Monday, October 1, 2018

Deafening Silence and the Importance of Making a Statement.

There has been a deafening silence from the Ashtanga community about the revelations of sexual assault perpetrated by Pattabhi Jois. I hope it is because people are in shock, not because they are sticking their heads deeper into the sand.
I am sure many people desire to say something but don't know what or how to say it. There are also many who are afraid to speak or question if it is their place to say something. There are, of course, some who are still in deep denial. There are many personal reasons to resist speaking out. But this silence looks like a cover-up, a denial that these events took place.

The victims need to hear your voices! They do not believe you have accepted the truth.

Many probably feel pressure to make an apology. Are we responsible for covering up the harmful nature of his actions? What is our role in promoting his name which simultaneously undermines the credibility of the witness testimony and causes further damage and pain?

It will take time to see how deep the rabbit hole of self-deception has gone. It will take time to see and accept with open eyes what actually happened. Only then will we feel ready to speak about this. Only then will it feel appropriate to say something.

But in the meantime there is something we must all do. Even if we are not ready to apologize, it is necessary for the victims to know that we have heard them, that we have compassion for their suffering and accept their truth.

It is not enough to say: “I never saw anything, I never experienced anything.” If you believe the victims but are trying to pretend that everything is OK – where will that lead? Yoga practice is a movement towards truth – digging your head in the sand just perpetuates your delusion and the pain of the victims.

The first principle of Ashtanga Yoga is ahimsa – not harming – the positive expression of ahimsa is love, compassion, care – has Pattabhi Jois’ himsa become institutionalized? Where is the compassion? Is the only concern self-preservation, maintenance of power and revenue producing structures?

The evidence is out there plain to see. Denial of the truth is himsa – acknowledging the harm caused by Pattabhi Jois is compassion. It will help the victims and it will help us to move towards healing and truth.

I urge all Ashtanga teachers and students of Pattabhi Jois to say something.

The question is: can Sharath make a statement? Until he does, others fear to do so. They fear being struck off the official register of teachers. In the absence of a statement from Sharath, it looks like the official statement of the KPJAYI is denial that anything untoward has happened. He has probably known more about this than anyone for many years and has not said anything about it publicly. On the contrary, he has done everything to cultivate an idea that his grandfather was a great yogi and saint.

He is thus in an impossible position: if he acknowledges abuse then he admits to dishonesty and manipulation of the ashtanga narrative for the purpose of consolidating power. If he says nothing or denies it he is equally seen as dishonest and responsible for causing more harm. He is damned either way. The first way will undermine his authority and power but save his humanity, the second way is to lose his soul and perpetuate a cult of deceit.

Without his guidance I know some elements within his student body are looking for ways to rebut and refute the evidence by undermining the credibility of those who have spoken out, thus causing further harm to the victims. It is therefore his duty to acknowledge the abuse and to apologize on behalf of the official Pattabhi Jois institute and curb the attacks.

We have profited from a system that has caused harm to others. Is that different from buying an item that has been produced by exploitation of labor or the environment? Our profit has come at the cost of others. We did not cause the harm but what gave us good (we have to question how much harm is hidden below the mental platitudes we feed ourselves) also caused others harm.

We cannot get away from this fact – we are not responsible but we are connected. And we have the power to increase their pain and to reduce it.

Acknowledgement does not seem like a big deal but it is huge. It is vitally important, it is our duty.

If yoga has been working for you then you will have the compassion to recognize this and do something. If yoga has not been working for you, then you will continue to follow your own self-interest and profit.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Pattabhi Jois #metoo and the Supreme Court Nomination Process

Watching Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Donald Trump’s supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, one could not help seeing the parallels in the Ashtanga community’s assessment of Pattabhi Jois’ guilt or innocence.

A woman with nothing to gain personally and with everything to lose, courageously speaks out about being sexually assaulted by a man held in the highest esteem by his community. The closing of ranks around the favored candidate has nothing to do with a sense for truth and everything to do with preserving and promoting power and control.

Her honesty is in question, not his. His rebuttal is the lack of corroborating witnesses. Without the support of a witness or evidence other than her memory, her testimony is doubted and her honesty and integrity are attacked.

We have seen the same distrust of testimony in the case of Pattabhi Jois but in this case we do have a lot of corroborating evidence. In the first place there is multiple witness testimony and secondly we have a lot of photographic and video evidence. Nonetheless, victims who have spoken out have been subject to attack and attempts to undermine their credibility.

When I watched Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony I was deeply moved. What courage it took, what personal cost. Many people have said this is a great day for women – it's a great day for humanity! Also an awful day – we see both truth, courage and selflessness as well as power, deceit and self interest on display.

Women are pushing back against the patriarchal system that has dominated society for so long – this is a wonderful thing - a social revolution. We sorely need a feminization of culture and society, of power structures and business models.

They need our help. These solo voices calling out the deeply ingrained male dominated control of all things – politics, law, media, business, yoga, narrative in general… stand vulnerable and alone. Their experience, although often in the presence of others, was perpetrated in a subversive, secret or hidden way – there were often no other witnesses – or witnesses who were deliberately looking the other way.

Their abusers were people of power, people who commanded high respect, people whose words were trusted, respected and even lauded as divine. It is truly a marvel to observe one woman’s vulnerable words taken in the balance against the entire history of male chauvinism as integrated into such icons of male power. What courage it takes to challenge such institutionalized power and authority!

