Creating Sanctuary (part 2)

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:…/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


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



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.


  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
  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


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 which 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.


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’»


Injury, Secrets and Dysfunction



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.