive lures, including yoga that is now sold as ‘shamanic’, or ‘deep’, or ‘biodynamic’, or ‘kundalini-activating’, or ‘therapeutic’, or ‘goddess activated’ – anything to attract bites from the many valuable fish in the extremely profitable spirituality sea.
Have a look at Levi Banner. He stepped out of a lackluster life teaching community college stretching in America, to shave his hair and update his tats, and presto! Yoga Barn pulls in hundreds of thousands selling him as a shaman! It’s so easy, no wonder it’s created a culture of extremism, entitlement and bullying.
Other schools in Bali have gone astray the same way. Radiantly Alive choked very publicly on a bone when its founder, Daniel Aaron, was finally outed as a bully, abuser and a tax evader, but rose again under new ownership and appears to be quietly leading a rebirth of something better in the torrid Bali yoga world.
You only really have to look at the pictures these yoga predators use in their own advertising to see that something’s wrong. But while good people say nothing, the yoga industry refuses to self regulate, and any Trickster can compete for ‘guru’hood, or influence – the worst, really, are rising to the top.
After going broke and being chased out of Indonesia, Daniel Aaron sold Radiantly Alive, and perhaps now this school, under new leadership, might just prove that a capitalist business model can support an ethical yoga trade. But how will it compete with the intoxicating marketing, and seductive offerings of its main rival?
What incentive is there, anyway?
And how do customers know which teachers to trust?
Circling around the big players in our yoga town are many independent, social media minded outside contenders for yoga dollar, education credits, wisdom allure, and the nectars of lithe young yoga bodies among their clientele, and their pockets too.
Among them are ‘teachers’ whose Instagram feeds and street posters are often sent to my desk by outraged or amused grown ups who teach or just observe in Ubud.
One long-time Bali artist and established expat who has smiled through what I thought were outrageous trials and deviances among the cocktail set here actually snarled a few weeks ago when she asked why nobody has done anything about Lion.
Lion! She shrieked, in a very unladylike sort of way, doing a strange sort of grindy thing with her teeth as she stabbed at her iphone to bring up the evidence.
This asshole has to go. She said.
My God. I thought. I love that girl’s hair!
But what’s the difference between him and the rest of them, really? I asked her.
Isn’t this whole town just becoming a greasy lust swamp infested with gooey yoga vampires and creepy invertebrates masquerading as leaders and experts and whatnot?
HA!!! She scowled. This guy is a predator! He has got to go!
I dont know much about Lion, except that his real name is Brian. But, I would imagine that any sensible person who scans over his images and videos and events on his yoga and teaching platforms would have to errr…. wonder… You could perhaps start here…
Trouble is, many out here in yogaland are not sensible people, they are lost, traumatised, vulnerable people in many cases, so it’s a ripe field for the wounded to target and prey on their own kind.
If you miss all the behind the scenes image making, and only see the advertising for retreats and workshops – how would you even know you were involved with people who may not be of good repute, or even sane minds?
I would think that anybody who observes all this would be wise to be concerned about what their sons and daughters could get entangled in in Ubud.
And anyone who ponders whether the yoga scene and personal development movement is fit to co-operate sincerely with conventional medicine or other health industries, would want to distance themselves ENTIRELY from yoga, if this is allowed, and goes on unchecked.
This is tragic, because if doctors could safely recommend yoga, and psychologists, addiction therapists and many others whose disciplines do not have the skills and benefits that yoga can provide, they surely would.
But who will admit that we have devolved a bit, from the booming in happygolucky yoga bubble to a bit of a Swamp? And where are all the Good Yogis? And why the hell are they not speaking out?
Here’s one reason: I’ve received rape threats, public abuse, been screamed at in the streets and harassed for questioning ubud’s yoga tycoons. This sort of personal attack is common…
And even if I was a drunk, sociopath who ‘needs love’ etc, is this how the yoga scene addresses its problems? Really? Because if it is, then you might as well just sign up for Advanced Bullying with any number of abusive networks, and forget about fluff and propaganda about yoga being a ‘healing’ path – because this is not that. Obviously.
Another senior yoga teacher in Ubud suffers a different trigger.
His temperature spikes and a flurry of wild messages land on my desk, sizzling, whenever juvenile yoga teacher, Levi Banner, upscales his rather embarrassing marketing based on the very unlikely claims that he (not so long ago teaching grannies at community college in the States, then given the Yoga Barn license to invent Kool Aid) is not only a shaman, but has a certificate to prove it.
There are many new yoga customers, and ones not yet aware that there is the very real need to Think Twice about what’s on sale in yoga who fall straight into this glittery web.
Not everybody yet knows that the surest way to identify a false shaman is the very fact that they have a certificate!
The yoga teacher who sent this marketing written by Levi, has this professional opinion about it ….
… and I don’t blame him, because even the Balinese are finally choking on the yoga industry’s commercialisation and ridicule of spirituality and ceremony, which is real and deeply valued on this island.
