Ex-followers claim Yoga teacher Uma Inder used the world famous Yoga Barn studio in Ubud, Bali to operate a cult from 2008 until she was fired in 2016. She groomed potential members there, promising them “enlightenment.” They claim she verbally and physically assaulted members and slept with students. She frequently compared herself to Jesus and said she was God, Kali and Death. Uma told devotees they will feel “raped” by working with her and that they’d actually become Uma while making love. Full transparency and confession were required of members. Group sessions would include chanting in tongues, yelling and harshly criticizing other members. A “sex energy” ritual ended up with everyone naked in the pool moaning while holding Uma over their heads. Yoga Barn founder Meghan Pappenheim then showed hostility towards cult survivors who reported abuse, calling it a “witch hunt” against Uma.
By Be Scofield
“Do you know who Kali is?” That’s what longtime Yoga Barn teacher Uma Inder said to her student Kelly Ness (not her real name) right before she assaulted her in front of 13 members of her group. Kelly describes the incident in depth:
“Her eyes were so big and black and they were like bulging and her mouth was big…I was sitting against the wall and she launches for my neck and pushes me up against the wall…She was holding onto my black and gray tights and pulling on them. I was trying to kick her off…And then somehow I got up and we got entangled again…She takes my hair and does a 360 with my hair and it’s being pulled…And at this point, I’m crying…I just remember feeling so fucking scared and so fucking confused as to what I did to deserve this because it was punishment…And then she said ‘I want you to spit on me.’ I was like ‘What? No.’ She then started saying really sweet things. Who was that and who is this right now? What the fuck is this? This is fucked up. She was so loving. And then she told me again to spit on her. I tried, but said I didn’t want to. Then she told me to do it again. And I got some spit but it went on her shirt or something. I couldn’t do that. I tried for a long time just standing there, just crying so much.”
Uma actually had Kelly’s account recorded by followers to document how powerful the force of Kali was moving through her. This audio clip is an edited version of her account. You can hear her crying and trembling while recounting what happened:
“The powerful will worship at my feet. The powerless will rise above me to preach and conspire against me.” — Uma
The Yoga Barn Guru
According to former members, during her time at Yoga Barn from 2008–2016 Uma Inder (ERYT-500) built a cult following using Ayurvedic consultations, Kundalini classes and segments of the Bali Spirit festival which were taught at the Yoga Barn. She used retreat centers and hotels in Bali to hold events and trainings as well. She has also taught at the Byron Yoga Festival in Australia in 2017, the No Mind Festival in Sweden and the Bhinneka Yoga Festival in Indonesia among other places.
“I am a convergence point. All aspects of Shiva. I exist back and here and in the future all at the same time…I’m in all places at all times.” — Uma Inder
Uma used Ayurvedic consultations at the Yoga Barn to identify potential new cult members, former devotees claim. The sessions often had little to do with Ayurveda and would, at times, last as long as 6 hours, they said. She would use “psychological hooks” against those who opened themselves up and made themselves vulnerable in this supposed medical healing context according to former members. It was in these sessions and elsewhere she’d make grandiose promises of enlightenment, saying things such as “you can have it all.” It’s estimated that at least 100 people came through her cult during her time at the Yoga Barn.
Some were in awe at first sight:
“When I first met Uma, I was mesmerized. We walked through the thick red curtains to a beautiful Indian woman with sparkling dark eyes, the whites whiter than white. She pranamed me, and I felt honored and special. She told me I was one of the best trained yogis in the world. I felt seen, appreciated, and special.”
While some members lived in Bali, others would travel to Bali several times a year to study with her. Some would go to Bali for several months out of the year or just a few weeks during a retreat. But members report it was easy for others to get sucked in regardless of how long they stayed. Uma then used an online forum to keep control over members.
“She used yogic practices, Sanskrit terms, and Ayurvedic routines to underpin her authority.”
