Yoga Guru, or Sex Predator? ~ will the real Mark Whitwell please stand up!

Yoga Barn, Bali: Another guru falls.

Vampires and predators have been hiding in the yoga flock.

I’ve been crying wolf for a while, and finally there are others speaking out.

Sexual predation is not an anomaly out here in Yogaland. It is rife.

Pyramid schemes, scams, misuse of persuasion, influence, yoga’s own gifts of siddhis and power, appalling grooming with yoga philosophy, protective cliques and cult are not anomalies. They are everywhere!

In my own home town of Ubud, Bali, the Yoga Barn school continues to defy public criticism, complaints and rising anxiety over predatory teachers, despite law suits for reckless endangerment, by ignoring the rising outrage, and providing platforms for dangerous and inept teachers.

You can see the continued marketing of Mark Whitwell’s work in Bali and elsewhere here, despite the rising wave of proof of abuse, and the ongoing demand for yoga schools to take these issues seriously.

You can listen to leaders of the yoga community discussing the truth of Mark Whitwell’s decades of abuse, and the knowledge of that, and what to do about it in a Podcast Here.

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Can we please make 2020 the year that the Good Yogis Finally Make A Stand. And those deliberately debauching the practice, and raking in the dollars while knowingly putting students before predators are called to account? Including those who have watched on, knowing all of this, and said nothing.

Because saying nothing is always to stand on the side of the perpetrators, and enable their behaviour.

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~ * ~

Breath to Speak

Christie Roe

Christie Roe

Following
Jan 6 · 20 min read

To see a certain predatory yoga patriarch thrive on denouncing that of which he is guilty troubles me. Until recently, I felt my experience of him qualified as less than perfect in terms of #MeToo, yet the more I dare to speak, the more I realize that feeling stemmed from the sheer perfection of his abuse, full of the typical power imbalances, posturing and grooming, harassment and deception, open secrets and trauma bonding, exploitation and hush money, emotional and sexual coercion, gaslighting, isolation, shame, and silence.

Anyone can get drawn into that treacherous yet often subtle landscape of sanctimony, delusion, and denial, where prejudice, abuse, and hypocrisy hide in plain sight. In hope that the collective breath of nonviolent resistance might hold false allies and their enablers accountable, I offer the following observations and feelings recorded over the years of sexual abuse by my former yoga teacher, Mark Whitwell.

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August, 2011. I grew up practicing yoga in LA, where he’s a living legend — or so I recall when I recognize his name in a retreat catalogue found in the Brooklyn hostel I manage for the summer prior to my last semester as an undergrad.

I go meet Mark for the first time in upstate New York. He has beautiful things to say about yoga; things I’ve always felt but rarely heard anyone else say with such certitude; about “strength receiving,” or action supporting receptivity, and equanimity, or “friendship,” between teacher and student.

Even though I notice him chanting the same adoring lines to most of his female students, I become quietly infatuated when he leans his head on mine and whispers in my ear: “You’re so dear to me, so precious, so lovely. Thank you for coming into my life.”


December, 2012. He comes through Brooklyn to teach for two nights at a neighborhood yoga center run by a close student of him, J. Brown. I live nearby, and now teach a few classes in the off hours, thanks to Mark’s recommendation.

Mark doesn’t remember my name, but after his workshop invites me to lunch the next day, where he calls me a “master yogini,” and tells me that he plans to self-publish his next book, God and Sex, Now You Get Both. I laugh, and offer to help. At 40 years my senior, he seems like he needs my perspective, and I could learn a lot from him.

We gossip about the yoga scene, and a local male yoga teacher infamous for bedding his female students. After emphatically condemning that kind of behavior, Mark says, “When women hear about a guy like that — a guy who fucks — they want to be involved.”

“Maybe they just want to see what all the fuss is about,” I offer, too awe-struck to refute him.

That night, he and I attend a dinner hosted by the “guy who fucks,” and a small group of women. Twice, when no one’s around, Mark pulls me into an embrace and buries his face in my neck as if to kiss me. I’m shocked.

Later, I walk home alone in tears, feeling the heretofore inconsequential crisis between falling for him and knowing better reach an ominous new level.

He departs for New Zealand, his homeland, and supplies a very rough draft of God and Sex. It seems to be about his usual topics — yoga as the non-duality of God and sex, or spirit and matter; serving the female within the male-female polarity; and “right relationship.” Eventually, I email him a cleaned up copy with a few ideas.

Next month, when he’s back in California, his requests for editing and design work on the book start rolling in, one after the next, draped in spiritually-charged declarations of “gratitude” and “love,” along with the promise that he’ll give me “a lot of money when this gets published.”

I share this apparent new gig with J. Brown, who tells me he’s always wanted to write for Mark. “Proceed with caution,” he says. “We know Mark likes helping young girls.”

Increasingly pleased with the work I give him, Mark infiltrates my 23-year-old heart, calls me his “muse,” or his “goddess,” and tells me I give him “power” and “energy,” among other canned phrases from his rhetoric on spirituality and sex. He pressures me into ghost-writing for him outside of the book, including a blog post knocking hook-up culture.

The next time J. Brown asks me for an update, he says, mid-laughter, “Sounds like Mark’s preying on you a little bit … he’s lucky you’re so cool about it. Try to put his teaching back to him.”

Fed up with working for nothing but Mark’s brand of flattery, I find myself mirroring much of his love-laced vocabulary, in part to put his “teaching” back to him, and in part because he begs me not to forget about him, even though I couldn’t forget him if I wanted to — I dream of him almost every night.

Another female teacher at the studio insists that Mark has no right to be acting this way. “You’re young, allowed to flirt all you want,” she claims. “It’s his job to draw the boundary … he’s our teacher, not your friend … he doesn’t love you.”

