Cue the Latest Yoga … Sex Scandal?

John Friend, the national yoga superstar who popularized a brand of yoga he cooked up in Texas in the late 1990s, has recently been outed as just another bad boy. What I don’t understand is why anyone is surprised.

Years ago, I wrote a story about a yoga war right here in Boston. I’d been doing yoga myself on and off for years and loved it. But, while researching that story, I peeled back the curtain to find whole segments of the industry riddled with competition, infighting, sexual transgression, and a meanness not usually associated with the good karma preached in so many studios. I also learned that yoga scandals have been around since people started “oming.” As long as there have been yoga teachers, there have been devotees willing to bestow guru status on them. The next step — a guru’s abuse of that power — is not all that different than it is in any other setting where one person, usually a man, gains outsize importance.

But in John Friend’s case, the accusations go beyond the usual sexual exploits (cheating on one’s wife is pretty much par for the course with such blow-ups), to encompass the creation of Wiccan covens in which Friend and his subordinates made use of “sexual/sensual energy in a positive and sacred way to help build the efficacy of our practices.” There is, apparently, photographic evidence of said sacred encounters, but this is a family publication.

If the whole Wiccan thing weren’t bad enough, Friend allegedly had his staffers accept packages known to contain drugs and keep his sexual forays secret from the public and his wife. So it wasn’t just Friend who wasn’t walking the path of yogic enlightenment he preached. Many among his minions were allegedly covering for him. Oh, and he is also accused of illegally freezing the pensions of his workers, causing the U.S. Department of Labor to intervene.

The story is sad but really not surprising. At the upper reaches of the yoga stratosphere, yogi rock stars are treated as just that, with all the excesses and groupies to boot. It makes sense that some of them get lost in that thicket of temptation.

But what is surprising is how many people come to idolize these guys in the first place. Sure, Friend can do a great Triangle pose, and he likely has an understanding of body alignment and the history of yoga that many don’t possess. But this is still a guy who simply cobbled together some yoga poses and gave them a name after leaving his job as a financial analyst. He’s a human being — not a god. Why do so many people want to make him their guru?

I, for one, prefer my humble yoga studio in Central Square. It does a brisk business, but among the teachers, there are no over-the-top personalities or raging egomaniacs. Also, unless I’m completely clueless, it doesn’t seem the kind of place where a Wiccan coven would ever crop up. Above all, it’s a friendly place where people come for some exercise, some quiet, and some relief from the noise and busyness of their lives. Half the time I don’t even know the teacher’s name. And that’s just fine with me.