Yoga And The Abuse Of Power
The Jivamukti controversy and the articles about it on Slate and Decolonizing Yoga as well as the New York Post are really ruffling feathers. Those who are pro-Jivamukti have generated cruel hashtags against individuals who are standing-by the accuser. While this lawsuit has yet to be settled, the incident raises many questions—and it may be just the straw needed to break the proverbial camel’s back.
Sexual abuse is nothing new to the yoga world, but it has never really been dealt with properly.
Kripalu was plagued back in 1994, as was Anusara in 2012 when senior yogis left without
telling their fellow John Friend followers what was actually going on. The same year, in India, Kausthub Desikachar was accused of serious sexual and emotional abuse. Geshe Michael Roach was rebuked by the Dalai Lama for his relationships with women and then entangled in a tragic death at his mountain retreat. The Bikram Choudhury rape and abuse controversies continue even after he settled one lawsuit for over seven million dollars; and whispers of unwanted physical contact have permeated Mysore for decades.
The unfortunate reality is that each lineage has bad eggs, and yoga is a stage perfectly set for a power-play of abuse. Many fragile people flock to yoga searching for safety, only to fall prey to dissolute mentors who exploit their weaknesses.
But when these scandals happen, many yogis want to avoid the issue—to keep quiet, to “sweep it under the rug.” Whistleblowers and the accused are often scape-goated.
Interestingly, perhaps the most highly respected spiritual teacher in the world, the Dalai Lama, encourages students to do the opposite and to speak up. “I assume the teacher would feel ashamed and embarrassed and would decide to alter their behavior,” he has said.
Why are yogis so hesitant? Doesn’t their silence and protection of the abuser go against the philosophy of the yamas and niyamas? How should yoga-business owners handle this issue? And, most of all, what are the next steps needed?
Five prominent yogis are anxious to take on these issues "I look forward to this very necessary conversation both as director of Yoga Union, where the event is being held, and as Chair and Executive Director of Yoga For New York, which represents all Yoga studios, teachers, and students,” said Alison West.
(*Eddie Stern had planned to sit on this panel, but, due to other engagements, he had to unfortunately pull-out.)
—Cynthia Kling, with Michael Laskaris
—Ilustration by Sharon Watts