My Learning Curve From Ashtanga Yoga to Matthew Remski

Update (April 2021): In February 2021, in an exchange between Matthew Remski and a friend of mine, who was trying to offer him feedback about his tone, Remski wrote the following:

“You might be interested to learn that I’ve alienated a substantial portion of the yoga abuse survivor network I worked to support, largely without pay, for 4 years. Not because of my tone, but because I spoke out against QAnon, and many of them are indoctrinated.”

As a survivor who expressed disappointment with Remski publicly, I imagine that he would like people to believe that QAnon has indoctrinated me. I personally think QAnon is both racist and a front for child sex trafficking

And speaking of unpaid labor, I (and other survivors) trusted Remski and, with his ongoing encouragement, spent countless hours sharing traumatic experiences and insights giving him content for writing that culminated in a book that has gained him clout, social capital, and career opportunities.

Remski claims that he is open to and appreciative of feedback. While he worked on abuse in yoga, he was always interested in my opinions and seemed to earnestly cultivate what I considered a friendship. However, his interest disappeared when he pivoted from covering sexual abuse in yoga to covering conspirituality. He switched from publicly saying, “We need to listen to survivors,” (which was in his best interest professionally at the time) to “survivors are particularly susceptible to conspiracy.” I told him that this abstraction was both harmful to survivors in general and personally made me feel objectified. He essentially disregarded me.

Also noteworthy is that my original FB post trying to get him to take some responsibility was precisely critical of his dismissive and condescending tone in an FB exchange with a survivor who was sharing trauma. And his tone is definitely part of how he alienated me.

With time, distance, and reflection, in addition to his sudden lack of respect for my feedback and what is written in the post below, there are many other things that lead me to believe that Matthew Remski’s “friendship” with me was merely opportunist. But I am not ready to discuss them publicly. I am sorry that I trusted him and believed him to be a friend.

(From Nov 2020, edited) One of the main points I tried to make in a recent interview that I did in Spanish is that an organization or community can have the best policies for addressing abuse and sexual violence but that won’t matter one bit if there aren’t individuals who are willing to speak up when an influential or respected person does something unacceptable or ignorant. And by speaking up, are willing to risk damaging or losing any of the following: connections, status, opportunities, social capital, work, money, and sometimes more. 

In an ideal world there would be consequences, both big and small (sometimes education might suffice), for all speech and behavior that is degrading, sexist, racist, abusive, exploitive, etc. Unfortunately, the more privilege and influence one has, the less likely they are to face consequences for such behavior. Maybe the best that onlookers can do is set an example by making our disapproval known. Hopefully, making such instances into learning opportunities will lead to more community pressure for accountability and justice. 

The following is in no way meant to discredit any of Matthew Remski’s writings that feature survivors who expose abusers. While Matthew Remski was working on covering abuse in yoga, he gained my trust by listening carefully and attentively to me (and other survivors) and  my name is connected with his. Yet at this point, my praise of him would not come without reservations. I’ve noticed some patterns that conflict with not only my own ethics and values, but with those I believed Remski shared, and that contradict the standards he held other people to and the work we did together. 

One pattern includes scornful modes of communication with people who have infinitely less influence than he does and do not warrant his disrespect, especially in a public forum. Impulsivity and anger can be hard to avoid on social media, I am no exception to that. However, this type of response is particularly problematic with Remski because of his position as a white, cis, male who champions survivors and allies in his commentary on dominance, abuse, and trauma.

Another pattern revolves around questionable choices in the people he is amplifying or using to amplify himself. There are recently at least three people with whom Remski has worked that directly conflict with what I thought were his values. One of them Remski himself has told me is narcissistic and hypocritical, and that they blatantly ignored survivor testimony for their own self-promotion (something he cites as motivating him to sue one of his critics).  Another has taken a position on abuse in a manner that Remski has criticized in the past, and the third has ethical complaints against them. The burden should not be on me to try to hold these people accountable, I’m not associated with them. Remski knows who I am talking about. 

For eight weeks, I tried communicating with Remski about these patterns and him taking responsibility, but it didn’t go well, which was both surprising and disappointing. I thought he was different, because in the past (when I was useful to him) he had been receptive, even appreciative, when I offered him feedback and criticism. As a survivor, true receptivity to my suggestions and critique has been very rare. Plus, because Remski (sometimes along with me) has pushed for and written about transparency; justice; and making skillful apologies, accountability statements, and amends; I never thought that he would complain about “cancel culture.” I always thought that he would take responsibility for problematic behavior. Wagatwe Wanjuki has written an excellent article about how “It’s no coincidence that people on top of the privilege pyramid are the ones who complain about cancel culture the most.”

After I publicly posted concern on FB, Remski reached out offering to pay for mediation, rejecting other communication as unviable. I declined for several reasons, including that it sounded like he would not be willing to own accountability publicly, and accordingly, mediation comes with a Non-Disclosure Agreement, which I’ve told him I strongly oppose.

I went public because I wanted Remski to take responsibility publicly. Furthermore, since I now question Remski’s integrity, I want to distance my name from his, as they have been closely linked. And more importantly, I want to do what I have asked other people to do: let people know when you have concerns about the behavior of an influential person who you have openly trusted, respected, worked with, or supported.







Entrevista en Español

Como parte del Congreso Virtual Mundo Ashtanga Yoga 2020, la organizadora Antonela Dada me entrevistó poniendo las siguientes preguntas muy pensativas y respetuosas:

1 Definir abuso sexual, abuso espiritual.

2 ¿Cuales son las condiciones que lo permiten?

3 ¿Cómo la presión social y sistémica habilita y sostiene la violencia sexual?

4 ¿Cómo se pueden prevenir?

5 ¿Cómo responder a un abuso sexual?

6 Herramientas para cortar una situación de abuso

7 ¿Cómo ayudar a una víctima de abuso?

8 ¿Le quieres dejar un mensaje a la comunidad del Yoga?

