Power Im­posed

How the founder of Ash­tanga yoga fos­tered a cul­ture of sex­ual abuse

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Matthew Rem­ski

Ev­ery year across North Amer­ica, tens of mil­lions of peo­ple prac­tise a form of yoga in­spired by the method of a sin­gle man: Krishna Pat­tabhi Jois. The fierce and grace­ful Ash­tanga method he pop­u­lar­ized has grown ex­po­nen­tially since the 1990s, as yoga moved away from the hip­pie fringe and into the heart of main­stream fit­ness cul­ture. Dur­ing that time, a pa­rade of celebrity prac­ti­tion­ers helped boost Jois’s pro­file even fur­ther. Sting and his wife, Trudie, were early Ash­tanga adopters. In 1998, Madonna an­nounced to Oprah that she was done with the gym, pre­fer­ring to de­vote her­self to Jois’s yoga. At the time, the pop star boasted that yoga “is a work­out for your mind, your body, and your soul.” Soon, fa­mous fol­low­ers in­cluded Hol­ly­wood stars like Gwyneth Pal­trow. Be­fore Jois’s death, in 2009 at age ninety-three, he even dis­played a framed photo of Pal­trow and his son in his sit­ting room. To­day, Ash­tanga is at the cen­tre of the multi-bil­lion-dol­lar yoga econ­omy — one that also in­cludes methods such as Kun­dalini, Iyen­gar, and Bikram (the orig­i­nal hot yoga). There are hun­dreds of yoga stu­dios world­wide ded­i­cated to Jois’s gym­nas­tic re­li­gion, plus thou­sands more that of­fer Jois-de­rived tech­niques through classes mar­keted with pop­u­lar terms such as “Flow,” “Vinyasa,” or “Power.” Yoga prac­ti­tion­ers are ev­ery­where on In­sta­gram, hash­tag­ging with #Yo­gachal­lenge, #One­breathata­time, and #Prac­tice­an­dal­lis­com­ing, feed­ing a work­out scene hun­gry for con­nec­tions be­tween ath­let­ics, beauty, and sel­f­re­al­iza­tion. The cap­tions speak of “open­ness,” “sur­ren­der,” and “pu­rifi­ca­tion.” But what re­ally el­e­vates Jois’s ex­er­cises to yoga, many prac­ti­tion­ers be­lieve, is the ethics one holds while prac­tis­ing, the pu­rity of one’s in­ten­tions, and the philo­soph­i­cal view that the body is a ve­hi­cle for piety. In the wake of re­cent #Me­too con­ver­sa­tions, how­ever, Jois’s legacy is now in cri­sis. The yoga guru is ac­cused of en­gag­ing in re­peated acts of sex­ual mis­con­duct and sex­ual as­sault, en­abled for decades by a de­vo­tional cul­ture that saw him as a benev­o­lent fa­ther fig­ure. For more than thirty years, prac­ti­tion­ers have whis­pered about the in­tent — and na­ture — of Jois’s hands-on yoga ad­just­ments, and ru­mours of sex­ual abuse have per­sisted long af­ter his death. As a long-time Toronto-based prac­ti­tioner and teacher of yoga, I first heard about Jois’s al­leged be­hav­iour sev­eral years ago. Over the course of a two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion, I in­ter­viewed nine women across North Amer­ica who all told me they were vic­tims at the cen­tre of the com­mu­nity’s dark se­cret: Jois as­saulted his fe­male stu­dents — in pub­lic — on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. The women de­scribe Jois grop­ing their breasts and hump­ing, rub­bing, or dig­i­tally pen­e­trat­ing their gen­i­tals un­der the guise of ad­just­ing their pos­tures, some­times while pin­ning them down with his body weight. They’re speak­ing out now, in part, be­cause of the larger reck­on­ing around sex­ual as­sault and toxic power dy­nam­ics. Six of the women I spoke to for this ar­ti­cle had rel­a­tively brief en­coun­ters with

