ENCINITAS — John Friend, the founder of Anusara yoga and CEO of Anusara, Inc. resigned as director and officer of the company in February, days after allegations of ethical misconduct perpetrated by Friend were posted anonymously on the website jfexposed.com.
The site has since been deleted and there are no official investigations or charges pending against Friend.
On Monday Friend released an official statement to the Anusara yoga community in which he addressed the allegations, including sexual relationships with students and employees, charges of being a “sex therapist,” a drug trafficker and illegally freezing the pension benefit plans of Anusara, Inc. employees without notice.
In the statement, Friend admitted to having “intimate relationships” with students, who “at one point were employees,” over the company’s 15 year history.
“I fully recognize that there is a fundamental power differential between student and teacher, and employer and employee,” the statement read. “I have tried over my years of teaching to honor the integrity of my relationships with students. Nonetheless, there were times when I failed in that effort. Even then, however, I was very careful and respectful when entering into closer relationships with students. I did in fact enter into intimate relationships with students, always consensual, and only after years of cultivating deep trust and friendship with those students. There was never a rush into any of these relationships. My former wife, to whom I was married for 10 years, was initially a student of mine.”
Friend denied the allegations that he is a “sex therapist,” and described the charges of his being a drug trafficker as “ludicrous and untrue.”
Allegations regarding the illegal freezing of pension benefits were said to be an “honest mistake in the administration of the pension plan.”
Vice President of Operations Wendy Willtrout, who will now serve as manager at the Anusara, Inc. office headquarters based in the Woodlands, Texas, further clarified in a statement the illegal conduct over employees’ pensions, saying that employees were not cheated out of their benefits and that “Anusara mistakenly failed to promptly notify its employees of a modification of its pension plan and has now corrected that mistake. There is nothing criminal/illegal about what happened.
“It was, at worst, an ineffective modification of the plan that was remedied as soon as Anusara realized its mistake. No money is missing from the plan, and no employee lost benefits. No current or former employees of Anusara have been financially injured by Anusara’s mistakes relating to the attempted pension amendment. In fact, the opposite is true — all employees will benefit financially because the pension benefits will continue to accrue for 24 months longer than Anusara intended.”
Willtrout released a previous statement March 15, detailing the coming organizational restructuring to Anusara, Inc.
The company will establish a leadership committee, as recommended by the Steering Committee, which will organize several more committees on ethics, certification and licensing and a curriculum committee.
Willtrout also clarified previous information that had named Michal Lichtman, founder of Shalom Yoga, as the new CEO of Anusara, Inc. and on information regarding her purchasing 50 percent of the company, saying that Lichtman is “not a co-owner, nor is she serving in any executive capacity for the company, she remains a great supporter of Anusara yoga.”
Friend announced that he has entered into an agreement to potentially transfer the ownership of the company to a third party not connected to himself or Anusara, Inc. staff, but that remains within the community.
As CEO of Anusara, Inc., Friend was working to bring the Center, an 8,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art yoga facility, to Encinitas in the 1000 block of Coast Highway 101. Though it was scheduled to open in the fall of 2011, no updates have yet been given on its future.
Friend founded Anusara yoga in 1997.
Anusara yoga, which is a form of hatha yoga, has grown to include more than 1,000 licensed instructors, is practiced in 70 countries and has spawned an Anusara-based line of clothing, books and accessories.