Un espectador del Congreso, Carlos Sarno, dejo el siguiente comentario sobre mi entrevista:”Quiero agradecer a quienes organizan este congreso, y particularmente a Antonela Dada, por la presentación de esta entrevista. El testimonio, la reflexión y la sabiduría de Karen para plantear un tema que habitualmente tiende a ser silenciado en las organizaciones, es un hito ejemplar en este primer congreso, lo cual es empezar desde el buen lugar para lo que vendrá. Cada tramo de la excelente y difícil entrevista es para sentirnos interpelados. 
Ojala sea ocasión para generar diálogos fecundos y debates necesarios, para que el mundo ashtanga sea de horizontes abiertos y sin dolores silenciados. Son varias las cuestiones que se pueden señalar, desde interrogarnos porque en el lugar central de un shala puede prevalecer la imagen de un abusador, hasta las preguntas por el significado de ciertos conceptos que suelen reiterarse en sentidos coagulados. Quiero compartir una cuestión en particular como practicante novato , y que en el contexto de la entrevista se manifiesta, cuando se considera que la evolución en las posturas o el pasaje en las series no se corresponde necesariamente con una transformación subjetiva ética y espiritual. Algo sin duda a pensar, los miembros o prácticas que reúne el propio nombre ashtanga, pueden no ir de la mano e incluso escindirse en el camino. Antonela Dada pregunta de diversas maneras de qué modo la comunidad de practicantes puede ayudar a las víctimas. 
Pensaba mientras las escuchaba que toda escuela o red de escuelas organizadas podrían implementar entre otras varias condiciones que mencionan, un protocolo como los que desde no hace mucho existen en las universidades públicas y organizaciones políticas, para la recepción de los testimonios de víctimas de abusos sexuales y de poder. Disculpen la extensión, hubiera sido más difícil aún escuchar la entrevista y no poder compartirla. Muchas Gracias”

Para ver mi Entrevista completa hay que registrar aquí:
https://go.hotmart.com/C41186783H (Desafortunadamente el video no está disponible ahora. Pero en el futuro, esperamos difundir el video gratis.)

Aquí están unas perlitas de la entrevista que aparecen en youtube:
https://youtu.be/VJunAJCuvnw
https://youtu.be/_hY4FH8lYCI

Article coauthored with Gregor Maehle and responses

from blog with Gregor

Response to John Scott’s View of Pattabhi Jois’s Sexual Abuse By Karen Rain and Gregor Maehle

***

Guy Donahaye’s letter to John Scott with my introduction:

Thank you, Guy Donahaye for publicly sharing this very bold letter to John Scott and attaching it to the blog that Gregor Maehle and I wrote in response to JS’s views on Pattabhi Jois and sexual abuse.

I completely agree with Anneke Lucas’s comment:
“Great clarity. Thank you. I really appreciate you bringing up private conversations in as much as that they were pertinent to this issue. I also appreciate that you state Eddie Stern privately acknowledged P. Jois’ abuse, even though I will add that he has also privately minimized the abuse, and blamed and attacked victims. Finally, I really appreciate you breaking the taboo on P. Jois’ son’s suicide. A very different portrait is emerging.”

A very different portrait indeed. In the letter Guy discloses Jois family secrets that became Ashtanga yoga secrets. KPJ was violent with his family and he drove his son, Ramesh, to suicide. That’s another issue that we all knew, in the ’90s at least, but wouldn’t admit. Maybe in later years devotees censored any reference to it, the same way they tried to erase hints of KPJ’s sexual violence.

The number of secrets in Ashtanga is astounding, along with a servitude to confidentiality that’s oppressive. AY teachers might want to consider the validity of the saying, “our secrets make us sick.”

Over and over again in communication with Ashtanga teachers they told me things privately that didn’t match what they said publicly, which also did not match things that I heard they said to other people privately.

Speaking about KPJ’s abuse privately is problematic because we don’t know what someone is saying. As Anneke pointed out, Eddie Stern has been privately minimizing KPJ’s abuse as well as blaming and attacking victims. That’s not an acknowledgment. Actually it can cause more harm than not saying anything.

Unfortunately many public “acknowledgments” have also minimized KPJ’s abuse and disrespected victims.

Some teachers are making the effort to learn a respectful approach to acknowledging abuse: to elevate and center victim and witness testimony. Guy’s letter is unambiguous witness testimony to Ashtanga teachers’ corruption and betrayal of survivors of sexual abuse.

Another problem with only acknowledging the abuse privately is that everyone deserves to know the truth. If AY teachers hoping to support KPJ victims are only willing to confirm KPJ’s abuse privately, that means the disclosure will be kept hidden from certain people including many victim/survivors. How are we supposed to feel safe and comforted when “supporters” can’t make a public acknowledgement? Maybe it’s the myth of good intentions.

The myth of good intentions says: Why risk your professional and social status? When the very secrets and myths that built your success silenced and marginalized others, why platform the marginalized voices and support more victims in coming forward? Why learn from them the extent of the harm you were party to and how you can make amends? Why do those things, when you can just say you’d like to do them and enjoy the magnificence and impunity of your good intentions? After all you never meant to harm anyone.

There are a lot of myths in Ashtanga that need busting. In light of the myth of good intentions, it’s interesting to note that Guy’s letter ends with a call to action: It is important to be part of the healing and evolution NOW, so that your actions do not continue to cause suffering to others.

Guy Donahaye

October 11

Dear John Scott

I am writing to you in this public forum in the hope that you will now take some responsibility for the harmful words and actions you have displayed.

Your comments in a recent interview about Pattabhi Jois’s sexual assaults have been thoroughly analyzed and assessed by Karen Rain and Gregor Maehle here: https://chintamaniyoga.com/response-to-john-scotts-view-of…/

It behooves you to read what has been written.

It is perhaps understandable that, until you have been made familiar with the effects of sexual assault and trauma, you will underestimate the impact of your words. It is important to understand the meaning and impact of a few terms: deflection, denial, gaslighting and enabling.

A few months ago I contacted you and all the other teachers who contributed to the book of interviews: Guruji: A Portrait about acknowledging these sexual assaults.

Only four people responded to my letter:

One, Peter Greve, fully supported my proposed action and was ready to make a statement.

Another, Eddie Stern, acknowledged the abuse and supported my action although he has as yet been unable to make a proper public statement. He is also the person I turned to for confirmation about KPJ’s actions after Matthew Remski had contacted me.

A third person, Dena Kingsberg, responded that she did not consider KPJ’s actions as abuse and wanted to remember him with love and gratitude.

A fourth person, Sharath Rangaswami, did not respond to me directly, but made a public statement on his instagram feed a few days later.