Jois. One stud­ied with him in Man­hat­tan for a week and then for three months at his mod­est yoga gym, or “shala,” in the Lak­sh­mipu­ram neighbourhood of the city of My­suru (which changed its name from Mysore in 2014) in south­ern In­dia. Another, Karen Rain, prac­tised the Ash­tanga method for eleven years, over which she spent twenty-four months in Jois’s shala. Whether they spent days, months, or years with Jois, how­ever, all of the women de­scribe an en­vi­ron­ment in which the guru was per­mit­ted to freely as­sault his fe­male stu­dents. Many of the women say his sta­tus out­shone his abuse, al­low­ing him to ma­nip­u­late a cul­tural aura of spir­i­tual author­ity and im­plied con­sent. Rain de­scribed in metic­u­lous de­tail the daily cy­cle of as­sault and ra­tio­nal­iza­tion in which she was en­snared. She told me that she quit the yoga scene en­tirely in 2001, ex­hausted by chronic pain and moral dis­gust. “It was all pro­jec­tion,” she says. “He could do what he was do­ing not be­cause he was my fa­ther or un­cle or doc­tor. It’s be­cause he had amys­tique around him.” In short, Jois may have had a par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful sense of con­trol over his stu­dents’ ad­vance­ment, but he was also op­er­at­ing within a com­mu­nity that, ar­guably, em­pow­ered him to take ad­van­tage of stu­dents. “The whole cul­ture,” adds Rain, “says, ‘It’s okay.’” Modern yoga has been fraught with sto­ries of charis­matic male in­struc­tors who pro­moted their teach­ings as spir­i­tu­ally pure and later abused, or other­wise took ad­van­tage of, stu­dents who be­lieved their men­tors were gu­rus or saints. In the 1980s, for in­stance, Yogi Bha­jan’s 3HO Foun­da­tion, com­monly called the “Happy, Healthy, and Holy Or­ga­ni­za­tion,” set­tled sev­eral as­sault law­suits against its leader, in­clud­ing one case of rape and con­fine­ment brought by a woman who had en­tered his cir­cle at age eleven. The fol­low­ing decade, “Med­i­ta­tion in Mo­tion” in­no­va­tor Am­rit De­sai was re­moved as spir­i­tual di­rec­tor of the Kri­palu Cen­ter in west­ern Mas­sachusetts over al­le­ga­tions of abuse of author­ity and sex­ual mis­con­duct. That same year, a stu­dent sued another prom­i­nent yoga guru, Swami Rama, for sex­ual mis­con­duct; af­ter his death, a jury awarded her al­most $2mil­lion, in 1997. The list goes on. In 2012, John Friend, who is a stu­dent of both Swami Muk­tananda and Jois’s main ri­val, B. K. S. Iyen­gar, stepped down from his All-amer­i­can Anusara Yoga brand af­ter al­le­ga­tions sur­faced that he had been sleeping with his fe­male stu­dents — re­new­ing a con­ver­sa­tion within the yoga com­mu­nity about power dy­nam­ics and eth­i­cal guide­lines. In 2016, hot yoga pioneer Bikram Choud­hury aban­doned a fleet of lux­ury cars and fled his home in Cal­i­for­nia, fac­ing $6.5 mil­lion in dam­ages owed in a sex­ual-ha­rass­ment law­suit; a judge later is­sued a war­rant. Separately, Choud­hury is fac­ing

It could be dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile Jois’s touch, which was so often char­ac­ter­ized as a spir­i­tual pay­off, with the re­al­ity of the abuse.

six law­suits al­leg­ing sex­ual as­sault and sex­ual ha­rass­ment. (His cur­rent where­abouts are un­known, and there is still a war­rant out for his ar­rest.) As the #Me­too move­ment hits the yoga scene, women are com­ing for­ward on so­cial me­dia, forc­ing cru­cial ques­tions into the spot­light that the en­tire in­dus­try must now con­front: Is the yoga stu­dio con­sis­tently the healing space it is ad­ver­tised to be? Or has it en­gen­dered a cul­ture in which spir­i­tual sur­ren­der can be con­flated with phys­i­cal sub­mis­sion? Above all, prac­ti­tion­ers must now ask how a cul­ture with such a ro­bust his­tory of abuse has also been mar­keted as a path to bod­ily au­ton­omy, a means of spir­i­tual awak­en­ing, and a cure-all for both men­tal and phys­i­cal ail­ments. Mean­while, the sto­ries keep com­ing. In Novem­ber 2017, Rachel Bra­then, who is based in Aruba and known as “Yoga Girl” by her 2.1 mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers, posted a gen­eral call for #Me­too sto­ries of abuse within the yoga in­dus­try. “I’ve re­ceived 200-plus ac­counts of abuse, but the emails keep com­ing in,” she later told me in an email. “Al­most all are sex­ual abuse, ha­rass­ment or rape. Thirty-plus male teach­ers men­tioned, but many are writ­ing in anony­mously. It’s ev­ery­where.”