Uma claims to have spent more than 7 years in the Balinese jungle with her own teacher Sri Shunyata. Since then she claims to “have mastery of Tantra, Kundalini, and Ayurveda.” Yet, a former member describes Uma’s path of spiritual training as abusive:
“By her own account her ‘process’ towards ‘enlightenment’ with her ‘guru’ involved her being the subject of Satanic rituals while high on LSD, demands for unprotected sex with her while he was also having unprotected sex with prostitutes, and being beaten with 2×4’s until she stopped flinching.”
“Cult members who did not give Uma worship and gratitude were punished and ostracized as ‘ungrateful’ and ‘leeches.’”
Former members describe many cult dynamics at play in Uma’s group. Devotees believed Uma was a divine and enlightened being. “Absolute surrender” to Uma was required and imposed on group members. Being part of the cult also required “full transparency.” Members shared everything about themselves with Uma and others. These confessions would be used to control and blackmail members. They would “spend virtually all their free time in service to Uma, on her internet forum, or in group processing sessions.” Some gave tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of free labor to her over the years. Jargon was used such as “FalseID” which meant “aspects of members personalities” which “Uma deemed fake and targeted for destruction.” Uma would often attack other spiritual teachers, and members who contemplated studying with them were accused of “muddying the current.” She would often attribute negative experiences or members’ physical injuries to “divine punishment” for not following her dictates. And Uma’s bodyguard and lover, via the forum and emails, threatened to kill people in the group and threatened to “disintegrate the human form” and “chop off the head”of one woman.
Former members claim Uma controlled many aspects of their lives:
“Cult members are guided, often coercively, on what to eat, what to wear, who to talk to, what to talk about, who to have sex with, what movies to watch (if any), financial payments to Uma, and free labor for Uma. All this coercion is at Uma’s whim, with no basis in any lineage. Cult members gradually become totally dependent on Uma.”
Uma tried to cut off members from outside influence:
“Use of Facebook was shamed and for certain members Uma prohibited it. Cult members were encouraged to spend time largely with each other. Outside connections were labeled by Uma as ‘leaks in the shared container’ of practice. Over time cult members became more and more isolated within the cult.”
Claims of Divinity
A former member describes the terms Uma used to refer to herself as:
“Uma claims that she is God. She regularly self-compares to Jesus and has referred to herself in the first person as Shiva, Death, Kali, Kundalini Maa, Maa, Source, the Absolute, the Revealer, Love, Truth, Nature, “The Way”, and “the process” of enlightenment itself.She has also claimed to have cured herself of HIV, transmuted LSD, and received initiation directly from Shiva.”
She claims she is a “convergence point:”
“I am a convergence point. All aspects of Shiva. I exist back and here and in the future all at the same time…I’m in all places at all times.”
Her repeated claims of divine authority instilled that belief in her followers:
“We had a mission more special than anyone. Uma was, to most of us, the second coming of Christ.Several of us frequently made these comparisons of Uma to Christ, and she encouraged them “seeing,” “revealing the Revealer.” I was particularly good at this. I had great visions of the future. It was one of the ways Uma was “working through me.”
Members believed she was “The Path:”
“Uma would say “I am the Path. I am the Way.” Uma was the path and the way to enlightenment, to God, and being with her was the Holy Grail for the spiritual seeker who could see. Those who didn’t believe or think Uma was God, they just couldn’t see, and we pitied them from our benignly superior stance. They were too programmed, too asleep. We were the awake ones.”
“We were ‘the few.’ The elite. The winners. Of the entire planet.”
“She kills the souls inside of living bodies. The 18 months I spent with her I look back on as largely being dead, of having my soul and mind consumed by a monster…who lied to me and deceived me in order to achieve her aim of controlling me.”
Group sessions with Uma at the Yoga Barn and other spaces in Bali would often consist of speaking in tongues, confessions and explorations of consciousness and divinity. They served to keep members under her spell.
Speaking in Tongues
Uma would growl, chant, speak in tongues and yell at members during these sessions which would often last 6 or more hours:
“When I come into your dreams it’s evil, evil. Your mouth will widen open, you’ll be vomiting, pouring out what could be seen as evil, evil, evil. What are you letting inside you, what are you letting inside you? Do you even know? Do you know? Do you know? You’ve got to fucking know!”
