Since Matthew Remski’s article and his interview with Karen Rain the Ashtanga world is trying to come to terms with K Pattabhi Jois’ history of sexual abuse and assault. I think this is an important process, which need not be hurried and in which context a lot of questions should and need to get asked. One of the arguments brought forth to lay this important process to rest before it really gets underway is, “KP Jois is dead and now things are different”.
I would like to pierce this narrative. Things may be different today in that there may be no direct sexual assault and abuse in class. In many other ways though things have not become better at all and in some ways they may have become worse (for example in terms of personality cult and dogmatism). I hear from a lot of people that they are leaving or have left Ashtanga Yoga not because what happened in the past but because of what is happening today. This stampede away from Ashtanga will get worse if we as a community cannot openly speak about things.
Starting with today’s article I will attempt to shed light on some of these murky areas of Ashtanga Yoga, which have not yet been cleaned up. I have not been in a hurry to start this project as the lack of pro-activity and accountability on part of many senior teachers in the system to this day leaves me disturbed. If we do not speak out and restore public trust in the system, modern Ashtanga Yoga will not recover.
I will commence this series of articles by looking into what I perceive as Ashtanga Yoga’s flawed teacher accreditation process. I was authorized to teach by the late K Pattabhi Jois in 1997. The authorization came after I had practised with him for 12 months over 3 separate trips to India and after I had become proficient in the majority of the postures of the Intermediate Series.
On the positive side this taught me dedication to my practice, endurance, perseverance and determination. Even now over 20 years later I do practice 6 days a week and miss practice days only ever if on long haul flights. I do have to credit K P Jois for that. It is also true that my body, which at first seem to be unable to bend was eventually moulded into shape by daily multi-hour fiery practice. However, it is very obvious to me now that I could do so only because I was genetically gifted, that my joint shape and direction combined with general ligament length and muscle tension did allow me to do that. I probably have to thank my ancestors for that more than KP Jois.
I have also seen other practitioners more gifted than I who conquered more postures and series in that same timeframe and I have subsequently seen many of them fall apart and leave Ashtanga for good. For they suffered from structural problems that I do not suffer from, viz ligamentous laxity and hypermobility. During the period in which I underwent my authorization process, a combination of ideal joint shape and direction, ligamentous laxity and hypermobility could see you (and often did) become Ashtanga-authorized in 6 months of daily two-hour practices in the Lakshmipuram shala. Most of us who did become authorized didn’t know much about yoga outside of our commitment to our daily practice and our ability to crank ourselves into postures like Kapotasana and Dvipada Shirshasana with little warm-up. These two capacities though are not something exclusive to yogis but we share them with acrobats and gymnasts.
In fact once I started to train teachers myself I found to my great surprise that it was a disadvantage to be too physically gifted or overly flexible. Most students aren’t and the person who easily can perform extreme postures usually does not have to understand the difficult process to attain them. As for many other aspiring teachers my true training started after my authorization. In many ways I was lucky that back in those days learning through books was not sneered at and it was not yet forbidden to seek out other teachers. The cult of the guru was not yet fully under way during the 90’s.
Another myth that I would like to debunk here is the importance given to the vinyasa count format when assessing teachers. The latest nonsense that I hear is that the vinyasa count has been given mantra status. This is like translating primary school calculus exercises into Sanskrit (which software can do for you) and think they become mantras by doing so.
I do think that the vinyasa count is a great meditative tool in the hands of an advanced or established practitioner but I consider it unsafe and hazardous to force an inexperienced practitioner to transit in and out of postures as quickly as the vinyasa count requires. I think students should first be instructed in a lot of technical detail before they are asked to transit in and out of postures that fast. In many cases a student will never be able to do so safely.
Rather than rely simply on flexibility and the ability to rote learn the vinyasa count, accreditation to be a teacher must be based on a large selection of criteria including your grasp of anatomy, teaching skills, modification of the series for individuals and teaching the higher limbs. In the following list I am outlining areas that I see missing in the present official Ashtanga authorization and certification process.
Only one limb is taught:
In the current format there is no emphasis on any other limb but asana. But most students come to yoga for more than just physical benefits as otherwise they would have elected sports. This leads to students desperately over-practising asana, trying to wring out of their body benefits which it cannot provide. The body cannot provide you with spiritual insight or wisdom. You do not get wise simply by practising asana. You need to practise the higher limbs such as pranayama and yogic meditation to get spiritual insights. The claim that spiritual insight will arise in you “spontaneously” simply by daily practising a certain sequence of physical posture is ludicrous. You might as well wait for Father Christmas or the Easter Bunny. Over-practising asana out of spiritual hunger eventually leads to a fibrous, worn-out body with lots of repetitive strain injuries. If students are introduced to the higher limbs early on they will find that they only need to practice asana for their physical needs and therefore will not over-practise. This is something that I have seen in students over and over again. A teacher must be able to teach the higher limbs of yoga and should offer this to all students interested.