And a fifth person, your secretary, responded, confirming that he would convey this message to you directly. I received no response from you whatsoever and this is why I am writing to you in this public forum – to encourage you to take some responsibility.

So far, the response of the ashtanga community and especially those senior teachers, with a very few exceptions, who studied closely with KPJ and regarded him as their Guru, has been appalling!

Although Karen and Gregor give a thorough breakdown of the problems with your response to the question of abuse, I would like to add a few thoughts.

In the first place you mention “the person” who initially started speaking about this – that is, Karen Rain, she has a name and she is not afraid to stand behind her words.

You say you were “surprised” by her assertions. I assume you were both surprised because she appeared to have drunk the cool aid at the time and also you were surprised that KPJ was being accused of sexual assault.

You say you received the same adjustments as the women who were assaulted. This has been repeated by various other teachers – I assume that means that Pattabhi Jois dry humped you, grabbed your genitals, breasts and digitally penetrated your vagina? I don’t think so.

Like me and many other practitioners, when the graphic videos such as these:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12A_mrdTI6M
were first aired, you probably cringed and looked quickly away, perhaps thinking that KPJ was just having a bad day.

For a teacher of Ashtanga such videos were really bad news, provoked lots of uncomfortable questions, but were put down to Ashtanga haters, and thankfully, these videos disappeared from view soon after they surfaced.

But they have not gone away. In fact, the evidence is accumulating and can no longer be denied. As long as we deliberately look the other way, these revelations will come as a “surprise”.

But with acknowledgement comes not only surprise but deep shock, because for those who have spent their life promoting KPJ as a guru and their own teachings as an expression of his, comes the realization that everything you have stood for is a sham. And worse!

KPJ was no yogi! He not only sexually assaulted his students, he also severely harmed many of them physically and psychologically – to such an extent that, individuals like yourself have been living in deep delusion for decades.

You say in the interview that he lost two sons – and you imply that this was something that happened to him, in a passive sense. However, he did not lose them, he drove them away. One he drove to his death and the other moved as far away as possible!

I became quite close to his son Manju for a while when he lived in NYC. We used to hang out and talk quite often. He often spoke about how badly his father had treated him, used to beat him, how he had hardly spoken to him for over two decades and never went back to visit him. He also told me how KPJ had driven Ramesh to suicide. This was also confirmed by another independent source, one of Ramesh’s closest friends. KPJ and Ramesh had a huge fight just before Ramesh took his life. KPJ was not only sexually incontinent, he was also violent, caused harm, even to his closest family, his two sons.

By being a teacher devoted to promoting KPJ’s teachings one absorbs KPJ’s principles! He was dishonest, harmed his students, sexually assaulted them and psychologically controlled them. This will have been inherited. If you see him as the source of your teaching, then your teaching will be tainted by the same faults. Being close to KPJ and following his teaching with devotion will just steep one in ignorance that prevents one from seeing this reality.

I have a deep sympathy for anyone who took KPJ on as their sole teacher, as their purported sat guru. Your suffering and misery will be great and will cause you to deny that he did anything wrong. It will cause you to perpetuate the suffering of those he harmed (including yourself).

However, the clock is ticking. These revelations will not go away. The truth is out and will start making life very uncomfortable for you, as it has for those who have already acknowledged it.

It is important to be part of the healing and evolution NOW, so that your actions do not continue to cause suffering to others.

Sincerely
Guy

***

If you’re still reading Greg Nardi wrote a candid, soul-searching, owning of accountability, including a chilling description of being on both ends of grooming:

“In my inner searching, I first remembered that from 2000-2003 I didn’t return to Mysore and contemplated never returning because I was disillusioned with Pattabhi Jois. I since have realized the many ways that Iwas groomed by photos in shalas, hagiographies, and teacher testimony widespread in the yoga community to project infallibility onto Pattabhi Jois.”

“Because I was able to minimize the assault, I could compartmentalize the discomfort I felt and relegate what I witnessed to a human flaw. I even congratulated myself for my maturity in being able to see Pattabhi Jois as human and make the distinction between him as a guru and a man. I sympathized with him and felt protective over him because of the demands of the community. On this shaky ground I built a reverential relationship to a sex offender and promoted him as a master.”

 

 

 

Creating Sanctuary (part 2)

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Rachael Denhollander describes precisely how sexual violence thrives. From her impact statement at the Larry Nassar trial: “This. Is. What. It. Looks. Like. When institutions create a culture where a predator can flourish unafraid and unabated. This. Is. What. It. Looks. Like. When people in authority put friendships in front of the truth, fail to create or enforce proper policy and fail to hold enablers accountable. This. Is. What. It. Looks. Like.”

An excellent short interview with Denhollander can be viewed here:
https://www.cbsnews.com/…/rachael-denhollander-larry-nassa…/

Larry Nassar was a “nice guy offender.” They are the most successful offenders. The “nice guy” facade boosts impunity and is part of grooming both victims and enablers.

Perhaps there should be a term “super nice person, opportunistic abuse enabler.” Yoga teachers can be some of the most charming, amiable,and poised people you’ll meet. Yet, abuse scandals in yoga are rampant. And when it comes to responding to abuse, how many yoga teachers put friendships and career in front of the truth?

My reason for speaking up about Pattabhi Jois sexually assaulting me had much more to do with rape culture than with the yoga world. I spoke up because when someone sexually assaults you there is nothing to be ashamed of. When you leave an abusive situation, when you realize the secrets aren’t your secrets (they’re the secrets of the abuser and the enablers), when you have the courage to name a “nice guy offender,” and to face the backlash: You, and I, have a lot of wisdom to inform abuse education, prevention and response.

Often survivors of sexual assault are viewed as broken. However, when enablers didn’t protect us and beneficiaries silenced us, it’s the system that’s broken, not the people who left it. Neither the enablers nor the beneficiaries are qualified to educate or advise about abuse, safety, and healing, or to lead reform. They would first need to own accountability and make amends, not according to their standards, but in a way that demonstrates they are actually interested in justice and reformation rather than damage control.

I’ve heard about a couple of new policies for reporting sexual assault within yoga communities. One problem is that they use the euphemisms “inappropriate adjustment” and “sexual misconduct” to obfuscate sexual abuse, assault or harassment.