When Mark asks me if I love him, and since when, I admit that he’s always been love material. He soon escalates his love to “in love,” and starts to call and text almost daily. He asks if I’m seeing anyone, and says he’s “looking for mutuality” when I ask him the same.

Concerned that he’s taking advantage, my friends observe that Mark’s behavior qualifies as predatory despite him being well over twice my age. If I’m aware that he’s manipulating me, they ask, why am I going along with it?

Then one night, Mark video calls to take off his shirt, call me a “wench,” and tell me I “could seduce anyone.” He admits the book is an “excuse,” and invites me to LA, “for a night,” so we can “acknowledge what’s going on between us.”

“That isn’t funny,” I warn him. “Don’t invite me anywhere for a night.”

Fully irked, I decide to drop him and his fake job opportunity, until the next time he calls and asks, in his sweetest voice, “Who have you become since we last spoke?”

I tell him I can no longer write for him and receive nothing in return. Instead of offering to pay me, he invites me to accompany him to his ashram in Fiji.

I seduce even myself with my devotion — or how curious it is that I can march to his volatile drum and excuse so much I would never accept from anyone else. Who have I become?


July, 2013. I fly to Los Angeles and spend a few days with family prior to meeting Mark back at LAX for our flight to Fiji, as per his instructions. I’m in line alone at the gate when he calls to inform me he missed the flight.

Overcome with dread, I board the plane, lock myself in the bathroom, and cry until take off. He gave me no direction to his ashram, other than the name of the island, and no chance to clarify the expectations before everyone else arrives for his two-week training.

Weeks ago, he told me I’ll guide some yoga practice and “write my ass off.” Then, a few nights back, he added that he wants, “whole body on whole body healing,” whatever that means.

Nine hours later, I barely catch another nausea-inducing flight from the main island to Taveuni, where a local cab driver offers to drive me down the one bumpy dirt road. Eventually, I spot the sign: HEART OF YOGA ASHRAM.

Mark told me to tell my parents this vacation house on a shady hillside is an “institution.” Now his manager shows me the back house, or “women’s dorm,” where she expects me to sleep on a mattress in the corner on the floor, and to cook and do chores for him.

He arrives the next morning with a bad cough, and asks me to pound on his back, as if to break up whatever is lingering in his lungs. As I oblige, he apologizes for not being able to have “normal human interactions.”

“I want this to be easy for you,” he says. “Do you feel loved?”

I feel the exact opposite, but can’t quite explain why, so don’t say anything.

Later, he introduces me to the group as his “slave.” No one laughs. I try to brush it off as my own misstep, like agreeing to come here … then again, agreeing to anything when it comes to him has long felt severely compromised.

Rather than sink into devastation, I go float in the ocean, and end up bursting into laughter.

A few nights later, Mark gathers everyone in the wet grass by the side of his house to gaze at the full moon. I stare at the moonbeam pouring through his long silvery hair as he towers in front of me, in perfect proportion to whatever lured me here, so I feel. He turns and asks me to visit him later.

In the corner of the one-room house serving as the yoga studio, I find him in bed on his back, motionless, candles burning, t-shirt pulled over his head to reveal his sun-stained chest. I hesitate before I lay myself down beside him.

“Love is powerful, huh?” he remarks a moment later, then asks me why I want to be with an old man. “You’re just a kid,” he goes on. “We should be finding you someone to marry and have babies with … I don’t want you getting attached to me … I can’t do this … do you love me?”

“If that’s how you see me,” I ask, “why am I here in your bed? The damage has been done … I didn’t sign on to be your slave.”

“I’m only saying most of this to hear your response,” he pivots again. “No one should be anyone’s slave.”

After another pause, wherein I contemplate my exit strategy, he exclaims, “You do love me!”

I turn to kiss him once behind the ear, on the neck, one more time on the chest, where I rest my head and we breathe in unison for a moment. Then he sticks his nipple in my face and I give it a reluctant suck. He doesn’t move.

I back off, embarrassed, and tell him I don’t know what to do with him.

“You’re intelligent!” he replies, and suddenly dry humps me, fast.

Repulsed, I struggle to believe that this is the same old man who not so long ago was declaring love to me like I’d never imagined. And now this?

He starts to outline his terms. First, if we are to become lovers, I must keep it a “secret.” Then, I’m allowed to “pounce” on him whenever I want. Finally, he wants “lifelong friendship” when it’s over.

“I don’t do that,” I declare, and roll out of bed.

He grumbles something about his impending demise as I bid him goodnight.

I swallow my dismay and head to the neighboring swimming dock, where a few of his other students have been waiting for me to join them.

One wide-eyed woman asks me, “Are you taking care of Mark?”

“Not that way,” I assure her.

“I’m glad he’s receiving loving touch,” she smiles.

I laugh, and wish I could afford the next flight home.

The next morning, his unmade bed lurks in the corner as everyone sits, waiting. He shows up late, places a freshly-picked flower at the top of my mat, and guides practice. To close, we chant shanti shanti shanti, or “the peace beyond understanding.”

He offers his translation of choice: “not provoked, not provoked, definitely not provoked.”

Mosquitoes feast on my flesh as I resolve to not let any of this provoke me, slightly preoccupied with thoughts of old Brando in Tahiti and Persephone in the underworld.

Amid his usual lectures about “breath, body, and relationship,” Mark digresses into a diatribe wherein he claims, “men have always used their power to explore with young women.”

From where I sit, exploit feels more accurate.

Unable to tell if he is trying to justify my presence, his past, or both, I start to feel like a looming stain on his artificial divinity, but only a few of the others seem suspicious as to why he has me around. More seem to consider me lucky to be in such a position.

