Most viewers watching a charismatic Tantric sex expert featured on a CNN program about “sexual healing” earlier this month didn’t know her controversial backstory.
They only saw Psalm Isadora, 42, as compelling and radiant on camera as any movie star, showing a young couple how to connect through Tantric yoga touch and leading a group sex therapy session chanting “Orgasm is God!”
Many were shocked at the end of the episode when they learned Isadora had apparently killed herself in March 2017, a few months after taping the show.
Why? That’s what everyone asked, especially Isadora’s devastated devotees who believed her message of female sexual empowerment based on 5000-year-old Eastern teachings and how it could heal and transform you, no matter what your pain.
The answer, when it comes to her death, which was ruled a suicide by the L.A. County coroner’s office but is still under investigation by the Santa Monica Police Department, depends on whether you talk to her friends or her enemies.
Isadora, real name Psalm Brother, was a Santa Monica-based sex and love guru who apparently triumphed after growing up in a fundamentalist Christian cult where she said she’d been sexually abused by her father. Still traumatized and diagnosed as bipolar years later, she landed in the ER at 29 after a crystal meth overdose and suicidal ideations.
She turned her life around with yoga and rose almost overnight from being a teacher giving free classes to running a million-dollar empire including online courses, live events, and TV shows. She coached celebrities and even an NFL player after going to southern India in 2007, where a Tantric master gave her initiation in Shakti Tantra Yoga. The ancient teachings on feminine and sexual energy were kept secret even in India for centuries because of religious taboos.
“Psalm said you cannot be a powerful woman and be afraid of your pussy,” one of her earliest L.A. students, Zoe Kors, told The Daily Beast. “Women are sitting on the biggest energy generators on the planet but we don’t realize it because of all the secrecy and shame in our history for thousands of years. Psalm, in the short time she was here, got that information out to us.”
Isadora’s followers—and they weren’t all women—were as inspired by her glam persona on Playboy TV’s Cougar Club as well as the help she gave trafficked sex workers in Calcutta, which was the subject of a documentary called Shakti.
“She could hang with swamis or strippers and treat them with the same respect and acceptance,” Zachariah Z. Fisher wrote on her Facebook page after her death. “She was a warrior who refused to diminish her light in the face of others’ fear and judgments.”
By turns witchy, magnetic, tough, funny, and vulnerable, she had a killer story and she knew how to sell it, especially in the last two years when she became a popular speaker at hip, pricey global events like Mindvalley’s A-Fest.
“I hit a rock bottom,” Isadora said at a talk in Greece in May 2016. “Then I flew halfway across the world, gave up everything, risked everything, to meet a teacher, my Tantra teacher, in the jungles of India. He taught me about sacred sexuality.”
Her guru Sri Amritananda, who died in 2015, was, by many accounts, including a new biography, the real deal. He was a nuclear physicist who, after a vision of what he called “the Goddess,” left his job in the Indian defense industry 40 years ago and built a huge temple complex that included dozens of statues of penises and vaginas in the remote eastern jungles of India. It was called Devipuram and “Guruji,” as he was called, taught Tantra in the Śrī Vidyā tradition, an ancient lineage devoted to worship of the feminine.
Amritananda broke down the scholarly Śrī Vidyā rituals into something accessible for contemporary women, emphasizing the earthier, erotic side of Tantra with Indian music and dance.
Isadora, in turn, took what she learned back to Los Angeles and repackaged it as O Yoga, short for Orgasmic. She gave the timeless practices names like the Bliss Breath, the Kiss Meditation, and the Breath of Arousal. She taught women to use jade eggs in their “yoni” (vagina) to “unlock their full sexual potential.”
But her work wasn’t just a dirty-sounding gimmick for women who wanted to be hotter in bed. Isadora wanted to help people, men included, overcome the shame and trauma around sex and their bodies—particularly victims of abuse.
“I realized this was something so necessary in our modern world and that’s really my mission,” Isadora said at A-Fest, referring to her abuse beginning at age 5. “I’ve taken my greatest wound and made it my greatest power. I can now help carry other people through their dark places and into empowerment and light around our sexuality and spirituality. Because there’s an orgasmic breakthrough on the other end for all of us.”
What she said was true, at least as evidenced by the outpouring of grief online after her death. Meg Berry, 44, a New Jersey-based singer, Pilates teacher, and a Harvard graduate with a degree in anthropology, studied with Isadora for months during the last year of her life, becoming one of her lead trainers. Berry credits Isadora for rescuing her from chronic suicidal depression.
“What Psalm taught was self-love,” Berry said. “Until July 2016 I’d had two husbands and three kids and many achievements but never tasted self-love, just self-loathing. I looked into the mirror one day and an inner voice said, I love me. No matter what anyone says about Psalm that’s what she gave me and many people. And her work lives on in me and in the students she taught.”
But for every Isadora fan, there were ex-lovers, girlfriends whom she had fallen out with, and other yoga teachers in the competitive L.A. yoga world who told a darker story.
Writing on her Facebook page after her death, one person accused Isadora of “using childhood sexual abuse to build her business, which consists of telling others how to heal from the horrors of the past and emerge as oversexed phoenixes from the ashes.”
Isadora, many said, still struggled with her own demons. Whip-smart, she knew how to hustle and market herself in a cutthroat field, but they say she went too far too fast—at the expense of her own mental health and to the detriment of some of her students.