Another issue is that they emphasize the anonymity of the victim. Of course, if a victim wants to remain anonymous that should be respected. But wouldn’t it be better to create a culture where the stigma of being a victim of sexual violence is gone? Where the shame that keeps victims from disclosing is gone? Where the fear of retaliation from the abuser and/or community is irrelevant because victims of sexual violence are respected and protected, not through anonymity, but through a complete shift in the attitudes towards us?

This shift can’t happen unless and until our names, our work and our wisdom are honored and actualized. We don’t personally need enablers and beneficiaries to do this; It’s what the world needs in order to properly address and prevent sexual violence.

That people will embrace the wisdom of survivors within their own community is a vision. Maybe someday the world will be ready for it.

Creating Sanctuary

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When the pledge Taking a Seat for Justice first came out, I thought there would be complaints that a year is too long. Couldn’t we make it three months, or one month? But no one has objected to the length of the pledge. Rather it’s the premise of the pledge––to showcase the voices of victims without censure or reframing––which is apparently intolerable for even a day.

In 2002, I stopped teaching and practicing Ashtanga yoga. It took time for me to get clarity, to unlearn the Jois-Ashtanga training of being undiscerning about immorality and abuse. It’s been a long, hard journey to today, to reconnect with my original purpose for practicing yoga: to discover sanctuary within myself and engage with the world from that place.

I didn’t feel safe enough, while he was still alive, to come forward about Pattabhi Jois abusing me. I also didn’t think it would make any difference. The dismissal of the women who spoke up promptly after he assaulted them, including Anneke Lucas and Jubilee Cooke, confirms that. We’ve learned that the abuse continued pretty much to the end of his life, including that he raped some of his students even after Lucas and others confronted him at various times. As if that wasn’t enough, the backlash that I’ve faced since my #MeToo post makes it clear that there’s nothing I or any other victim could have done to have disrupted the most prestigious teachers from enabling of Pattabhi Jois.

The problem in Ashtanga yoga, and other styles of yoga as well, is that there’s not much support for victims of abuse to come forward. This is not just about the guru model. Many yoga teachers and practitioners are more concerned with appearances, status, having the right connections and not going against the tide, than standing up to abuse and abusers. In regards to developmental evolution, this behavior is on par with an average middle school student.

Yoga practitioners, if a popular yoga teacher abused you, would you feel safe to come forward in order to protect other students? Do you think you would be treated with respect if you did?

I’ve received upwards of 100 messages from victims/survivors of abuse in yoga. Most are too afraid to come forward. The few who have come forward were further traumatized by opposition and lack of support from their community and people they considered friends. Because of the fear of reporting or the incompetent response to accounts of abuse, other yoga students will not be protected from abusive teachers.

At this point there over 950 supporters, but only a handful of Jois-affiliated Ashtanga teachers who have signed the pledge. Among the supporters, I recognize many names of people who messaged me about abusive teachers. If Ashtanga teachers reject the premise of the pledge, they’re not just rejecting my voice and other survivors who have broken the silence, but more significantly they’re rejecting the voices of victims/survivors who have yet to speak up.

You can not make it safe for victims/survivors to come forward if you do not magnify and respect the voices of those who already have.

Currently there are many blogs, workshops and panels regarding abuse, safety, consent and methods of teaching yoga that disregard the vital importance of victims’ insights in these conversations.

Dismissing victims’ voices enabled abuse in the past and will continue to do so in the present. Not all abusers are dead. The dynamic that sees victims as broken or unworthy of inclusion is not dead either. If you only include us when you can act as interpreters of what we say, that is not inclusion.

Actually, it is because of our ability to see and understand what others could not, and our courage to persist and speak a truth which no one wanted to acknowledge, that yoga pedagogy is being re-evaluated in the first place.

We are the experts on this issue and have walked the path of healing that others are still grappling to delineate through these conversations. What we have to say is not comfortable or convenient, but is necessary to transform yoga communities and spaces into supportive places for speaking difficult truths or challenging the status quo.

That is real sanctuary.

Clarification of Taking a Seat for Justice: A Pledge for Ashtanga Allies

Abuse persists not only because individuals do bad things, but also because people stand by and do nothing to change a toxic situation. People who never intended to harm anyone can be party to serious harm.

Historically, bystanders, enablers and beneficiaries have silenced the people who Pattabhi Jois abused. They censured and reframed our stories–gatekeeping how, where, and even whether or not they were told.

The main idea behind the pledge is to make amends. Through showcasing our voices and our stories, in our words, without reframing them, the injurious power dynamic can be transformed. This will provide safety for more victims/survivors to come forward.

The pledge is voluntary. As such, it is largely based on good faith:

A self-determination of being a Jois-affiliated Ashtanga teacher, based not on where you stand now, but rather, on whether most of your yoga teaching career benefited from the suppression of KPJ’s abuses.

A humble dedication for one year, to learn about–rather than to explain, educate, or commodify–how to address or prevent abuse.

A commitment to seek out, invite and showcase voices previously marginalized by the Jois Ashtanga community: victims of KPJ’s abuses and outside experts and critics.

A readiness, in the spirit of self-betterment, to learn the extent of the abuse and perhaps how you said or did things that participated in victim shaming and blaming, enabling or cover up.

****

This is not a one size fits all pledge. For example, “To my fullest capacity” will mean something different for every teacher and situation.

Also, everyone is welcome to sign the pledge to show support. Ashtanga yoga teachers, by signing and identifying themselves, can show a commitment to comply with the pledge.

If you have questions, feel free to pose them in the comments on this FB post. It will save time and maintain transparency to answer them publicly, rather than trying to address questions privately. Thank you.

Taking a Seat For Justice: A Pledge for Ashtanga Allies

 

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The narrative around Pattabhi Jois’s sexual violence has been controlled by the enablers, bystanders, and people who profited by ignoring and denying his actions. As long as they have control of the narrative, there will be no justice. — Karen Rain

____

For those who know that apologies are only a start, here is a proposal for how to make amends for the abuses of Pattabhi Jois and the inaction of his community.

An apology supported by reparative action will promote justice and lasting change.

Justice in action will foster an atmosphere in which more survivors of Jois, Ashtanga Yoga, and other yoga communities feel welcomed, honoured, and respected when they come forward to share their testimony and knowledge.

To ensure future safety for everyone, the voices and knowledge of survivors must be heard and absorbed.

We recognize the importance of publicly acknowledging Jois’s decades of assaults. However, the lack of a basic understanding of sexual violence, along with victim-blaming and buck-passing, have compromised many public statements, and caused further harm.

