Now that the sexual misconduct of Pattabhi Jois has become common knowledge and while the victims wait their apology students are asking “now what?” What remains is a system of yoga practice and a hierarchy that are equally destructive to individuals, Ashtanga Yoga and yoga in general.
For almost the last two decades my husband Gregor Maehle and I have taught Ashtanga Yoga in its holistic eight-limbed version outside of the ‘KP Jois tradition’. I was one of the first people to be removed from ‘The List’ in the early 2000s. I did not care because I did not want to be associated with what seemed to me a system gone wrong. When attempting to voice any dissent in Mysuru (the previous colonial name was Mysore) or amoungst friends Gregor and I we were publicly and privately condemned. We only dared express our observations and interpretations in the intimate, safe environment of our teacher trainings. It was and still is important to us that the tower of illusion maintained by the Jois tradition does not sully Patanjali’s eight-limbed Ashtanga Yoga.
My first visit to the KPJAYI in Mysuru was in 1995. I was authorised in 1996 after completing the Intermediate series. After three separate visits, totaling eight months in Mysuru I decided there were too many aspects of the Jois tradition that I disagreed with and could not abide by. I did not return after 1999.
1. I felt it was imperative for students to have the opportunity practice all the eight limbs of yoga regardless of physical prowess. Initially we were told that you could only learn pranayama once you completed the Intermediate series of postures. This later was changed to a completion of the Advanced A series. Pattabhi Jois did make some exceptions and allowed a select few to join the advanced asana group although these classes were infrequent. Sharath Jois did not teach pranayama while we visited Mysuru from 1995 – 1999.
2. We understood that meditation was to be reserved for those who had mastered pranayama. However, as the pranayama series was taught with four-minute kumbhakas (breath retentions) this made both pranayama and meditation pretty well out of reach for nearly every student. When I discovered Ashtanga Yoga I had already reaped the benefits of meditation for 13 years. I had no intention of giving up my meditation practice. Gregor also discontinued his study at KPJAYI in 1999 but visited Mysuru once more in 2004 to complete his study of pranayama and meditation, which he began in 1996 with BNS Iyengar (a former student of Krishnamacharya and then Pattabhi Jois). We were only ever taught the single limb of asana at KPJAYI.
3. There were no spiritual teachings or guidance. In the eight months that I spent studying with Pattabhi Jois in Mysuru, I attended every ‘Conference’ held. This time was spent discussing all sorts of things from rasam recipes (a South Indian soup) to the price of gold but never spirituality. I never heard Pattabhi Jois say anything profound. For this reason I referred to him as my asana teacher and had a separate spiritual teacher.
4. And then there is the myth of what makes an ‘advanced yogi’. In the Jois tradition this is based solely on physical prowess. The direct way to receive Ashtanga Yoga ‘certification’ was to complete the Advanced A series of postures and that only in Mysuru. What does the ability to perform advanced asana mean in the realm of an eight-limbed yoga path? It is this very attitude that idolises physical prowess and dictates and upholds it as the foundation of the hierarchy of yogic advancement that sadly makes a circus of yoga. This proverbial carrot of ‘the next posture’ and/or ‘the next series’ often allures students into a practice of discontent, self-coercion, greed, ambition and destruction. The opposite to what one hopes their yoga practice will bring.
5. Time spent in Mysuru was the main criteria that both earned you the next posture and/or permission to teach, i.e. to be authorised or certified. No kudos was given to time spent studying or practising anywhere else or even with a Jois certified teacher. Unfortunately, however, there was little education in the Mysuru room that qualified a student for the role of teaching apart from the limited education of receiving adjustments and more recently that gained from being talked through a vinyasa-count class. My instruction on a new posture was generally “Next posture you do”. When this subject and the insistence that one return to Mysuru every 12-18 months for at least 2-3 months was questioned the standard justification was that it was all about the mystical effects of parampara (the succession of knowledge from one guru to student). Authorised and certified teachers were strictly forbidden to hold their own teacher trainings as this was reserved as a qualification only the Jois family could impart. My interpretation of this was an attempt to monopolise the teaching of Ashtanga Yoga for personal power and profit. I knew the teachings to fall short in equipping students with important teaching skills and to fail the tradition of true Ashtau-anga (eight-limbed) yoga so did not adhere to this restriction.