There are haunt­ing pho­to­graphs of the for­merly svelte Jois from ear­lier in his life, when he was un­der the bru­tal tute­lage of Tiru­malai Kr­ish­na­macharya, a key fig­ure in the modern yoga move­ment. But by the time the first waves of West­ern seek­ers started to find his My­suru shala in In­dia in the late 1960s, Jois re­sem­bled a ro­tund, puck­ish grand­fa­ther. Jois preached a strict and ex­act­ing yoga work ethic that res­onated with bo­hemian Western­ers who longed for a dis­ci­plined, hands-on spir­i­tu­al­ity. He quickly be­came known as a taskmas­ter who not only se­quenced his pos­tures with pre­ci­sion but also man­han­dled stu­dents’ bod­ies into con­torted knots — os­ten­si­bly to help them fur­ther their prac­tice and, ul­ti­mately, achieve seren­ity. As his pop­u­lar­ity grew, in 1975, Jois em­barked on what be­came the first of reg­u­lar teach­ing tours abroad. (He’s al­leged to have as­saulted women both on his trips to North Amer­ica and dur­ing their trips to prac­tise at his My­suru shala.) The nar­ra­tive, then and now, was that yoga gives shape to devo­tees’ lives as much as to their bod­ies. It has the po­ten­tial to pull peo­ple up out of pur­pose­less­ness, de­pres­sion, and ad­dic­tion. It may even heal their phys­i­cal in­juries and ill­nesses. But it’s hard to square the mir­a­cle sto­ries with the un­var­nished videos and pic­tures that sur­vive Jois. In clip af­ter clip, he stands on the limbs of both men and women as they sink ex­cru­ci­at­ingly into poses. He wres­tles women’s legs be­hind their heads and presses down on them, groin to groin, as they lie back and stare at the ceil­ing. Or he lies down on top of them, his nude belly to their backs as they squish into seated for­ward folds. Some pho­to­graphs chal­lenge the no­tion that Jois was “ad­just­ing” stu­dents at all. One, taken in the late ’70s or early ’80s, shows Jois drap­ing him­self over a woman who

