Speaking Truth to Power About Sexual Abuse

by Nina

The Wisdom and Truth by Pierre-Paul Prod’hon

Have you heard about the recent very long podcast that J. Brown did with Karen Rain? Karen is one of the women that Pattahbi Jois sexually abused and I wrote about her in my post #MeToo and YogaWell, I actually listened to the whole thing! Because it is so long, I will summarize some of the points that stood out to me. But here it is in case you want to listen to it: 


Now here are what I found to be the highlights of the discussion:

  1. Rain said forthrightly that Jois was not a great yogi. In addition to sexually abusing as many as 1,000 women, he lied, cheated, and stole money. He was immoral and didn’t teach or practice the yamas. I think that’s such an important point.
  2. Rain said that the problems with sexual abuse are partly due to the current culture in the yoga world, which is paternalistic. In a paternalistic yoga culture, the teacher always knows what is best for you and the students will often ignore their own intuition and simply follow the teacher’s instructions. What is needed is a consent culture, in which the student knows what is best for themselves. Carey Sims expressed this very well in his post The Importance of Inquiry and Agency in the Asana Practice
  3. After years of being silent and feeling like Jois robbed her of what was meaningful to her, Rain said she is feeling energized and hopeful because she is now speaking truth to power. I found this empowering and inspiring, and I hope many other people, of all genders, will, too. 
  4. The podcast ended with a second discussion, which was requested by Rain and moderated by her, rather than him. After having listened to the other discussions J. Brown had on his podcast with other Ashtanga yoga teachers, Rain felt that he had been sexist in his approaches to the teachers, lobbing softballs to the men or letting them get away with non-responses while being much more forceful and aggressive with the women. And the accusations that about Jois that Anneke Lucas made during the discussion with her were downplayed by Brown. 

Finally, are you wondering, why is Nina writing about Patthabi Jois and sexual abuse again? In the podcast, Rain mentioned the problem of how sexual abuse accusations briefly get a lot of attention and then fade away, so that future students aren’t even aware of problems that were once reported about teachers. I’ve seen this play out in the SF Bay Area with Manouso Manos. In the 1991, the San Jose Mercury actually did an expose of him and his habit of molesting women in his classes during the 80s (see Betrayal of Trust”: 1991 Mercury News Investigation of Sexual Assault Allegations Against Manouso Manos). According to this article, B.K.S. Iyengar “asked the community to forgive Manos.” And it said that in October 1990, the S.F. institute’s board of directors voted to reinstate him.

Once Manos was reinstated, the story kind of faded away and women who were unfamiliar with the old accusations, like Ann West, who in 2013 was groped by Manos in a class, felt safe to study with him. 

(By the way, one of the teachers who resigned from the SF Iyengar Institute faculty after that vote was my future main teacher, Donald Moyer. Donald later told us this entire story about Iyengar and Manouso during my teacher training.) 

After hearing Karen Rain talk briefly about this problem, I wrote down on a piece of paper “We have to keep this topic alive.” So, in that spirit, I’m going to share a list of teachers who have been accused of sexual abuse some of whom there are stories about that are fading away: A List of Yoga Scandals Involving Gurus, Teachers, Students, Sex and Other Inappropriate Behaviour.

Do I know for sure that all the accusations in this list are true? No, I do not. However, while it is never the fault of a “victim” if they have been sexually abused—so I don’t want to imply that I blame anyone for studying with the wrong teacher—if you want to intentionally avoid predators or being part of a lineage that still venerates a predator, there are steps you can take. Vet your teachers in advance. Do some research. Ask teachers that you do respect for their honest assessments. Ask other students who have studied with the teacher in very frank terms. And if you do take a class and get any kind of icky feelings, no matter what kind of reputation that teacher might have, follow your intuition and leave! 

The goal of yoga is Kaivalya, independency and not wrong devotion. —R. Sriram 

Here are some other posts I’ve written on sexual abuse in the yoga world. 

In my post Yoga Teachers Who Abuse Their Students I discussed the benefits of finally talking about these issues in the yoga community, both for the healing of individuals who experienced abuse and for making changes in institutions and communities to prevent future abuse. 

In #MeToo with Names I discuss the KQED article about SF Bay Area teachers who are mentioned by name, Manouso Manos, Zubin Shroff, and Allan Nett. 

In Yoga Nidra, Satyananda Saraswati, and Sexual Abuse I discuss the credible evidence that Satyananda as well as several of his disciples were involved in sexually abusing students and even children at the Bihar School of Yoga Ashram.

In Abuse of Power in the Yoga World I discuss the accusations against Kasthub Desikachar, and quote R. Sriram’s advice about the role of the teacher and the student and his recommendations about yoga the Viniyoga community should deal with Kasthub.

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