In an open letter to his community, reported on YogaDork, John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga, announced today that he's stepping down from his leadership post following allegations of sexual and financial impropriety that surfaced two weeks ago.
In the letter, Friend writes:
"The last two weeks have been intensely heartbreaking for me. I am deeply sorry for choices I made, which have caused such a firestorm of pain and suffering in our community. ... On Monday, I will be stepping down and taking a leave of absence for self-reflection, therapy, and personal retreat in order to take care of myself, and consider the next best step for myself and Anusara. Professional counselors and advisors will help me to determine the duration of my sabbatical."
Friend goes on to say that within the next 10 days reorganization plans for Anusara Yoga's leadership will be announced.
The first hints of something askew within the Anusara world surfaced last November, when five senior teachers, including Elena Brower, Darren Rhodes, Amy Ippolti, and Christina Sell, began a public exodus from the organization.
Now the revelations of Friend's sexual misconduct with students and employees, and possible illegal tampering with employee pension plans, has hit the Anusara community like an earthquake. Anusara Yoga practitioners are a committed, passionate group known for enthusiastic proclamations about the transformational power of the Yoga of Joy, which Friend has called his hybrid hatha yoga creation, and they are equally devoted to its charismatic leader. This adoration resulted in a the meteoric rise of Anusura Yoga since its founding in 1997 into one of the most popular new yoga styles, and led the New York Times Magazine, which devoted a cover story to topic, to dub Friend "The Yoga Mogul."
While Anusara Yoga, with some 1,300 teachers and a purported 200,000 followers, makes up just a slice of the approximately 15 million yoga practitioners in U.S., more bad news out of the yoga world is unsettling. Yogis were already on the defensive following a Times' Magazine book excerpt last month questioning the practice's safety.
The next weeks should reveal the fate of a multimillion dollar Anusara Center in Encinitas, California, which was slated to open last fall, and whether Friend, who has admitted to halting pension funding without notifying employees but reinstating them when alerted to a law requiring it to give proper notifications to employees of the change, will face further sanctions for his actions. But perhaps the biggest question resulting from this scandal may not be known right away: Can Anusara Yoga continue without John Friend at the helm?