is ly­ing on her back. He’s flat­ten­ing her ex­tended leg to the floor as he presses her other leg out to the side. He uses his free hand to grope her breast. There is al­most no his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence for yoga teach­ers phys­i­cally ad­just­ing their stu­dents prior to the 1930s “Mysore Asana Re­vival,” as yoga scholar Mark Sin­gle­ton dubs it. At that time, as Sin­gle­ton con­tends in his 2010 book, Yoga Body, gym­nas­tics train­ing trans­formed a prac­tice that had long been taught through oral in­struc­tion into amod­ern form of In­dian group ex­er­cise for boys. Jois’s Amer­i­can and Euro­pean stu­dents, how­ever, be­lieved his ad­just­ments to be “traditional” and es­sen­tial to his magic. They and their own stu­dents have gone on to nor­mal­ize these in­ter­ven­tions — even when in­tru­sive, force­ful, or painful — as a com­mon fea­ture of the yoga main­stream. The wide­spread im­i­ta­tion of Jois and other In­dian teach­ers, such as B. K. S. Iyen­gar, has fos­tered the im­plicit ex­pec­ta­tion among some that a yoga mas­ter should know stu­dents’ bod­ies bet­ter than they do and that dis­ci­pline and some­times pain were nec­es­sary to fur­ther their prac­tice. It’s now worth ask­ing whether the en­cour­age­ment to sub­mit to phys­i­cal in­tru­sion and pain through ad­just­ments dis­armed re­sis­tance to sex­ual abuse. Katchie Ananda was thirty-five and liv­ing in Boul­der, Colorado, when she en­coun­tered Jois at a yoga in­ten­sive held there in 2000. She told me about be­ing both phys­i­cally and sex­u­ally as­saulted by Jois over the span of sev­eral days. In one en­counter, she says, Jois wres­tled her into a deeper stand­ing back bend than she was ready for. Her hands were on her an­kles — al­ready an ex­treme po­si­tion. Jois moved her hands sharply up to be­hind her knees un­til she heard an in­ter­nal rip. Later, an MRI showed a disc her­ni­a­tion, to which she be­lieves Jois contributed. Dur­ing that same event, Jois leaned into her and pressed his groin di­rectly onto hers while she was on her back with both legs be­hind her head. Char­lotte Clews’s ex­pe­ri­ence at an event in Boul­der fol­lowed the same arc. At twenty-seven, Clews was liv­ing in Boul­der and felt she’d found a home in the yoga com­mu­nity’s ath­leti­cism and was pro­gress­ing to­ward the most de­mand­ing pos­tures. Dur­ing one prac­tice, Jois tore her ham­string at­tach­ment as he stood on her thighs and pushed her torso into a deep for­ward fold, with her legs open in a wide V. She per­sisted through the pain un­til Jois again ap­proached her to hold her steady as she bent over back­wards into a se­ries of “drop backs.” He pressed his groin di­rectly against hers as he sup­ported her while she arched up and down. She had never been touched in that way in that pos­ture be­fore. Clews tells me that she was trained to be­lieve that pain in prac­tice was ir­rel­e­vant and that in­jury was a risk in Ash­tanga. But part of her also be­lieved that a “good” stu­dent — one who prop­erly sub­mit­ted to the teacher — would not get hurt. The group con­sid­ered it to be a spe­cial hon­our when Jois as­sisted them. Clews re­mem­bers no im­pulse to tell her friends about the pain she was in, nor to re­sist Jois, in part be­cause he was sup­port­ing her lum­bar spine, which made re­sis­tance nearly phys­i­cally im­pos­si­ble. She says Jois later in­sisted that she fold her right leg in lo­tus po­si­tion de­spite her an­kle be­ing sprained. When she didn’t com­ply, she says, he ag­gres­sively torqued her legs into po­si­tion and badly rein­jured the an­kle. It didn’t oc­cur to Clews at the time to blame Jois for the pain, she says. She felt she was choos­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence.

In Novem­ber 2017, Karen Rain pub­lished a #Me­too state­ment to her Face­book page. She de­scribed be­ing reg­u­larly as­saulted by Jois be­tween 1994 and 1998. Like other women I spoke with, Rain says that Jois as­saulted her when he was ad­just­ing her. In her case, the as­saults oc­curred in var­i­ous pos­tures, in­clud­ing one in which she was ly­ing on her back with one of her legs pulled up straight along­side her body and with her foot over her head. “He would get on top of me,” she says, “as he did with many women, in the at­tempt to push our foot down over our head, and he would ba­si­cally hump me at the same time.” Other women de­scribe sim­i­lar in­stances in his classes, with pre­sum­ably sim­i­lar tac­tics — us­ing the op­por­tu­nity to ad­just women as an al­leged means of as­sault. Marisa Sul­li­van re­mem­bers sit­ting on the stairs out­side the open door of Jois’s shala on her first day in My­suru in 1997 and see­ing him put his hand on a woman’s but­tock and stare off blankly into space. She watched, aghast, as he kept paw­ing the woman. As the days stretched into weeks, she com­mis­er­ated with two other Amer­i­can stu­dents who were also ap­palled. When it was her turn to prac­tise in the room, she was hy­per­vig­i­lant, try­ing to time her pos­tures to avoid vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tions when­ever Jois passed. When he did touch her, she froze. But she had also pre­pared for years for the op­por­tu­nity to prac­tise with Jois, had come a long way from New York, where she lived, and felt socially in­vested. “I feared my po­si­tion in the com­mu­nity if I spoke out,” Sul­li­van says. “But much more than that — I had lived through sex­ual abuse at home and my truth was de­nied. I did not want any­one tak­ing away my truth that the way I and other women were be­ing touched was wrong. I heard too many devo­tees sup­port Jois’s ac­tions with vary­ing ex­cuses.” She made a choice to stay. Af­ter that mo­ment, she be­gan to let Jois phys­i­cally ad­just her. Sud­denly, he be­gan show­er­ing Sul­li­van with at­ten­tion. She felt that she blos­somed. Soon, she would ei­ther kiss his feet or bow down at the end of each ses­sion. But, a few weeks later, he as­saulted her while she was stand­ing in a for­ward bend, her legs spread wide and her arms raised up and over with her hands reach­ing to­ward the floor. First, he pushed her hands to the floor, which she found ag­o­niz­ing. In that po­si­tion, she was im­mo­bi­lized. Sud­denly, she says, Jois walked his fin­gers over her but­tocks, land­ing on her groin, where he be­gan to move his fin­gers back and forth over her leo­tard. Hawaii-based Michaelle Ed­wards de­scribes a sim­i­lar in­ci­dent that took place in 1990 at an event with Jois on the is­land of Maui. Ed­wards was in Paschi­mot­tanasana (an in­tense seated for­ward fold) when Jois lay down on top of her, push­ing her deeper un­til she could barely breathe. He then reached un­der­neath her hips to use his fin­gers to grope her.

