Yoga Gurus, Sex Scandals, Cults, and Sects

Published: Oct 14, 2022 | Revised: Oct 17, 2022
Edited by: Marce Ferreira

Yoga Gurus, Cults, Sects, and Sex Scandals

One of the things that can’t be ignored when it comes to Yoga Gurus is the relatively large number of sex scandals that have emerged in the past decades, particularly in relation to “new” types of Yoga. But to be fair, this is not something only happening in the domain of Yoga, but in any other discipline or practice that is led by an authoritative figure.

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Nevertheless, it seems that notably people who engage in spiritual practices are more vulnerable to abuse, something that perhaps comes with the type of realm. In fact, many spiritual paths have rigid belief systems attached to them and demand from us to “follow” and do whatever is asked to be a “devoted follower.” As such, a spiritual path or spiritual organization may sometimes end in becoming a cult or sect.

In some cases, students start to trust their leader blindly, feeling that the Guru “knows the ins and outs” and also knows “what’s best for us.” Certainly there’s a danger here of wrongdoing and exploitation, especially when the Guru is willingly or unwillingly out on abusing students sexually (or abusing them in other ways, for instance financially). Mind also that modern Yoga teachers often engage physically with students and use touch “to adjust” a pose, which can become the start of a sexually abusive relationship.

In any case, the list of sexual scandals and/or doubtful sexual practices in the Yoga business is long, and below we give you just a fraction of the occurrences in the past years.

Sex Scandals in Yoga

Anusara Yoga had many years of growing popularity, but in 2012 founder John Friend resigned as officer and director of Anusara Inc. due to a scandal involving accusations made against him which included sexual misconduct allegations.

The founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Krishna Pattabhi Jois (1915 – 2009), sexually abused women during his Yoga classes. He would touch them inappropriately, grope them, kiss them, and more, often hiding behind the “individual adjustments” done during the classes.

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Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga, has faced multiple lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, assault, racism and homophobia, apart from other criticisms. In 2017, his former lawyer took over the operations of Bikram, Inc. in the US, after she successfully sued Choudhury and he subsequently fled the country to avoid payment.

Sivananda Yoga was founded in 1957 by the Indian Yoga Guru Vishnudevananda (1927 – 1993). There are a series of allegations of sexual abuse against Vishnudevananda, which still haven’t been fully investigated by any organization or company associated with the Sivananda executive board.

The Jivamukti Yoga school has been involved in some controversies in the past years regarding accusations of sexual harassment by one of its most senior teachers, as well as criticism of a supposed culture of secrecy and spiritual abuse by the school, making some consider Jivamukti Yoga a cult.

Siddha Yoga, founded by the Yoga Guru Muktananda (1908–1982), and considered a cult by some, was involved in a range of controversies and allegations, including that of sexual abuse, having been made against Muktananda and other members.

The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health is run by a board of trustees since 1994, when it became public that Amrit Desai (the founder) had been having sexual contact with a few disciples — while preaching celibacy — and so he was forced to resign his position as Spiritual Director of the center.

In a more general sense — not particularly pointing at certain Yoga Gurus — there has been quite some reserve and criticism on Naked Yoga classes, notably addressing the objectification of women and sexism in the practice system.

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