Uma had a “track record of dry humping female students” in group sessions members claim. A former member describes a session:
“Several people were lying down inside a circle of others. Uma was pinning women down and pulling hair, and making very aggressive moaning and growling sounds — definitely trying to prove she was top dog.”
One woman describes her experience:
“Uma grabs my hair
and then suddenly I’m on the ground on my back and Uma is on top of me
and it is nearly instant that we are having sex
I am being penetrated by her
We have our clothes on we are grinding sweating
it’s just a current of energy
I can feel Uma penetrating me”
This session ended with everyone naked in the pool, moaning while holding Uma over their head. The following morning the hotel next to the villa complained about the disturbance.
“I need to come to Uma. Crying, offering up, offering up. I give up, I lose. I am defeated. Down at Uma’s feet in my mind.”
The practices and methods became more extreme as time went on:
“Over time as the practices become more extreme and as cult members become more psychologically unstable, cult members become increasingly unable to relate to their family, friends, or anyone outside the cult.”
Former members describe Uma as an intense, abusive and voracious teacher who would call students “fucking pussies,” “bitch-cunts,” “whores,” “donkeys” and “contaminated vessels” in front of other group members. Another explains, “If we missed words, misremembered, or misquoted, we got to face her wrath and our own self-loathing born of the failure of not being worthy to be Uma’s scribe, let alone her student.”
The intensity of the abuse led to psychological breaks:
“In the cult several members have had psychotic breaks due to the abuse and psychological stress inflicted while in the group. At least one was institutionalized after leaving the cult. Uma has taken credit for another cult member suffering a miscarriage, in our view because of the stress inflicted by the abuse she promulgated. Contemplations of suicide are common among cult members, and we worry it is only a matter of time before that takes place.”
“I did not even know that I was already under the massive hypnotic state. I did not even know that my brain had been wired with new programs, and I was a part of her ‘cult’ group. How did it happen?’”
A former member describes Uma’s abuse:
“Many times my state of vulnerability was forced by “attack” from Uma through sarcasm, shaming, guilt tripping, judging, hatred, and for me the most powerful force and most painful was emotional rejection. (Push — pull tactic). In these open states of vulnerability I would be under constant attack by Uma or other “group” members live publicly or through a private forum. I felt unsafe, confused, unsupported in a state of fear and in need to survive.”
Uma also directed group members to abuse, tear down and insult each other they claim.
Former members explain:
“Uma at least twice physically assaulted students on her private SATYA retreat immersion, kicking one girl for failing to address her and tackling and clawing another to the floor. Uma has spat at students and watched as students assaulted one another in retreat immersion settings, encouraging this violent and abusive behavior among cult members.”
One former member says “she hit me with a rolled up placemat and yelled in my face.” Another claims, “Uma has kicked me in my arm and leg, punched me in my stomach and has slapped me in the face.”
Sex with Students
Former members describe how Uma slept with and sexually assaulted students:
“Inder has had sex with several of her followers, at least one of whom has contracted a sexually transmitted infection from her. The follower believed that flare ups of the STI is the result of ‘impure thoughts’ — namely thinking about any woman other than Inder.”
Newly to the group, Uma asked this woman about having sex with her boyfriend:
“She asked about our relationship, and our boundaries. She said, at one point, “so, sex with me, for example, is off limits.” Yes, it was, I said. Though if we were all to have sex, that might be possible, I said. She was so powerful, I thought she could teach us something.”
“Uma systematically broke apart couples, calling relationships outside the cult ‘based on FalseID,’ or other forms of untruth.”
One former member claims sex was shunned, “Sex was discouraged in Uma’s group, except in rare intense occasions…Masturbation was ridiculed, as Uma never did it herself and always found a beloved physical partner to do the job.”
One of the requirements of being in the cult was “full transparency.” Members had to share anything and everything about themselves in the name of self-transformation. This was not true for Uma. One former member describes:
“We spent hours and hours and hours together — sometimes as many as 14 hours in a day, spilling our hearts out, sharing our deepest secrets and all the thoughts we wished we weren’t thinking — revealing our inner demons and ‘offering them up’ to Uma. She was our mirror to Absolute Truth. And, as she and others would say, if she wasn’t your mirror to Absolute Truth, ‘it won’t work.’ So we did our best to stay in the stream of constant gratitude, no matter what was happening, ‘offering up’ our shit and being grateful for what came in return, no matter how painful. And frequently, it was soul-tearing, mind-exploding pain.”
