What’s Next

Ad­vice from the ex­perts on how to nav­i­gate tur­bu­lent wa­ters.

Yoga Journal - - Travel Guide -

“We’re still fig­ur­ing out the best way to re­spond, but the more we share, the more help­ful it will be in how we pro­ceed.” EL­IZ­A­BETH JEGLIC, PHD, PRO­FES­SOR OF PSY­CHOL­OGY AT NEW YORK CITY’S JOHN JAY COL­LEGE

AS NEWS OF SEX­UAL MIS­CON­DUCT rolls out on a seem­ingly con­tin­u­ous ba­sis—in­clud­ing re­ports of wrong­do­ing in the yoga world—yo­gis ev­ery­where have been dis­heart­ened, if not sur­prised. We’ve known, af­ter all, that the yoga world is not im­mune to hor­ri­ble abuses of power—from in­ap­pro­pri­ate as­sists from Ashtanga Yoga founder Sri K. Pat­tabhi Jois to rape ac­cu­sa­tions against Bikram Choud­hury. “A sim­ple web search will re­veal that al­most ev­ery ma­jor tra­di­tion in mod­ern yoga has at least some ex­pe­ri­ence with al­leged sex­ual mis­con­duct,” says David Lip­sius, the re­cently ap­pointed pres­i­dent and CEO of Yoga Al­liance.

But the vol­ume of sto­ries and al­le­ga­tions ex­ploded late last year when yoga teacher and en­tre­pre­neur Rachel Bra­then (aka @yo­ga_­girl) shared her own non-yoga–re­lated #metoo story— and then started hear­ing from yo­gis around the world about sex­ual abuse, ha­rass­ment, and as­sault they had ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing classes, at their neigh­bor­hood stu­dios, and at yoga fes­ti­vals and other events. Within a week of speak­ing out, Bra­then had col­lected sto­ries from more than 300 yo­gis, many an­gry and con­fused about what had hap­pened to them. “I was field­ing ques­tions like, ‘Are you sup­posed to have your breasts ad­justed in Savasana (Corpse Pose)?’” says Bra­then.

Over­whelmed by the out­pour­ing—and com­mit­ted to do­ing some­thing about it—Bra­then se­lected 31 ex­cerpts (with con­sent) to share on her blog, strip­ping out the names of the vic­tims and the ac­cused. The ac­counts of mis­con­duct var­ied— from out-of-line ad­just­ments and be­ing propo­si­tioned for sex to be­ing ag­gres­sively or vi­o­lently as­saulted. Yet al­most all these sto­ries shared a com­mon thread: The vic­tims were shocked to be vi­o­lated by mem­bers of the yoga com­mu­nity, in what they thought was a sa­cred, pro­tected place. “There’s an ex­tra level of be­trayal in hav­ing some­one treat you in a dis­re­spect­ful and un­safe way in what should be a safe space,” says Peg Ship­pert, MA, LPC, a li­censed pro­fes­sional coun­selor in Boul­der, Colorado, who spe­cial­izes in work­ing with vic­tims of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

Ju­dith Han­son Lasater, PhD, who has taught yoga since 1971, agrees: “In the con­text of a yoga class, I was dumb­struck that [sex­ual mis­con­duct] would hap­pen, and it to­tally im­mo­bi­lized me. I thought of a yoga class al­most like go­ing to church, and the thought of that hap­pen­ing was not some­thing I had ever even con­ceived of.”

Dacher Kelt­ner, PhD, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley, yogi, and au­thor of The Power Para­dox: How We Gain and Lose In­flu­ence, adds that un­for­tu­nately, there has been a long his­tory of abuse of power in spir­i­tual com­mu­ni­ties in gen­eral. “Think of the women who killed for Charles Man­son, the abuse of priests in the Catholic church, or the tra­di­tion of polygamy in strict re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties,” he says. “Spir­i­tual set­tings cre­ate a struc­ture that is ripe for the op­por­tu­nity for se­duc­tion.”

Yoga is no ex­cep­tion. “The para­dox of teach­ing yoga is that it is all about re­la­tion­ships: The stu­dent needs to yield to the teacher, to be re­cep­tive,” says Lasater. “That said, stu­dents also need to be very aware that they still have power in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion.” On the op­po­site side of the same coin,

teach­ers must be aware of what stu­dents are pro­ject­ing on them. “We all get trig­gered,” says An­nie Car­pen­ter, a long­time yoga teacher who has a mas­ter’s de­gree in mar­riage and fam­ily coun­sel­ing. “This is where you have to do kle

sha work and ask your­self, ‘What does my ego want?’ If you’re a teacher, will your stu­dents project onto you that you’re a healer or a sexy yoga teacher? Or will you imag­ine, or even hope, they do? You have to know how to re­spond to those types of pro­jec­tions that will in­evitably hap­pen.”

The bot­tom line: We need to look at these is­sues and talk about them—even though the topic can be dif­fi­cult, says El­iz­a­beth Jeglic, PhD, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at New York City’s John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice, whose re­search fo­cuses on sex­ual vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion. “We’re still nav­i­gat­ing the best way to re­spond to these things,” says Jeglic. “But over­all, the more we can share—with each other and with au­thor­i­ties—the more help­ful it will be in how we all pro­ceed.”

When Bra­then posted #metoo sto­ries last year she wrote: “I hope that shed­ding light on this is­sue will [con­tribute] to some sort of change.” And it al­ready has. In cases where mul­ti­ple women have spo­ken up about the same yoga teacher, Bra­then con­nected the women (with con­sent) to the me­dia and with each other to see if, as in­di­vid­u­als or a group, they wanted to pub­licly re­veal the teacher’s name or take le­gal ac­tion.

Be­fore Bra­then’s post, Yoga Al­liance— a non­profit teacher and stu­dio registry—had al­ready put into mo­tion an ethics and con­duct com­mit­tee as part of its stan­dards re­view project. It had also just be­gun talks with the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Na­tional Net­work (RAINN) for rec­om­men­da­tions on new poli­cies on sex­ual mis­con­duct. Lip­sius, also the for­mer CEO of the Kri­palu Cen­ter for Yoga & Health, says the new ad­min­is­tra­tion at Yoga Al­liance is de­ter­mined to take on the is­sue of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse in the yoga com­mu­nity. “I per­son­ally have wit­nessed the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of abuse in a yoga com­mu­nity and know that the af­ter-ef­fects may linger even decades af­ter the al­leged abuser is re­moved,” he says. “The sim­ple fact is those who com­mit crimes must be held ac­count­able. There’s no ex­cuse for sex­ual mis­con­duct or abuse of power in a yoga stu­dio, ashram, fes­ti­val, or any other venue.”

Here you’ll find ad­vice for teach­ers, stu­dents, and yoga or­ga­ni­za­tions. Con­sider it a start—to help us all process the mis­con­duct that’s oc­curred and take the steps we can to prevent it from hap­pen­ing again.

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