Now is not a moment to use as a business opportunity or for the rebranding of Ashtanga Yoga.

Now is the time to listen to and learn from the survivors.

Practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga believe that their method demands they uphold values like non-violence, truth-telling, and surrender.

They also know that the postures they practice are meant to be “seats” (asanas) for silent contemplation.

It’s time for Ashtanga teachers to raise the voices of survivors, and take a silent seat in honour of non-violence, truth-telling, and surrender.

The undersigned sponsors call for all Jois-affiliated Ashtanga teachers and leaders to voluntarily commit to the following Pledge for one year, beginning on October 1st, 2019.

I PLEDGE TO:

  1. PROMOTE, to my fullest capacity, the intellectual content of the Jois victims/survivors, whistleblowers, and other suppressed voices. I will invite them to come forward by giving them dedicated space with editorial control on social media, websites, podcasts, and blog platforms. When possible, I will pay contributors for educational content. I will make this material available on handouts in classes and trainings. For editorial guidance in these matters, please email inquiries to info@theluminescent.org.
  2. PROMOTE, to my fullest capacity, trainings and workshops around safety, consent, hands on adjustments, and trauma awareness, delivered by qualified presenters from outside of Jois-affiliated networks . When possible, I will attend these workshops.
  3. ABSTAIN from writing or speaking about Pattabhi Jois and sexual violence in any way that takes an educational or leadership role.
  4. ABSTAIN from commencing any business venture that profits from the issue of abuse in yoga. I will not lead workshops around safety, consent, hands-on adjustments, or trauma-awareness.
  5. ABSTAIN from critiquing or analyzing the voices of survivors.

NOTE: Everyone is welcome to sign this pledge to show support. If you are an Ashtanga yoga teacher committing to comply with the pledge, please identify where you teach in the comments so that the survivors, your colleagues and your students will know that you are taking a seat for justice.

You can show your support/commitment here.

Concept Generated by Karen Rain

Sponsored by:

Ann West, Anneke Lucas, Cassie Jackson, Daniel Shaw, Diane Bruni, Elizabeth Emberly, Francesca Cervero, Gregor Maehle, Harriet McAtee, Holly Faurot, Jacqueline Hargreaves, Dr. Jason Birch, Jordan Bakani, Josna Pankhania, Jubilee Cooke, Kathryn Bruni-Young, Laurel Beversdorf, Matthew Remski, Melissa Clark, Michaelle Edwards, Micki Evslin, Monica Gauci, Nicola Tiburzi, Rachel Meyer, Sarah Holmes de Castro, Sarah Garden, Sasha Rose, Tamar Samir, Terry Johnson, Dr. Theodora Wildcroft, Tiffany Kieran, Trina Altman, Yonnie Fung

Final Reparations List For Survivors Of Manouso Manos Sexual Assaults

survivor

Content Warning: This blog contains photos of sexual assault.

Sharing the Final Reparations List For Survivors of Manouso Manos Sexual Assaults. I was so happy to read this, to know that Ann Tapsell West, Cassie Jackson and other survivors of Manos’ sexual assaults have the opportunity to compile and send this list of reparations.

Meanwhile in the Jois Ashtanga Yoga community, they are still unsure of the definition of sexual assault. They spend more time talking about the compiler of victim testimonies than the victim testimonies themselves, or the atrocities committed by Pattabhi Jois and how the community enabled them.

When there has been abuse, complicity and cover up, we might ask, are people basically nice, but delusional? Or are they narcissistic? Or sadistic? When I first published my #MeToo post, I was assuming the former of the three. Sadly, only a handful of maverick teachers have demonstrated that and made acknowledgement statements that are competent and own accountability. I have shared their statements and am grateful to those teachers, though many people, including the said teachers, say they don’t deserve thanks for speaking truth and doing what is right.

The predominant Ashtanga yoga response to Pattabhi Jois’ history of sexually assaulting students is silence. And most of the attempts at acknowledgement statements have been self-serving, aimed at boosting the author’s own reputation or that of Ashtanga yoga in general. Often they obfuscate the sexual assaults and the cover up. These are yoga teachers who claim that they care about truth and non-harming. And maybe they do, intention does not equal impact. But they also claim their practice develops skillful self inquiry and insight.

Certainly the Jois system of Ashtanga yoga has beneficial applications, but cultivating non harming, insight, and seeing/speaking truth are not evident.

Here are two photos of Pattabhi Jois sexually assaulting students. One from early 1980’s and one from the early 2000’s.

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Mis Artículos Traducidos en Español

Una introducción por la revista Yoga En Red al tema de abusos sexuales en el yoga

Traducciones por Atenea Acevedo

Mi primer articulo, «Pattabhi Jois, gurú del yoga, me violentó sexualmente durante años» [Advertencia: esta publicación incluye fotografías que muestran violencia sexual, publicadas con el permiso de la víctima.]

Mi segundo articulo, «No necesito un ‘Yo te creo’. Necesito un ‘Yo te defiendo’»

 

Witness Testimonies Corroborating That Pattabhi Jois’s Sexual Abuse Was Ubiquitous

The following are witness testimonies used with permission from the authors, they were received via email or can be found on the Facebook page, “Apology To The Victims Of Pattabhi Jois’ Sexual Assault.”

Chad Herst witness testimonyGregor Maehle witness testimony

“During my stay in Mysuru in 1988, I was amazed by the behaviour of Pattabhi Jois with female students… He was interested only in female students and did not pay attention to male students, except to those who were staying at least 6 months in Mysuru to study with him. The female students were young ladies that he used to grasp by their breast and their pubis before everybody… He would also get stuck against them and lie on them. Officially, he did that in order to help them better do the poses.” –– François GAYMARD (Saint Petersburg, Russia)

 

Injury, Secrets and Dysfunction

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An old friend and former student of mine asked me to write/speak about injuries in Jois’ Ashtanga yoga. She sent me a description of a yoga teacher injuring her during an ‘adjustment.’  I’m the teacher she’s talking about:
 
“I do not have the range of motion in my hip joints to put my foot behind my head. During my first couple of years practicing Ashtanga – my teacher pulled  my shin over my head to help me wedge it there as I was unable to get it there myself……  Instead of rotating the femur in its corresponding acetabulu
m, soft tissue structures in my lower cervical spine were overstretched and destabilized. The result of this mishap were bouts of neck pain that would radiate down into the area between the medial border of my left scapula and my spine – constant pain and immobility that lasted about a month, and then recurring incidents over the next 25 years. I currently have spondylosis of C5 and C6,  perhaps initiated by this incident but of course perhaps an underlying weakness already present.”
 
