Judith Hanson Lasater
RESTORATIVE YOGA AND APPLIED ANATOMY TEACHER, AND FORMER YOGA JOURNAL EDITOR
I′VE HAD MANY instances of #metoo, all the way up to attempted rape. But in the yoga context, I’ve only had one. And that was with Pattabhi Jois. At some point in the late 1990s, he came to San Francisco to teach. We were doing drop-backs from Tadasana (Mountain Pose) to Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose). He came over to help me and put his pubic bone against my pubic bone, so I could feel him completely. He had me do three or four drop-backs, and when I came up after the last one, I looked around and saw three of my students, who were in the class with me, looking at me, mouths hanging open.
What happened for me is what I think happens for so many women: I was so shocked that the first thing I did was doubt myself. Did that really just happen? I wondered, silently. The part that I regret is that I didn’t leave. I stayed in the class. The next thing Jois asked me to do was something I thought was physically dangerous for my knees. I just said, “Namaste; no Guruji, no.” And he hit me on the head and said, “Bad lady.”
That was the last time I saw him. It was only years later, when pictures and videos of him assisting women became public, that I recognized that what he was doing was sexual assault. I thought That’s what happened to me. For a long time, I had just brushed it under the carpet, where I had brushed all the other instances. At the time, my context of a male teacher was B.K.S. Iyengar, who never did anything like that. So I was trusting. I believed, and still believe, the yoga studio and yoga mat are sacred spaces. That’s why crossing this boundary in class is a double-whammy upset for women.
Now I make my students repeat this mantra: “Trust yourself first.” I ask them to repeat it frequently. And we talk about what it means: that we all need to listen to our gut, to pay attention to the deep visceral feelings that are arising from our inner wisdom and never to disregard them. In our culture, women are trained to ignore their intuition for a host of twisted reasons: We fear it’ll make us seem impolite or ridiculous. We tell ourselves, “It couldn’t be true, because I know this person well.” If this is you, start flexing your intuition muscle in less risky circumstances, like shopping for new tires. When you walk into the store, slow down and see what your belly says, then immediately act on it. This will help you say “no” when something doesn’t feel right in yoga.