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Yoga For New York Acts To Curb The Abuse—And Needs Your Help

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was set up in 1965 to give all employees the right to protection and recourse when they were being treated improperly in the workplace. It was understood, fifty years ago, that the power dynamic made it impossible for this to happen equably.

The yoga community has been littered with cases of sexual abuse since it became popular in the United States, at about the same time, and yet it has never taken these laws seriously.

But the recent Jivamukti case and the attendant strong, critical and sometimes outright cruel fighting on FB made it abundantly clear that this hot-button issue must be addressed.

YogaCity NYC and Yoga For New York decided to hold the first panel discussion about power and abuse in our community and it was painful to hear the traumatic stories that individuals had tried to bury, having no one to talk to about it—not just those who told of being abused, but those who’d been shamed and scapegoated for speaking out, and teachers who’d followed lineages for years, only to discover their toxic hierarchies. (The video tape is available on Five Tattvas.)

“Most yoga studios are a bit like families,” says Tamar Samir, a highly respected teacher and one of the founders of the NYC initiative from Darkness to Light. “Everyone’s deeply interconnected. At some point, everybody’s been everyone else’s student or teacher or

apprentice. That sense of family and close community is beautiful in everyday life. But when someone needs to report an abuse or a breach of ethics, there’s no objective, neutral person they can speak with.

“When abuse is revealed, the community might unconsciously start to take on the dynamics of a dysfunctional family covering up incest, and, ultimately, cause even further trauma. That’s why it’s really important that we create an independent ethics committee, so that students, teachers, and studio owners have a neutral body that can help.”

Following the panel discussion, on Monday, May 23, a small group of yoga teachers who taught at numerous studios and trained in a variety of methods attended met at Yoga Union, to begin to create this neutral body.

Samir and Alison West, Executive Director of Yoga for New York and founder of Yoga Union, plan to work with volunteers to set out a mission and vision for a committee that will create ethical standards for all New York state yoga students, teachers, and studios to abide by. They will also set up methods to receive complaints and protocols for handling them.

West, who led the meeting, suggested that all interested parties review the new

Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibilities adopted by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) as a framework to begin the discussion. There was also a suggestion that Yoga Alliance be brought into the process of creating nationwide code.

Meanwhile, West is taking the problem on the road. She will speak at Wanderlust on June 16th to start making this a national effort and explained to Yoga City NYC why it was necessary.

“The many sex abuse scandals rocking the world of yoga clearly point to the need for a national discussion about ethics in yoga. By having open conversations and committing, at the state and national level, not only to codes of conduct but also to procedures that can help us handle these issues, we can move towards an atmosphere of greater harmony and confidence in our studios and trainings.

“This is a critical issue that everyone needs to help address and solve—students, teachers and studio owners. Learn how you can carry this message home and get a conversation going about ethics in yoga, which include not only matters of an emotional and sexual nature, but touch on honest self-representation, proper conduct in teacher trainings, appropriate pay for services and more.

More volunteers are needed. to push this cause and the Yoga For New York initiatives ahead. If you would like to volunteer to help formulate the mission and vision of the oversight panel, please contact Alison West at and put “Ethics Committee” in the subject line.

—Brette Popper

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