Meanwhile, expat observers and dabblers in the yoga scene’s nectars enjoy the spectacle. They call Bali and the other yoga ponds a sort of spirituality Disneyland, an open air kind of Mental Health Fiasco/ Gotham City/ Burning Man, where you get to dress up, invent a character and go out and play. That’s mostly the men, who say that, for what I think are fairly obvious reasons.
However, even if you’re well known to be off the rails, or perhaps mentally unwell, or maybe just over-stepping your intelligence, and disliked or feared as a spirituality businessperson in Ubud, there’s nobody going to step in to either support you to get help, or protect the ones who fall under your influence. And apparently your employer will just let it all roll, as long as it returns in dollars.
Lion / Brian Galbran could be one of those. He has made a large splash here as a yoga teacher, dance facilitator, yoga school asset, erotica expert and pubic figure seeking influence in the self empowerment, depression, sexuality and men’s health sectors – and makes no effort to disguise his ethics, lack of boundaries and indulgence in the bodies and erotic lives of his students. (Actually, that may not be quite true, as he appears to have recently hidden or deleted a rather large cache of sexually explicit yoga images…)
He was recently shut down at a large, public dance event he hosted, where he took down his hot pants and invited women to suck his penis, and told the audience that those who were offended were facing their shadows.
And he is not alone. There are many like him, who operate out of the closet, and many who play a more discreet game, but are equally unschooled and unregulated. And there are always more coming, who want in on all this easy candy.
Some students are catching on. This was recently posted in a public conversation in Ubud about yoga therapy and the workshop trade…
As one seasoned yoga teacher and bodywork therapist from a major school in Ubud told me this week, “There has been a long time I’ve just watched all this, and wondered why I’m even involved anymore. I’ve been ashamed to say I teach yoga; I’m not even sure that that’s what I’m actually doing.”
He says, “The problem is that yoga is a natural place, and a profitable place for predators, the mentally unwell, opportunists and fakes to turn up. It’s a hub for vulnerable people who make easy targets and tempting prey. We’ve never put up a real boundary to that, and if you dare to criticise you’ll be ostracised – or worse.”
Recently in Ubud there was a major scandal when a yoga student sustained brain injuries at a yoga retreat. Before that there was a horrific incident where a yoga practitioner caused catastrophic burns to high profile Yoga Barn teacher, Bex Tyrer, who then converted that debacle into a massive cash profit on gofundme.
There are constant whispers about sex abuse, drug abuse, eating disorders, body shaming, psychological abuse, and there has been a string of suicides, mental health events, thefts and medical harm caused by fasting, detox and other ‘yoga therapies’.
When I wrote about this I was publicly accused of being a psychopath by Yoga Barn. And Meghan Pappenheim sent staff members to my home to bribe my landlord to evict me. Twice.
In fact, Pappenheim conducts herself much like a Yoga Trump, blasting her mouth off all over town with a salad of resentments that anybody has dared to criticise her empire, and trying to have those people isolated, shamed and quartered out of the social dialogue while she incubates some of the most unscrupulous and profit mongering teachers you will find anywhere on Earth.
And I ask myself: is this yoga? Is this even decent business practice? Or is this the face of what breaks out from the unregulated belly of the yoga business?
No. The power brokers in Ubud don’t want to speak about it. But they should be made to. And those who sincerely teach and practice yoga should admit, for everybody’s sake, that it’s time for the industry to exorcise its own demons and do something better with the faith, hope and trust invested in its teachers.
While we wait, the yoga train is accelerating toward crash in plain sight.
The latest fad, now that women in yoga are well entrained about body image and becoming goddesses and priestesses, is to plunder the growing male market with tempting offerings.
The new boom is Masculinity Workshops, targeting a huge influx of men with yoga and coaching, workshops and education aimed at assisting them to ‘become kings’, ‘tame the goddess and her pussy’, and activate their ‘shadows’.
Those targeting this niche hone in on male depression, the gender debacle, loneliness, anger, body shame, ageing, beauty and sex to set their traps.
This seems to be propped up on a torrent of images of yoga men with polished, shaved and Insta-ready abs, wearing penis-hugging leisure wear, and draped in aroused female victims of the yoga goddess fad.
Dennis De Rechter, for example, has been positioning himself for this gold rush for a number of years after arriving in Bali from Ecuador. In that incarnation he was all about the importance of humility, farming, kindness and heshenwear. Clearly something went wrong in South America, and I watched Dennis arrive here, buy a gym membership, grow his hair, invest in some proper conditioner and gradually engage in a public striptease as he gathered online fans, perhaps a sense of direction and purpose, and began to tell the world that he knew the answers to all men’s mental, physical, spiritual and sexual challenges.
This is Dennis, before and after Ubud.
This is accused predator, Mark Whitwell, before and after he became a ‘Master’, in Ubud.