I escape to the ocean, and soon enough I see him tramping down the steep, green hillside to the rocky beach below. The next time I look to shore, he’s naked.

“In nature, as nature,” he later calls it.

Face to the clouds, I stay in the water and breathe until he wades out to me. I stand and give him a slightly amused glare, thinking I could have him arrested for this back home in the city.

“You’re quite lovely,” he smiles. “Has that registered yet?”

He wraps his arm around me, presses himself into my side, and looks down my swimsuit. I try not to react, and trace my fingertips over the surface of the water, eyes averted.

“Are you in the natural state?” he asks. “Are you not in conflict with anything?”

I shrug, and caution him that one of his other students has come down to the beach and seen us. Mark doesn’t seem to care. Apparently his rules about “discretion” from last night only applied to me.

Deeply annoyed, I head back to the house, anxious to demonstrate that I did in fact come here for reasons that had nothing to do with being his lovely, unconflicted sex slave.

Days later, after I ask him several times, he allows me to guide practice. The group seems to take to it, and Mark starts to covet me as his “goddess,” “blooming.” I cringe, and pass it off as humility.

Counting the days to departure, I avoid him as much as possible, teach every day, and get to know the others. I confide in select few as to how I ended up here. They admit it’s “messed up,” but tell me I’m “fine,” and Mark is “not well,” otherwise I’d see how “head over heels” he is for me … why don’t I “separate the teaching from the teacher?”

As I continue to drift from everyone else’s reality, where he embodies sacred genius, I feel forced to cling to his profane idiocy like a flotation device so absurdly unspeakable, no one hears me when I try to speak. I’d rather sink into oblivion with the rest of them, and deal with the truth I can hardly grasp myself later.

When Mark catches me alone, he asks where I’ve been, and tells me I’m “too sexy” — he’s “trying to behave” himself.

I look at him blankly and say nothing.

At the end of the course, one of the others happens to mention Mark’s girlfriend, also his student who worked on projects for him, and less than half his age. The revelation explains so much of his scheme, I feel relief more than anything else.

When I tell Mark I didn’t know about his girlfriend, he says, “I knew it would come up eventually … we are in transition. I want you to be a haven for me.”

I sigh, and remind myself that I’m not alone, not sleeping with him, and only a part of his captive audience for a few more days.

On the last night, he has the place, and me, to himself. We stargaze down on the dock, where he rubs my feet, feeds me compliments, and asks if I could “be with” him.

I remind him, “I don’t do things that need to be kept secret.”

He agrees that he doesn’t want to be with me if it has to be a secret, and later whisks me into his bed, where I roll away and fall asleep with my back to him, finally under a mosquito net.

The next day, while he and I wait in the airport, he complains about not being ready to leave, and calls me a “lady” — I can only guess because I never “pounced” on him.

“You seem remarkably easy-going,” he continues as we board the plane. “Most people when you get to know them are irritable and fucked up.”

“Like you?” I smile.

In between the legs of our trip back to LA, I notice him send both his girlfriend and the woman who told me about her the same text: “You are Everything.”

The pretense for this exhausting ordeal waits, almost forgotten, until our plane lands in LA and Mark asks if I can write God and Sex.

Dazed, I wonder why it should come as a surprise that he would neglect to inform me the book he somehow had me working on hasn’t been written.

My mother picks me up outside on the curb, where he gives her a hug, and comments that it’s just like hugging me.


Back in Brooklyn a few days later, I’m about to sleep in my own bed when Mark video calls to inform me that his girlfriend has agreed to “conditions” he apparently set for her prior to Fiji.

“Do what you want,” I tell him. “I don’t want to know. I need to sleep.”

“Don’t feel jilted,” he commands. “Don’t do the cool thing and run off.”

I’m speechless, mystified, yet again.

“Good thing we didn’t have sex, huh?” he continues. “I told you, I can’t be with a 23-year-old … I can’t have everyone thinking I’m a dirty old man … I should be with someone like your mother.”

“You are a dirty old man,” I snap. “You wish we’d had sex, and you’re not going to tell your poor girlfriend about any of it. And, by the way, my mother is completely not interested.”

He looks down and shakes his head. “Can’t you just be grateful that I flew you to Fiji?”

“You got a bargain,” I insist. “I was so sweet to you.”

He calls me a “seductress,” and orders me not to hang up until we are “at peace — back to normal. Friends, with love … we make a good team … I need you to write this book.”

“There’s nothing empty on the other side of anything I’ve ever said or done with you, unlike your constant bullshit,” I argue. “For months, you scam me into working for free on a book that doesn’t exist, claim to be in love with me, and lie about your girlfriend. Now you have the audacity to suggest that I seduced you, and you’re rejecting me, but I should ghost-write this book that frames you as some kind of spiritual intimacy expert? There’s no way.”

He starts to cry and offers to pay me — for my “work, so far.”

I refuse, holding back my own tears, until he lowers his voice to tell me, “You look ravishing … I’ll be coming back to you for bodily loving.”

Fuck you,” I finally breathe. “You don’t get to say that kind of shit to me.”

I hang up and cry all night.

As I get back to my own life, J. Brown is nervous to hear about my time at the master’s ashram. I report that I couldn’t wait to leave, and found Mark’s behavior unethical, but omit particularly humiliating details like the night of the full moon and the confrontation that ended with him offering me money.

“I wish I didn’t know about this,” J. tells me, after he determines that Mark “did the right thing,” other than leading me on, “a little bit.” After all, I “had a thing” for him.

Only my friends get the whole story, and persuade me to let Mark pay me. Being away, not working for weeks has me broke.