6. I was fortunate to mainly practice with Pattabhi Jois under the watchful eye of my then boyfriend, now husband, Gregor Maehle. I remember on at least one occasion feeling Pattabhi Jois’ genitals against me. As he did not have an erection I presumed it was innocent poor positioning. I do not remember if this was before or after I met Gregor as I was practising in the small Lakshmipuram shala for two months before meeting Gregor in Mysuru. At the end of class I touched Pattabhi Jois’ feet as was customary to an Indian guru. He only offered his hugs to female students. The rare male insisted. I was fortunate to not have been kissed and groped at the same time. Having been the victim of overt sexual abuse at the age of 19 by the most revered Australian Iyengar teacher at that time, who was more than 40 years my senior, I deeply empathise with those who were abused by a teacher they trusted.
7. Contrary to fellow students complaining about Pattabhi Jois’ faults or flaws I only heard denial, justification, idolisation, projection and worship of someone I experienced as a simple, cute, cuddly old man who accidently stumbled upon fame and fortune. Students told me of dreams they had about him where he gave them guidance and generally created a sense of mystique and awe around him. I did not experience this which made it easy for me to leave.
8. I did witness and personally experience the dangerous adjustments given by K. Pattabhi and Sharath Jois at that time. I would cringe watching others being adjusted and avoiding doing certain postures when they were watching. To the loud “pop” of ligaments being torn Pattabhi Jois would comment “Mmmm, good. Opening”. Mysore became known for My sore knee, My sore back, etc. This damage was not only done in the practice room in Mysuru but is perpetuated by many teachers who have simply copied the same adjustments their teacher gave them. We actively discouraged our students from visiting Mysuru concerned that they would also incur injuries as we had. Many of these adjustments are anatomically and biomechanically unsound and thereby unsafe. I notice that adjustments are now often referred to as ‘assists’. I presume this is an attempt to soften the attitude of the adjuster, however, there is still much that needs to change. As a doctor of chiropractic and a yoga therapist I still often have the broken bodies of yogis on my table. Sometimes I can put them back together again and in some cases they will carry their injuries with them for the rest of their lives.
My personal fear is that as yoga teachers we will lose the PRIVILEGE to use the profound communication tool and healing power of touch. Drawing on my training and skills as a Chiropractor, my contribution to yoga has been and continues to be to revolutionise yoga adjusting that it is the healing art it has the potential to be. We have always encouraged autonomy, open dialogue and verbal consent in the area of students being adjusted and train our teachers to do the same. In the light of past occurrences I urge teachers to formally give students the option to consent or deny being adjusted in asana.
In 2000 Gregor and I removed the picture of Pattabhi Jois from our 8 Limbs yoga studio wall and left only a picture of Krishnamacharya. We held a staff meeting and told our teachers that we would no longer use the title of ‘Guruji’ when referring to Pattabhi Jois but instead his given name. I acknowledge, respect and am grateful for the contribution that Pattabhi Jois has made to yoga and myself personally by making the Ashtanga vinyasa practice accessible to the yoga community. In acknowledgement of this in 2010 I placed a small picture of Pattabhi Jois alongside one of BNS Iyengar beneath a larger picture of Krishnamacharya up on our yoga shala wall. I still could not accept nor appreciate the cult-like system that was built around him.