“I was shocked and thought maybe he was con­fused about what he was do­ing,” she says. “And then I re­ally felt mo­lested and very un­com­fort­able to have his weight on me.” Ed­wards told Jois “no” re­peat­edly. Then she tried to move him off of her. Fi­nally, she was able to stand, only to see Jois smil­ing. “He be­gan to call me a ‘bad, bad lady.’” At the end of the class, she saw peo­ple treat­ing him “as though he was some kind of de­ity or en­light­ened be­ing.” Jois’s sta­tus made it hard for many women to feel as if they could come for­ward about their as­sault. In 2000, says An­neke Lu­cas, Jois sex­u­ally as­saulted her dur­ing a yoga in­ten­sive in the ball­room of the old Puck Build­ing in down­town Man­hat­tan. Lu­cas, a New York–based writer and now the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of a non-profit, had come to Ash­tanga prac­tice as part of her path to healing af­ter sur­viv­ing sex traf­fick­ing as a child. Jois groped her a few days into the work­shop. “I sensed that if I were to re­spond in pub­lic, he would have ex­pe­ri­enced the hu­mil­i­a­tion he’d just made me feel. He would be an­gry, and send me off,” Lu­cas wrote in an ar­ti­cle first pub­lished on a prom­i­nent New York yoga web­site in 2010 and reis­sued in 2016. “I thought I might be banned from my com­mu­nity that had come to feel like home. I felt con­fused, felt help­less, and held my tongue.” In the ar­ti­cle, she writes about how she later con­fronted Jois about his ac­tions, telling him, “‘It is against the law to touch women on their gen­i­tals or their but­tocks.’” For other women, it could be dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile Jois’s touch, which was so often char­ac­ter­ized as a spir­i­tual pay­off, with the re­al­ity of the abuse. Michelle Bou­vier told me that Jois groped her groin twice at a 2002 event in Encini­tas, Cal­i­for­nia. Then twenty-four years old, she re­mem­bers at first be­ing shocked and then try­ing to ig­nore him by sync­ing up her en­ergy with that of the older woman be­side her. “I thought, ‘This is not re­ally real any­more,’” Bou­vier tells me. “[But] if I had thought there was any­thing spir­i­tual about this scene, that feel­ing was gone.” At least one other woman chose to con­front Jois di­rectly. Maya Ham­mer vis­ited Jois’s My­suru shala in the late ’90s, at the same time as Sul­li­van (the two later trav­elled to­gether). She was twen­tythree at the time and liv­ing in Kingston, On­tario. Early into her prac­tice at the shala, Jois groped Ham­mer’s breast. At first, she thought it might have been an ac­ci­dent. By the third day, he was lean­ing for­ward into her but­tocks and groin re­gion. She was shocked. Af­ter a call home to her fa­ther, Ham­mer set out to con­front Jois. She told me that he de­nied grop­ing her, then promised that he wouldn’t keep do­ing it, and then waf­fled when she de­manded a re­fund. She stood her ground un­til he re­luc­tantly fetched $200 in cash from the back room and thrust it at her. She left the shala soon af­ter. At another event, in 2002, Micki Evs­lin, who was then fifty-five, at­tended an event with Jois in Hawaii, where she lives, as part of his Amer­i­can tour that year. Evs­lin re­mem­bers be­ing ex­cited by the prospect of meet­ing the mas­ter. She was in a stand­ing for­ward fold when she saw Jois’s feet ap­proach from be­hind. He then pen­e­trated her vagina with his fin­gers. “He had to use a lot of force,” says Evs­lin, in or­der to stretch the fab­ric