“Every thought must be divulged, especially problematic thoughts, andpunishment follows failure to do so. Private conversations are called sidelining and are punished. Cult members are encouraged to report on each other.”
“In Uma’s circle, holding private thoughts or emotions was highly discouraged, and seen as ‘a drain on the source,’ as ‘there is no private world of feelings.’ All emotions and experiences were shared among the group, and as such, group property.”
“You Will Feel Raped”
Uma told her followers that working with her as their teacher that they would feel like they were being raped:
“You will feel raped. [She] saw and felt my arm raping her right through her anus, all the way up full on. RAPE! you will feel raped..What’s wrong with rape? You have a problem with rape?”
“My being was attacked, interrogated, forced by energetic penetrations into my feminine depths, after being neglected, abandoned, shamed, controlled.”
“Loss of Your Individuality”
Uma also claims that to study with her means to lose your individuality completely:
“At that point there won’t be separation between you and me. You will be making love and you will be making love as me. Physically, you will feel me, making love. You will feel your face as my face. You hands, your gestures, your way of moving, your way of sounding, your way of talking, whether it is Swedish or English. The tone, it’ll be me. You’ll have me all over you, all the way inside of you. It’s a loss of your individuality. Everything that your forefathers have worked so hard to provide for you.”
“You are serving me
Quietly serving and watchful
It is becoming your pleasure
To serve me
The only reason to be here
Is to be ‘with’ me
To serve your dying into Us
Speak of this dying as you fall through
As you fail
As you break
As you exalt the truth through it all”
— Uma Inder
The online Google message board forum is “what tied things together internationally.” This digital platform allowed Uma to have active cult members in the “US, UK, Canada, Scandanavia, Russia, Mexico, Japan and elsewhere.”
Participation in the online forum was required of members regardless of where they were. The online chats consisted of in-fighting, sharing compromising information, discussing consciousness, in-depth descriptions of sex and Uma’s controlling dictates. All of this was used to control and even blackmail devotees. As one describes, “Members often spend the entire day verbally abusing others, confessing, and in group processing.”
One former member reflects about the time in the forums and spent in discussion groups in Bali:
“The sheer amount of time we stayed involved in them created isolation from other people. The environment was deliberately creating extreme psychological pressure (“break down”), and there have been sporadic instances of physical violence as well, as well as explicit and implicit threats of violence.”
The message board was how Uma kept her controlling influence over members:
“The forum was a place for us to pour our deepest thoughts and feelings out, and to receive Uma’s ever-poetic reflection on where we are “in False ID,” so that we can liberate the true self. Ultimately, the goal was dying, while alive. Dying into God.”
Former members describe themselves as having been deeply traumatized by Uma:
“I don’t even know how to begin describing the fear, anxiety, hurt that I suffered at Uma’s hands. Part of me died that year. I lost a year and a half of my life to that woman. She ate it, as she ate my soul. It was a temporary death, and descent to a low circle of hell…I don’t know how long we will be dealing with our individual and shared pains acquired from Uma, but I know it will be years…She would talk about dying into enlightenment, but it was all based on so many lies and falsities.”
Another former member:
“I am actually experiencing post traumatic stress disorder in my body. And realized that I am a survivor of intense abuse which took place more deeply in last year in my connection with Uma, inside Uma’s group…Horrifying process through which I experienced deep abuse of my vulnerability. The affect is disturbance, difficulties in my brain functioning after close contact with Uma’s “Mysterious” spiritual powers.”
Another describes their deepening states of emotional trauma:
“I descended into deeper states of emotional turmoil, fear, panic, and anxiety. I again reached profound emotional lows and had no idea how to bring myself out of them. I found myself crawling on the floor, barely able to think.”