Our conscious withdrawal from the Mysuru community and the Jois tradition was our silent protest. We were denounced, criticised and rejected especially by other local Ashtanga Yoga schools, teachers and students. I perceived that a cult had been built around the Jois family and the form of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as they teach it. There is much more I could write to elaborate but consciously omit in an attempt to not perpetuate the harm already done with no constructive purpose in confirming my points. Writing this statement is a healing for me. I now feel safe and ready for criticism in finally coming out and publicly speaking the unspoken of my long held conscience except when teaching those whose trust I felt. This open conversation is well overdue. I wish I had had the courage of state this publicly before now. I apologise for any complicity on my part that contributed to the suffering of those who have been sexually, physically and/or spiritually abused. The power behind the abuses committed by Pattabhi Jois and permitted by the Ashtanga community still stands until the tower of illusion built around the Jois tradition of Ashtanga Yoga is fully deconstructed. We need to reclaim Patanjali’s eight-limbed Ashtanga Yoga and free it of this bondage. Finally the time is right and the obvious is captured in the spotlight.
Faith, devotion and worship is appropriate only to the Divine.
If you have not already I recommend:
I just want to say thank you to you and your husband. All of this news has been so heartbreaking and confusing as a home practitioner. It’s really nice to have teachers speak openly and honestly about the subject. Much love.
Thank you for your kind support Samantha.
For the love of yoga…
Thank you very much Mónica, I can feel your love in this words…Namasté from Patagonia…
Thank you German… wow! Patagonia.
Fantastic piece. Thank you Monica.
Thank you Rionach.
I look forward to meeting you soon in Paros!
Thank you for posting this article and speaking openly.
Thank you for your support Antonie.
Thank you for posting and sharing! I 100% agree only the worship of the Divine is appropriate. I applaud you and your husband!!
Thank you Greville.
Thank you Monica for your very well stated and story.
So transparent, frank and so much honesty. I am an ashtanga practisioner myself and it changed me (gradualy).
Its a great tool in life and it realy transforms every aspect in my life. But thats the methode of hatha yoga. Has nothing to do with guru’s or idols. It definitly has to do with inspiration. Inspiration you find in yourself and through other, beautifull people like you and Gregor. One of the few books on ashtanga I use as a guide is Gregors beautifull book. Its a gem. So is your honnest statement. I am allergic to cultism and that made me second guesing if I wanted to do this practise. After a year I could separate this as “their thing” and when I come across it, it doesn’t bother me. Never had the urge to go to mysore though. My mysore is up stairs, in my home shala?. Every morning I Will enter this sanctuary and practise. It works. Thanks for your inspirational amd empowering story. Especialy young people can Use this to be empowered and protect themselves from idolism
You were wise…
Thank you and Namaste, Monica
Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts, the more I read the more I’m learning about Mysore/uru. I hope the more people who read and share the more change will be brought about to keep everyone safe. Thanks again,
PS love your books 😉
Thank you Sherren.
This dialogue extends to the Martial Arts community as well. The positive aspects are that as these practices are translated into “Western Culture” we are better teachers because we live in a more “open culture” then China or India.. Teachers in those countries require students to jump through hoops, where as in European, Australian and American cultures, we make the information more readily available. I might add both systems have their down sides.. However, in the Long Run, the bigger perspective, people from these cultures will seek out the traditions from their cultures in the West…I just experienced this with Mongolian Student at The University where I teach Yoga/Tai Chi/Qigong. His parents sent him to Texas to learn Western culture and to become a scientist.When he went home to visit in December, they asked what he had learned and he began teaching them Qigong which he had learned in classes I taught..
It is BKS Iyengar (not BNS). Krishnamacharya was Iyengar’s brother in-law. Iyengar was a fellow student of Krishnamachayra along with Patabhi Jois.
Hi Leigh. There is another teacher in Mysuru who is called BNS Iyengar (Iyengar is quite a common Indian name). He was initially a student of Krishnamacarhya and then continued on with Pattabhi Jois when he took over his classes at the Parakala Math in Mysuru. He taught the eight limbs of yoga there until not long ago but is still alive.
That’s your only comment? To try to correct her?
What an insightful, thoughtful and generous article.
No problem to clarify Leigh and thank you for your kind words Clorber.
It is great that you and your husband are speaking out. The guru worship and the concept of surrender have done a great deal of harm. And I would love to see more exploration of the crazy idea that the guru knows your body better than you do.