of her cloth­ing. Be­fore she could re­act, Jois moved on down the line of ben­tover prac­ti­tion­ers. Jois’s host for the Hawaii event asked not to be iden­ti­fied but did tell me about the in­ci­dent. Af­ter hear­ing about the be­hav­iour that was tak­ing place in class, the host in­ter­vened by call­ing a meet­ing with Jois, his daugh­ter, Saraswathi Ran­gaswamy, and his grand­son, Sharath Ran­gaswamy (who’s known more com­monly as Sharath Jois). Saraswathi and Sharath often trav­elled with Jois and are now the lead teach­ers of his shala in My­suru, now called the K. Pat­tabhi Jois Ash­tanga Yoga In­sti­tute. To­day, the Ash­tanga com­mu­nity calls Sharath “Para­m­aguru,” a name that im­plies he now holds his grand­fa­ther’s “lin­eage” — a pu­ta­tive com­bi­na­tion of an­cient tech­niques and in­her­ited author­ity. “It was not my in­ten­tion to shame him,” the host wrote in an email, re­fer­ring to Jois. “But to del­i­cately in­form him that in the West, such be­hav­ior could re­sult in a law suit.” The host writes that Saraswathi in­ter­jected: “‘Not just the West, but any­where!’” Sharath, the host adds, then said that if Jois con­tin­ued such be­hav­iour, he would not teach with his grand­fa­ther any­more. ( The Wal­rus has reached out to Sharath mul­ti­ple times about these al­le­ga­tions and his re­sponse to them. He has yet to com­ment.) Up un­til then, it had been an ac­cepted prac­tice for Jois to squeeze the but­tocks of women who lined up to greet him af­ter ev­ery class and kiss them on the lips. Ac­cord­ing to the host, this be­hav­iour stopped af­ter that con­fronta­tion and Sharath and Saraswathi no longer al­lowed Jois to say good­bye to prac­ti­tion­ers at the end of class.

In over two years of in­ves­ti­gat­ing, I haven’t en­coun­tered or heard of a sin­gle se­nior stu­dent who pub­licly con­fronted Jois or is­sued a pub­lic state­ment about the as­saults dur­ing his life­time. On the con­trary, un­til re­cently, the com­mu­nity has been largely silent. Among stu­dents who are now able to ac­knowl­edge his be­hav­iour, some say it was iso­lated, that it died with him, and that, on the whole, Jois’s prac­tice has en­livened and em­pow­ered count­less peo­ple. Six of the women in this story have stayed in the yoga in­dus­try, work­ing qui­etly to heal the power dy­nam­ics they en­dured. Lu­cas trains yoga teach­ers in trauma sen­si­tiv­ity be­fore send­ing them to teach at Rik­ers Is­land un­der the ban­ner of her non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, Lib­er­a­tion Prison Yoga. Sul­li­van now teaches chair yoga to can­cer pa­tients in de­men­tia nurs­ing homes, se­niors’ cen­tres, and homes for the men­tally ill. She also leads yo­gain­spired work­shops cel­e­brat­ing women’s sex­u­al­ity. Ed­wards has be­come an ad­vo­cate for safety and agency in the yoga in­dus­try. She ad­vo­cates against the au­thor­i­tar­ian teach­ing methods of the past. “My ex­pe­ri­ence of Jois and the abuse,” says Ed­wards, “was a spring­board to find some­thing that orig­i­nated from within, rather than from teach­ers who sought con­trol over their stu­dents in ways that did not feel safe, spir­i­tual, kind, or com­pas­sion­ate.” Maya Ham­mer now works as a cer­ti­fied psy­chol­o­gist. Micki Evs­lin still prac­tises a personalized ver­sion of Ash­tanga at home but at­tends only the oc­ca­sional class. Michelle Bou­vier, Katchie Ananda, and