Adapting the Series to Individual Needs
The official Ashtanga teacher accreditation does not include any skills in how to adapt the sequences to individual needs. T. Krishnamacharya taught that the practice needs to be adapted to the individual and not the other way round. By slavishly adhering to a rigid model and failing to acknowledge that bodies differ in their needs many more students are injured and eventually turn their backs on the system.
I hear that now in Mysuru some students that insist are allowed to leave out postures and are commended by others for their braveness to speak up. This is not enough. It is the teacher who has to understand and suggest to the student in what way the practice has to be adapted to avoid and pre-empt injuries and problems. Once injuries have occurred it is often too late and healing may be protracted and complicated. It is himsa (harmful) on behalf of the teachers to not assist the student in this way.
The series also needs to be adapted for average Western students and for beginners who often have stiff hip joints. A beginner should be given the opportunity to explore postures like Baddha Konasana before they have to attempt complex postures such as Marichyasana D or Supta Kurmasana. Again to insist on this order by invoking a tradition that has no proven length beyond a generation or two is to violate the student.
Yoga Sutra and Sanskrit phonetics
A yoga teacher cannot teach true yoga without a certain understanding of yogic philosophy as espoused in the Sutra, the Gita and the Pradipika (and ideally a few more texts) combined with a basic understanding of Sanskrit phonetics. A training without these can be called yoga gymnastics or asana but certainly not yoga. It is concerning that people now believe that yoga can be taught without its philosophical roots or alternatively that these roots would somehow manifest “spontaneously” by practising asana only.
Lack of Anatomical Training
The institution that claims itself to be the only legitimate source of Ashtanga teacher training accreditation, does not include any human anatomy in its training. How anybody can think you can train teachers in such a physically demanding discipline in this day and age without them understanding joint range and motion, ligamentous limitation and muscle structure is beyond my understanding. This becomes important especially in light of Ashtanga’s intense adjustment culture. I have received intense adjustments over a long timeframe and to this day I enjoy giving adjustments to students even in advanced postures and consider them beneficial. I cannot see, however, that I would have ever been able to do this safely without having a good understanding of human anatomy. I would expect that giving such adjustments without any anatomical understanding will probably soon be outside the law. It would be a great shame if we as yogis would lose the privilege to give physical adjustments. Including human anatomy into all yoga teacher trainings will go a long way towards us being able to keep this privilege.
Consent and Limitation of Teachers Knowledge
The Ashtanga teacher accreditation process does not include any policies how to get consent from students to adjust. Teachers perpetuate the myth that they know more about the student’s body than the students themselves. The student’s body is connected via their nervous system to the student’s brain and not the teacher’s. Feedback regarding adjustments and posture practice arrives therefore in the student’s brain and not the teacher’s. It sound ridiculous to point this out but yoga students today (and especially Ashtanga students) have been duped into believing that teachers somehow know more about what’s happening in their bodies than they themselves. This is a myth that needs to be debunked. It is the students body and the students need to be informed that they can refuse to receive an adjustment (or in fact any adjustment) or that they can ask that the adjustment be altered or in fact that they can refuse to do a particular posture.
There is a great dearth of communication skills in Ashtanga Yoga. When in 2007 I attended a workshop with a scion of the current Ashtanga dynasty he stepped before the class and immediately started his vinyasa count. After he finished it, he simply left. At no point was there any acknowledgement nor address of the people in class. He may as well have played a recording or parrot in front of the class. I recently heard that the gentleman still does it exactly in the same way. Reflecting of this hubris today many accredited teachers have very basic people- and communication skills and often act arrogantly and dismissive towards student’s needs.
Included in a training there needs to be some form of assessment of the above subjects other than just being able to perform postures.
All Content Providers to be Active Yoga Teachers
A lot of trainings have started to include the above subjects into their curriculum. However, I often hear from students that the trainings can be really boring because professionals are hired to deliver the content often without it being very relevant to the process of teaching and the practise of yoga. Simply having a professor of philosophy deliver the Sutra component or a physiotherapist deliver the anatomy section can be an alienating experience for trainees if the deliverer cannot connect the content to living the path of yoga. All content providers should therefore be active yoga teachers.
It is my great hope that the current crisis within Ashtanga Yoga will bring about changes that this magnificent practice will finally become what it could be. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga can provide the ideal platform to venture into higher limbs practice such as pranayama and yogic meditation and ultimately samadhi.
