Comments on the Huffington Post MISA article

I wondered whether I should comment on the Huffington Post article about MISA and Gregorian Bivolaru in English. After all, my blog is supposedly in Romanian. However, in Romania you have a lot of people commenting on MISA and Gregorian Bivolaru and you can ask any number of former students what’s what (plus, we know our own history). Hell, if you want, you can ask current students as well. But foreigners have less to draw upon. And Romanians speak some English, while foreigners rarely speak any Romanian at all. And the article itself was initially in English.

The coin has been tossed. English it is.

All quotes are from Stewart J. Lawrence’s article.

European Yoga Porn ‘Cult’ Establishes a U.S. Beachhead: Where Is the Outrage?

Funnily enough, some of the news here says that our yoga cult ended up on US beaches. Now, a few days ago I didn’t know what a beachhead was, either. But then I used a dictionary. To all translators out there, I recommend thefreedictionary.com. Thus far it’s never failed me.

Gregorian Bivolaru, has been accused of coercing or seducing hundreds of vulnerable women into producing hard-core porn videos, abandoning their spouses, and in some cases, becoming strippers and prostitutes — all in the name of “liberating” the female body and bringing MISA members into intimate communion with the “Divine Goddess.”

That’s a pretty accurate description, although it’s not what MISA yogis would say. The oft-repeated lines say it’s for “getting rid of inhibitions” and “becoming more feminine”. As for divine goddesses, you’re supposed to picture yourself as one and thus, through resonance, attract the qualities of the divine goddess in yourself.

On its face, the group might sound like an obvious fraud, even a criminal one. But it has escaped prosecution to date, in part because Bivolaru, who first founded MISA in his native Romania in 1990, was persecuted under communist rule.

Ah, well, erm. Not really. Gregorian Bivolaru did found MISA in 1990 in Romania, and he was persecuted under communist rule, but there’s no connection between that and escaping prosecution. A lot of people were persecuted by the communists, Bivolaru was just one of them – an anonymous other. He managed to escape for so long because news of all this crap didn’t get out until, oh, 2004. And then there was a long and winding road through courts and trials.

For years many of his countrymen, including influential members of the Romanian elite, as well as human rights groups like Amnesty International, have treated Bivolaru as a “victim” worth defending.

Again, not quite… Let me put this in a bit of context: MISA claims (over) 30.000 yogis in Romania. The population of Romania is somewhere around 19-20-22 million people (depending on year and census). Politics? All over the place. Economy? Could be a lot better. Salaries? A crying matter. To quote one of the TV political commentators here, “We live in Romania and that takes up all our time”. There was simply not enough awareness of Bivolaru until 2004 for nearly anyone to stick up for him, and even if there had been, we have other issues. In 2004 there was this huge thing with the police breaking down the doors to MISA houses and the news shouting out all over the place that MISA yogis were sex-obsessed pee drinkers, so guess which way public opinion swayed?

There was never a context for ‘many’ of our countrymen to rally up to defend Bivolaru. We don’t even rally up to protest for things that affect us on a daily basis.

However, that quote holds some truth as well: in 2004, when the police really did act out of hand, MISA went around to human rights groups demanding justice – and some of them offered their help. To my mind, the fact that the police moved in with guns and masks and shouts and threats, confiscating objects and filming everything, then leaking bad info to the media, was a huge tactical mistake. MISA yogis rallied up (including myself) to protest the injustice that happened to our colleagues in Bucharest. The fact that some of us had guns held to their heads was used as proof that the authorities had been and still were against us – because we practiced yoga. We were the ones who went on the streets, all in good faith, because back then not many of us knew about the porn biz behind it all. There really were thousands of us, yes.

At the same time, it also made MISA a victim and allowed it to play the abused card. Because of 2004, the MISA leadership can keep claiming that everything is a lie said by an abusive system. Things got a hell of a lot more difficult to sort out than they could have been.

Thousands of Romanians have marched and protested on MISA’s behalf, and after the communist regime fell, and the new authorities still decided to arrested him — this time, on sex crime charges — Bivolaru somehow escaped from prison and wound up in Sweden.

Ooook, difficult one. Yes, thousands of Romanians marched and protested on MISA’s behalf – but they were MISA yogis. This happened in 2004. The communist regime fell in December 1989, right before MISA was founded.

Nobody marched for causes during communism, because it could be very bad for your health. The way to express your discontent with the system, as a novelist nicely put it, was to shut yourself in your house, lock the doors, go into the bedroom, climb into bed, put your head under the pillow and whisper, but not too loudly, “Screw them”; you didn’t mention who, just in case anybody can hear. Well, this is meant as a joke, but the truth is that you could end up in jail for speaking against the system, so no marching.

The new authorities arrested him, then they released him, then they took him back, then they released him and so on. I’m not sure how the justice system works, but it was necessary to let him go at the time. He didn’t escape from jail, he just illegally crossed the border once he was temporarily discharged. He did escape arrest during communism, though. But that was many, many years ago.

Bivolaru is unique, perhaps, in placing a self-styled “Tantric” eroticism at the center of his group’s theology, suggesting that all human, especially female, sexual inhibitions must be removed to allow the Divine spirit to flourish.

True, but a MISA yogi would put it differently. Inhibitions must be removed so you can evolve. It is only by evolution that you can reach spiritual liberation. Hence, remove your inhibitions!