“The last time I saw her she was a lot different than I remembered,” said her ex-boyfriend, yoga teacher Mateo J. Daniel. “Glossed and glammed up, Hollywood to the hilt. Botox and a boob job and thousand dollar shoes. Handlers, stories of stalkers, and guest spots on Playboy TV. A far cry from the crunchy, barefoot yoga teacher who dreamed of living in a cave, playing a banjo and eating coconuts.”
She drank and took prescription pills like Xanax off and on and sometimes used LSD in certain, more extreme Tantra seminars she led, a dangerous cocktail for someone with precarious brain chemistry, according to several people close to her. As her fame grew, “she lost her connection to her practice,” said one friend.
Some close friends on her Facebook page said she had been going cold turkey off Xanax in the days before her death, had chronic insomnia, and had stopped taking medication for her bipolar disorder. Rumors flew that she had not committed suicide but been targeted for death because of her outspoken beliefs.
“I am shaken to my core, as she was one of my heroes,” wrote Katie Wise on Isadora’s Facebook page. “One of my sisters. A fellow angel of darkness. An embodiment of Kali. And now she is gone, in this violent, senseless and tragic way.
Julian Walker, a well-respected L.A. yoga teacher since 1994 who’s known for a protective attitude toward other members of the community, said he liked Isadora, especially her intelligence, but said the suicide of a teacher like Isadora can be a crisis for her students.
“Her persona was, ‘I grew up in a cult, I used to be bipolar, and I threw away my meds because I’ve recovered from my sexual trauma,’” Walker said. “But it’s tricky to think a spiritual solution can replace conventional medication. When you’re a teacher it can be even more dangerous because idealization occurs. We’re part of a spiritual subculture where people are vulnerable and go to people who have it all figured out. Psalm didn’t. She wasn’t healed and she probably needed her bipolar meds.”
Walker said it was troubling when some women told him they had gone to Isadora for private therapy sessions where the breathwork sometimes put them in a trance. (The majority of her work did not involve overt sexual practices.) On at least two occasions, women reported that when they came out of the trance, Isadora was going down on them or manually manipulating their vaginas to orgasm without their consent.
For many others, however, the ritual, called yoni puja and part of the ancient traditions Isadora learned in India, was consensual and life-changing. It normally is performed manually, not as cunnilingus.
“I was one of the first women she practiced the yoni puja on,” said Nianna Rose Bray, an L.A. yoga teacher who met Isadora in 2003. “She was a big part of unlocking me and helped me tremendously. She understood the power of sex and salvation but it was a very potent scene. It worked for me but then I stepped away from it. It can be dangerous when you tell some people you’re going to help their sexual wounds because you can end up re-traumatizing them.”
Zoe Kors, another L.A.-based Tantra teacher, also met Psalm when she was starting out as a yoga teacher. Kors also consented to the yoni puja ritual with her. (A similar ritual, called lingam puja, can be practiced on men.)
“People don’t understand it’s not just about getting off,” Kors said. “The yoni puja opens up a channel in a woman’s body and activates all the nerve endings to cultivate deep sensation. Very few women have experienced that kind of pleasure. But it’s also about unleashing and unblocking a life force that women all have and makes you so powerful in all areas of your life.”
But the work that helped so many women seemed to fail Isadora herself.
“I think how many places in myself I still am holding on like a knot, like a fist,” she wrote in 2011 after visiting her guru. “The anger, rage and grief in me for the way I have been wounded, for the way I wish things had been in the past instead of the way they were. But acceptance brings power.”
Isadora first opened up about growing up in a strict Christian cult called Lord’s Land in Mendocino County, California, in 2010. She lived there with her parents and two younger brothers in a log cabin without electricity or running water and wore long dresses and bonnets to maintain modesty. She said they had to leave the commune at 10 because her father had been molesting little girls there.
Her father, Micheal, was from the New York and her mother, Bella, oddly enough, had grown up in Echo Park, California, and married the future self-made billionaire John Paul DeJoria when they were both penniless teenagers.
Isadora once interviewed DeJoria without either acknowledging their connection. DeJoria often spoke of how he came home one day, when he was barely 21, and found that Bella had abruptly left him and their infant son. DeJoria declined to comment for this story. Isadora and his eldest son are half-siblings, while Isadora’s only son, Gabe Valdez, 24, has changed his name to Gabe Isadora and is reportedly being groomed to take over her business. He declined to comment for this story.
In subsequent interviews, Isadora said her father had sexually abused her as well as the other little girls on the commune. In the last year of her life, she gave two major talks, one at A-Fest and one sponsored by Mindbodygreen. In one she said her father had abused her as well as 10 of her young friends when he was principal of the commune school. In the other talk, Isadora said her mother had told her her father had not victimized her.
Some friends of Isadora’s say she told them that she didn’t remember her father’s abuse until much later and a few are cynical about it, accusing her of using it as a way of branding a business selling hope to victims of sex abuse.
Prior to Isadora’s death, according to Meg Berry, a group of those victimized young girls who remained Isadora’s friends planned to file suit against her father but it’s unclear if they have gone ahead with it.
The Daily Beast located Micheal Brother, 71, who was divorced from his wife years ago, and asked him if he had molested his daughter and the other little girls in the commune. He sounded weak and tired, and said he was “heartbroken” over his daughter’s death.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “I haven’t been the same since it happened.”
He denied sexually abusing Isadora and said he told her as well in email correspondence the two occasionally had over the years. “We had a difficult relationship,” he said. “Her mother was not easy, either.”
But when asked if he had molested other little girls on the commune, he said he couldn’t discuss it. When asked a second time, he also declined to comment.
“I can’t change the past,” Brother said. “I can only mourn it.”