Char­lotte Clews still teach yoga, but in a post-ash­tanga, fem­i­nism-in­formed mode. Karen Rain, how­ever, has hap­pily left yoga be­hind. Over the years, she’s healed her yoga-related chronic pain through phys­i­cal therapy. She healed her spirit, she says, through dance. She now works as a Span­ish in­ter­preter and ed­u­ca­tional as­sis­tant, often with un­doc­u­mented Latino chil­dren at a lo­cal pub­lic school. She’s been trained as a man­dated re­porter for sus­pected child sex­ual abuse and has emerged as a pow­er­ful ad­vo­cate for restora­tive jus­tice within the com­mu­nity she fled so long ago. For Rain, one of the most dis­turb­ing fea­tures of her re­cov­ery has been to come to peace with her own par­tic­i­pa­tion in the “il­lu­sion,” as she calls it, that there was some­thing spir­i­tual about the pos­tures or the man who taught them. “The Ash­tanga yoga I knew was sanctioned phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse,” says Rain. “Peo­ple thought yoga pos­tures were spir­i­tual, and they were seek­ing some­thing through them. Those two things com­bined helped main­tain the fan­tasy about Jois.” Rain’s will­ing­ness to chal­lenge that fan­tasy has sent shock­waves around the world. Re­sponses to her al­le­ga­tions, which were first made on so­cial me­dia and her blog, have been fraught and po­lar­ized. Peo­ple de­bate why Jois’s al­leged be­hav­iour wasn’t ad­dressed while he was alive and lament that his fam­ily mem­bers are the ones who have to deal with the reper­cus­sions. Oth­ers try to ed­u­cate one another about rape cul­ture and also ex­press grief and be­trayal. A pe­ti­tion is cir­cu­lat­ing on­line, ask­ing Sharath to is­sue a state­ment that ac­knowl­edges his grand­fa­ther’s abuse. Rain has ar­gued for Jois’s por­trait and all feel-good images of him to be re­moved from yoga al­tars and web­sites. She wants peo­ple to re­con­sider us­ing the hon­orific “Gu­ruji” when re­fer­ring to Jois. Be­yond this, Rain has also called for those who may have wit­nessed Jois’s al­leged abuse to tes­tify to it, so that those who’ve come for­ward can feel safer and more vis­i­ble. Sharath Jois has not yet re­sponded to Rain or the pe­ti­tion. He has, how­ever, is­sued a new code of con­duct that Ash­tanga teach­ers have to fol­low to stay au­tho­rized by the in­sti­tute in My­suru. One new stip­u­la­tion de­mands that teach­ers pro­vide “an en­vi­ron­ment free from sex­ual ha­rass­ment” — at the same time, it of­fers lit­tle guid­ance on how to cre­ate such an en­vi­ron­ment nor does it of­fer a pos­si­ble ac­count­abil­ity process for those who might vi­o­late it. A few Ash­tanga teach­ers are try­ing to imag­ine a pro­gres­sive way for­ward for their beloved method. Greg Nardi, who runs an Ash­tanga school in Fort Laud­erdale, Florida, with his hus­band, has spo­ken out pas­sion­ately against the knee-jerk re­sponse to de­fend Jois in­stead of his vic­tims. “Many well-in­ten­tioned and good peo­ple were com­plicit in up­hold­ing a harm­ful power struc­ture,” Nardi posted pub­licly to his fol­low­ers on Face­book. “Many dog­mas sur­round­ing Yoga ped­a­gogy need to be re­vised in­clud­ing the be­lief in methods and gu­rus as in­fal­li­ble.” Jean Byrne, a yoga scholar and long­time Jois stu­dent who runs three Ash­tanga stu­dios in Perth, Aus­tralia, an­nounced in a pub­lic post on Face­book that she was re­mov­ing Jois’s por­trait from their prac­tice spa­ces and instituting the use of “con­sent cards,” by which stu­dents can silently in­di­cate their per­mis­sion to be touched. For a cul­ture where ad­just­ments have been ac­cepted as part of the prac­tice for decades, this is truly revo­lu­tion­ary. What will re­place the por­trait of Jois on the al­tars of yoga stu­dios around the world? Ash­tanga prac­ti­tioner Dimi Cur­rey of­fers a restora­tive idea. She never met Jois. She’s prac­tised in Ver­mont since 2012 and says that Ash­tanga helped her re­cover from an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship. Cur­rey ar­gues that Ash­tanga ex­ists to­day as much be­cause of the si­lenc­ing of Jois’s vic­tims as it does through his stu­dents’ evan­ge­lism. The method might not have spread if the truth about its founder hadn’t been cov­ered up. “Maybe in­stead of Jois’s pic­ture in stu­dios, on al­tars,” Cur­rey says, “maybe it is [the vic­tims’] pic­tures that be­long there.”

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