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Joelle Tamraz
The Secret Practice: Eighteen Years on the Dark Side of Yoga

Adult; Memoir; (Market)

The Secret Practice is the shocking true story of Joelle Tamraz's 18-year ordeal under the control of a master manipulator. For fans of Netflix’s Bikram, Tara Westover’s Educated, and Megan Phelps-Roper’s Unfollow. 

'An intense and suspenseful memoir' —Kirkus Reviews

'Such an important story...a captivating and hopeful story of growth and self-awareness.' —Jean Brown of SEEK Safely and author of This Sweet Life

His yoga focused on control and manipulation.
Until she broke the sequence.

Joelle Tamraz was barely past twenty when she traveled to India in search of spiritual enlightenment. In Rishikesh, the home of yoga, she met an alluring older man who offered to teach her a secret practice. This encounter would realign her next twenty years. Joelle was controlled emotionally, financially, socially, and physically until she was finally able to break the cycle of abuse.

Despite signs there was more to her Arun than his winning smile, she persisted in seeing him as her spiritual master, soul mate, and key to her destiny. Until one day she dared to open her eyes and change her pose to one of strength and harmony.

From darkness to light, from dependency to self-awareness, from psychological need to genuine love, The Secret Practice is at once an exposé of a master manipulator, the exploration of a marriage, and the exhaustion of a disciple’s faith.

Heartfelt, gripping, and illuminating, The Secret Practice is a powerful story of the dark side of yoga and spirituality.

Ellen Symons

Joelle Tamraz tells a fascinating story of moving from New York City to India, of living in ashrams, of deep spiritual study, and of decades of steady meditation. It’s a story also of her searching, as a very young woman, for belonging and unconditional acceptance, and of her susceptibility to the power and control of a guru, Swami Arun, who offered to teach her a secret spiritual practice that appeared to meet all her needs. Arun grew in importance until he largely controlled her choices, her relationships, and the path her life took. It’s a difficult and heart-wrenching story to witness, but also offers lessons for any of us who have faltered in our ability to see our own choices as valid, or who have simply not known how to make them.

Tamraz is an amazingly strong person, who accomplished incredible feats while in this devastating relationship. In addition to completing an MBA and keeping the family financially afloat, in part for Arun’s sake she became an entrepreneur, digging deep into her stamina and her bank account to develop and run a yoga studio while simultaneously working full-time in a demanding business world.

But Arun’s goals and hers were never the same. Enthralled by his lies and her love, it took her years to see him clearly. As she writes toward the end, “He had been a mastermind, and I had been his fool.” As with some other contemporary yogic leaders, “yoga did not make him good.”

Recounting her journey, Tamraz allows her choices and actions to speak for themselves, giving her reader space to interpret the facts she lays out. Her prose is powerful and she paints vibrant scenes, without excuses or blame. She tells us what she knew and felt and believed at the time, revealing, as with the layers of a mystery story, piece upon piece of evidence that Arun’s benign and loving surface was a veneer laid over a complicated and abusive personality. She reveals the clues, but, charmed and persuaded by his visible persona, neither she nor her reader immediately catches, as each happens, their significance: that he is a destructive man.

Yoga’s physical practice “has no inherent spiritual merit,”writes Tamraz. “The master chooses the rules.” While she was with Arun, her family feared she was in danger. She gave away almost everything of her finances and loyalty to a man who consciously manipulated her. Finally, on the edge of tumbling forever into the void of his control, she saved herself, bit by bit, with struggle, and with support from friends.

Her fully adult self has learned to see the world in a clear-eyed way that was not available to the innocent twenty-two-year-old. She knows what is required to live the life she wants and deserves, and she knows that strong choices, though difficult, are essential.

“Meditation doesn’t replace morality,” she writes, “and if I don’t exercise my moral obligation through action, someone else will do it for me.” It is a reminder to each of us that when we fail to act on our own behalf, we make it possible for others to remove and use our power to their own benefit.

For any of us searching for acceptance and belonging outside ourselves, Joelle Tamraz has shared an important story that reaches beyond the yoga world and encourages us to take responsibility for shaping ourselves as we want to be.

Jean Brown of SEEK Safely

Stories of people who have had experience with self-help groups, cults, abusive gurus, sour spirituality, and even coercive partners are SO IMPORTANT because they help us understand how any of us could fall victim to the right abuser. 

One such stories is in the upcoming memoir by Joelle Tamraz, “The Secret Practice: 18 Years on the Dark Side of Yoga.” 

