Yoga’s Sexy, Scandalous Underbelly: What Makes It Tick?

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Yoga sex scandals like the one surrounding John Friend rock the Anusara community, teachers resign and students reassess their relationships to their gurusBy Kristy Ojala
Anusara yoga founder John Friend is among the latest to retreat from his field’s bright spotlight after a recent sexual scandal broke alleging his improprieties with female students. He has resigned as CEO of his company. Meanwhile, scores of his devoted teachers have also followed suit, leaving their dedicated practice in disgust.

But as Science of Yoga author William J. Broad reports, yoga poses have their roots in sexual acts. “The pervasiveness of the sex [surprised me while doing research],” he notes. “Postural yoga turned out to have originated as part of a spiritual tradition rooted in sexual rites.

“After a fair amount of digging, I uncovered a body of poorly known science that shows how aspects of modern yoga–particular styles, poses, and types of breathing–produce surges of sex hormones and brain waves. Late in my research, I came across reports of new practitioners discussing their sex lives. The beginners told of enhanced arousal, satisfaction, and emotional closeness with partners.”

While DVD yogi Rodney Yee’s previous student-teacher affairs (he’s now married to a former student, Colleen Saidman Yee, for whom he left his previous wife of 24 years) crested in the early 2000s, news of clandestine yoga couplings are common. The California Yoga Teachers Association told SELF Magazine back in 2006 that they received at least “a phone call a week” from students complaining about their teachers.

While some hold grudges or take sides when a teacher behaves badly, there is the basic fact of a violation of trust. Here are a few signs you may need to find a new studio, or even better, a DVD (just don’t get too close to the TV):
—Teacher requests private sessions or personal contact information.
—One-on-one student-teacher time is encouraged 24/7 at yoga retreats.
—Teacher seems overly touchy in classs.
—Go with your gut instinct; if something feels wrong, trust it. Talk to the studio manager or try a new class.

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