And on that theme, here is another fun ‘before and after’ study of those who came to yoga and emerged (carefully curated on social media) as ‘gurus’, … Brian, morphing into Lion.
And here is Daniel Aaron, ‘before and after’ he became a ‘yoga Master’ in Bali, made a fortune, lost it, and then defaulted on his investors.
And here’s Bex Tyrer too… who has gone from being a dive guide in Thailand to ‘the actual embodiment of ‘feminine power’ ‘(despite doing zero for any women exploited by her colleagues) and role modelling not much better than basic vanity, self obsession and being quite bendy.
What has yoga done for these people!! Or – what have they done to yoga?
It’s getting hard to tell.
Yes, that is her, with Mark Whitwell. Who has been deliberately ostracising men and women who have been aware of his abuse, his grooming of students, and recruitment of sex ‘slaves’ from his classes, despite protests from other teachers who have now left Yoga Barn, in a drama going on for years. But not Bex. She still rakes in the dollars, promotes herself as a ‘change leader’, and the fiasco roles on.
Meanwhile, De Rechter has teamed up with ex-Yoga Barn and accused yoga cult leader, Uma Inder, to offer one among many of these ‘men’s empowerment’ offerings, which include yoga, fasting programs, workshops, counselling, one-on-one programs, constant inane tweets and badly articulated posts about depth psychology and archetypes, and embodying the darkness.
De Rechter, who calls himself the Shaktivator is a fan of pilfering from Jung and Dr Jordan Peterson to appear to have the smarts to be a Man among men, and twinning with Inder gives him the illusion of having yogic, ayurvedic, tantric and ethnic validity too – which he most certainly does not.
And, though he tries to persuade his clients and audience that he is ‘up’ with brilliant minds and men’s development leadership from Jordan Peterson and other masters, what he really does is turn their work into memes, while filleting them of their meaning, and then posting this sort of image of himself, which I suspect would cause Peterson to choke on his steak. While De Rechter wants to argue that he knows how to be a ‘king in heaven’, living a ‘purposeful life of sexual pleasure etc’, actual leaders in mental health and motivation, are more likely to put a sledge through that argument as ‘malevolent utopian gobbledegook, creating weak people, enslaved to ‘group think’ and encourage you instead be a good human, right here in reality – which is harder, and more noble, as you can see explored here by Jordan Peterson.
De Rechter, personally, irritates me no end, actually, because I knew him as a passive tomato-growing permaculture hopeful in South America years ago, and watched his well-orchestrated rise to influence in Ubud, and have many times corrected him gently when he misused philosophy, ethics, psychology and just about every other form of intelligent discussion to cook up his rather dangerous and half baked ideas, and sell them all over town, mixed up with images of himself basking in female bodies, or basking in obvious adoration his own.
Inder claims that De Rechter is different to the other men on this game. But I would say his Shaktivator online diaries rather prove the opposite.
Could somebody please tell me – how any of this is valid, or wise or even properly useful to men and society? anywhere?
Are we now going to raise a generation of young men, and lure a generation of older, tired and disillusioned men into the idea that getting into fresh knickers, and having penises turn up in your latte, and being able to seduce, tie up and wet the panties of equally damaged young women is a good idea!? That this is what yoga is about?
That’s really not good enough, yogis!
All across the world right now, and especially in Western cultures, there is a crisis in faith, in meaning, in mental health unfolding.
There are millions of vulnerable people seeking help. Seeking comfort. Seeking belonging. Seeking guidance.
Faith in convention is failing and the once in a century crack in the status quo has illuminated an escape for many into lives that yoga could transform.
Yoga and its allied disciplines have real solutions to personal, physical, political and psychological problems for many people.
In my own ten year journey on the yoga mat, i have experienced tremendous benefits, in physical, emotional and other ways. It has served me through grief, creativity and given me personal strength, comfort and courage. Bikram yoga made a huge difference to an early battle with arthritis. Ubud Yoga Centre’s hot yoga was a life raft at a major turning point, and i am now discovering an entirely new and transforming approach to the practice with several teachers at Radiantly Alive, Intuitive Flow and Knoff Yoga in Australia.
One of these teachers is even blazing a new trail, and pushing conventional boundaries, but he is safe, respectful and is leading on a magical frontier that doesn’t ask for risks or kooky morals.
These gifts, when given by good yogis who respect your sovereignty and your situation, are unspeakably powerful.
Yoga has the valid keys to an entirely new way of becoming human, managing ups, downs, and in belonging to community, caring for the self, the body, each other and the natural world that truly could support a massive shift in world health, personal development, relations, culture and even politics.
BUT ~ how do you find these people?
And how many get lost and swept away in dark and dangerous detours on the journey?
All the beauty and the healing that is truly there will be lost to millions,, if the vampires steal the day and your honest yoga teacher does nothing to draw the line.