Over 20 years ago KP Jois told me that this practice will give me the light and strong body of a lion. While he did ultimately disgrace himself he was still right with many things he said. And while this lion is slowly getting on, 20 years later my body is in better condition than it ever was. I don’t think that any other form of yoga could have done this to that extent.
I sort of agree with most of what you say but, I think you might have better served your audience by organizing your series of articles in such a way that you listed the above headings as bullet points, and then explored each of them in essays about the same length as this one. I say that because in for instance the one on teaching only one limb, I kind of disagree that someone can not move in in the direction of insight from only practicing asana. Sometimes just putting the body into a form leads to relaxation and reduction of unconscious tension which leads to an opening up towards wisdom. I know you know this, but in your one paragraph on that topic it did not come out. Sorry if that sounds like nitpicking. By the way, would you consider changing the color of the font to a darker setting, or conversely to a whiter background? For some of us with more senior eyes it would make for easier reading. Thanks Gregor!
Thanks, Scott. That was a 2100 word article and whenever I submit something to magazines they tell me 1500 words is the max that people can take. : ( The next article will deal exactly with the subject you mentioned, i.e. the various facets of reducing yoga to asana only.
Sorry about the font colour. I have just changed it. I usually always change it before posting but forgot because publishing this article jet-lagged on an airport just before boarding.
Thank you for sharing this. It expresses a lot of disillusionment with the ashtanga world that I myself have slowly arrived at over the years. Looking forward to practicing with you in London ??
thanks for this. I dislike going to studios and seeing the so-called guru that I know is a sexual offender– has his picture placed in a central spot in the practice room.
senior teachers, especially women, should know better than to pawn him off as a hero.
Infinite gratitude Gregor and thank you for writing about all these topics. You wrote about exactly all those things that have kept me from going back to classes and had me continue my home practice and study. I hope that this article will find it’s way to the hearts of those able to make the changes and with that contribute to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga taking it’s place as Ashtanga Yoga or the eight folded path…without studying the other limbs the journey of Yoga will never be reached and we indeed will merely stay acrobats and gymnasts oblivious to what we are missing in the process. Love
Very true….especially the never talked about point of bodies being different and that if you are not born with hyperflexible joints and certain structural proportions etc practise will be different from the promoted’standard’
Thank you Gregor.
I cannot agree more with the points you make in this post.
I am grateful for your amazing books, and continued dedication to spreading the teachings of Ashtanga Yoga.
This is a really good article! ?
I absolutely agree on every point.
After 30 years of dancers life I moved to yoga with the same dedication, love and discipline.
I was very happy to be send to Sri Bns IYENGAR by my parisian Ashtanga teacher Lakshman Attygalage for my first TTC in 2013.
He planted the seeds of global knowledge to develop by daily practice and study,
as you describe it.
I feel free to adapt the series, not do all the asanas, i talk about philosophy if it arises during asana class, autorise take rest if necessary.
And so I do for my own practice.
I practice 6 days a week, 2 days second series, last day first series, in between standing asanas and asana technique that I am conquering. Usually I practice Pranayama and Meditation before asana practice, but it depends.
I also dedicate some time to Sanskrit and Yoga Sutra chanting. Patanjali is a really very subtle analyst of human behaviour and I love studying philosophy.
I cannot imagine a system where I am not allowed to practice an asana that has lots of benefits for me, because I am not able to perform the previous one.
Let’s take Gomukasana, if you cannot do Kapotasana.
My teacher in Mysore told me the whole second series in 2015 with props, so I can slowly conquer it at home. I am nearly done and very thankful.
As a dancer, I feel very comfortable with Ashtanga Yoga, love it’s energy, but am aware that yoga is only one of the limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, it cannot be the only purpose of yoga.
Sri Narasimhan form Anantha Yoga Research Institute, confirmed in December 2017, while I was assisting to his philosophy class.
Eva Luna Yoga Ananda, Paris
Superb, Gregor. I love the spherical completeness of your approach to Yoga, and the emphasis you put on keeping the physical practice bound to Yoga’s other branches which, as you point out so well, are supportive in helping the body enter more fully into this discipline. And it is always inspiring to have you share insights of your own personal practice and experience. In gratitude, Mark
PS. I do have a question (s): I am amazed that you are able to practice 6 x a week. How do you manage such consistency and rigor? Doesn’t it help to have pauses from time to time? And could you amplify what you mean by “fiery practices”? Thank you!
I always felt that pauses were detrimental and that consistent practice protects you from damage. In Sutra !.14 Patanjali mentions uninteruptedness of practice as a requirement for success.
The “fieryness” can be a bit of a problem. I have practised with great passion and enthusiasm for most of my life and I’ve seen this work in other people, too. I can be overdone though and then it can turn into self-abuse and self-punishment.