Besides the story above, I know of at least 5 other students who I injured. I wish I could go back in time and undo the abusive ‘adjustments’ I gave. The least I can do is honor my friend’s request to write about injuries.
 
But when I set out to do that, I realized that the injuries in Jois’ tradition of yoga, like the sexual assaults, defy their ubiquity with whitewashing. While practicing through injury and pain had clout amongst the inner circle around Jois, this isn’t something people seem to admit openly. Just like there was jargon for sexual assaults, there was jargon for injuries. People would say something is ‘moving’ or ‘shifting.’ And because of the ‘unquestionable healing powers’ of the practice it was assumed that ‘something’ was moving from where it shouldn’t have been to where it should be. No one ever asked or elaborated on what that ‘something’ was, we would just surrender to the mystery and pain. 
 
Pain is glorified in the book, ‘Guruji.’ That glorification obscures discernment regarding injury, the same way Pattabhi Jois’ status and ‘healing powers’ obscured discernment regarding sexual assault. 
 
I’ve heard many injury stories, some from ‘adjustments’ and some from repetitive stress. These stories include a certified teacher secretly undergoing back surgery and another very high profile certified teacher getting some kind of injections (prolotherapy) into the lower back/SI joint to reduce pain. It seems unethical to continue teaching something which required these interventions without providing all students with a full disclosure. Furthermore, if Jois’ Ashtanga yoga is at least as much an internal practice as an external one, how do physical injuries, or even pain, belong there?  According to Matthew Sweeney’s recent post there are still injurious ‘adjustments’ happening in Mysore today, with no contriteness or accountability. 
 
When I first spoke up about Pattabhi Jois sexually assaulting me, I had intended to limit my discussion to that issue, but due to the evasive response from the majority of the AY community, other issues have surfaced. AY has lots of secrets. This inhibits health and accountability. I’ve communicated with many AY teachers/practitioners, some of whom are very successful and highly respected. All of them shared that Pattabhi Jois or an authorized/certified teacher had sexually, physically, emotionally or financially* abused them or that they had witnessed abuse. They all also claimed to be on the outside of the community, were critical of the ‘scene’ and several disclosed being backstabbed by another teacher or teachers.
 
Almost all of the teachers I spoke with asked me to keep our conversation confidential, some for legal reasons, including one non-disclosure agreement. While many don’t want to risk hurting their business, mostly they don’t feel safe to speak their truth within their ‘community.’ Speaking with many of them reminded me of speaking with someone in a domestic violence/abuse situation. Their thinking was very muddled. They would have tiny momentary insights into the truth about what was happening. However, they wouldn’t be able to deal with or sustain those insights and would run back to the same domestic abuse situation.
 
Wouldn’t it be healthier if we all got more honest about the harm we’ve participated in or enabled through keeping secrets?
 
* The financial abuse that I witnessed: Sometimes people left money with Pattabhi Jois when they went traveling, usually 100’s of dollars and when they came back he would deny it. I remember one student left several thousand dollars and never got it back. P Jois sometimes told people that their month was up before it really was and that they needed to pay him for the next month. People might argue a little that their month was not up, but he wouldn’t budge. On my last trip In 1998 he was charging $300 US per month. However, he insisted that students pay in rupees. He set his own exchange rate, which was higher than that of the bank. A couple of students brought the newspaper to show him the actual exchange rate but he responded with anger and refusal if anyone challenged him. One of the people who brought the newspaper and tried to reason with him but was rebuffed, was a contributor to the book ‘Guruji.’ 
 
I was a bystander and thus enabled the financial abuse. I erroneously thought it wasn’t for me to do or say anything, because ‘it was not my (direct) experience.’ Even when P Jois wasn’t accepting US$ from other students, he let me pay in US$. This type of capricious differential treatment is classic cult leader behavior. It’s similar to a dynamic in dysfunctional families. The confusion caused by the capricious behavior of the leader can provoke a response in followers which is reminiscent of a child seeking safety through surrender to perplexity and the care giver’s authority. 

Ashtanga, Shambhala, Manouso Manos and Kavanaugh

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It’s incredible the similarities in response to disclosures of abuse, running the gamut of ‘I know x. He is an honorable man. There is no way he did those things’ to ‘If he did those things, it’s not important. Look at all the people who had good experiences with him.’

I imagine that for the most part Ashtanga and Shambhala associates would not like to be compared to the Republican Party or rape culture in general. Many hardcore Republicans, as well as Democrats, no doubt have undying loyalty to their party and it’s ideals. And they would be deliberately ignore, cover up, or enable abuse within their party, if they thought it was necessary for the ‘greater good.’ The ‘greater good’ is deemed as moral, perhaps even spiritual.

Conceivably, many Ashtanga and Shambhala teachers believe that theirs is truly the greater good. They have a ‘practice’ which will provide them with answers to their inquiries and lead them to pure insight and understanding. This is more important than the mundane specifics of abuse. Some, who have acknowledged the abuse, seem to think their only karmic duty is to ‘listen’ and ‘have compassion for other people’s suffering.’ No reformation is required. They willfully ignored the abuse for so long that the investment in the system is paramount. Loyalty to and promotion of the system are, were, and likely will always be their priority.

When someone learns about or is witness to abuse, they have the choice to align with the abuser or the victim. Siding with the victim is the moral and courageous choice. Aligning with the abuser is the safe choice; doing nothing gives the abuser a pass to continue. At times victims may even align with an abuser for a sense of safety. We don’t want to get abusers angry. We know they have power and are capable of hurting people. If we are loyal to them, maybe they will protect us.

When there has been institutional abuse, the response can be similar. Loyalty to an institution offers refuge. When in doubt, diligently abiding by the practices and teachings of Ashtanga, Shambhala, or other institution offers the comfort of familiarity.