It is only because these figures are in the public eye that their crimes attract attention and close scrutiny but this is not even the tip of the iceberg. We live in a society riddled with violence and sexual assault. It is estimated that 20-25% of girls are sexually assaulted before they reach adulthood, 35% of the perpetrators are family members and 96% are male. Such statistics should make us weep!

I can only imagine how deeply damaging and distressing being a victim of sexual assault must be – to then have the courage to speak out – not out of a personal motive but out of compassion for all those who could possibly be protected in the future takes huge courage.

Even if we have not been subject to attack, our children and our loved ones are all vulnerable. We should be highly motivated to find truth and healing. It is true that we have so much shame and discomfort and complicity in perpetuating the power structures – if we want to move forward and find healing, we have to live with our discomfort and complicity.

To all victims of abuse – we hear you! We believe you!

Please do not stop – you are changing the world – thank you for your courage!

Friday, August 31, 2018

Pattabhi Jois and #Metoo

Dear fellow students of Pattabhi Jois and practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga,

We have been silent for too long. Most of us have witnessed or experienced both physical injury and sexually invasive touch by Guruji. Those who continued to practice with him and promote his teaching found ways to rationalize his behavior. Many of us lived with ambivalence - were his actions intentional or accidental? Today we can be in no doubt that Pattabhi Jois sexually assaulted many of his female students:

If you have not done so already, please take a moment to read Karen Rain’s testimony:

It is not easy to do. If you practice Ashtanga Yoga, if you love Guruji, if you teach Ashtanga - reading this will distress you. It threatens the whole purpose behind your yoga practice, it threatens your business and it undermines a relationship that may be very close to your heart, but it is your duty, not just to the victims of abuse, but also to yourself.

I think by now most of us have come to accept that Pattabhi Jois' adjustments were questionable at times but to recognize that he actively and persistently sexually assaulted some of his students is very difficult to accept and acknowledge for several reasons:

To acknowledge that one has been pursuing a "spiritual practice" with devotion to a sexual abuser with the implicit ramifications for one's own practice would be hugely distressing. The closer a teacher was to Guruji, the more their authority rests on his - if his authority is undermined, so is theirs. To speak out would be to risk alienation from the Jois family and the Ashtanga community. The ramifications are potentially damaging to our financial, social and spiritual wellbeing. 

I believe it is important for all of us to acknowledge the truth. If we deny the victims' testimony, we stand in the way of their healing process: if their words cannot be shared and accepted as true, it is very difficult for them to find release from their pain. But it is also important for us to be honest for our own sake! What is yoga if it is not a path of truth?

One of Pattabhi Jois' most quoted sayings is: "Do your practice and all is coming!" Guruji practiced for decades and what came to him included behavior that caused harm to many people. Can we accept this as yoga? Do Guruji’s imperfections invalidate his teachings? This is a question we are compelled to ask. 


My initial reaction to Karen’s account was to question/doubt her experience: If she was being abused on a daily basis, why did she continue a daily practice with Pattabhi Jois for two years? I wanted to find justification for rejecting her testimony. Then I reflected on my own experience: Guruji had badly injured me several times in my first few months of practice and thereafter and I continued to come back for more: the desired fruits were so attractive that we were prepared to go through a great deal of suffering to grasp at them. 

I wanted to find independent confirmation and so I went back and reviewed old video footage of Jois teaching in Mysore and saw several clear cases of sexual harassment. Then I also spoke to a member of a small inner circle of students who hosted him on his world tours and who confirmed that they had known about a persistent "problem" of sexual assault going back over many years. 

Why has no one with this knowledge spoken out? If a teacher has been knowingly denying Guruji's sexual abuse and promoting his teachings as a spiritual practice then he has participated in cultivating a deception in a most cult-like way. 

By sending students to study with him, he is also open to allegations of "grooming". These failures could be hugely damaging to a teacher's reputation. But being close to the family would make it almost impossible to speak out, considering the pain it would cause them.

It is not surprising that almost no teachers have spoken out yet or acknowledged the truth. Teachers wanted to show how close they were to Guruji, how perfect that relationship was and how perfect their practice was in Mysore. This conferred authority and authenticity. To speak badly would be to undermine the brand and to alienate oneself from the source. But now to acknowledge one has had huge admiration, love, respect and has even represented and promoted a sexual abuser for many years will initiate a severe existential crisis. The truth will be acknowledged by all but it will take some time.


Since his death, Guruji has been elevated to a position of sainthood. Part of this promotion has been due to the book of interviews I collected and published with Eddie Stern as "Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K Pattabhi Jois" which paints a positive picture of his life and avoids exploring the issues of injury and sexual assault. In emphasizing only positive stories it has done more to cement the idea that he was a perfect yogi, which he clearly was not. 

By burnishing his image, we make it unassailable - it makes us doubt the testimony of those he abused. This causes further harm to those whose testimony we deny and to ourselves.

I would like to offer my sincere apologies to all victims who were harmed by Guruji or by his teachings as passed through his students for my part in cultivating this image of perfection that denies the suffering and healing of many. I would also like to apologize for taking so long to write this - it was not easy to do.

I believe it is our duty to ourselves and to all those who were hurt by Guruji and whose words and truth and healing has been ignored and rejected for so long, to listen with open hearts, without judgment, without defensiveness, for to do otherwise is to cause more and more pain for everyone.