Hope that helps
I understand. Thank you, Gregor.
Last question: How do you motivate yourself on an off day?
The art is to intercept the mind before the question occurs. It is the mind that asks for motivation, stimulus and satisfaction, such as progress and success in one’s practice. The practice needs to become one’s dharma, i.e. we do it for the greater good and to be of service to the Divine, the biosphere and all humanity. We do not do it as a means of satisfaction. It’s similar to caring for ones children. You would not need to motivate yourself to care for your children. You would just do what’s required independent of motivation levels. Similarly, in the Gita Krishna says, ‘do not practice for an outcome but practice for me’.
Hope that makes sense
This is an outstanding answer that covers the whole problem. I love two things you said especially: 1. “The practice needs to become one’s dharma” and 2. “We do not do it as a means of satisfaction”. Actually three things: 3. “The art is to intercept the mind before the question occurs”, this is a key. Really, your whole answer, from top to bottom, is more than perfect, it is inspiring! I am deeply humbled by what you say. I see better now how one cannot in truth approach any of the branches of yoga without proper respect or, rather, reverence (which is proof of our respect). And part of this respect is our patience and dedication. I think I understand this now better than I ever have thanks to your thoughtful answer. You really touched a deep cord in me.
In gratitude, Mark
We respect your decision to address these topics, and your recent response/reflection to Karen Rain gives us encouragement that you are operating from a refreshingly introspective and critically thoughtful place. Thank you for wanting to be part of a change in the Ashtanga community. We’d like to acknowledge that we agree with and appreciate a lot of what you said, and the following questions/discussion material is not intended to take away from that. We also want you to know that we applaud your willingness to participate in difficult conversation, and that you’re not the only teacher wanting to reshape how things are done. We hope you will consider our views in the spirit of friendly discussion and mutual hope for evolution.
Some context about us and our investment in the conversation/community: Married couple, both Ashtanga teachers, advanced series practitioners, both hypermobile/EDS type that you mention in your post. For some years we have been implementing “unorthodox” teaching methods and policies in our Mysore room and holding ourselves to the highest standard to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Ashtangis within our small sphere of influence. All that to say, we’ve been giving mental “room and board” to these sorts of thoughts for some time.
We hope you’d be willing to talk about or consider a few things. The first is your statement that: “Things may be different today in that there may be no direct sexual assault and abuse in class.”
Sexual assault, non-sexual physical assault, and emotional/spiritual abuse occurs in Ashtanga classes regularly today. We do not know what happens in every shala, but do have enough of a sample size to say that it’s not isolated to any specific circumstance or person.
We can attest to witnessing and/or being the victim of the following behaviors in the Mysore rooms of “well-esteemed” senior teachers: sexual assaults including the touching of breasts, buttocks, genitals, contact between the teacher’s genitals and the bodies of students, kissing (on the mouth and on other body parts), sexually abusive and manipulative talk/“humor,” non-consensual touching and rubbing against students, snapping bras, etc.
We do not believe that there is any justification for this kind of contact. Some people attempt to dismiss it as “incidental” contact that’s “just part of the adjustment” or that it’s “not sexual” or at least “not sexually motivated.” These kinds of arguments are purely specious. In our years of teaching, we have never encountered a situation in which any of the above behavior is either necessary or unavoidable. There are many excellent non-invasive, non-threatening, non-emotionally-manipulative and healthy ways to adjust every asana and to engage with every student.
We request that you do not say that this specific problem is resolved. You may have (fortunately) not been exposed to environments in which it is currently taking place, but it does occur with breathtaking (gut-wrenching) frequency to this day. Even if we or others haven’t personally witnessed such events , to make a blanket statement that “such and such bad behavior doesn’t occur these days” leaves a community vulnerable: if we can learn anything from history, it’s that violent tendencies ebb and flow, and that we must be proactive against any resurgence.
Physical assault also occurs and remains, in our opinion, one of the most egregious abuses perpetrated against students of Ashtanga yoga. This involves non-consensual touch in the guise of “adjustment” which is explained away as “pain-as-opening.” This too frequently results in severe physical injuries—something that, based on your comments, we know you’ve seen the likes of. We would also like to distinguish between a respectful adjustment “gone wrong” which accidentally injures someone and an assault (although truly accidental injury should also be taken seriously and every good faith measure should be implemented to remedy the injury and prevent future incidents). There is a disturbingly common trend amongst Ashtanga teachers to ignore a student’s absence of consent or a direct request to not get an adjustment, and then to shove/drop/push/wrench them in a way that seems to be a means of establishing dominance and maintaining a perverse social hierarchy. Additionally, injuries that are a result of bad practices and teaching are too often minimized, ignored, or explained away.
