*** Trigger warning, this contains accounts of sexual abuse ***
The title quote is from the wonderful Danny Paradise – he knew all along!
Our choice of yoga practice is incredibly personal, yet some elements are circumstantial – who we meet and when. I was young when I found Anusara Yoga and gained Anusara Inspired (their affiliated) Status. I left long before the founder John Friend’s misdemeanours – involving drug use, sex covens with female teachers and students and taking money from the pension fund – came to light. I was no longer ‘inspired’. It was true, I fell out of love with Anusara when I went to a global Anusara Teacher Gathering in Paris with my dear teacher Bridget. It felt corporate and whilst the language was all love and light, it rang of a business networking event. John Friend was likening the Kula ( the yoga community) to the French football team, who were in the world cup final that week. He said that those who went the path alone were loners, outsiders and nothing without the transnational Anusara community. Whilst I wholeheartedly believe in a more organic notion of community, I felt little in common with many in the room. I was infuriated, what of the Ancient yogis alone in caves, the sanyasin or renunciates who had done just that. What of me and my motley crew of friends growing up and striving in all ways to remain off centre, outside the mainstream group. I thought of my humbling morning practices in a campervan (my home at the time) alone but held in the warm nest of practice and soulful silence. However much I loved my dear teacher Bridget and the Tantric underpinnings of the practice, I had to leave. Latterly, when I met John Scott, I was seduced by the notion that Ashtanga was traditional and therefore didn’t have the consumer capitalist trappings of these modern styles. The silence of the Mysore room and daily self practice at home became a sanctuary. The Guru – Pattabhi Jois – was an Indian in his last years when I started practising and I had heard tell of the strictness of Mysore and the Jois method, so whilst I enjoyed the teachings of other less stern teachers, I had no interest in going to Mysore.
This notion of Ashtanga as a traditional practice and a return to source was first rocked when I read ‘Yoga Body’ by Mark Singleton when it came out, but I was not ready then for the revelations of abuse in the Ashtanga Community by Pattabhi Jois that would come out some years later. Rumours and some evidence have been around for a long time apparently, but were probably known more by those who (unlike me) moved in Mysore attending circles. It was in 2017 Karen Rain, a dedicated Jois student shared her #MeToo abuse story about Jois. Matthew Remski, in his book ‘Practice and All is Commin: Abuse, Cult Dynamics and Healing in Yoga’, interviews: Jubilee Cooke, Diane Bruni, Nicky Knoff, Anneke Lucas, Marissa Sullivan, Kiran Bocquet, Maya Hammer, Michaelle Edwards, Micki Evslin, Michelle Bouvier, Nicola Tiburzi, Kathy Elder, Charlotte Clews, Tracy Hodgemen, Kim Haegele Labidi and Katchie Ananda. I name them as they have been sidelined and silenced for so long and there are certainly more. They felt compelled to share how Pattabhi Jois sexually abused them in the Mysore room, a held space where they were surrounded by fellow practitioners. In this space they were variously groped, digitally raped, dry humped and physically injured. Remski centres these womens’ voices, which were shut down for so long by the community. The manner in which yoga communities have sought to suppress such stories of abuse, highlights that everyone is in their own way culpable for that suffering. The communities and their internal structures failed these women too. When they originally spoke to community members these women were told they were (at best) misreading an ‘adjustment’ or (at worst) privileged to have experienced this spiritual experience. As a feminist and as a woman I should not have been surprised. Yoga spaces have the same power imbalances as the rest of society. Reading Remski helped me to realise the full extent of the issue and I felt disgusted and deeply saddened. When a Guru’s abuses of power in your community are revealed a second time you realise it is not the individual at the top, often a charismatic man, but rather the hierarchy, pedestal and Guru status itself that will time and again create the abuse. I still enjoy my Ashtanga practice, but am dedicated to listening to an inner voice for guidance and am working on new ways to share this practice in a more accessible, practitioner centred, non-dogmatic way with plenty of ‘love and props’ as Norman Blair uses in the name of his Ashtanga classes.
Finally, the soulful part of each of us, in a time when yoga has become part of the neo-liberal capitalist mainstream culture, yearns for grass roots, authentic yoga community – this will have to be heterarchical, a peer-to-peer network without dogma. For those of us who are sick of the yoga entrepeneurs, branded lineages and the rule book, we might consider how to move on the margins with those who remain counter cultural – here we might find our soul-food networks. Also, as ever when we feel shaken, as practitioners we will turn inward to what we feel deep in our hearts as we move and breathe in silent ritual.