He texts me: “ I wish I could give you $50000 not $500.”

Worried that he might be gone, but not done, I spend his money quickly and send him a how-dare-you-sir farewell email.


Come winter, Mark breaks a long silence to let me know that he can’t believe he didn’t “fuck” me in Fiji.

“I don’t know how to make you feel better about that,” I tell him. “Please leave me be.”

He backs off for months, often close to a year, only to resurface as if no time has gone by, and call me his “dear friend,” his “greatest fear realized,” or his “salvation.” He asks how old I am now, invites me to Maui, Ojai, Crete, Bali, wherever he might be, “for a night or two,” and claims that “our intimacy” is in need of “consummation,” or “love for love’s sake.” Finally, he demands that I “take care” of him by keeping it all “private.”

Unable to ignore him, I actively resist, promise him our sex would be ordinary, and tell him to go find it somewhere more convenient and less problematic. He cries, calls me “the coolest person” he knows, and insists there is no problem, and no one else. Eventually, he makes it a matter of life and death, telling me if he “dies before we have sex,” that’ll be tragic, or that he’s “still alive” because I’m his “lover.”

Again and again, I spiral back into crisis, wherein my abilities to trust and respect myself become eclipsed by his chaos and desire. As he persuades me that his “tantric loving” would be “liberating” and “healing,” I feel trapped and sick — like no matter how lucid I may be, I have no choice but to yield to whatever might come of my stupefying compassion for him. “Love” comes to feel like nothing but a pretty word for oppression.


April, 2015. If only to remind myself why I’d vowed to stay away, I agree to meet him one Spring when I visit home in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s an attempt to make his behavior feel less predatory and more personal — or it’s Stockholm syndrome left over from Fiji.

He comes to pick me up for lunch at my mother’s house. I meet him outside, where he proceeds to the house, expecting me to be alone. I inform him that my mother is home before she comes out and says hello.

“How is your daughter doing?” he asks her, as if I’m not standing right there.

“She would be great, if it weren’t for you,” she replies. “You have nothing to offer her.”

He stares at her, insists that he and I have a “deep emotional connection,” and then adds, “I haven’t had sex with your daughter.”

“I know that,” she scoffs at him. “It’s probably because you couldn’t.”

I shake off my paralysis enough to usher him outside to his car.

“She freaked me out,” he says. “She’s kind of sexy.”

“I’m mortified,” I tell him. “You can run for the hills.”


August, 2016. For another year, I feel profoundly relieved to be out of his rotation, until he slowly, then suddenly crawls out of the woodwork, eventually bombarding me with calls and texts as he’s about to get on a plane to New York.

In shock, I debate replying while he spells my name wrong, begs for my address, and insists he’ll get a hotel.

“Things are different now,” he claims. “Let me come play the sitar for you.”

As my heart pounds in the pit of my stomach, I feel like I must have amnesia to wonder if he could somehow align himself with whatever I once found so heartfelt about him. Another confrontation could at least kill that fantasy, again, so I text him my address. It’s my choice, I try to tell myself. It’s my confusion, my curiosity.

That night, tired of waiting, I leave a key outside, knowing he has no where else to go. He shows up after midnight and climbs uninvited into my bed, where I’m half asleep in the hazy summer heat.

“That was four years overdue,” he grumbles after sex in which I felt I couldn’t participate, even if I’d wanted to, but still refuse to believe he would assault me. He goes to sleep in the bed I set up for him in the next room.

In the morning, I ask him to leave.

“Love brings up everything that is unlove,” he declares, then lowers his voice to add that, “last night felt like a transmission from Krishnamacharya,” the so-called father of modern yoga.

Too stressed to respond, I somehow feel guilty, on top of all the confusion. Then he tells me I have a “calming effect” on him.

My friends offer to come over and help kick him out, but I let him linger for what turns into three nights. He camps out on the floor, naked or nearly, practices his sitar, and posts about yoga and “New Feminism” on Instagram.

As I come and go, he greets me with, “darling,” “sweetheart,” and “beloved,” but otherwise keeps to his 67-year-old self, except to force himself on me, which magnifies every affliction I’ve ever been afraid to see about him.

In Fijian full moon deja vu, I imagine I could somehow make it better, channel my anger, and even reclaim some of my power — I have none left to lose, or so I think. Then one morning I wake up to him in the middle of topping me again, having crept into my bed while I was fast asleep.

“Fuck, you’re lovely,” he whispers. “I fucking need this. Fuck, I need this. You’re fucking lovely. You’re a lovely fuck.”

When I’m awake, he continues to dominate, make demands, call me a “good girl,” or a “wicked woman,” and takes offense when I bounce my fists off his chest and tell him to shut the fuck up.

Before he departs to teach at some yoga festival in the Hamptons, he insists I keep his visit a secret. I assure him I don’t want anyone to find out — they’d all think I’m brainwashed. He cries, and leaves my kitchen sink full of coffee grounds and eggshells on his way out.

I shut the door behind him, turn around, lean back, exhale, and slide down into a squat. It strikes me that no matter what I do, every would-be exchange with him fails to become shared rather than something he takes from me.


December, 2017. Another summer, wherein I struggle to hold a boundary as he passes through New York, comes and goes. That winter, I find out several accounts of sexual harassment and assault posted by his former female students have been deleted from his Facebook group. As I witness the aftermath, their stories show up secondhand, and sound hauntingly familiar.

I see his devotees, mostly women, rush to his defense. They share irrelevant anecdotes about how much Mark has helped them, and minimize his transgressions with phrases like “made a pass.” One eventually writes an article that paints him as a feminist hero, pioneering and gender neutral, dismantling patriarchy with his yoga.