Here are a couple of examples involving our own injuries. We’ll represent ourselves with the pseudonyms “X” and “Y.”
Scenario 1: Y is practicing 2nd series in a crowded Mysore room. There is a substitute teacher that day, we’ll call him “B”, because the senior teacher is out of town teaching a workshop. B does not have a friendly relationship with Y. On this particular day, he gives her several unnecessary, aggressive and painful adjustments even though Y can easily perform these asanas on her own and the adjustments have no clear purpose. She asks to not receive any more adjustments. When she is on the first vinyasa of parighasana (legs in position, torso upright), B comes up, grabs Y by the shoulders, and shoves her into the position. There’s a loud snapping noise. B says, “What was that?” Y replies, “I don’t know. It was either my hip or my hamstring.” B says, “I hope it was your hip,” and walks away to adjust someone else. Turns out that yes, it was her hip: the sound was her acetabular labrum tearing. Y seeks non-blaming resolution but neither the senior teacher nor B will talk with her or make any attempts at correcting the problem. She experienced 2 years of disability (inability to walk, sleep, work, etc), $104,000 in medical billings, surgical reconstruction, and experiences intense pain to this day.
Scenario 2: X attends a Mysore class with a teacher we’ll call “D” at a senior teacher’s shala. He has never met this teacher before. X started yoga due to joint pain, which still comes and goes despite the positive effects of yoga practice. On this particular day, X’s body was not feeling very stable and was painful. X introduces himself to the teacher, explains the situation, and requests, “I’m not feeling great today, please give verbal adjustments instead of physical adjustments, or ask me if the adjustment is okay first.”
When X is doing drop-backs (which he can perform easily, grab ankles, etc.) D sneaks up and roughly pulls X’s back/pelvis. Pop! X’s sacrum dislocates. There’s severe, acute pain for 1-2 months, and lingering pain/dysfunction to this day. When confronted later by one of the senior teachers, D replies “I did the right thing, he needed the adjustment.”
These are two scenarios that we still experience the consequences of. We have personally experienced additional abuses and have heard countless horror stories of other students and their broken tibias, collarbones, herniated discs, torn muscles, torn ligaments, joint dislocations, surgeries, etc., which occurred as a result of an “adjustment.” One of the most disheartening realizations that we have come to in critically examining our own experiences and those of our peers and students is that certain commonly accepted teaching practices in Ashtanga yoga shalas would be considered inappropriate, shocking—blatantly criminal, even—to a reasonable bystander or officers of the law. We don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that the practices of Ashtanga teachers pass tests of basic legality. The “loftiness” of spiritual pursuit in no way elevates teachers of yoga beyond the realm of legal responsibility and consequence.
So all this is to illustrate that, while “in some ways they may have become worse (for example in terms of personality cult and dogmatism)”, that other things have certainly not resolved.
Moving on …
You mention “I would expect that giving such adjustments without any anatomical understanding will probably soon be outside the law. “
We’re not familiar with the laws in Australia, but can speak to the situation in the USA. In most states, physical adjustment is already illegal. Touch involving any attempt to manipulate the body position, tissue quality, or for any intent of therapeutic benefit is legally restricted to certain licensed healthcare professionals including massage therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors, doctors, etc.
Any form of sexual or non-sexual assault or non-consensual touch is likewise outside the law.
So, this kind of behavior we’re speaking of is already illegal! But that has not in any way impeded or informed the way that yoga is taught, because enforcement of these laws is minimal to nonexistent. Why are they not enforced? We suspect that the hierarchy of spiritual/emotional abuse and manipulative power dynamics that many teachers engineer into their classes and communities prevents victims from reporting problems or utilizing their legal rights. Victim-blaming, shaming, silencing, and confusion is common within Ashtanga communities. Law enforcement largely relies upon victims reporting crimes and witnesses being willing to testify. If no victims are willing to request protection or remedy from the justice system, no help or enforcement will be forthcoming. If no witnesses are willing or able to testify, any prosecution also becomes more difficulty.
Ashtanga communities routinely excuse bad behavior and protect abusers. For all that teachers and practitioners pay lip service to the mahavrata—the one non-negotiable part of the Ashtanga system!—we sure don’t have a great track record with actually being non-violent, truthful, and so on. For Ashtanga to change, we have to stop giving abusers free reign and shielding them from consequences.
So, for us, the question is less whether these behaviors will become illegal, but how can we help victims feel safe in speaking up? How do we help victims understand that there are not negative spiritual consequences to standing up to criminal behavior perpetrated by those they believe to have spiritual authority, and how can we eliminate the negative social consequences (ostracism, victim-blaming, etc) victims face?
