Inside the sexual harassment lawsuit against Jivamukti Yoga.
Aspiring teachers at Jivamukti, the downtown Manhattan yoga studio famous for its sweaty, ecstatic classes and celebrity clientele, quickly get used to kissing the feet of founders David Life and Sharon Gannon. “They walk in the room and you learn to get on your hands and knees,” one former Jivamukti teacher tells me. “Everyone’s doing it, a hundred people around you, from the very first day of teacher training,” guru devotion is woven into the studio’s culture. Its teacher training manual lists ways to “keep a teacher precious in your life.” Among them: “Become an extension of your teachers—teach what they teach,” and “Do what they say.”
Holly Faurot was eager to be told what to do when she started studying at Jivamukti in 2007, when she was 27. She’d had an abusive childhood, she says, and was recovering from an eating disorder. At Jivamukti, she glimpsed salvation. “Jivamukti gives you this antidote,” Faurot says. “You have something now. You’ve been in therapy, you’ve done all these things, but you’re still not healed. You feel like you want a way to move forward with your life and transform, and they give you something. They give you something you can dedicate your whole life to.”
Faurot paid about $10,000 to attend Jivamukti teacher training in 2009. Then she paid another $3,000 to become an apprentice to a senior Jivamukti yoga teacher, Ruth Lauer-Manenti. At Jivamukti, Lauer-Manenti was known as Lady Ruth, an honorific bestowed on her by Geshe Michael Roach, a tantric Buddhist most well-known for leading a three-year silent retreat in the Arizona desert at which one of his followers died. Lady Ruth was quirky and ethereal, heedless of pedestrian personal boundaries; former teachers I spoke with describe her probing for details of their romantic relationships and casually stripping in the studio offices to change clothes for class. Besides being an eminent yoga instructor, she’s an artist with an MFA from Yale. Faurot saw her as “spiritually advanced.”
Jivamukti apprenticeships last between a few months and a year, and apprentices are expected to serve their mentors faithfully while engaging in their own intense study of yoga postures and philosophy. “She had this circle of close, all-female students who had been her apprentices,” Faurot says of Lauer-Manenti. “It was almost like a sorority. It felt like I was entering a family, which was a strong appeal for me.” Faurot’s yogic sisters taught her how Lauer-Manenti liked her tea and how she preferred the blankets at the studio to be folded. “All of us worked together to please Ruth,” Faurot says. Continue reading >>