I never considered myself a victim, yet to see myself in these glimpses of the others he has patronized, manipulated, and abused brings outrage, clarity, and a hint of relief — in my compassion for them, I finally find some for myself.

As my stomach turns, I impulsively confront him with a text: “All of my worst suspicions about you have been confirmed.”

He calls me to plead innocent. “It’s fake news,” he maintains. “They’re out to get me … it’s a war … I need your help … I’m scared to come to America, of getting arrested for rape.”

“Who would accuse you of rape?” I ask calmly, and immediately remember my friends calling him a rapist two years ago — and a stalker. How strange to think, if this had happened to a friend, I would have said the same thing.

“All of my relationships have been consensual,” he asserts, calls me a “good mistress,” and grants me permission to “share our secret now — say we were lovers, and it was good.”

The futility of this conversation dawns on me as he continues, “I tried my best … your mother scared me … the intention was always there … I only ever considered us equals.”

“Stop making this about me,” I interject. “You need to take responsibility for yourself and the deleted posts. In the least, you owe everyone an apology, and to stop masquerading as an ally to women.”

“I thought you were my ally,” he complains, only to thank me, and insist that he “hears” me and “loves” me. “I can’t describe the pain of losing you,” he goes on, and claims he was “on his knees,” “looking for a wife,” last he saw me.

“Stop lying,” I demand. “This isn’t about me. This is about entitlement, control, and hypocrisy … male yoga teachers who seduce and silence their young female students don’t get to go around preaching about feminism and ‘right relationship.’ Everyone can smell your garbage.”

“You’re so fucking intelligent,” he finally snaps, and claims I’m being “unkind,” but eventually says, “I’ll do whatever you want for there to be peace between us … to help you live a simple life … free of social mind.”

I only recall once or twice in the early days when he expressed an interest in what I might want, and my response never factored in. Did I think he would listen to me now? That he could possibly understand how my life would be so much closer to simple and free if I didn’t have to reckon yet again with the indoctrination and inconvenience of what he dares to call his “help?”

After I block his numbers, I ricochet between craving his downfall and his redemption, aware that neither would help me come to terms with his insidious presence in my life, now that the internalized pressure to be devoted, forgiving, and “not provoked,” has begun to dissipate. I’m almost “not in conflict” with anything, including conflict itself.

I start to write again, combing through old journals in attempts to piece together my only real power: to remember, and call by name. Gradually, as I circle in on my trauma, I release the trance-like drama of becoming an object for him, learn to not blame my vulnerability for his violations, and accept him as the perpetrator whom I don’t know beyond the lens he afforded me. That lens may be only slightly less obscured than the one he and his enablers mythologize for his audience at large, but I’m not the first to see through it, and won’t be the last.

With gratitude to every last shred of support, process, and privilege that allows me to share these words without fear, on behalf of all those who for whatever reasons cannot do so, yet.

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Christie Roe

WRITTEN BY

Christie Roe

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A California-grown yoga teacher and writer based in Brooklyn.

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15 thoughts on “Yoga Guru, or Sex Predator? ~ will the real Mark Whitwell please stand up!

  1. No. Not at all. I’ve seen plenty women predating on each other, their teachers, and bullying and deceiving too. But nobody’s making this a gender issue. Not on my watch, if you read my work.

  2. Thank you. Let’s hope there are some brighter ones to come this year. Or. Maybe. All this bad guy stuff will eventually call in fleets of good guys, and i can tell you all about that soon 🌈

  3. As this story unfolds, ex colleague and witness to Mark Whitwell and his predatory behavior, Brian James, describes his experience of dealing with a determined and manipulative abuser.

    He also reveals here, in this Facebook post of January 8, where he clearly wants to go public and participate in an open conversation, the realities behind the mask of the yoga community, in a plea for help:
    (or was it a bid for attention?)

    LOOKING FOR COMMUNITY GUIDANCE

    So, as I expected, I’ve opened myself up once again to personal attacks and accusations about my motives in posting about my support of Christie Roe and my wishes for Mark Whitwell to step up and address this situation.

    This happened back in 2017 when I posted my response to another woman’s #metoo story about Mark. After a few days of
    • responding to the attacks and allegations (both public and private),
    • fielding multiple calls from other women who came to me with their own stories of manipulation and abuse,
    • trying to convince the Heart of Yoga board members to organize a restorative justice process,
    • speaking with Mark to try and convince him to take responsibility and be accountable to the allegations,
    • reaching out to experts on ‘abuse in yoga’ and friends of Mark for guidance and support,
    • and speaking with the woman who sparked it all with her #metoo post on Facebook, and learning that she decided to not pursue further action…

    I decided to make my post “hidden” so that I wouldn’t have to expend any more energy on this. I felt I did all I could do to help the people involved, and tried to do it in a way that caused the least harm.

    I refrained from telling the whole story about what I personally experienced with Mark, that lead to my unquestioning belief in these women’s stories, because

    a. I didn’t have permission from the other women involved, and was committed to following their lead and honouring their privacy
    b. I didn’t want to make it about me
    c. I didn’t want to cause any unnecessary harm to Mark or dishonour our relationship by sharing things I experienced within the context of our friendship

    Anyone who accuses me of doing what I’m doing for the sake of “building a platform” or “making a name for myself” couldn’t be more wrong.

    In going public with my disapproval of Mark’s behaviour and severing professional ties to him and his organization, I not only immediately cut my income in half (design, website and marketing services paid by the Urban Family Foundation), but I turned down big-money, high-profile teaching gigs in China and at the Esalen Institute (plus whatever would have followed).

    I also cut myself off from the Heart of Yoga “community” that chose to remain loyal to Mark, and suffered through a lot of sleepless nights, stress and feelings of isolation.