Yoga Barn Founder Meghan Pappenheim Referred to Complaints as a “Witch Hunt” against Uma
Given the recent climate of sexual assault and abuse in yoga communities, and the ongoing discussion about how practitioners and studio owners should address it, I wanted to get some clarity on how the Yoga Barn handled Uma’s situation.
I approached Yoga Barn founder Meghan Pappenheim via a message on Facebook trying to understand what transpired surrounding Uma’s departure from the Yoga Barn.
To my surprise, in our Facebook chats and emails Meghan downplayed the concerns and wouldn’t answer straightforward questions. She told me “there was NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE to support the allegations,” yet she had read numerous in depth accounts of abuse and manipulation by Uma. She evaded many of my questions and sent me contact info for a few people who had more positive experiences with Uma, suggesting I didn’t know the whole story. I wondered if a male teacher had been accused of sexual assault or abuse by multiple women if she’d have sent me contact info of those who had a positive experience with him to get a more full perspective. And I wondered how that’d be seen.
In her communication with me, Pappenheim referred to the cult survivors as “those fuckers” and victim blamed them several times:
“They wove the web they were in as well. As it is said ‘it takes two to tango ‘ and, in this case, more than two. Darkness attracts darkness, hence they were attracted to Uma and vice versa.”
Via email she confirmed that she had indeed previously referred to the cult survivor’s process as a “witch hunt” against Uma.
Former cult members had wanted more support and engagement from Pappenheim but she felt like these efforts — which included requests for a public acknowledgement and apology and potential financial support for therapy and the trauma they endured — were too much. Pappenheim described what they were doing as “extortion” and denied the role that Yoga Barn played in Uma building her cult. This was despite having read multiple accounts which detailed how Uma used Ayurvedic sessions and classes at the Yoga Barn to recruit members and having read in-depth stories of abuse, manipulation and lying.
Survivors of the cult have asked Yoga Barn for support:
“Yoga Barn markets itself as a center for healing. We went to Yoga Barn looking for that, and we instead experienced extraordinary abuse and exploitation. Yoga Barn made a lot of money off of Uma and her cult.”
Former members believe that Meghan and the Yoga Barn “should have known something was off, and investigated” sooner. They highlight several things such as:
- Uma being fired from the School of Sacred Arts in 2012 which operated out of the Yoga Barn
- The strange behavior of cult members in the cafe and in Uma’s classes,
- Numerous lengthy “Ayurvedic” consultations that lasted as much as 5 hours rather than the allotted 90 minutes and
- Nearly 50 Ayurvedic consultations bought from Yoga Barn from overseas with the explicit understanding that this was in order to buy Uma some vacation from Yoga Barn.
- Uma’s partner Mateo’s strange and cult devotional behavior which included chauffeuring her everywhere, paying for all her meals, bringing her all her food and drink, taking care of her email interactions with Yoga Barn, and prostrating himself fully face down on the floor to her in Yoga Barn classes.
- Complaints from Yoga Barn students in the cafe who witnessed growls, yelling, and other strange noises, pain, tears or public processing of highly personal emotional matters.
In 2012, the School of Sacred Arts, which operated out of the Yoga Barn, publicly acknowledged that they had discontinued their relationship with Uma. A public denouncement such as this is one of the requests that cult survivors had of Pappenheim and Yoga Barn.
One Yoga Barn team member apparently even acted on a complaint and called for a meeting with Uma and her students. The meeting never manifested however. And, former students claim that a manager was exploring a space removed from the Yoga Barn main practice area for Uma to work out of because of her controversial and disturbing methods.
When F.A.C.T. was going to publish their expose on Uma Inder, they alleged via a screenshot of the schedule, that Pappenheim had put Uma on the Bali Spirit Festival which she runs after she had been let go from the Yoga Barn. Pappenheim’s lawyer then sent aggressive letters to cult survivors and F.A.C.T. threatening to sue them for defamation. Pappenheim claimed that it was a clerical error and it was not intentional and F.A.C.T. removed it. It is of interest to point out that Pappenheim threatened to sue cult survivors for suggesting that Yoga Barn was still employing Uma and simultaneously she secretly allowed Uma’s work visa to continue as described below.
