For those of you who don’t know the name John Friend, he is the founder of Anusara yoga — a form of Hatha yoga that focuses on the universal principles of alignment, life-affirming philosophies and heart-oriented expression — who found himself at the center of a highly publicized sex scandal last year. There were rumors of him practicing “sex therapy” on his students, including off the charts inappropriate stuff like massaging a woman’s urethra to heal her migraines and exchanging naked photos with a married student he was allegedly helping overcome early life trauma. The most outrageous rumors were those of a secret Wiccan sex coven within the Anusara community called the Blazing Solar Flames.
Friend stepped down as CEO of Anusara Inc. after lewd and incriminating emails and inappropriate photos were leaked on the internet, saying that he was taking a “leave of absence for self-reflection, therapy, and personal retreat.” Well, that’s one way to put it. He’s currently on an extended sabbatical. OK, now that you are up to date on Mr. Friend, the abridged version, the latest is that one of the former members of the Wiccan sex coven is speaking about her experiences.
A woman going by the name of “Melissa” claims to have been the High Priestess of the Blazing Solar Flames. Melissa shared details about the coven’s congregation at Friend’s Texas home for the 2009 Winter solstice. “John wanted us to do the ritual in sexy underwear and kiss each other on the mouth, tongue-y kissing,” she explained. Once stripped down to their skivvies on his bear-skin rug, they massaged his entire body (crotch included) with oils. Friend, who referred to himself as the Grand Magus or GM, encouraged everyone to give each other sensual massages throughout the day as the “sexually charged rituals would heighten everyone’s senses and therefore raise more energy.”
“There was no digital penetration, but there was definitely this mix of kissing and rubbing,” Melissa recalled. “Suddenly I started crying and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t tell if I was embarrassed, even though these were people I was supposed to trust … [it] was like something out of Hustler or Penthouse, and I just thought, Wow, this guy is living the dream.”
Eww. I have to stop for a moment before I go on. This is skeeving me out. Deep breath. Here I go. Continuing on.
Melissa claims Friend suggested various rituals, like cutting off locks of the women’s pubic hair, putting them in a jar and placing them on an altar. These types of rituals allegedly went on throughout the year, as did sexual relationships with the various members of the coven. When Melissa tried to leave the coven right before the Spring solstice, Friend threatened to replace her as High Priestess, reminding her that the Blazing Solar Flames were meant to serve as a “battery for Anusara.”
Although Friend denies these allegations, he does admit to engaging in “non-traditional spiritual groups” and “prayer circles.” He has gone on record saying he was sorry for attracting a former coven member with a “vampire novel imagination.” We can’t confirm whether or not this was Melissa.
If these stories are indeed true, I agree with yoga instructor Livia Shapiro, who likens Friend’s actions to “spiritual incest.” As a person who has had such wonderful experiences with very appropriate yoga teachers (including those that specialized in Anusara), this pisses me off. While it’s possible that these stories may be embellished or exaggerated, I believe that Friend was blurring the sexual boundaries in his community. Any teacher or spiritual leader who abuses their power, sexually or otherwise, should pay for their actions (like, say, self-help guru James Ray who was convicted of three counts of negligent homicide for deaths that occurred during one of his sweat lodge ceremonies). Stay tuned to see if Friend receives any formal charges for his misconduct.