    The winter of 2017 was one of the hardest times in my life, a dark night of the soul that forced me to re-evaluate my committment to my ethics and values. It took everything I had to keep my head above water, and for the first time in many years had suicidal thoughts.

    The relationship with my friend and mentor was over, I was ostracized from the first real community I’d ever been a part of, my burdgeoning career as an “international yoga teacher” was over, and I questioned everything good that I ever got from Mark.

    Over the past couple years, I made peace with it all and saw it as a major initiation in my life. I even kept in contact with Mark, learning to see both the good and the bad in the man, appreciating what he gave me while disagreeing with his behaviour. It seems like he’s found a steady girlfriend and so I was content that he has “settled down”.

    Then, two days ago a friend sends me a link to Christie’s article and it all comes up again.

    What the fuck do I do?
    Well, at this point, I feel like I’ve already done whatever damage I could to my career and gotten much more clear on what kind of teacher I want to be, so I didn’t feel I had anything to lose by speaking up once again and showing my support for Christie, and once again asking Mark to be accountable for his actions that have caused harm.

    Right or wrong, consent or not, his actions have repeatedly caused harm and I feel that should be addressed.

    In speaking up, as I said, I’ve opened myself up to attacks on my character and allegations of selfish motives. Once again, I’m losing sleep over what the right thing to do is.

    The easy thing would be to back away, “mind my own business” and leave it to people who are directly impacted.

    But, all I’ve heard over the past two years in the wake of #metoo is stories of how abusive men have gotten away with their transgressions because the people who were insiders never spoke up with what they saw, and didn’t publicly show support for victims.

    SO, I’m asking you…the people watching this drama unfold, the supporters and the critics…

    **What am I supposed to do?**

    Do I have to write my own article, sharing every detail and piece of evidence I have that tells my side of the story, backs up my motives, and supports the stories of the women making accusations? Because I could.

    I have emails and text messages detailing all this stuff. Showing that I turned down teaching gigs from Mark intended to shut me up. Showing that I turned down offers to make more money on his book publishing. Showing that I pleaded with him to deal with this in a responsible and ethical way, only to be met with gaslighting of victims, claims of enlightenment, and other narcissistic horseshit.

    This kind of blowback is the reason why people don’t speak up! It’s a hell of a lot easier to mind my own business, trust me. I much prefer a peaceful, drama-free life.

    I wish this never happened. I wish I didn’t see what I saw. I wish I didn’t hear the stories I heard that made my flesh crawl. I wish this all didn’t just get stirred up again. Life was going pretty smoothly!

    But it did. And here I am again.

    My intention has always been to do the right thing.
    To serve truth and justice while doing my best to stay compassionate to everyone involved and do the least amount of harm possible.

    I admit, I may have done some things wrong.

    There is no playbook on how to be a good ally.

    I’m doing my best at doing what I think is right and necessary.

    I’m open to guidance.

    What am I supposed to do? Tell me.

    Love,
    B

  4. Brian James goes public (and uses the story to increase his own popularity) in response to intimidation by the yoga community and the failure of Yoga Barn, where Mark Whitwell continues to teach, or any yoga authority to address the mounting accusations….
    So. Another yoga insider validates the story, BUT then converts it into a tool to build his own platform. I’m telling you: this scene is rotten, top to bottom.
    January 9: from brain james public wall on Facebook, where he participated in conversations with me about this problem until he decided he wanted all the benefits of gathering an audience to himself, on January 10.

    “TRANSPARENCY

    This is my post from December 2017 that I ended up hiding from public view after receiving a torrent of abuse and nonsense from folks who had no idea what they were talking about. After re-reading it, I stand by it and the position I took then (although I think I would be less generous in my praise of Mark’s teaching now). I think I handled it skilfully then, and the fact that no restorative action was taken is the reason I chose to speak up again.

    If you can make a good argument as to why I shouldn’t have spoken up then or now, I’m willing to listen.

    No character attacks or inflammatory comments will be tolerated. This is my personal page, so it’s my house and I will not allow strangers to abuse me or to use my page to promote their own agenda.
    ************
    December 13, 2017

    Recently, an allegation of sexual misconduct by a former teacher of mine, Mark Whitwell, has surfaced.

    Due to the lack of what I feel is an appropriate response to these allegations from Mark or his Heart of Yoga organization and the public perception that I’m still associated with them, I feel compelled to clarify my relationship to them, and to speak about my own position on the ethics of the teacher-student relationship.

    I teach yoga in studios as well as one-to-one, often with vulnerable populations, so I feel it’s necessary to make clear publicly my involvement and stance on these matters.

    First, I would like to say that Mark is a masterful yoga teacher and one of the most generous and caring people I’ve ever met. He has always treated me with respect and has helped me grow as a teacher and a man, providing me with valuable professional opportunities and offering me a depth of compassion and support that I’ve rarely experienced outside of the relationship with my wife Debbie. I’ve spent a lot of time with Mark in and out of the classroom and have never personally witnessed anything I would recognize as sexual misconduct.

    Mark and I have some different views around philosophy, the benefits of psychotherapy, and pedagogical language, but he always respected my viewpoint and allowed me the freedom to express my own way of teaching and relating to students. However, there is a fundamental difference regarding our stance on student-teacher relationships that led to me severing ties with him and his organization.

    Back in 2016, one of his students with whom he’d been involved with intimately, came to me upset about how the relationship had ended and provided some details that I found troubling. I contacted Mark and spoke with him at great length about this, sharing my concerns, challenging him to be cleaner in his relationships, and to right any wrongs with this particular woman.