Thank you Susan. You are so right… Keep an eye out. You can be sure Gregor will write more on this topic. Namaste, Monica
Thank you for this honest account.. I rarely read these articles but was drawn to yours. As a yoga teacher I see a lot of this happening on a different scale and the idea of the teacher becoming this idol. I am an actress and went through a vigerous training so when it came to my yoga training I was very aware of those being drawn in to the ups and downs, needing the attention of their teacher and craving for the adjustment. It happens sadly in most industries but somehow in yoga we have this unspoken trust and a lot of us are broken when start our path and vulnerable. You have opened my eyes to the practices in Mysore and it doesn’t suprise me in the least. I hope one day our paths would cross or with your husband. Keep sharing your light and shining.
Thank you so much Cloudia.
Thank you for sharing Monica.
You inspire strength to speak up and acknowledge that when something feels wrong, we shouldn’t ignore it just because no one else sees it the same way.
That is it exactly Angeliki.
Thank you and this reminds me of my mother who always did that…
Namaste to you, Monica
Hi Monica, thank you for sharing your story. I have read all of your/Gregor’s books over the years (at least three times each!) and am eternally grateful for your teachings that continue to encapsulate all aspects of Ashtanga Yoga, not just asana.
Your story above resonates deeply with me. I am a mobile yogi with seven plus years practice. Unfortunately I have endured two years of chronic injury from a torn hip labrum and a bulging disc, both of which were incurred from continous aggressive adjustments. I have done a lot of reflection over the last two years on why we allow our bodies to be manually pushed so far beyond our range of motion, particularly for someone like myself, an already bendy young lady. I came to many of the conclusions and sentiments you wrote above. This practice is built upon ahimsa, and yet , here we are today!
Thank you again for sharing, it made me feel more confident in my own breaking from “orthodox ashtanga”.
I am looking forward to practicing with Gregor in London at the end of next month.
Many blessings ??
Thank you for you kind feedback and for sharing your experience.
It is so very much appreciated.
So helpful, Monica! You and Gregor are a beacon of light, wisdom, kindness, and good sense in the yoga universe. In gratitude, Mark
Thank you so very much Mark. Namaste
Who was the Australian Iyengar teacher you reference here? It seems important all cards are laid on the table in situations such as these.
I did disclose this a little later when I reposted this article on our 8 Limbs FB page. I agree it is important to not hold back and am currently writing a piece on why victims do not speak out. The man was the late Martyn Jackson.
I was Mysore in 1976. And returned briefly in 78 to learn that KPJ’s younger son had drowned….The elder son was already in Maui.
I saw the same problem with extreme ‘adjustments’ – stuff that in another context would have been torture…I partly blame the gullibility of students thinking that hatha yoga was so important….!
At that time I never heard about sexual abuse.
Dear Monica I began yoga as a student at your 8 Limbs Studio about 13-14 years ago. I came to yoga having been severly burnt-out after 20 years working as a activist, counsellor, educator/trainer and manager specialising in rape, child sexual assault and historic sexual assault. I thank you for sharing your harrowing experience and insights regarding this issue. I know how much courage it takes to publically share – and the torture of also not doing so. Yoga and ashtanga became my healer and sanctory. I thank you and Gregor for amazing classes adjustments and teachings. (I still read/use the books and am touched by what i learnt from you both). I was so grateful for the practice, i went to Mysuru to practice directly with Pattabhi Jois and learn and deepen my yoga and the Ashtanga approach and community. I stayed for only a few days, because of what i saw and experienced. Whilst i was not abused and did not see this myself, alarm bells went off for me – for the reasons you so eloquently described. I was so dismayed, i not only left mysore i did not reallt return to yoga for a decade, as i did not want to be associated with such things. I am now so relieved women like yourself, are finally saying openly what needs to be said. (A similar situation happened with buddhism when it first arrived in the west decades before. Then too there was rampant exploitation of power and sex). So thanks to all those who are speaking out. thank you for sharing Monica. In ignorance i have to admit i questioned in those days back then, why you and Gregor were no longer ‘accredited’ by Pattabi Jois and numerous other things at the time. Your article has finally clarified this and other things. Continue to be the light and inspiration you and Gregor are. As uncomfortable and disturbing this conversation is, it is important to continue to have these challenging conversations, to support survivors and to create a path of yoga teachings ove ahead that are worthy of the word yoga. Love and gratitude to you both. PS i am now back on the mat and happy to help out if i could be of any assistance!