When I was in Mysore in the ’90’s only twelve people at a time could practice with Pattabhi Jois. There were always other students watching. The scene is well described in this article by Jubilee Cooke.

http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/why-didnt-somebody-warn-me…/

Many present day teachers were there at the same time I was. I believe that people can change and grow. And that self rectification is always possible. In that light, I think it doesn’t matter so much what someone did 20 years ago; what matters is what they do and how they respond now. They may not have realized it at the time, but they all witnessed the sexual assaults that Jubilee and I describe.

https://karenrainashtangayogaandmetoo.wordpress.com/…/my-f…/

I would love to hear Ashtanga and Shambhala teachers* say: There are serious problems with our entire structure. It’s hard to face and own our accountability and how we profited from our complicity while other people were harmed. I’d love to hear them say that they will seek trainings, teachings, and counseling from outside experts in institutional abuse, trauma awareness, and consent culture.

Clearly these systems did not teach skills to recognize, prevent, or respond to abuse or abusers. Recently an AY teacher discounted my suggestions that without specific, independent trainings an AY teacher is not prepared or qualified to teach awareness and prevention of improper adjustments. The teacher asserted that listening and caring about their students were sufficient and denied that any further training was necessary. Listening and caring are great things to start with, but they are not qualifications to teach anything.

With few exceptions, I don’t expect anything grand from teachers embedded in cultures which enabled abuse. I’m putting my hope into the growing number of people who have the morality and courage to make calling out abuse their priority, who are willing to totally change their lives to prevent further abuse.

*This also applies to yoga and spiritual teachers from other systems with histories of abuse. The list is very long.

Boiling Frog

frog

It’s been brought to my attention several times that people are still asking: If Pattabhi Jois was sexually abusing me, why didn’t I leave? Ignoring those who are trying to absolve Pattabhi Jois of his crimes by pointing out my personality defects, I will offer an explanation to those who are truly seeking to understand.

The boiling frog fable goes as follows: If you put a frog into boiling water it will immediately jump out. But, if you put it into room temperature water and slowly raise the temperature, the frog won’t notice and will be boiled alive.

The abuse, in my case, increased incrementally. Other students of P Jois, my entire social network at the time, and I shared a cognitive dissonance that dismissed and rationalized the abuse as something else. I dissociated during the assaults, which dis-integrates the psyche and impairs the capacity of discernment. And like most people I did not want the stigma of being a victim of sexual abuse. I was in denial.

Many people spend years, even when they can leave, in abusive relationships, situations, and dreadful jobs that started out well. Often they don’t realize how bad things were until after they get out. It took me years to clearly understand what Pattabhi Jois was doing to me.

Actually, the answer to the question ‘Why didn’t I leave?’ is: I did leave.

The question that seems to follow is: Why didn’t I speak up sooner?

Monica Gauci wrote an insightful and beautiful blog entitled, Why Did She Let It Happen?

http://chintamaniyoga.com/teachi…/why-did-she-let-it-happen/

To which I made the following comment:

There is an inherent problem with the question, ‘Why did she let it happen?’ It assumes that the victim has control in an abuse situation. However with abuse, whether an isolated incident or repeated, the power of the victim to stop it and/or discern that it is abuse, is controlled and manipulated physically, emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually by the abuser.

That people can ask this question is a testament to why victims don’t speak up sooner: We don’t want to be shamed and gaslighted with that type of question.

Why didn’t I speak up sooner? I knew the scorn and ridicule I’d receive if I spoke up.

There are many other testimonies besides mine, which you can find here: https://karenrainashtangayogaandmetoo.wordpress.com/…/my-f…/

There are accounts of sexual assault committed by Pattabhi Jois on tours, which include digital rapes of unfamiliar students occurring in the US from the late 1980’s into the 2000’s.

Practitioners of P Jois’ Ashtanga yoga, especially the more devoted, besides feeling defensive, may feel confused, deceived or betrayed, given the information that P Jois was a serial sex offender. I think that’s a good thing. It means you have a conscience. You might consider seeking outside help. That’s not meant as an insult. Obviously, I’ve sought outside help.

The importance of outside help can’t be overemphasized, because, while the Jois system of Ashtanga yoga is a powerful practice with beneficial applications, the limitations of those benefits ought to be acknowledged.

When I was a child, I had a ‘lazy’ right eye. I wore a therapeutic patch over my left eye and the condition of my right eye was fully corrected. I now have better far vision in my right eye than my left. It would have been detrimental for me to continue the therapy of covering my left eye. It would be ridiculous for me to apply that therapy to any problem I ever have with my eyes.

Similarly, the slogan, ‘Do your practice and all is coming,’ is an imperative to NOT continually or even periodically re-evaluate and discern the benefits and costs of the practice during the ever changing conditions of life. When an issue is resolved, is ‘the practice’ still necessary? Is it the most effective choice to meet new circumstances or issues that arise?

For decades the practice has done nothing to remediate or mitigate abuses of power and many people were/are unwittingly complicit. There is no shame admitting you were speaking or acting from a less informed place. That admission will be meaningless however if you don’t set on a journey to become more informed.

A great place to start would be by exploring writings, counseling, and trainings with experts on institutional, spiritual, and sexual abuse, high demand groups, trauma awareness, trauma informed yoga, and consent culture. These are all huge topics and I think it’s important to explore a variety of perspectives on each.

By the way, in truth, a frog will jump out before the water boils.

My Full Testimony

Content Warning: Descriptions of the sexual assault 
 
Pattabhi Jois got on top of me in supine postures, placed his penis against my genitals and would grind rhythmically, almost daily. In a couple of standing postures he stood behind me and placed his penis against my buttocks and pressed back and forth. Similarly, he would press his penis against my genitals in the final backbend, while I was standing on my feet and reaching my arms backward to hold my legs. He grabbed and pulled my genitals when I was in mulabandasana. When I would say goodbye after practice, he would kiss me on the mouth and massage my buttocks. He groped one of my breasts once.
All the things I describe Pattabhi Jois doing to me I saw him do to other women and worse. I often saw him humping women in downward dog. I saw him put his hands on women’s breasts, in various postures, mainly twists and forward bends. I saw him, in forward bends lying on top of the women and reaching from behind to play with their breasts. I saw him playing with one women’s nipples. I also heard rumors, from other students, including senior teachers, of digitals rapes. To date at least one digital rape has been documented and others have been referenced in interviews and articles.
 
I didn’t see him do any of these things to men, but if he did, that is also sexual assault.