    I won’t go into details here, but following that discussion I decided to sever my professional ties with Mark, his Heart of Yoga organization and the associated Urban Family organization, for which I’d been providing graphic design and marketing services.

    Previous to this, I’d been on the fence about whether it was appropriate for yoga teachers to engage in intimate relationships with their students. I felt that in some cases, if there was consent and it was handled cleanly, then why not?

    However, after hearing first-hand how problematic it could be, and engaging in on-going self-reflection and conversations with my wife around this subject, I’ve arrived at the position that it’s never appropriate for teachers to have intimate relationships with their students.

    Unlike other helping professions, like psychotherapy and medicine, yoga teachers aren’t restricted by a regulatory body from engaging in intimate relations with their clients or students. It’s up to each individual teacher to establish their own ethics around this, based on their own morals. Personally, based on the vulnerability of students (who are often suffering from trauma), and the inherent power imbalance present in any teacher-student relationship, I don’t think there can ever be true and complete consent. There are just too many unconscious motives and projections involved, regardless to what degree the teacher or student are aware of them or not.

    In my opinion, the teacher needs to recognize and protect the vulnerability of their students and acknowledge potential for retraumatization by maintaining impeccable professional boundaries, including abstaining from sexual or other intimate relations. Another factor at play is the unconscious desires and motivations present in all humans, including yoga teachers — regardless of how enlightened the public personae appears to be.

    When a teacher claims to be “finished” or “realized” — that they’ve transcended their unconscious motivators or “shadow” — it’s a very dangerous situation and students should proceed with caution or avoid entirely. Inevitably, the repressed shadow material surfaces in one form or another, usually in aberrant or abusive behaviour related to sex, drugs, money or power.

    Regarding this recent allegation against Mark, I want to express my wish that this be handled in a way that respects all parties involved. I’ve urged Mark to practice compassionate listening, address the allegations directly and honestly, and to do so in a forum that feels safe and supportive for everyone. I hope that this can be resolved with the utmost care and in a way that satisfies the needs of the alleged victim with the least amount of damage and re-traumatizion possible.

    I’ve been in contact with the woman who made the allegation, as well as some affected members of the Heart of Yoga community, and I continue to offer support for anyone who feels they’ve been manipulated, mistreated or abused. I believe every accusation should be treated seriously and that there should be clear protocols in every organization for handling grievances of every kind swiftly and justly.

    In Summary:
    – I ended my personal and professional involvement with Mark Whitwell and Heart of Yoga in September 2016
    – I feel that yoga teachers should be held to the same ethical standards as other therapists, with a zero tolerance policy on teacher-student intimate relationships
    – Yoga schools, studios and other non-regulated organizations should have protocols in place to deal with grievances swiftly and justly
    – Regulatory organizations like the Yoga Alliance should have ethical standards in place that forbid teacher-student relationships, and should hold registered teachers and schools to these standards.

  5. To Jade Richardson,
    You have reposted my copyrighted material here without my permission, and I am requesting that you remove it immediately. Your reposting of my content explicitly violates WordPress.com’s copyright policies. If you refuse to remove my content I’ll be forced to submit a DMCA notice to WordPress.com’s legal team.
    Thank you,
    Brian James

  6. Brian James: Thank you for writing. Now that my invitations to you to share this story wider than your own platform, have resulted in your blocking me, it’s good to be able to use my own, secure, platform to discuss this.
    Firstly, you have made your comments in the public domain, and I have credited you, and attributed you, and this is perfectly legal.
    Secondly, if you were actually serious about ‘putting this out there’, for the benefit of others, then your comment here does not reflect that.
    And neither do your actions.
    As I wrote to you in Messenger, my interests, for more than 9 years here, have been to provide a platform to begin and fan the conversation about abuse in Yoga. I take no profit from it. I do not use it to build a ‘fan base’. Or sell a book.
    Like you do.
    The cowgirl is a conversation starter, and those who want to be in that conversation, but harvest it for their own popularity, or sales, or whatever you appear to be doing, are, as far as I can see – part of the problem.
    As I described, I think, quite vividly, in Vampire in the Lotus.
    They muddy the water.
    They exploit victim stories.
    They curdle the whole conversation.
    And push observers toward distrust and disgust.
    The problem, and what is heinous, is ‘victims’ who make false claims, or who use claims to build their own interests.
    In my view, you are one of those.
    At first, I applauded you. But your refusal to participate in opening this story, your hysterical response to polite invitations to join the interview process, (which you could have just declined, but instead turned into an accusation of abuse??!!) and this comment today, have extinguished any respect I have for you.
    If you’re so passionate, as you claim to be, about having this addressed, why you would then SUPPRESS the conversation is not so much a mystery, as evidence of your intentions to use it, as has been suggested by several others, as a launchpad for yourself.
    Make your complaints.
    Wordpress will never suppress Freedom of Speech.
    They quite ruthlessly stick to it, as part of the USA Bill of Rights.
    And if you had any knowledge at all of the field of professional writing, you would A. understand that by attributing your public statements, I have followed the code of Law and of basic decency, and B. unwittingly outed you as Not The Kind of Person Fit to lead this conversation fairly, or openly, or without a sinister motive… to reap the benefits.
    Unlike myself.
    Good day to you.