Thank you Michelle for your honesty and kind support.
Yes it is so important to support victims to survivor status. To disarm the power that perpetuates silence and places blame and shame on the assaulted instead of the assailant.
You and Gregor have been immense guides in my journey with Ashtanga, which i value and practice daily. My Hapkido Master calls it ‘super conditioning’, and i have gathered good teachings from him, a Korean Martial Arts Master.
just a heartfelt THANK YOU. <3
A beautiful and profoundly brave position. I am one of the many who came to Ashtanga in Purity and left with a bitter taste from misogynist and dogmatic teachers who were (perhaps unconsciously) more intersted in thier own ego than satya. Thank you for sharing.
Hari Om Tat Sat
Thank you Jodie for sharing your experience. It’s important.
Hari Om, Monica
Thank you Monica for writing this so openly and clearly. I was a student of the newer generation of Ashtanga Yoga “in the KPJ tradition”. I made four extended trips to Mysore between 2013 and 2016, spent twelve months in total practicing with Sharath. I too was part of the crazy cognitive dissonance happening. I am thankful for the experience life gave me in such an early age (I was 23 when I made my first trip) but after my last trip in 2016, I decided to not return. I was never injured by any adjustment given to me by Sharath nor any of his assistants during this 12 months. I was practicing up to dwi pada sirsasana in Mysore, I was driven, ambitious, motivated and dedicated. My reasons for stopping being associated with this “lineage” was 1. I was finding it ridiculous that in the conferences there were clearly “questions to not be asked or we could get a red card from Boss” (This was the initial thing that made me start questioning the whole cult-like system) Why were there some things to never be asked??? Never found an answer at that time in Mysore. Moreover, if I shared some of these questions with few close shala friends, I was only getting a silence and a doubtful look. I had not liked the widespread notion that the Guru should not be questioned. 2. I was in Sharath’s Uttarkashi retreat (practice of primary series led classes for a week) in 2015, it was during that workshop with Eddie Stern and Saraswathi and his personal secretary alongside him that he was given that “Paramaguru” title by an Indian spiritual leader from the ashram the retreat was being held. (So many spiritual leaders in our century) Despite all my respect and (then-)devotion to Sharath, it made me feel like that whole thing was staged and I was left with a feeling that when everyone is now calling themselves a guru, the only way to increase the power and legitimization of him was to stage a ceremony where he’d be titled a paramaguru. It just did not feel genuine to me, I never liked hierarchy anywhere, in any form. And Mysore (main shala) world is all about hierarchy. Thankfully (!) I progressed fastly into the second series after my first trip because Mysore was full of people who were thinking the worthiness of your opinions is in direct correlation with how many postures and series you “accomplished”. There’s as much as hieararchy, as there’d be in an army. Whoa, give me a break! 3. In my last trip to Mysore in 2016, I saw bags and clothes in the shala shop with “Sharath Jois” written on them, which also gave me nausea. I had always liked purchasing stuff from the shala shop which had the old school “KPJAYI” logo on them, at that time I was so much in love with this whole Ashtanga Yoga thing and I liked these old school looking tank tops, that were also a bit like poor designs with not much fancy going on on them. But when I saw these clothes and bags with his name only, I thought this comercialization was just too much for me. I was not finding why anyone would want to buy a clothing item or a bag with her/his yoga teacher’s name on, unless it was a monopoly and an empire. This also contributed me from feeling a strong sense of disassociation from the mainstream Ashtanga community because I was feeling entirely that I am not in the same boat (mindset) with those people/practitioners anymore. In the light of all of this, I know and can understand how precious you and Gregor’s approach to a freer Ashtau-Anga Yoga. I do not continue practicing an asana system based on series anymore. Since stopping the military-like practice, my practice is breathing, yin yoga, Feldenkrais, long-held or hanged headstands and lots of free movements. I am happy I did not stay stuck for longer in that cult-like system although I appreciate what I learned from Sharath in KPJAYI. I learned the anatomy of my body, I learned how strong cognitive dissonance can be, I learned how important and powerful breathing is and I learned that humility and modesty mean a lot and are keys to personal satisfaction. I think we should not be afraid to ask certain questions. Especially if another mortal is claiming to be in a higher status than we are and is trying to sell us something (poses, tank tops, series, anything)
All in all, Thank you for this piece. Your point of view is just inspiring, honest, strong, grounded and real.
