This past Sunday I held a conference before our led class so I could speak to AYM students about what is going on in the Ashtanga world. I don’t usually put big opinion pieces up on the internet but I think in this case, I’d like to share what we spoke about for two reasons. One, if you’re reading this and you’re considering joining our shala in Minneapolis, I’d like to be upfront about my feelings on the issue, and two, as we’ve learned time and time again, silence is not the way forward.
Pattabhi Jois is widely considered the father of Ashtanga Yoga, that is to say his teachings started the spread of Ashtanga Yoga around the world. I never met him, as my first trip to India was in 2011, two years after he passed away. The issue coming up presently is that he regularly gave yoga asana “adjustments” to students that were invasive and to some, abusive, touching genitals, buttocks and breasts. This fact was seen and experienced by many of his students, and yet when more public accusations surface, they have routinely (perhaps until now) been met with denial and silence. Even now, there are people– students and teachers both– trying to silence the victims.
Many of us who never practiced with Pattabhi Jois wonder, why was this allowed to go on? How was he considered a Guru in light of such behavior? I practiced for over a decade before anyone ever told me anything about this. Earlier, I had seen the photograph of his “moola bandha adjustment” and explained it away to myself, like maybe it had been photoshopped. I wanted to believe in the purity of this man because I had already experienced the benefits of “his” method, and I did not want to lose it.
I don’t feel that way anymore. This method is not “his,” it is ours. Everyone’s. I have had a daily practice for 13 years and if it has taught me anything, it’s that seeing the truth in things, even when it is painful, is better than not seeing the truth.
My takeaways from this last month:
1. This abuse was allowed to go on because systemic power favors the abusers, not the abused. Folks who have power, even peripherally, don’t want to lose it, and the person who bestows such power doesn’t get questioned. Speaking out, and holding others up who speak out, is the way to break this cycle.
2. I have practiced with Sharath in Mysore four times and in the US on tour three times. My experience with him has been completely devoid of anything inappropriate, and I have never heard of anyone say otherwise about their experiences. I believe (and this is my opinion, not anything that he has said directly to me) that he is intentionally a very different kind of teacher than his grandfather was. I think he’s a trustworthy teacher.
3. My faith in the Ashtanga method is unchanged. It is a tool that can be used to increase the good in the world, but like any tool, it can be misused. Fame and charisma are not indicators of anything other than fame and charisma.
If you have questions or concerns, please reach out to me.