I’m posting here with a heavy heart the full transcript of Matthew Remski’s interview with Karen Rain.
Matthew forwarded me the interview last night and I read the first half then but couldn’t continue because I found it too distressing. I lay in bed for a long time and reflected, a process that continued through the night and in half daze this morning when reading the rest. I have known Karen as Karen Haberman and have practised close to her for around 10 or 11 months through 1996 and 1997 in KP Jois little Lakshmipuram studio. I will address you, Karen, now directly and will get Matthew to forward you my response.
I want to thank you for coming out with your story. I was trying through the night to remember how close your mat must have been to mine. The old shala held 12 mats and my spot was front row, left corner in the 4:30am time slot. Sharath’s spot was front right and I think you practised next to him. This would have placed your mat about 3 metres maximum from mine. I am completely shocked that you had to go through all of this a few metres away from me and I was ignorant of it. I am deeply sorry.
I am asking myself how I could not notice the extent to which these things were going on. I didn’t initially. We all focussed on our drishti (focal point) and practised as if the devil was breathing down our necks, literally. But I remember at some point I performed a twist, while KP Jois adjusted the girl next to me in drop backs. When I spun around I saw what looked to me like him grabbing her buttocks and rubbing himself against her while he stood between her legs and she was back arching. I was totally shocked. After practise I approached her, told her that I saw what happened and that I was happy to accompany and support her if she wanted to take it up with him. I remember to this day her clarity and steely determination in her eyes when she looked straight at me and said with a smile, “Forget about it. That did not happen. You are making it up”.
I had two similar smaller occurrences when the girls in question simply smiled at me, shook their heads and walked on. At that point I decided that I must have hallucinated or made things up or maybe it was my ego or deviant nature that projected my own problems on the guru. I’m deeply and truthfully sorry. I’m sorry that you, and other women had to go through all of this and that I was so close to you and didn’t know nor did I feel what was going on in you. I should have trusted in my intuition and pursued that until it would blow up in some form or another. In my lack of action, I made myself complicit.
At this point, after having read in the wake of MeToo so many accounts of sexual abuse by women conducted by men, I feel an almost primal shame of being male. I totally agree with you, Karen, that sexual abuse is not about sex. It is a ritual of domination. How much of that have men done to women through the ages. I think it behoves all us men to start treating women with more respect.
Reflecting back now on Mysuru (new de-colonialized name for Mysore) it was a classic example of The Emperor and His New Clothes. The whole story was hidden in plain sight. I made a few attempts to discuss these things with senior teachers (I was a newie then and didn’t practise enough series to be taken seriously) but the response was usually along the lines of “Do your practice and all is coming” or “Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory”. I think I’ll spew if I hear those sentences once more. Questioning the guru was certainly considered theory.
During my last stay in Mysuru in 1999 I shared all of my doubts with a friend. I talked to her about the process of projection, about idealizing a person, about giving up one’s power, hypnotizing oneself into beliefs and finally about taking self-responsibility. She said to me, “What you say sounds much too difficult and tiring. I just want to totally surrender to a person that fixes all my problems in return”. I think these really sums up the crux of the matter nicely. I realized then that I was a member of a cult. Shortly thereafter I packed up and left.
Again, I am really sorry that all of this happened and that it damaged you and other women so much. Again, I’m sorry that I did not do enough to protect you and the others. I want to contribute to your healing by providing a safe space in which you can come forward and express all this. I will continue to post on my media and blog all new revelations in this matter. I also want to thank and acknowledge Anneke Lucas who apparently was the whistle blower on this affair. That must have been really scary to be the first person. Braver than I was.
I would like also to thank you, Karen, for being so clear in your interview what constitutes assault and going through all the intellectualizations and rationalisations, that are trying to explain KP Jois behaviour away. I hope that we as a movement, the Ashtanga culture, can stop doing that and be truthful about what happened. I hope that we can show that we are more than a cult. And I believe we are or should I say that we can become that?
Now here I am talking about providing a safe space where you can heal but I have to actually thank you for providing a safe space to me where I can come out.
The year when you left, 1998, I wasn’t there. I came back in 1999 for a short period with unstable knees. My knees were getting better at the time and I could again do most of my practise. I shared my knee problem with Sharath Jois (then R. Sharath) and asked to be adjusted gently or not at all. In the coming weeks Sharath almost daily mounted me in Baddha Konasana by standing on both my knees with his full body weight. As he stepped up forcefully from behind, he found it hard to catch his balance and had to hold on to my shoulders to not fall over me. For a few moments he swung back and forth on my knees and it felt as if he was grinding them to dust.