As a side note, legislation seeking to further regulate the training of yoga teachers (by placing yoga training under the oversight of the governmental ‘Division of Private Occupational Schools’ or similar agency) has been defeated in several states, with the Yoga Alliance as the strongest force lobbying against regulation. Perhaps similar measures will be introduced and pass in the future.
And our last question for you …
It is well and good to say the things you say about what an Ashtanga teacher ought to know about anatomy, communication, consent, the adaptability of the series, and so on. (We realize that your post is specifically about the flaws of the current system, and not proposals for new systems … perhaps you’re already planning on speaking to this in a later post.)
But none of this is actionable. How do you think that should happen? Are you requesting that KPJAYI implement those changes? Do you think senior teachers should form a new international oversight and licensing body? Are you suggesting de-centralization of Ashtanga training? The last is well established—200 hr Ashtanga training programs have been running in parallel with the authorization/certification system for many years. Plenty of senior Ashtanga teachers offer teacher training programs.
That hasn’t solved the problem. We’re still right in this same situation despite 200hr Ashtanga programs churning out graduates. These programs by and large do promise to teach anatomy, the art of adjustment, philosophy, modification, and so on. By our estimation, graduates do not have a sufficient grasp of those subjects, and there are no skills tests or minimum standards.
Further, plenty of other yoga styles have 200hr trainings and no centralised authorization system, and are still riddled with reports of sexual abuses, physical violence, and emotional/spiritual abuse.
Enumerating the ideal skills of an Ashtanga teacher is a first step, but how do we actually move forward with creating both accountability and skillful, competent representatives of our lineage?
We know that you and Monica offer 200 hour, 150 hour, etc modules. We’ve offered some as well. Do you experience that this format is a viable method? Even though the programs go well, we’ve been disappointed by what we see as the lack of potential for this method to meet all the needs of training a competent yoga teacher.
If logistics and such were not an obstacle, what would your ideal system be?
X & Y
Dear X & Y,
Let me first thank you for speaking up and adding your voice. To be straightforward though, it would have been much more effective had you done so with your full name and recognizable email address. The mere fact that I am posting all of these things openly on my page under my name makes for it that I have a lot of skin in the game. People do know what I do and where I live.
People can write all sort of things anonymously. After all, I could have made up your post using a bogus Gmail address, simply to give my own arguments more weight.
Having said that, I have to acknowledge now how great fear, domination and suppression in the Ashtanga culture must still be that you do not dare to sign off with your full names. I used the term “may be different today in that there may be no direct sexual assault and abuse in class”, to acknowledge the fact that from what some insiders told me some things have changed in Mysuru since KP Jois demise. I have made no statement whatsoever that the issue is resolved on a global scale or in yoga shalas around the world. Since Monica and I turned our back on the Jois Ashtanga culture we have in many ways led a sheltered live in that we cared for the safety and proper instruction of our students. I cannot look into the shalas of other people and know what’s happening there.
I am totally distressed to hear you say that ”Sexual assault, non-sexual physical assault, and emotional/spiritual abuse occurs in Ashtanga classes regularly today”. The first thing that comes to mind is that many of these things are not within the civil code of law in most countries in which they occur. I the country in which I live, Australia, yoga students constantly and successfully sue yoga teachers when they are physically or sexually violated. There is certainly no justification for anything of that matter. If pursuing that avenue you could easily get your medical bills back and quite probably compensation in some form.
The reason why Monica and I have come out in this matter and spoken out in support of Karen Rain and the other victims is to draw some of the early flak of the cult-defenders and to prepare a platform on which people like you can come forth and speak out about being spiritually, sexually and physically abused. We feel slightly encouraged that some other teachers have spoken out in support of the victims.
I strongly recommend that you get in contact with Matthew Remski and relay your information to him. Matthew is publishing a book in which a lot of these stories are documented. A lot of people hate Matthew for what he is doing but I think his work is needed. We urgently need somebody to wash Ashtanga’s dirty laundry and I do not envy him for the job. We need a Truth and Reconciliation process for Ashtanga and the first step is Truth. That’s what Matthew is doing. Of course, I’m concerned whether after that much is left over of Ashtanga but the truth must be heard if healing is to occur. At this point most Ashtanga people simply try to silence out the discussion or are trying to discredit Matthew. What his motivation is for doing what he is doing is not my concern. Ashtanga at this point needs him more than anybody else and he needs all support and speaking out from inside the cult that he can get.
If you do add your voices to Matthew’s book you do not have to do so under your legal names. You can remain anonymous. But it gives Matthew ammunition that he can sue if he is called a liar. And he has announced that he will do so. Your stories need to be heard and read by the public. I did not know that things like that were going on even today. If you do add your voices to the ones already in Matthew’s book you are protecting new students from further harm. You are in truth doing society a favour.