As of yet, Yoga Barn has not publicly acknowledged what has transpired with Uma nor met the request for financial support for survivors who are dealing with extensive medical bills to recover from years of trauma inflicted by the Yoga Barn teacher. Some survivors have had to go without necessary medical support. Pappenheim reiterated to me that Yoga Barn wasn’t responsible for damages.
Meghan told me she “did everything” she could once she “knew what was up.” She reiterated that she was the owner of the Yoga Barn, not a day-to-day manger. She simply wasn’t aware of what was happening on the ground, she claims. Meghan told me, “As soon as I received the information, I took a compassionate course of action. I responded to the person/people who sent me the information and I offered to do all I could to support them in their process.” Yet, as already stated, the Yoga Barn never met some of their most basic requests such as acknowledging that Uma had been let go.
Yoga Barn management was first informed on February 14th, 2016 of the allegations via an email labeled “URGENT.” It contained five in-depth, nuanced and detailed accounts of abuse, manipulation, and control from cult survivors of Uma’s group. Former members were deeply concerned for the well being of other students and hoped Yoga Barn would acted quickly. Pappenheim claims to not have read the accounts until around March 1st, but the co-founder and manager had seen them on February 14th. It wasn’t until around March 17th, over a month later, that Uma stopped teaching at the Yoga Barn.
When I asked if Uma was fired from the Yoga Barn she told me that she was not, explicitly to prevent her from losing her work visa and being deported. Instead, she was allowed to resign.
Meghan sent Uma a formal “Cessation of Cooperation” letter on May 24th, 2016, yet she was technically “let go” and stopped working there in mid-March. The letter also stated that her work visa would be officially ended. Wondering why Pappenheim would have waited that long — because it seemed like an effort to aid Uma — I asked her to explain the timing. She told me it wasn’t relevant and refused to answer specifically when her work visa was cancelled.
When I asked her if the Yoga Barn continued to sell Uma’s Aranya Ayurvedic products after she had been let go she told me: “the products were discontinued a few months after Uma was fired/let go.” She said they were sold in the Bali Shop “which has a contract with Yoga Barn,” seemingly distancing herself from it, but Pappenheim actually owns both and the Bali Shop is inside the Yoga Barn. I then sent her two photos. One was of a receipt of a purchase of Uma’s products at the Yoga Barn and a photo of Uma’s products still on the shelf — both one year after Uma was let go. She then told me that the images were doctored and photoshopped:
“If someone sent you photos then they are doctored — its super easy for someone to walk into YB, put something on the shelf and photo it. It’s also really simple to photoshop or simply make up a story to support an agenda. You have been equally deceived.”
Was she telling me someone brought a suitcase of jars into the shop to frame her?
On May 9th a staff member of the Yoga Bali Shop said Uma’s Aranya line of products were in stock and sold there until about 6 months ago. Thus, they were still sold for over 1.5 years after Uma was let go, not just a few months as Pappenheim claims.
What began as a simple journalistic inquiry into Uma’s firing from the Yoga Barn turned out to reveal that she was never in fact technically fired, that Uma was allowed to keep her work visa for at least two months (or longer) after “resigning” and Meghan lied about the fact that Yoga Barn was still selling Uma’s products a year after she was fired and claimed the photos were doctored. And she victim-blamed the cult survivors in our conversations. I wondered again if this was a male teacher accused of sexual assault by multiple women and if Pappenheim’s offered similar support to him, how that’d play out.
Uma Still Teaching
Uma Inder is still teaching yoga retreats and workshops worldwide. She has an upcoming training in Norway in June, and is teaching once again at the No Mind Festival in July in Sweden. And former members tell me she still has several active devotees in her cult.
A Complex Tale
This story is about an abusive yoga teacher who propped herself up as an infallible Guru. But it’s also a story about how yoga studios should handle allegations of abuse. How do they respond to victims’ stories? What sort of responsibility do they have to name the abuse and work to protect future students? How do they create a safe space for students who’ve experienced trauma? Should teachers like Uma remain certified by the Yoga Alliance? What processes are needed to heal and repair the damage.