Response To Recent Rape In Mysore

The following is from Jordan Bakani-Aliling. Anyone who practices Ashtanga and wants to end rape culture should be petitioning and boycotting Sharath to make a unequivocal public apology to Bakani-Aliling for his response to an authorized Ashtanga yoga teacher raping her in Mysore in 2014.

“Now that the fuss over the de-authorization of teachers has blown over, what’s with the continuing silence of Sharath with regards to the sexual misconduct of his grandfather P. Jois? Likewise, his silence over the rape of one of his KPJAYI students by an authorized teacher a few houses down from his shala?

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Not a statement, an apology or even an acknowledgement. From where I stand, the bubble is looking all too fake and plastic. What happened to having a voice? Where have all the feminists gone? Why is it so hard to stand up to him? To question him? Since when were we so meek? How different is it from having your own child harassed by his/her teacher and the school principal saying, “well, that’s why boys shouldn’t be hanging out with girls.” Will you tell your kid, “well, you should’ve gone to the police!” or maybe, “Well, that’s “school” (India) — deal with it.” This is the 21st-effin-century and no longer the ancient times.
It’s pathetic and beyond sad. I’m devastated. The institute has failed in so many ways, and yet they still refuse to take accountability for anything. And likewise, the people protecting/defending Sharath and holding on to their batons, acting as if everything is A-Ok in the Ashtanga world and no such things have happened or are happening.
For others, it may have been the better route to just walk away. But I guess in my case, Sharath silenced the wrong person. Because I have reached the point where I have had enough of mysoginistic and patriarchal men and he is the last person who is going to insinuate that I brought this to myself — a weak, “Asian”, woman. Because of the parties I go to, the clothes I wear, and the culture I was brought up in (yes, Asian culture.)
The seemingly purposeful silence of the majority of the Ashtanga Community is defeaning.
I refuse to let this thing, yet again, blow over and I refuse to just get over it, suck it up, kiss ass and just get him to notice me until Usha sends me an invoice for authorization. No one who has ever experienced any form of abuse, more so, sexual violence IN ANY FORM deserves to suffer in silence.

What Does It Mean To Believe A Victim

Someone sent me a message and then blocked me. The message was kind in tone. Go figure. I’m unable to respond directly, hence I will respond here. I know it’s not likely they’ll see my response but I want to share these thoughts.

One concern expressed was that all women’s experiences should be considered when talking about P Jois and sexual assault. Kind of like getting an average (or median or mode) experience of women in order to form an opinion. I don’t think this phenomena is unique to AY or yoga.

I think it is unique to sexual assault and abuse, started by perpetrators for perpetrators, and is part of rape culture. If someone robs a bank, it’s not like all the other banks that this person used and didn’t rob cancel out the bank that they did rob.

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When I was in high school a teacher of mine from grade school was charged and convicted for molesting a child. He never molested me. I don’t think my experience should be considered when discussing him molesting a child. Their experience of this teacher, with out a doubt out weighs mine. The teacher had a problem and should not have been teaching, no matter how skilled he was in other ways.

If people believe me and other women (this person claimed there are only a few) who say that P. Jois sexually assaulted us, what does it matter that other women had different experiences? Does it make it any better? Does it make it OK?

Cuando “Yo Te Creo” No Basta

Traducción: Atenea Acevedo

Algunos maestros de yoga ashtanga me han contactado para expresar su apoyo y decir que me creen, que fueron testigos directos de la manera en que Pattabhi Jois agredió sexualmente a otras mujeres. Me pidieron confidencialidad, así que no diré sus nombres.
Sin embargo, sí diré lo siguiente: supón que sufriste una agresión sexual y alguien te dice que vio a tu agresor violentar a alguien más, pero que no quiere hablar del asunto en público. ¿Sentirías que esa persona te está apoyando? ¿En qué circunstancias nos parecería correcto decirle a la víctima de un delito “Te creo, vi a tu agresor cometer ese mismo delito contra alguien más, pero prefiero no decir nada”? ¿En qué momento nos parecería correcto callar después de presenciar un ilícito?
Hay quienes dicen estar esperando a que un maestro con mayor jerarquía se pronuncie públicamente sobre este asunto para decir algo. No sé cómo interpretar esa afirmación de manera positiva. Si fuiste testigo y rehúsas hacer una declaración pública, por favor no me contactes. Tus palabras me lastiman. Quizás no deberían lastimarme más que la actitud de quienes no me creen, pero me resulta más fácil ignorar a los incrédulos.

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Clear Witness Testimony

Thank you Ross Smith II for sending me the following message:

Dear Karen,

I studied yoga with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore for three months in mid 1994, and five months in early 1997. During these visits, I saw Jois give adjustments that placed his genitals against yours, and other women’s, over 100 times (mostly in assisted backbends, Supta Trivikramasana and Yoganidrasana). I recall a few other students finding this inappropriate, but I don’t recall anyone saying it was abuse or assault. My personal reaction was mild disgust, and even some jealousy. He clearly favored the female students, so the male students received very little help, mostly from Sharath, his grandson. It didn’t seem at all yogic for Jois to fawn over the women so.

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I recall you first told me about Jois shortly after you finally left Mysore. I recall your saying that Jois had inappropriately touched you and other women, it was wrong what he had done, and you were never going back. I don’t recall if you called it “abuse” or “assault”, but I remember you were very upset by it.

I remember feeling disgusted, and abused myself. I felt that not only had he abused you and other women, but he had abused everyone by destroying our trust, and severely damaged yoga’s reputation in general. I lost all respect for him, and stopped telling people to visit Mysore. I did keep up my practice though, and started studying with Srivatsa Ramaswami, a long-time student of Krishnamacharaya’s.

You have my permission to publish this, or send it to anyone you want.

Victim Does Not Equal Weakness

Being a victim of sexual assault or abuse does not equal weakness. It does not equal confusion. The stigmatization of the word ‘victim’ is to create weakness and confusion within us, to silence us.

I’ve spoken with and read testimony of other victims of trauma. If we get lucky, the confusion lifts and we fully experience our innocence. It’s a kind of awakening. Feelings of shame, self-blame and confusion are incongruent for victims. They aren’t truth. They are illusion.

To say ‘awakening’ does not mean we won’t feel pain, anger and sadness anymore. Those feelings are congruent to the injustice we experienced and to all the injustice in the world. Facing these feelings is a strength, not a weakness.

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