Finishing with Bob Marley: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”
All the best.
Thank you for your brave statement, your honest observations and for sharing what you have learnt…
It is very much appreciated.
Thank you Monica.
I am grateful that you and Gregor had the conviction and strength to follow your own path, and work all those years to spread the practice of “Ashtanga Yoga in its holistic eight-limbed version”.
Thank you dear Emil!
Thank you Monica for sharing.
Can I translate this into Korean and share with my friends?
Thank you again:).
Thank you! That would be much appreciated.
Hello Monica! Thanks for sharing, your article is of great help as I’m only starting my yoga practice and am currently planning a trip to Mysore just to learn. Even though you left the Mysore community, is there any teachers there you can suggest? Any experience with BNS Iyengar? Many thanks! 🙂
I have sent you an email..
Thank you for your informative article. Like Jo, I’m planning to go to study Ashtanga in Mysore for a month soon. Would you be able to recommend any Shalas or reliable teachers there? Thanks in advance for your kind attention. Namaste, Om Shanti, Lauren
Thank you for sharing this important information. Like Jo, I’m planning to go to Mysore for 1 month soon to practice Ashtanga. Are there any Shalas or teachers that you wuold recommend contacting there?
Thank you for your kind attention. Namaste, Om Shanti,
I am sorry but I am completely out of touch with Mysore. Last time I was there there was only BNS Iyengar and PK Jois teaching. I hear there many new teachers have sprung up!
I hope you do find a good teacher there.
Don’t forget having everyone chat the opening mantra everyday. But never explaining anything about the meaning. It’s the instruction manual for the practice! It tells us the purpose of practicing. What it’s all about.
Ask teachers questions and demand answers. You shouldn’t have to demand the answers they should be thrilled to help.
Thank You Monica for a very professionally written notice. I am sure most realize this is not just the actions one person. The problem goes way beyond the Jois type Ashtanga. It needs to be called out every where. It’s all of our responsibly to do so.
Thank you Dave
Yes, I agree.
And yes there is a good 99% of valuable theory in the chant that could protect Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga from being the gymnastic cult that it often appears to be.
BNS Iyengar is not BKS Iyengar. Lol
That is right. BNS Iyengar lives in Mysore. BKS Iyengar of Poona is deceased.
thank you for sharing what was in your heart re. Ashtanga. I appreciate from your husband’s book on Samadhi that a teacher although he appears to walk around in Samadhi might actually be a blithering spouter of nonsense when they come off the mountain. And also that a physical practice is only one limb of something far more important that simply was ignored in the Mysore tradition. Perhaps it wasn’t understood or the riches of the Asana practice were what KPjois’ tradition was about. Money, power, fame they are all temptresses. What you said above reinvigorates my sense that Yoga just like religion can be bent to serve those in charge. I don’t know exactly how to forge my own path but investing time and energy in a false guru is a waste of time. How would you suggest growing in spiritual practice to a hidebound westerner with a limited attention span, limited life span, creaky body, limited funds who lives in a small urban setting with culturally conservatives for friend and neighbors?
As a one liner, I can only say to listen to your heart and above all to follow it. It is the only way to live this short life fully.
Thanks for being so brave and talk about this. Some of us need these words to not distance from this sacred practice
Thank you Ariadna.