The Yamas and Niyamas of the ancient yoga tradition are only sometimes enacted into daily practice. Former teachers like Bikramchoudhury and Pattabhi Jois have been accused of sexual misconduct. This shows that being revered does not mean you are an ethical teacher. There is no “yoga department” or “yoga police.” It’s up to the yoga community, including studios, centers, teachers, and students, to speak out and change the status quo.
Yoga’s MeToo Stories
In response to the national #MeToo campaign, several yoga teacher blogs have published #MeToo accounts and comments on articles describing this issue’s prevalence in the yoga community.
Rachel Brathen, aka “Yoga Girl,” called on Instagram to have yogis share their #MeToo story and received more than 300 responses. These stories ranged from offensive remarks to perverted adjustments in class to violent assaults when victims were physically pinned, assaulted, and sexually abused.
Karen Rain shared her account about being sexually assaulted by Pattabhi Jois. She shared that she observed Jois fondle and grope many other women and wondered how this could have continued for so long.
Women who have shared their #MeToo experiences report feeling ashamed and confused by these violations. These feelings were compounded because they didn’t know what had happened, where to go, or what to say. This is a painful reality since yoga is about peace, respect, and non-harming.
Yoga Alliance is an excellent resource for cancer survivors
Yoga Alliance released a Statement on Sexual Misconduct in the Yoga Community, which advised all survivors of sexual assault or other crimes to call the police, victims’ rights advocates and lawyers. RAINN, a national advocacy group that addresses rape, abuse, and incest, is working with Yoga Alliance to redevelop the Code of conduct for their yoga teachers. This will strengthen policies that address sexual misconduct. Other resources include the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800.656.HOPE (4673) or anonymous chat at online.rainn.org.
It is good that an authority such as Yoga Alliance has a focused focus. Yoga Alliance is not affiliated with all yoga studios and teachers. And with the proliferation of yoga teacher-training programs, the quality of ethics training may not always be up to par.
Yoga studios must step up
Kerry Maiorca is the Chair of the Board of Directors of Yoga Alliance. She says that if boundaries are crossed in a yoga class or anywhere else, students must immediately alert the manager or owner of the studio.
Maiorca acknowledged that reporting abuse or speaking up in class can be difficult when there is an unwanted change.
Studio or center owners can promote transparency and communication by establishing procedures to address these issues. They should also make sure that their Code of ethics is clear. Sarah Herrington, a yoga teacher, suggests in her New York Times piece Yoga Teachers Need a Code of Ethics that yoga studios, community centers, and meditation groups postcodes of ethics similar to the one created by Jack Kornfield’s Spirit Rock Center, which addresses sexual misconduct. Studio owners can create awareness by making the Code available online and in person. By making the Code accessible online and in person, studios create awareness and conversation.
There are no “gurus,” and students should know this
Yoga is a physical and spiritual practice that can make students vulnerable. It’s easy to confuse the benefits of yoga with charismatic teachers. Rachel Fallon, a yoga activist, writes on her People & Teachers Against Abuse In Yoga Facebook page: “How many people live with shame and even doubt themselves because they are’spiritual leader’ or ‘guru’?”
Yoga teachers are flawed people at all levels. Run away from any teacher who claims a guru title, such as MacGregor’s killer and many others.
Yoga offers many practitioners sanctuary, safety, and ease. Yoga can be extremely healing for survivors of sexual abuse and other traumas. By recognizing and reporting abuse, creating and adhering to ethics, and perhaps most importantly–believing in each other–we can all help keep it that way.