  7. Slowly winning. Though today the owner of said Yoga Barn here, and enabler of Mark Whitwell, who refuses to address his rather serious issues, and restrain him from teaching – good ol Mags Paps – did send me a Personal Message today with a copy of text explaining that in Kali Yurga it’s all about unleashing the forces of destruction.
    And she appears to be deliberately enabling and empowering those.
    I have watched this as a ten-year student at Yoga Barn.
    Through the cult debacle, and the constant selection, from thousands of teacher options out there, the most cretinous, inexperienced, fake and dangerous for those jobs. While other Yoga Barn teachers who were wiser left, or resigned after struggling with the same confusion. Several of whom ended up in therapy.
    The Yoga barn raises battery yogis.
    That’s pretty clear.
    it’s an outpost of the Matrix, pumping its thousands of battery hens with rubbish.
    I have always struggled to ‘get’ how it could possibly go so totally wrong.
    But this message from Meghan Pappenheim today helps draw back the curtain.
    It’s deliberate.
    It’s cynical.
    It’s a conscious attempt to debauch and destroy the possibilities that could have unfolded for millions of us, and swept through other sectors, if yoga had been kept in safe and true hands.
    Earlier on in my yoga life (!) I would have pondered this Kali Yurga stuff as academic, or metaphoric.
    HOWEVER it has become blindingly obvious that there are those in power who are deliberately pushing ecosystems, individuals and cultures toward annihilation.
    Some are doing this because of religious callings (as we see the Muslims constantly blamed for, and also in the evangelist Christian idea, which pushes for an Armageddon and a rapture.)
    And some do it because that is their libido, which is oriented toward abuse, and others do it as revenge, for a number of reasons.
    So, at this stage of my experience, I was actually not shocked, but still horrified to see Meghan wave this flag.
    Because it is the flag of Total War, actually.
    And of wanton and deliberate destruction, often supported by outright contempt.
    Being an American Jew, trading to a variety of races, and using Hindu philosophy to make her fortune, this seems to have actually thrown a rather clear light across things. As I was rather suspecting might unfold.
    My view on it is this – there is no doubt we are heading to a major crisis on earth. A war, climate, refugees, social collapse, race outbreaks etc… things are going to get a lot more intense.
    There are two, basic ways to deal with navigating into the straits.
    You either see it as an opportunity to change, overthrow the bad guys and bring the whole ecology up to a wiser, better level OR – that is the LAST THING YOU WANT.
    What you really want is a CRASH.
    You want to use a crisis as a way to Kill Off as many of the competitors, rivals or burdens around or beneath you, so that, after cataclysm, you can harvest as much of what remains to be rebuilt for yourself.
    That is a very Jewish idea. Obviously.
    And it is also a bit of a yoga idea, with the Bhagavad Gita.
    It is not at all the best idea of the West, which seeks a unified, inclusive heaven on earth, for all beings.
    Or of the East, which seeks union with a sublime, radiant intelligence that backs humanity off from bloodbath, and from farming itself, and seeks art and beauty manifest through refinement of the senses.
    And it is not where many of us have assumed this is all going.
    But. It is the only way I can think of explaining what is going on in mining, water wars, race, and the building up of giant forces for either war, or the mass harvesting or destruction of the souls and/ or bodies/ homes and lineage of huge numbers of people.
    For yoga to be wrapped up with this makes sense.
    Because a movement that has OVER 300 MILLION worldwide COULD actually overthrow the status quo.
    And there are many greedy, religious, or perhaps rationalists WHO DO NOT WANT THAT.
    And they are very motivated.

  8. Why I decided to remain silent (never naming names) when I was sexually abused: (1) they never forced themselves on me. (2) it was their studio and there were many other studios i could go to. (3) there was mutual attraction. (4) they didn’t seem to be predators (to other students). (5) their level of consciousness was on a par with mine. – p.s. I assume you know that yoga teacher training schools like Kripalu have contracts their graduates sign promising they won’t sexually abuse their students and that they will contact the school for therapy if they do. That’s how much student / teacher sex is going on.

  9. No one is doing yoga.

    People are exercising jumping around opening up themselves feeling good and fucking around. It’s a business, just like any other. Like at the office. Like psychologists psychiatrists, police politicians, they use their power to fulfill their desires. Men and women. Base instincts. The students want their yoga experience! Give it to them baby!!

    20 year olds attracted to 60 year olds! WTF! They see ambitious opportunity. That’s all! And spouting from ancient texts holy words at the same time as being star struck. Just like groupies gang banging rock stars. Then crying sexual misconduct?

    Go practice at home, find a teacher who inspires you. Go there once a month to make sure you’re not hurting yourself or getting off the path, and practice at home.

    I’ve been teaching iyengar fir 20 years almost. I’ve had phone numbers in lip stick tucked into my pocket, once an article left on my vehicle titled, ‘how to seduce your yoga teacher’. girls in bikinis at my seaside classes flirting with me making my students uncomfortable. I smile and try to be neutral but it jades you.

    I work my ass off and am lucky to get 6 people at my retreats. While these horny teachers are making big bucks.

    It’s not a game. People are lost, searching, suffering, tormented. Some fall in front of you in a heap. As teachers, not friends or lovers, we show them how to stand and take the storm of life.

    Bikram, Friend, Osho, Jois, Manos etc, a testimony that the Guru’s are dead!

    Let’s stop funding these teachers and go practice at home.

    The Guru is inside. Listen!
    Our inner nature is sick! And the nature around us too! Look!

  10. Thank you for this blog! I stumbled upon it while in Bali. As an outsider it’s pretty obvious that the yoga teachers there are often not very educated and not to be taken too seriously on anything but stretching exercises.
    I think both the cowgirl and ninja9 have a point – for the mentally more stable people involved it’s a pyramid schemey business and for the mentally unwell it can be a very dangerous mental trap!
    I’ve talked to a lot of people who seemed to be in need of therapy there… they are really consciously lured in to be fleeced, how sad!
    Thank you for pointing out the deeper twistedness, I felt something off there but could not nail it down, very informative!

    A blog with more anonymous victim accounts would be interesting.

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