After the first day my knees were swelling to the size of footballs and I could hardly walk. Somehow, I thought the guru knows better and knows my body better than I (where did I get that idea from?) and I kept coming back for more. My knees were really saved by a senior teacher who came around to me and said, “Do not go back into that room! They don’t know what they are doing! If you don’t take responsibility for your body, you will end up in a wheelchair!” There was somehow an implied knowledge of that but nobody spoke out. I left Mysuru shortly thereafter and never went back to practice in the Jois shala. I am glad that I strongly advised any of my students not to go there.
I am not writing that with any resentment. I have forgiven Sharath long ago. After years of healing my knees came good and I have a well-going daily Ashtanga practice 20 years on. The reason why I’m writing this is because there is still an emperor with no clothes in Mysuru. I think an apology should be issued by the Jois family for sexual assault and violating adjustments. More importantly I think there needs to be a disclaimer that Sharath has any form of guru status, that he knows our bodies better than we do. Let’s stop projecting our power on gurus and let’s cease worshipping people who insist on passing on knowledge and especially sacred knowledge in vertical relationships. That doesn’t work anymore (did it ever?).
As all these things are being revealed the cult-like, fundamentalist tendencies in Ashtanga Yoga have only increased. More than ever one person defines exactly what is correct practice. Even just recently Sharath has accepted the title parama guru, claiming the fact that he is the only true representative of an ancient lineage and the only person to authorize teachers, etc. I am concerned that the wool is still being pulled over the eyes of young, unsuspecting people. To my knowledge the title was actually conferred to him by a Western senior teacher. The bogus-parampara juggernaut is still being propelled forward. Karen, you have brilliantly explored the issue of complicity in your interview, so I need not embark here on the issue.
And the cover-up is still going on. In the last 24 hours I have hear from several sides that the video showing KP Jois sexually assaulting and adjusting violently students has been taken down several times by petitions of Jois followers. This has to stop. The cover-up has to stop and what has been done has to be owned. What we need here is a Truth and Reconciliation process and it needs to start with the truth. And not with cover-up.
Until that has been done and apologies have been made a call to boycott the Jois shalas in Mysore is only fair. Also, those who are still touching the feet of that emperor without clothes should think whether they are not continuing that trajectory of power transfer that leads to unhealthy relationships and abuse.
One woman commenting on my last post signed off with #gurufreezone. I have not explored that link but after all that has happened I think we need to make modern Ashtanga Yoga a guru free zone. Let’s be a collective of equals in which any form of teaching is not handed down in vertical relationships and where gurus can do as they please. Let’s turn modern Ashtanga Yoga into a collective of equals where teachers are mere facilitators and servants of growth for students. Let’s take our power back and stop projecting it on people who are as flawed as we all are.
PS This post is only a fragment of what needs to be said but I hope to be addressing all that later down the track. Thanks to all of you who commented on my initial post of M. Remski’s article. I found them very valuable and will continue to read all.
Thank you so much Gregor Maehle for your beautiful, honest, insightful and heartfelt response to my interview. Please don’t feel bad thinking that you could have or should have done something differently. I could have been one of the women who ‘simply smiled at you, shook their heads and walked on’ when you approached them about the sexual abuse. Thank you for believing me now, for understanding that sexual, spiritual and institutional abuse are complex and for not shaming me for not recognizing what was happening to me at the time.
I’ve been thinking that AY teachers who want to continue to venerate Pattabhi Jois and teach yoga adhering to his tradition/lineage/method ought to call it Vinyasa Yoga (honesty in advertising). And teachers like you and Monica Gauci and others are much more deserving of the label Ashtanga (8 limbed) Yoga teachers.
Gregor. In awe of your courage and integrity. Thank you for helping to free yoga from the clutches of patriarchy and misogyny. I studied Asthanga yoga for 10 years in the 90’s but somehow avoided going to Mysore. Still I was both sexually assaulted and violently adjusted by Jois on his visits to the States, as I detailed in Matthew’s article. Again, thanks for being an ally!
Thanks for your response, Katchie Ananda. It’s great that these things are finally brought out in the open and that the myth of the infallible, adorable guru is pierced. Sorry to hear that you got assaulted by Jois, too. I think Matthew’s book has gone beyond the final draft state but he may still record further cases if you are interested. It may be good to add your voice. Love and respect!
Thank you, Karen Rain, and Gregor Maehle.
As an ashtanga yoga practitioner for the last 30 + years who has been physically (and emotionally) injured by physical assists in ashtanga vinyasa classes, I honor you both for your honesty, courage, and integrity.
The collective physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds have been a toxic opposite to what should have always been shared as a beautiful system of self-care.
Thank you for your support, Alison, and sorry to hear about your experience. Yes, this seems to be a common story. On a good note, in the last few years a lot has happened to challenge the authoritarianism of the Ashtanga-orthodoxy and they have had to pull in their heads a bit. Here’s to continued improvement.
Hi there, just wanted to mention, I enjoyed this post. It was inspiring.
Keep on posting!