Here is a link to my first professionally commissioned article.
Here is a link to my first professionally commissioned article.
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 turn a blind eye to, 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 turned a blind eye to 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.
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.
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 applies to other yoga and spiritual teachers where there has been institutional abuse. The list is long.
It’s been brought to my attention several times that people are still asking: If I was being sexually abused, 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 having been sexually abused. 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 happened 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?
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’s 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’d already been abused and dehumanized. 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. The following people have writings or interviews that I’ve appreciated, dealing with at least one of the topics: Alexandra Stein, Tiffany Rose, Rene Denfeld, Theodora Wildcroft, Leslie Hays, Anneke Lucas, Eunice Laurel, Hollie Sue Mann, Janja Lalich, Tanner Gilliland.
Here is a resource that might be useful for people who feel they were betrayed or spiritually abused. It includes a link to international counsellng resources:
By the way, in truth, a frog will jump out before the water boils.
A while back I received the following private message:
“Just my humble opinion, person to person.
If you need the culture to change to heal internally, then it wouldn’t be true healing since it’s dependent on external circumstances.
I hope you find peace, but continuously writing and posting online either 1) finds supporters that back you emotionally (but this is a temporarily band aid) or 2) cause conflict which definitely won’t bring much serenity.
I checked the sender’s FB page and noticed photos of Pattabhi Jois, etc. Perhaps the person who sent me the message would like me to stop posting on FB because they are concerned with their peace of mind, not mine. Maybe my posts bother their conscience or cause them to worry about their business, preferably the former.
I do not need the culture to change, to heal internally. I hope the culture will change so that people don’t get hurt in the future.
While Pattabhi Jois was on top of me, dry humping me when I was in vulnerable and extreme asana, I froze in fear and I dissociated. Whether he was aware of my reaction or not, either way, it doesn’t make for a venerable yoga teacher. He needed and deserved rehabilitation, not veneration. The denial and justifications of the AY community are not conducive to a safe learning environment right now, in the present.
Dissociation damages the nervous system. A way to heal my nervous system is to do what I could not do during the assaults: speak up. My nervous system is healing. I suffered from dysthymia for 20 years following the assaults by P Jois. After speaking up, I’m no longer depressed.
As for the other points I’d like to defer to quotes from Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette,” which is not to be missed!
“My story has value. I tell you this because I want you to know what I know: to be rendered powerless does not destroy your humanity. Your resilience is your humanity… I will not allow my story to be destroyed. What I would have done to have heard a story like mine, not for blame, not for reputation, not for money, not for power, but to feel less alone, to feel connected. I want my story heard.” ~ Hannah Gadsby
My hope is that the discussion of abuses by Pattabhi Jois and within Ashtanga Yoga will change the culture. In making an acknowledgement statement it could be about really caring or it could be about seeing it as an opportunity for recognition, adulation or more business. If the people making the statements aren’t embodying real cultural change, it doesn’t matter that they are acknowledging the abuse.
Someone who I was friends with in Mysore, contacted me about a month ago. They left a message saying how they had just found out about my story re: sexual abuse and P Jois and read the transcript of the video interview. They said they were proud of me and wanted to connect, mostly listen to me and find out how they could support me. We spoke by phone about 3 or 4 times.
Previously, I had spoken with another AY teacher who also struggles with aspects of my perspective and experience, who listened closely and tried to understand what I was saying. I felt respected. I thought this new situation might also be positive and supporting.
However, this old friend didn’t really listen. It was challenging to get things in edgewise. I felt disempowered. Talking with people from Ashtanga, I can be triggered and regress to the person I was when I was being abused. Our conversation would quickly deteriorate to gossiping, something I rarely do nowadays. Each time we spoke my mind would get agitated but I kept giving them the benefit of the doubt and would get sucked in.
This person recently emailed me a statement they wanted to make regarding abuse by P Jois that they witnessed. I told them that I wasn’t comfortable with how they described the victim’s sexual reactivity in the incident. I think a public piece written about an incident of sexual assault should be a description of the abusive behavior and should not include a critique of the victim on any level.
My concern is to protect myself and other victims from further insult and injury and to avoid perpetuating rape culture. The likes of which can be illustrated by a comment under a post by Gregor Maehle where someone wrote “it has been psychologically proven that all women who are rape victims have sexual hang-ups and unfulfilled sexual desires.”
Through email my ‘friend’ defensively argued with me. They didn’t pause to consider that I was one of the women hurt by P Jois and that now their statement was hurting me. They told me they wouldn’t change it. They said they had hoped to support me with their statement but they really wrote it for them self.
While they were arguing via email, they accidentally forwarded an email to a friend of mine that made fun of me. Besides being hurt and betrayed by this, it shows that this person was two-faced in this situation and that it was not compassion which led to writing the statement.
I think it’s important as the abuses of Pattabhi Jois become more widely accepted that people be aware of the possibility that some teachers may highjack the abuse scandal not out of compassion and a desire for healing, but for ulterior motives like the desire to appear morally superior or gain prestige. On the extreme end, I could see how a sexual predator could make a statement denouncing the behavior of P Jois, in order to go under the radar of suspicion and gain trust, admiration and the power to abuse.
Of course it can be hard to tell from a piece of writing, but to start, an acknowledgement of the abuses by Pattabhi Jois should be respectful of victims. It makes sense to describe teaching methods employed that are consent based or that give agency to yoga students in class. However it’s not OK if the statement is self aggrandizing or marketing and it is not the right place to:
–discuss how great the method is
–talk about how wonderful and loved Pattabhi Jois was
–boast about one’s own mastery or status
Any claim that the extent of the abuse has been fully revealed or dealt with and so now we can move on as though everything is fine, is false, bypassing and perpetuates the culture of silence.
At this point, in place of self aggrandizement, self reckoning around why one didn’t speak up sooner would be more appropriate. Let’s get to the bottom of WHY the silencing went on for so long.
When I was practicing Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore, I would receive a lot of praise for my asana practice and for qualities that people projected onto me because of that. I yearned for that praise. Yet, it was an odd thing because I felt like a fraud and that it was shallow and meaningless. It was like junk food. It tasted sweet but there was no real nourishment and I was never satisfied. It became an addictive cycle.
Since my #MeToo post in November, I’ve received a lot of praise for being brave and inspiring. This time I don’t feel like a fraud. It feels both nourishing and satisfying. The other day someone messaged me that I was an inspiration to her. She said if it hadn’t been for me she might not have found the courage to come forward and seek action about being sexually abused as a teenager, by a police officer, who is still in uniform two decades later.
This means infinitely more to me than the most incredible yoga experience/practice I might have ever had.
Ellie Scandrito, you are an inspiration to me. Many times I’ve tried, in therapeutic settings, to go back and imagine telling Pattabhi Jois to stop shoving his penis into me. In that tiny room, practicing with 11 other devotees and several more waiting and watching from the steps, I’ve never found the courage to even imagine saying it. Next time I try, I’ll think of you Ellie and all the people who have thanked me for being brave and hopefully I’ll find that courage.