Sex with employees and marijuana in the mail is garden-variety stuff, hardly scandalous in many contexts—but the site brought to light other, more outlandish features of Friend’s secret world. Specifically, it said that he had established a Wiccan coven with six women, some of whom were Anusara teachers and a few of whom were married, as a way to raise “sexual/sensual energy in a positive and sacred way.” As proof, there was a letter that Friend had written to the coven, in which he apologized for attracting a former member “into my life, into our lives, by vibrating in my mind-body with a frequency of deception and lack of integrity.” This woman hadn’t left quietly, Friend wrote: Her “vampire novel imagination conjured JF … as the next Aleister Crowley or Pierre Arnold Bernard! The Texas Tantric guru is the Big Bad Wolf in magick cloaks taking innocent girls from their faithful husbands and wrecking families to drink the juice of innocent Little Red Ridinghoods—Wow!”
Some of the charges on the site were misconstrued, but people within the community recognized enough veracity to think it more than a prank. Friend got on the phone immediately with his lawyers, who had the site taken down in about a day. He thought he could politick this thing to the ground, Boss Tweed style. “I am a great politician,” he admits. He’d gather a coalition of teachers around him and remind everybody who the daddy was—offering some more of that positivity, that unconditional love. It had always worked before.
As a child, Friend, who changed his first name from Clifford, was a pigeon-toed science-and-math nerd who wore his legs in braces. His father was a sportscaster, an honorable man but a bit aloof, and he was closer to his mom, a Pollyannaish spirit. “When I’d break a glass, my mom would say, ‘Don’t worry—what pattern do you see here? See, there’s a fish, there’s a bird,’ ” says Friend. His mother introduced him to stories about yogis with supernatural powers, “like Batman and Flash and Superman all put together,” and he became fascinated by Sufis. At school, he was focused on being accepted by all the different cliques, “the brains, the straight kids, the jocks, the avant-garde,” he says. “I wanted to be friends with everybody, and to do that you need compartmentalization. I always kept secrets, and back then secrets weren’t bad.”
In the eighties, while Friend worked for a few years as a financial consultant for oil companies after graduating from Texas A&M, he became a part-time yoga teacher at a local YMCA. Soon, he decided to switch professions—he wanted to be a yoga teacher, and studied the Iyengar method. But he wasn’t entirely happy. “Iyengar believes that to gain freedom from suffering, you must strongly discipline the mind-body to the point where you actually create isolation between them,” he says. “The teacher would hit us, physically, to say, ‘Why are you getting hooked on your body? You’re not your body.’ I thought, Wait, I love my body. It’s temporal, but it’s still a manifestation of God.” He also felt that this style of yoga was too complicated. “I’m an American,” he says. “I wanted to make things simple.”
Now Friend had the technical skills to teach, but he needed to connect with his spirit. In 1989, he took a trip to Ganeshpuri, India, where he visited Swami Muktananda’s ashram, now led by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda (Muktananda, an authority so revered that members of his Catskills ashram sat in his bathwater and saved the trimmings of his haircuts, is thought to have sexually preyed on young women). Gurumayi would later become a controversial figure, but when Friend first laid eyes on her, on this “magically mind-bending day of grace,” the energy around her was so thick that her mouth moved but the words came out in slow motion. In her presence, he was able to rise up into a handstand without effort. “It was like someone took a blanket, wrapped it around me, and lifted me up,” he has explained. “I felt totally supported. It was magic.”
At the ashram, he started to connect with people who also felt like they wanted to swap out of Iyengar and other older, didactic systems of yoga into something more fun. Someone needed to innovate here—why couldn’t it be him? In 1997, after some help from Douglas Brooks, a Tantra scholar, Friend revealed a new yoga system at a retreat of about 30 teachers at Feathered Pipe Ranch, a center in Montana run by a devotee of Sai Baba, the Indian guru known for manifesting gold trinkets in his palm.
Certifications were offered at very favorable terms—Friend wanted to keep the merry band happy. “I remember a friend wagging his fingers at me, saying, ‘You’re letting them run, and one day you’ll say, “Come back in the corral,” and they’re going to say, “Fuck you, man, I’m not going back in there,” ’ but I didn’t believe it,” says Friend.