"The contrast is gigantic, but at the same time, I'm really happy," he says during one of a series of meetings at northwest Denver restaurants and coffee shops, flashing one of his characteristic friendly grins. Maybe he figures it's all been necessary — the meteoric rise and spectacular fall — to get to the point where he is now. "I've found the holy grail of yoga alignment that I've been looking for since I was a late teenager," he confides.

That search began when, as the son of a steel-company marketing executive in Youngstown, Ohio, he stumbled on a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, the central text of the Hindu tradition, in a bookstore. Friend's mother, a progressive Southern woman who'd studied piano at the Juilliard School in New York City, had encouraged her son to explore various religions from a young age, teaching him to seek out signs of order in the disorder all around him. When he broke a glass, for example, he was to look for interesting patterns in the shards on the floor. And here, in the 700 verses of the Bhagavad Gita, Friend found the final pieces of a pattern he'd been struggling to understand from a young age, one born from the existential crisis he'd experienced watching the trauma of the 1960s unfold on television, countered by the wonder he'd found when his mother told him about yogis with supernatural powers. "It changed my life," he says of the sacred Hindu text. So while dabbling in the typical sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll life of a teenager in the '70s — he played drums in a local rock band — he also studied and practiced yoga. And after moving with his family to Texas, graduating with degrees in finance and accounting from Texas A&M University and working for several years as a financial analyst, in 1987 Friend decided to pursue yoga full-time.

He got into the practice at a pivotal time. Between the 1960s and 1980s, Western yoga practitioners worked hard to downplay the spiritual aspects of the ancient tradition that had led to xenophobic backlashes in the past, instead focusing on the largely physical branch of the practice called hatha yoga, which they positioned as a form of exercise. The move paid off: Today, according to Yoga Journal's 2012 "Yoga in America" market study, 20.4 million Americans, or 8.4 percent of the adult population, practice yoga, spending $10.3 billion a year on the pastime, up from $5.7 billion in 2008. In such a young but growing market, there was ample opportunity for those offering new methods or insights to become superstars.

Riding yoga's growing wave in the late '80s and early '90s, Friend studied in India and worked with yoga greats like B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. Friend, ever the pattern-seeker, came to believe these teachers' esoteric yoga positions could be boiled down into a series of easy-to-understand "universal principles of alignment."

In 1997, he founded a school of hatha yoga based on these trademarked universal principles, naming it Anusara, Sanskrit for "flowing with grace." He infused the practice with his characteristically upbeat attitude. Instead of the unwavering sequences of poses offered at other yoga schools, Anusara classes were always changing, all the while peppered with inspirational statements from the teacher. Everyone was invited into Friend's merry band; everyone was part of Friend's kula, Sanskrit for "community." As its founder would later tell a New York Times Magazine reporter, "We are the Yoga of Yes."

"Yes," it turned out, was exactly what yoga practitioners were looking for. Between 1997 and 2012, Anusara was the fastest-growing yoga practice in the world. Friend, drawing on his financial background, managed the operation with careful standards and conscious branding. He set the bar exceptionally high for Anusara teachers, requiring hopefuls to complete hundreds of hours of training, take a thirty-hour home exam, and submit a video of their teaching to be evaluated by Friend before they could be certified. That led to a cadre of highly skilled and committed teachers who spread his techniques like an elite gospel. "It meant something to have the name Anusara," he explains. It also led to revenue: On top of the $195-per-student fee Friend was commanding teaching to hundreds of people a week, Anusara's training regimens added thousands of dollars in income from those who wanted to become certified. At its peak, Anusara was bringing in $2 million a year, with Friend earning an official annual salary of $100,000.

"There was a lot of bounty and abundance," Friend says now of this period, including good food, good wine, fancy parties and hobnobbing with stars. What Friend didn't realize was that the real John Friend, the former rock-and-roll kid who was enjoying the fruits of his labors, was different from the ideal John Friend whom folks pictured at the sacred center of Anusara. Friend says he never liked the term "guru" — but that didn't stop people the world over from calling him one. "When you put someone in a position as a guru, you are making them a king," says Friend. "In retrospect, I helped create a relationship where people saw me in an elevated position, where there is such a power differential that people can end up feeling conned or hoaxed or betrayed."

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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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