I completely agree with you that there must be “a hierarchy of spiritual/emotional abuse and manipulative power dynamics that many teachers engineer into their classes and communities prevents victims from reporting problems or utilizing their legal rights. Victim-blaming, shaming, silencing, and confusion is common within Ashtanga communities.” This is the reason why we are speaking out and in future articles I will try to de-construct this entire cult narrative.
I further agree with your,” For Ashtanga to change, we have to stop giving abusers free reign and shielding them from consequences”, and that we need to “help victims understand that there are not negative spiritual consequences to standing up to criminal behaviour perpetrated by those they believe to have spiritual authority”. Absolutely, you have my full ear and support there.
To your side notes: I personally do not believe that government regulation will do any good but it may be too late to stop that. To give you an idea why I think so, we have recently put every cent we owned into buying a nature reserve. We did not want the government to buy it as the Australian Government makes routinely members of the logging industry in charge of the Forestry’s Department. Nature reserves are then logged to “protect biodiversity”. Similarly, climate change deniers are made responsible for Renewable Energies and are diverting resources towards “Clean Coal”. What will these people do to yoga? The will probably make somebody of the meat and alcohol or fire arms industry in charge of yoga and the first thing they will do is to take any spirituality out of yoga and align it with the Fitness Industry. Attempts have already started.
And to your last question, about how the yoga industry has to change. I don’t have the answers and answers should be arrived at through consensus with many people making suggestions. I’m trying to deliver the best quality training that I can and currently I’m trying to deliver it in more locations and continents. In that way I am trying to set some form of example for all that’s worth. Our trainings do seem to change the lives of those who do them. What KPJAYI or Yoga Alliance will do or not do I cannot predict.
What I’m trying to do is to inform people. The institutions that we are critical off only have these powers because people, yoga students, give them these powers. If we inform people better they may stop projecting powers onto these institutions. Or they may not. I can’t stop them from doing so but I can give them better information through writing my textbooks, blog articles and more recently on writing what’s wrong with current Ashtanga culture. That was a big step for me. I’ve always tried to only write about how faulty situations can be improved and to see the positive in everything. Obviously, that’s not good enough in this situation.
I can’t see that more regulation, more administration, more paperwork and enforcement will do much good. The problems we see in the Ashtanga world are the same as those in politics, business, economy, religion, etc. They are simply human problems. What we can do is to educate people so that they can make better choices.
I personally don’t’ want to make too many suggestions who people should run their trainings, schools or forms of yoga. I believe in decentralization. The more centralized an organization the easier it is to corrupt it. My approach is to put a lot of time into my spiritual practices to improve myself and increase my ability to reflect, including on my own shortcomings. Additionally, I do as much study of related academic subjects as possible. From that I am trying to provide the type of training that I was looking for when I was young. Above that I believe in liberty and that people should be allowed to make their own choices. If people do wrogn things we need to stand up, speak out and protect the victims. That’s what is happening now and hopefully your and our contribution will be helpful to that extent.
With love and respect
Note: We have been in private communication with Gregor, but also want to respond here to be part of the public conversation for the sake of readers, especially those who may have been victimized.
Thank you for the considered response.
We appreciate the value of speaking out with the credibility of our full names, however, we chose not to do so on your website because these events are still “fresh” and we do not want to fully commit our stories to the public realm. They do not involve dead persons as Karen Rain’s events do, and so speaking without anonymity can compromise ongoing legal and medical care, and so we need to appropriately structure ourselves and our circumstances to support the consequences of that full commitment.
And for us to be clear, effectiveness is not our main concern. Our own desire for safety and healing is our primary concern. You may feel comfortable with people knowing where you live, but the last thing we want is someone to know where we live. That said, we do have a lot of “skin” in the “game,” though this particular game does not feel very fun to us. That skin has been torn and badly wounded, and it is precisely for this reason that we have learned to be cautious and protective. We never wanted to have any skin in any game, we only wanted to learn and heal and better ourselves, and were drawn into this against our will by the actions of others.
The condition of anonymity gives us and other victims/knowers the ability to speak at this moment without threat of harassment or other actions that would be detrimental to our well-being. Many people elect to preserve their anonymity in legal proceedings, in speaking with the press, and in “whistleblowing.” There are important reasons that the protection of anonymity is well-respected in matters of weight and consequence.
In being victimized the way that we were, we were completely out of control. As part of reclaiming agency and self-determination, we need to control the narrative that we present and to regulate who is able to contact us. The request of identification of a victim or speaker is a common tactic of intimidation and threat. We have so much respect for Karen Rain in attaching her name to her narrative; that day is not today for us, though we are working towards that.
