How much scandal can America take before its poor battered heart just breaks in two? There are the money scandals in Big Business. And the sex scandals in Big Religion. And now we learn about money and sex scandals in, of all places . . . oh, say it ain't so, Joe . . . Big Yoga!
Shocking but true: The folks at Business 2.0 magazine have discovered greed, lust and egomania among the swamis and gurus of the stretching and breathing set. And the magazine has revealed all the sordid details -- well, some of them, anyway -- in an article aptly titled "Yogis Behaving Badly."
Yoga, the ancient Hindu practice of exercise and meditation, is now a multi-hundred-million-dollar business in America, and the yoga tycoons currently battling over market share are exhibiting the same sort of spiritual enlightenment and inner peace previously demonstrated by the likes of, say, John D. Rockefeller or Bill Gates.
"Yoga has become cutthroat, Mafia-like," says Thom Birch, who is identified in the article as a disillusioned former yoga teacher. "Many of these people are the biggest thieves, bullies and sex addicts -- all of if under this veil of spirituality."
Birch is exaggerating a tad -- nobody is accusing any swamis of having their rivals bumped off by hit men hiding machine guns in violin cases -- but the battles are getting ugly.
In Beverly Hills, Calif., Bikram Choudhury, who calls himself the "Guru of the Stars," has trademarked his favorite yoga poses so nobody can teach them unless Choudry gets cut in on the take.
In New York, the owners of the Jivamukti Yoga Center -- which teaches 2,000 students a week and boasts of such celebrity clients as Steve Martin and Monica Lewinsky -- are threatening trademark action against former employees who've left to start their own schools.
In fact, folks trying to teach yoga anywhere in America are finding that nearly all the formerly holy words of yoga have been trademarked. If you want to use them, you've got to shell out the dough.
Meanwhile, reports writer Paul Keegan, yogis are accusing Yoga Journal, America's foremost yoga magazine, of "thuggist behavior" in its hardball pursuit of a monopoly in the lucrative yoga conference business.
And then there are the sex scandals. In 1994, Amrit Desai, a Massachusetts yogi who touted celibacy as one of his precepts, was forced to resign after admitting he'd had affairs with three female disciples. In 1997, a woman won a $1.9 million lawsuit against a Pennsylvania yoga center after claiming that she'd been sexually assaulted by her swami. And now Rodney Yee, once described by Time magazine as the "stud muffin" of yoga, is being sued by a former teacher at his Oakland yoga school, who charges that he fired her when she complained about his alleged sexual affairs with students.
"Clearly, the world of big time yoga in America is undergoing a profound crisis but won't admit it," writes Keegan. "The most influential players, like Yoga Journal -- well positioned to monitor ethical lapses -- are also the worst offenders."
Maybe that's true, but I wish Keegan had spent more time on Choudhury, the aforementioned "Guru of the Stars." I'm a sucker for a colorful rogue and this guy clearly belongs in the pantheon of America's great huckster holy men, right up there with Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Aimee Semple McPherson, Father Devine and Reverend Ike.
An Indian immigrant, Choudhury has franchised his "hot yoga" method to 600 studios nationwide. He taught yoga to Madonna and Michael Jackson. He compares himself to Jesus and Buddha. He claims he can cure any disease. He lives in a Beverly Hills mansion with his collection of classic Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.
"Everybody knows I'm superhuman," he says. "My spirit is in cosmic consciousness."
Choudhury's response to the yoga sex scandals is brilliant: He claims that his students blackmail him into having sex with them.
"What happens when they say they will commit suicide unless you sleep with them?" he asks. "What am I supposed to do? Sometimes having an affair is the only way to save someone's life."
Boy, that's good! Even Bill Clinton didn't think of that one.
Hoaxes on Parade
Speaking of hucksters, holy and otherwise, U.S. News & World Report has published a special double issue on "The Art of the Hoax."
In it, the editors have chosen what they deem the 20 greatest "schemes, scams and shams" of all time. It's an entertaining compendium that includes Clifford Irving's bogus autobiography of Howard Hughes, Konrad Kujau's faked Hitler diaries, and the New York Sun's 1835 story reporting beavers, buffaloes and bat men living on the moon.
But for sheer weirdness, my favorite scam is the one masterminded by a quack doctor named John Brinkley in the 1920s. Brinkley, who obtained his medical degree from a diploma mill, worked as the house doctor in a meatpacking plant in Kansas City. When he noticed that goats were randy, lusty critters even in the slaughterhouse, he got the bizarre idea that made him him famous: He touted goat testicles as a way to boost male sexual prowess.
Soon, men were traveling to tiny Milford, Kan., to have Doc Brinkley transplant goat testicles into their bodies to make them more studly. "Come to Milford for the Fountain of Youth!" Brinkley urged. Hundreds took him up on the offer, including Harry Chandler, owner of the Los Angeles Times.
Later, Brinkley branched out with a special his-and-hers offer: For $750, he'd simultaneously put goat testicles in the husband and goat ovaries in the wife. A couple named Stittsworth had this "compound operation" and they promptly produced a baby boy. And proudly named him "Billy."
What did medical experts think of goat testicle transplants?
They thought it was a baaaaaaaaaaad idea.
Sorry about that. I couldn't help myself.
Cover Line of the Month From Jane magazine: "We make Jennifer Love Hewitt lie, buy sex toys and pig out on junk food"