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Fallen yoga guru John Friend goes to the mat with a new technique

Fallen yoga guru John Friend goes to the mat with a new technique
Anthony Camera

"As you breathe, expand the radiance of your heart."

As roughly twenty yoga students contort themselves into various poses in the spacious, purple-walled "Sky Room" at the Vital Yoga studio in Highland, their teacher for this session, John Friend, pads about the wooden floor, adjusting spandexed hips and poking at protruding butts while talking about opening the belly and raising the solar plexus. He speaks with the warm yet energetic confidence of a TED speaker or a feel-good evangelist rather than the serene tones of a stereotypical wizened yogi. And as the students breathe deeply, working through the strain of the poses, Friend lightens the mood by cracking jokes and shifting into funny voices. "Yeah, that's it — cool!" he exclaims in a slightly California-like drawl as he guides them through a particularly grueling sequence.

"We have to generate a positive optimism for ourselves. It is not going to just happen for us," Friend instructs his students before leading them through the three "oms," the mantra symbolizing the sound of the universe that's chanted at the end of the session.

John Friend teaching Sridaiva at Vital Yoga.
Anthony Camera
John Friend teaching Sridaiva at Vital Yoga.
Desi (left) and Micah Springer invited John Friend to Denver.
Anthony Camera
Desi (left) and Micah Springer invited John Friend to Denver.

"OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM"

Friend knows all about generating positive optimism. In 1997, he created his own feel-good form of yoga called Anusara and subsequently built it into a global brand with nearly 1,500 licensed teachers and more than 600,000 students in dozens of countries. At its center was Friend, considered one of the five most popular yoga teachers in the country and named the "yoga mogul" by the New York Times Magazine. From his home base outside of Houston, Friend presided over a yoga empire. There were "Dancing With the Divine" and "Igniting the Center" world tours; a "John Friend Collection" line of yoga mats; Anusara "grand gatherings" in places like Estes Park, where Friend taught 800-student classes; and a planned multimillion-dollar expansion that included an 8,000-square-foot headquarters in Encinitas, California. In the white-hot world of American yoga, Friend's flame seemed to burn the brightest of all.

"OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM"

But then it all came crumbling down. In early 2012, Friend was accused of financial mismanagement, having affairs with married students, receiving pot in the mail at his office and engaging in Wiccan rituals. In what Friend now calls "a 21st-century Internet witch trial," the Anusara community devolved into mud-slinging and public resignations, generating headlines nationwide. With startling speed, Anusara imploded — and Friend was left with nothing.

"OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM"

But here in this Denver yoga studio, the now-54-year-old Friend doesn't look like a fallen guru. His aqua-blue eyes flash with enthusiasm, his short gray hair is gelled upward in a jaunty fashion, and when he takes off his shirt near the end of the session, he reveals a well-toned midsection that's dropped forty pounds of fat since his 2012 fall from grace.

Maybe that's because here in his new home of Denver, "I get to start over with something better than I had before," Friend says. Collaborating with sisters Desi and Micah Springer, co-owners of Vital Yoga, Friend is developing a new yoga postural system called Sridaiva, one that he says he expects "to be more impactful than Anusara ever was" — a system not just for yoga practitioners, but for everyone around the world. Sridaiva is going to be big, Friend predicts; it will eclipse everything he did with Anusara — the good and the bad. "It's an epic comeback story," he declares.

As he says to his students at the end of the class: "2014 — it's gonna be a good one!"

********************

After the maelstrom of negative press he weathered in early 2012 — including lengthy, unflattering profiles in the Washington Post, New York and Texas Monthly, plus a lurid exposé on the Daily Beast website — Friend is guarded about the personal life he's cultivated since he moved to Denver that summer. "One of the central issues for me over the last couple of years is the increasing lack of respect for privacy and confidentiality in society," he writes in an e-mail. "I really want my sex life and my other personal sacred and spiritual practices held privately, and not made public by others who don't respect such boundaries."

The way he describes it, his life in Denver is considerably simpler than the one he enjoyed at the height of his success. He lives in an 800-square-foot rental in Sunnyside, a place that could fit in the living room of the modest two-story home he inherited from his mother in Woodlands, Texas, which he still owns but is planning to sell. In his apartment, there's just enough room for a few hundred of the books in the 5,000-volume library he's amassed on topics such as Buddhism, astrology and scripture, and just a few samples of the myriad paintings, sculptures and crystals he's collected on his world travels. He used to always be on his cell phone, juggling the responsibilities of running a twenty-employee company with international reach. Now, when he's not teaching private sessions or running one of the four weekly classes he teaches at Vital Yoga's locations in Highland and Golden, Friend spends his time writing detailed notes in a leather-bound journal, the beginnings of a book on Sridaiva.

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13 comments
df4liife
df4liife

How many F'ing   "gurus" have to be exposed as Frauds, Sex fiends, druggies  and psychopaths before people get the message? The yoga world is FILLED with one phony after the next...Quite laughable really.    

agni
agni

Forgiveness is one thing, simple stupidity is quite another. Like all the phony yoga teachers, John was never a real teacher anyway. Amazingly,  some are so blind that they continue to go this guy and all other phony yoga teachers. BTW, real Yoga is Hinduism, taught by Hindus and not for a fee.

Shakti
Shakti

Forgiveness is one of the highest spiritual vibrations and hopefully the yoga community will have compassion for John. While I do think perhaps John got caught up in the maya of fame it sounds like he is being forthright about what happened and positive about his new life. I feel a consensual affair, some pot and wicca rituals are his personal life and it does not change who he is as a yoga teacher. Many gurus have done much worse to their students with no consequences. Hopefully the person who revealed the information realizes that revenge can hurt many people.

johnkmlee66
johnkmlee66

Good for Desi and Micah.  Wish you well John.

Erica Rosenthal
Erica Rosenthal

Who gives a shit if he slept with married students? It was probably just making the workout better

mosborne3
mosborne3

Just get into bouldering or rock climbing. 

Don Finley
Don Finley

Who said the pot law wouldn't bring in a higher class of people and business owners? lol

WillieStortz
WillieStortz topcommenter

Is it just me or does this pervert look just like Jerry Sandusky? There must be something in the genetics of those types. 


Thanks for the heads up, it's always good to know when a sexual predator is lurking in my neighborhood and working at local businesses.

westwordreader
westwordreader

Friend tells reporter Joel Warner: “I really want my sex life and my other personal sacred and spiritual practices held privately, and not made public by others who don't respect such boundaries.” The article never mentions that John’s business partner, Desi Springer, is by all accounts his romantic partner, as well. Why would acknowledging that embarrass this yoga power couple?

I took a class with John and Desi and he was amazing and charismatic, a terrific teacher. They have palpable and powerful chemistry. They travel the world together, and he signs his emails “Desi and John.” And this reporter can’t write about that?

Did Friend's “aqua-blue eyes flashing with enthusiasm” – not to mention those beefy thighs and fabulous grounded feet! – get to you, Joel?   I understand!

anotherwwreader
anotherwwreader

@westwordreader 


It's that kind of groupie-talk that both enabled and got him into trouble in the first place. The only thing that has changed (judging from his 'medical marijuana' card) is his realization that he would do well to erect stronger boundaries of 'privacy' regarding distances between the walk and the talk. 


Otherwise, he apparently still actively courts and promotes such googly-eyed praise and endorsements as yours.


Yes, the article went easy on him in some respects, especially with regard to details such as the one you mention.

 
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