Mary Tay­lor


Yoga Journal - - Travel Guide -

IN LIGHT OF the re­cent dis­cus­sion around is­sues of sex­ual abuse and ha­rass­ment that has swept the en­ter­tain­ment, po­lit­i­cal, and now yoga worlds, I find my­self heav­ing a huge sigh of re­lief. As a woman who has had her own har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ences with male abuse of power, sex­ual as­sault, rape, and be­trayal of in­ti­macy over the years, I’m re­lieved that these is­sues are no longer taboo to dis­cuss.

But I am also filled with sad­ness. I’m sad that we, as a species, have treated each other with such cal­lous­ness for thou­sands of years. I’m sad that I have not al­ways known how to speak up, how to stand up in my own de­fense, or how to take ac­tion in the de­fense of oth­ers.

There is some­thing par­tic­u­larly foul about sex­ual mis­con­duct in the con­text of yoga. Yoga is a path of in­sight into the roots of de­cency and de­sire—into both the glo­ri­ous and shadow sides of hu­man na­ture. There is a deeply per­sonal and, for many, an in­ti­mately spir­i­tual as­pect to yoga. Stu­dents of­ten come to yoga in a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion, pur­su­ing bal­ance, calm, and a clar­ity of mind. When a yoga teacher sex­u­ally abuses a stu­dent, it is not only hyp­o­crit­i­cal, but also in­cred­i­bly dam­ag­ing to the stu­dent and the tra­di­tion. This kind of be­hav­ior can throw sin­cere and in­no­cent stu­dents off the path for years, if not life­times. It is tragic. Yet sex­ual mis­con­duct within the yoga world is com­mon.

In fact, it is well doc­u­mented that my own teacher, Sri K. Pat­tabhi Jois, whom I love dearly, had cer­tain “ad­just­ments” that he gave to fe­male stu­dents that were in­va­sive. Many of these ad­just­ments were sex­u­ally in­ap­pro­pri­ate, and I wish he had never done them. On some level, I also wish that I had spo­ken pub­licly about them be­fore now. Yet these ad­just­ments were con­fus­ing, and not in align­ment with all the other as­pects of Jois that I knew, so I didn’t know how to talk about them with­out dis­parag­ing the en­tire sys­tem.

This has been a con­fus­ing part of my re­la­tion­ship with my teacher and the yoga com­mu­nity as a whole. Why did he do this? Why didn’t I speak up about the in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of his as­sists? Why didn’t oth­ers? Why didn’t I make it my mis­sion to ex­pose his wrong­do­ings as a demon­stra­tion of an ir­repara­ble flaw in the Ashtanga sys­tem?

First and fore­most, I still think Ashtanga is a re­mark­able sys­tem of learn­ing and trans­for­ma­tion. It is a sys­tem of prac­tice that has worked for me and many other stu­dents over the years. I do not see Jois’s be­hav­ior as a flaw in the sys­tem, but a flaw in the man. I think this is part of the rea­son why, un­til now, I have only spo­ken pri­vately to stu­dents who ask about this. I have such deep love for the prac­tice—a prac­tice that has saved my life.

When I take a step back and turn my gaze to the fu­ture, I see an op­por­tu­nity for deeper con­tem­pla­tion and an im­per­a­tive to stay au­then­tic, hon­est, and real. There is a burn­ing need to ques­tion and to look ever deeper at our­selves, our teach­ers, and the yo­gic tra­di­tions we love in or­der to find the seeds of truth that lie within. When we place teach­ers on a pedestal (or, as teach­ers, when we al­low stu­dents to put us on one), hon­est in­quiry be­comes im­pos­si­ble, and the deep con­tem­pla­tive in­sight and com­pas­sion that is at the heart of yoga may never arise. If the ground of the in­quir­ing mind be­comes eroded, then deeply de­struc­tive things—like sex­ual mis­con­duct—find an en­vi­ron­ment in which to thrive.

To­day things have changed. The ac­counts of sex­ual mis­con­duct that at one time might have been dis­missed are now be­ing met with open minds, sup­port, kind­ness, and re­spect.

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