We also granted the veil of anonymity to the perpetrators of these actions, ill-deserved though that may be. We speak only out of desire to advance the conversation and prevent the future suffering of others, not to win a “game.”
For some weeks, we have been discussing contacting Mr Remski or of publishing the non-redacted story on our own website, so thank you for the encouragement. We just don’t feel that the right place to “break the story,” so to speak, is in your comments section.
“If pursuing that avenue you could easily get your medical bills back and quite probably compensation in some form.” We have attempted to bring legal action, which unfortunately failed due to technicality. It’s good to hear that you are aware of cases that have succeeded in Australia. There is a small precedent of successful legal suit in the US, however, it is still pretty rare. Regardless of the success or failure of a suit it is definitely far from “easy” either in terms of the emotional strain or the work required for that process.
To any other victims: speak to both the police and medical professionals immediately. Go to the police. Don’t speak to another teacher, the yoga alliance, KPJAYI, or anyone else. Any delay works against you. Time defends perpetrators and buries their victims.
Dear X & Y,
Thanks for taking the time to elaborate further. I understand now how distressing the situation was and is for you and apologize for pushing you to go public. I will change my policy and will from now not push victims of sexual, physical and spiritual abuse or KP Jois and or the Ashtanga culture to go public before they deem themselves ready. You are right, this is actually part of silencing the victims.
I also understand that while we have an established discussion related to sexual abuse and assault, the discussion and revelation of physical abuse is only just starting.
So again my apology for being pushy and my gratitude that you felt safe to come forward on my blog page. We have a long journey ahead of use for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing. Let’s take this journey together.
Love and respect
Dear X & Y,
Thank you so much for sharing your stories and insights. I am so sorry to hear about the injuries you suffered.
I’m very sad, but not surprised at all that sexual abuse/assault still occurs frequently in the Ashtanga world. Any community that claims ‘it doesn’t happen anymore’ is obviously still in denial. Especially since they never addressed it in the first place. For a community to address the issue responsibly they should be able to detail the policies and practices they have in place to help prevent sexual harassment/abuse/assault and how they deal with it when it happens, including support for the victims.
I’m also very sad that you don’t feel safe enough to give your names. It shows that nothing in the ‘AY community’ has really changed.
In regards to teaching qualifications etc. I still like the idea of teacher cooperatives. Where I live there were a group of small farmers who could not afford to get the national organic certification. The formed a cooperative where they outlined their organic farming practices and they hold each other accountable. They visit each other’s farms, share ideas and learn from each other.
This way teachers with similar ideas about yoga teacher qualifications could join together and determine the policies and practices for their unique cooperative. There could even be a teacher cooperative for those who believe students should just trust the practice and not question the teacher. LOL.
Thank you again, X, Y, Gregor and Monica for bringing truthful, discerning, caring and courageous voices to this conversation.
Great Article Gregor – I can relate to most of the content. On the Vinyasa Count, I once spent a whole weekend’s Workshop with a Member of the Jois family to which they sat ( literally ) throughout the whole period voicing the Viyasa Count – with no adjustments, corrections or practical advice – only to finish the Course with 2 hours of Sanskrit Chanting.
THANK you for this article. So cogent. So urgent. My only sadness is how overdue this discussion feels.
Thank you for writing this article. I think it needs to be talked about especially from the perspective of the Senior Teachers of the Lineage. I am a young teacher and practitioner and have spent a lot of time with several Senior Teachers who I have found to be amazing people and yoga teachers. I really wish the Senior Teachers would come together and do something to help get the Lineage back on track. It means a lot to many of us and it is concerning as to where the future will be. I love the system, don’t like dogma or fundamentalism, and from many years of teaching know and agree that it has to be modified to be helpful or applicable to the students.
Thank you so much for this dialogue Gregor and Monica. On a smaller but still destructive scale, I am seeing the invidious effects of guru worship in my local yoga community. I am following your posts in the hope you offer ways to deal with it.
Hello, I practice Ashtanga for about 3 years, twice a week in class with great teacher and also try to practice at home. I’m a little confused by the light of what I’m reading recently. Do you think i should continue to practice Ashtanga in the classroom and at home,or look for another yoga method … I love practicing in Ashtanga but the whole situation is confusing. Thanks
I believe Ashtanga is a great method in the hand of the right person. In the hand of a cult-bound teacher it can lead people into the wrong direction. There are good Ashtanga teachers and not so good ones as in every other area of live. The teacher should be open to questioning, not impose their authority ask for consent when adjusting and not answer questions merely by stating that something is “traditional” (A tradition which started 50 or so years ago). You must do your own diligence which teacher is good. There is no external validator which can do that, no web directory that separates good teachers from bad ones. Hope this helps. Gregor