The initial pitch suggests that the women will learn “esoteric yoga” and begin to live in a larger “movement” setting that will nurture them in ways that their families alone cannot.

That they’ll learn ‘real’ yoga, not the ‘sports stuff’ done everywhere else 😛 The thing about nurturing them is implied more than said. You get a nice dose of love-bombing to start with. But yeah, they mention that your family/the society aren’t as great as they could be and they’re not teaching you the right stuff. But MISA is a true yoga school, where real spirituality happens. People are nicer here, better, kinder, more loving.

are slowly drawn into a series of deepening and more compromising personal commitments, frequently backed up by written contracts that the members are led to believe have the force of law.

Most of the time they’re backed up by your oath to do something and the oath not to reveal that matter to anyone, on pain of losing your spiritual evolution and health. I rarely ran into anything that was written down as a contract, but I didn’t get involved in the porn chat slash pole dancing business. Maybe they have those there.

Sometimes the pressure — and the threats — are far more overt, but despite their growing doubts and discontent, many feel too vulnerable to “escape,” defectors say.

Threats aren’t overly physical. They don’t threaten to beat you up if you leave or give up, at least not in my experience (again, I wasn’t omnipresent in this thing, I don’t know all the details). That’s how they can keep saying everybody’s free to do as they like.

You’re threatened with paranormal payback, which may seem like a laughing matter unless you actually believe in it – which MISA yogis do. And the payback would come from God, not from MISA, so it can seem inescapable. Among the things I was told: that I’d get ill, that I’d lose everything I gained through years of yoga practice, that I’d never have fulfilling sex again or be in a loving relationship (because men outside the yoga courses don’t know how to treat women right), that I was throwing away my future, that I was throwing away God and spirituality. It’s lucky that I didn’t take all that to be absolutely true, but there are people who do.

The women are usually housed in confined, overcrowded quarters and their movements strictly controlled, defectors say.

Overcrowded quarters and strictly controlled movements aren’t characteristic only for pole dancers. Yogis in ashrams are similarly overcrowded, though not as much (they need to breathe in order to work, after all). Women invited to spend their summer vacation for free in one of the seaside MISA houses are also overcrowded (you can easily get 3 people on a 2-person mattress). Women who go visit Bivolaru have also reported being overcrowded – somebody mentioned over 20 women in a not very large 3-room apartment, without the possibility of going out whenever you wanted to.

Newcomers to the gatherings must provide photos of themselves in bikinis as well as proof that they are free of sexual diseases before being allowed to attend.

Not just newcomers, but everybody who attends. Both male and female. Children as well (STD test results included). You are assured that this is natural and it happens all over the world in civilized countries.

According to testimonies, MISA leaders use these “applications” to size up potential sexual conquests, and also to make decisions about who to approach to get more involved in MISA’s less publicly known activities, including a nude “Miss Shakti” beauty contest that in past years has featured live sex on stage,

Women are invited to join the Miss Shakti beauty contest regardless of the photos. The rest of the stuff is probably true, though I personally cannot vouch for anything; I know that women invited to spend their summer in the yogi all-women’s Villa at the seaside are chosen that way.

Also, Miss Shakti doesn’t have sex on stage – just sexy dancing and simulations of sex. The solo sex challenge happens off stage, in secrecy (and privacy). There’s also erotic clips, for which some women actually have sex with their lovers while being filmed, but they’re edited like romantic softcore erotica. Those are projected on large screens for the audience to see.

One of MISA’s better-known porn videos, “Water Ecstasy,” showcases Bivolaru’s rather bizarre view that women — and their male lovers — can achieve heightened states of spiritual consciousness through what amounts to pornographic “watersports” or what MISA calls “urinary orgasm.”

It’s “Ecstasy Water”, actually.

While we’re on the subject of MISA porn videos, which MISA calls ‘erotica’, you can see a “Making Off”[sic!] of one of these films right here. It’s called “The Magic Passage” and it’s one of those in which all parties knew what they were getting involved in – and you can see one of Gregorian Bivolaru’s top students, the leader of the Denmark branch of MISA, NATHA, in his porn actor persona, as Paul Diamond. His wife, Adina Stoian, is Claire Diamond.

“Making Off” is considered an erotic initiation film by many MISA students who don’t agree with the ‘porn film’ label.

In 2008, the European Yoga Alliance and the International Yoga Federation expelled MISA, calling it an illicit “business front.”

And calling Gregorian Bivolaru a “vulgar sex businessman”.

And earlier this year, Bivolaru managed to get part of its original indictment by Romanian authorities dropped, even as MISA members, including a group of well-known European porn stars, led by Mihai Stoian, a top Bivolaru aide, were being expelled from South India for illicitly filming graphic sex videos.

Actually, Mihai Stoian’s Indian adventures happened last year. And he was expelled from South India mostly because of “The Magic Passage”, I think. Although you never know.

The unregulated anarchy of the yoga movement may be guaranteeing it freedom from excessive state control. But as the MISA case demonstrates, it may also be providing the kind of loose “cover” that weakens public accountability and oversight of the yoga industry and that could end up allowing hundreds and perhaps thousands of vulnerable women to be placed at greater risk for abuse and exploitation. Surely there’s more to yoga sisterhood than this.

I like this part. This is very true. Never mind America, we could use knowing which yoga school is which all over the world.

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