Today I want to honor the woman who blew the whistle on sexual abuse in Ashtanga-culture, Anneke Lucas. As Beryl Bender Birch recently said in a podcast even back in the 1980’s everybody knew about Jois’ actions. While everybody knew and few confronted Jois, it took one very brave person to be the first to publicly write about it and thus initiate a platform on which more women can now speak out.
Why do I keep posting about this subject? As far as I know only about half a dozen Ashtanga teachers have come out with apologies about their past actions and concrete support for the assaulted women. To me it looks as if 99% of Ashtanga teachers and this includes most of the big hitters are simply just hoping for this storm to blow over. To make matters worse those who dare to speak up are constantly questioned about their “agenda”. Why are those who remain silent not questioned about their agendas?
One of the last times that I sat in K. Pattabhi Jois’ afternoon student meeting (called “conference”) I looked at a photo of Ramana Maharishi that was hanging on the wall. I asked Jois, “how come Ramana is considered spiritually liberated but he hasn’t done any asanas in his whole life”? I didn’t mean any harm with that question. I was just curious. There are several potential avenues an answer could take and I was simply curious which one Jois would take. But he never got to answering the question. A storm of protest started and I was screamed down by about 20 other Western students. It was considered “questioning the guru”. The screaming subsided after about 2 minutes. KP Jois’ looked around somewhat baffled and then went back to discussing his previous topic, rasam recipes.
When I first visited KP Jois house in late 1995 I did so with the desire to study classical Ashtanga Yoga. I interviewed him closely what sort of yoga he was teaching and he affirmed that it was indeed Patanjali’s yoga. That made me sign up with him. In the following years we Ashtanga yogis often sniggered at the Iyengars because we smugly thought we had it over them. Already the name of our yoga showed that it was a true, authentic and ancient form of yoga, whereas theirs was a yoga named after a modern person, it’s founder. But this initial hubris was long ago replaced by a questioning of what Ashtanga today is, and what it should be.
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.
My respect and gratitude to Mary Taylor who is coming out in support of Karen Rain in her latest blog article. Mary powerfully writes, “I see this as a time when the ashtanga lineage has an opportunity to evolve into one that is founded in truth rather than avoidance or denial, openness rather than tunnel vision, caring for others rather than putting ourselves first.”
After completing this article last night, after a long period of insomnia, I awoke again to a very disturbing nightmare. I feel exposed and vulnerable and now understand the terror Karen Rain speaks of in daring to state the brutal truth, in piercing the pressure of silence. With trust… Monica