Here’s our review: 

Many people hold the misconception that they cannot fall under the spell of an abuser–be it an abusive romantic partner or an abusive, cult-like organization. In fact, so many of the people who do experience this kind of coercive control are intelligent, driven, and principled, motivated by their desire to build transcendent relationships, have rich human experiences, and effect positive change in the world.

This reality is exactly why Joelle Tamraz’s memoir “The Secret Practice: Eighteen Years on the Dark Side of Yoga,” is such an important story. Through her compelling storytelling, it becomes clear that it was not weakness or desperation, but a heady mix of idealism, openness to possibility, and a desire for meaningful connection that put Joelle in the path of Arun, who promised to guide and love her, but instead exploited her faith and abused her trust. 

Joelle’s personal experience under the control of a charismatic partner illuminates another, wider issue: how “new age” movements like yoga and meditation have been weaponized by charismatic leaders in the popular and lucrative world of self-help.

Her story serves as an important warning in today’s context, where our Instagram and TikTok feeds are filled with would-be gurus and spiritual “influencers.” The dynamics of coercive control are similar in both one-on-one relationships and group settings–like unethical self-help organizations–where the charismatic partner or leader manipulates the good intentions of his/her victims to feed their own ego and ambition. The best way to empower and protect ourselves against a self-interested or dangerous leader is to understand how this type of coercion works and learn to recognize it in action. 

I recommend “The Secret Practice” to anyone looking for a captivating and hopeful story of growth and self-awareness, but especially for the seekers out there–those of us who are always looking to be the best possible versions of ourselves, living our most meaningful lives. 

Review by Jean Brown

“The Secret Practice” is out on August 8, 2023. We also interviewed Joelle on The SEEK Safely Podcast. This episode will air on July 24th! Listen wherever you get your podcasts. 

Maria Daversa

Book Review: The Secret Practice: Eighteen Years on the Dark Side of Yoga, by Joelle Tamraz

“I was an easy target. My beliefs in…the potential of enlightenment formed the mental chains with which he held me.”

Joelle Tamraz’s debut memoir, The Secret Practice: Eighteen Years on the Dark Side of Yoga, is the story of not only the way she fell under the influence of an older and charismatic leader established in the practice of yoga, but it’s also about the journey she undertook to break those chains and regain her freedom. While Tamraz weaves a tale about new-age spirituality, her story is so much more than this. It’s a reminder how there are men who prey on younger women for their own physical and material gain—and there are women who will suffer the pain of this betrayal in the name of what they had hoped would be true love.

Tamraz begins her journey soon after graduating from college when she travels to India and meets Arun, who says he will teach her the secretive yet powerful ways of yoga and meditation. Although he promises Tamraz a life of love and peace with links to reincarnation and past lives, Arun soon betrays her trust, asserting his power and control over her and keeping Tamraz locked in a vicious cycle of abuse.

How does this happen to an intelligent and staunchly independent young woman?

It’s called coercion. And when paired with control in the hands of an abuser, it takes the form of gradual brainwashing that will undermine everything the victim believes about her life and her sense of self.

A form of intimate partner violence (IPV), coercive control is reported more often than physical, emotional, or sexual violence in spouses who report abuse and consists of an ongoing pattern of emotional and psychological abuse based on control, manipulation, and oppression. Simply put, it’s how men assert their need for dominance and authority over the women in their lives.

While coercive control is not new, how the world recognizes—and criminalizes—the men who engage in these behaviors is. Acts such as isolating someone from their family and friends, intimidating them, monitoring their activity, denying them their freedom and autonomy, constantly criticizing them, making them feel guilty, limiting their access to money, making jealous accusations, gaslighting, or blackmailing and threatening them are now considered illegal in many parts of the world.

This is why Tamraz’s memoir is so timely and so significant. As she lays out the multitude of ways Arun usurped her power, she also shines a much-needed light into the chasm of this sector of relational abuse and shows the reader what it took to transform herself, escape her marriage, and rediscover her true identity.

While it takes courage to reveal our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, especially the ones that expose the darker aspects of ourselves, Tamraz shows she’s willing to take that risk if the result prevents other women from suffering at the hands of another abuser. So, with much grace and humility, Tamraz ends her journey by openly facing her fears, accepting her mistakes, and forgiving her younger self for the path she chose. She provides the reader with this poignant visual of her strength:

“I take this girl’s shoulders, pull her away from him, and hold her in my arms. Tears wet my face.”

Kudos to Tamraz for telling a much-needed story about such an insidious form of abuse. I recommend The Secret Practice to anyone looking for an honest and unputdownable read, and I look forward to seeing more from this fresh and inspiring author.