It’s Time for Yogis to Develop Transparent and Democratic Community in Their Hometowns: some notes on John Friend and Kausthub Desikachar

Via on Oct 25, 2012
Kausthub and T.K.V. Desikachar. Photo: Ascent Magazine

by Matthew Remski

 

1. Structural Flaws Mirror Interpersonal Flaws

When the Anusara scandal broke, I suggested that a structural flaw in mass-market yoga was as much to blame for the community’s implosion as John Friend’s shreenis. Namely: a homeless, credit-card-and-air-miles-dependent “movement” built on a mostly-fictional spirituality will probably incubate many thin, dishonest, celebrity-heavy, mutually-enabling, power-distorted, ungrounded, woo-woo relationships. I argued that Friend created the perfect mirage to cover for his shadows and sins: a transnational brand of universalist sentimentality so thick with the jargon of Shringlish that his top shareholders lost their ability to speak truth to power.

We can judge the personal shadows and sins as we must, and call for justice as we should. But as we consider the larger themes of yoga culture and pedagogy I believe we also have to pay attention to is how these shadows calcify into the social structures that then protect them. I think we can agree: we really want to stop creating yoga schools that purport to teach yoga when their corporate and spiritual bureaucracies force them to do the exact opposite.

We want to stop it in Encinitas, but equally in Chennai. Because now it is even more clear that corrupt yoga community is not simply the specialty of late-capitalist yogis, who have been accused of both appropriation and shameless invention, and who, because they lack “grounding in the tradition” are presumed to be ripe for scandal. Dysfunctional community is also to be found at the acclaimed root of the modern global yoga tree. Recent allegations against Kausthub Desikachar have enveloped the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM) and Kausthub’s affiliated venture, Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation (KHYF), in scandal. It smells like the Anusara situation, notwithstanding the fact that the two organizations run on opposing meme-sets (neo-Tantric , and neo-ascetic) and have built their marketing on differing modes of celebrity (the self-made man, and the genetic heir). To me, both of these corporate yoga models are dysfunctional, and if we look at them clearly, we can envision something more real.

At least five women have accused Kausthub Desikachar of emotional abuse and sexual harassment. The details are out via this letter from KYM insider Sriram, and they are nauseating. I encourage you to read them to appreciate some of the analysis that follows. He stands accused of psychological intimidation, spiritual bullying, humiliating his students sexually in group settings, subjecting female students to bogus “granthi” massages, promising to endow them with special powers through intercourse, and of course demanding silence and secrecy from his victims. Rumours abound that the number of his victims are much higher. Reports have been filed with the police in Austria.

I am sure that other very painful stories will emerge over time. The elements are achingly familiar: systemic sexism, vulnerable students seeking psychological validation, magical thinking, a self-deluded, developmentally stunted and perhaps sociopathic teacher abusing his power in the hotel rooms of his ennui. What we’ll have to dig for is the murkier but critical social story of Kausthub’s enablers, from his associates at KYM and KHYF, to his American and European hosts and champions, all the way up to his father, the venerable T.K.V. Desikachar, son of the late T. Krishnamacharya.

Inquiring into T.K.V.’s possible enabling role at this point will be very uncomfortable. The man is in declining health. As we can see from Sriram’s public letter, his students will now feel compelled to protect his sanctity and legacy, upon which many of their own reputations are surely hinged.

But the question must be asked: is everything in order at the top? It seems that as far back as 2007, key figures in KYM/KHYF were complaining loudly about Kausthub’s predation, and their voices were either unheard or silenced. V. Saraswathi hand-delivered a letter to T.K.V. on July 24th, 2007, detailing Kausthub’s abusiveness and misogyny going back for more than a decade at that point. What is so painful about her appeal is that it is being made to the man who is perhaps his primary enabler:

But there comes a point when the very teachings and practices you have empowered us with have woken us up from a very deep slumber… Many people in this tradition, just like me, have woken up to a very harsh reality – in the form of your prodigal son. This may also be your wake-up call.

A. Ranganathan, a long-term student of T.K.V., writes:

It hurts me that Sri. Desikachar, a stickler for discipline and ethical behaviour among his students and teachers, turned a blind eye to his own son’s unpardonable misdemeanors.

We don’t know if these charges of negligence are true. KYM/KHYM should be responding to them transparently, and quickly. But so far, key players seem to be ducking for cover. The first thing that’s happening is that the non-profit parent organization, KYM, is trying to sever ties with the for-profit “son”, KHYM. Sriram calls, in fact, for a boycott of all KHYM activities, and – presumably – its affiliated teachers. A former student of Kausthub, Scott Rennie, has decried the unfairness of this action, describing how the two organizations have long-term financial ties, and that the programming activities of the Kausthub-led KHYM have recently been a substantial portion of KYM’s income, to the point of having paid in full for their new building in Chennai. Indeed, KHYM lists T.K.V. Desikachar as one of its founders and a head faculty member. And in light of the breaking scandal, T.K.V. and his wife Menaka have resumed proprietorship over KHYM. On November 6th, they are scheduled to preside over an “Evening of Healing”, during which they will offer Vedic chants for the community far and wide. From the outside, it certainly looks like Kausthub has never fallen far from the tree: his organization is being reabsorbed even as he is being isolated. Which calls into question the 10/19 statement of KYM Managing Trustee Dr. Latha Satish, who writes: “The Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram has never had and never will have any involvement with any activities of the KHYF.” A key objective of Satish seems clear as he closes his letter, “As always we seek your continued support and patronage.”

I don’t think amputating Kausthub will be easy, nor should it be. As with the Anusara episode, we are seeing at KYM/KHYF a corporate yoga structure that seems to have allowed a terribly wounded and insincere person to hold power for over a decade over those who seek healing and sincerity. As the curtains are drawn back, both scandals raise profound questions about who is given authority in yoga culture, how we form learning relationships, how we project our yearning onto idols, how we nurture intimacy, and where we consider the heart of our practice to lie. It’s becoming clear that neither fly-by-night showmen nor the patriarchs of tradition offer functional and transparent leadership for our new yoga culture. It’s becoming clear that neither the entrepreneurial model of Friend nor the dynastic model of the Desikachar family can form equitable and democratic community. It’s also becoming clear that often when we chase a hyper-spiritual dream, we deepen our evolutionary sleep. We have to find another model. I don’t think we have a lot of time before the entirety of yoga culture becomes a pop-culture punch-line.

 

2. Pain and Confusion as a Community Unravels

I want to be very clear that in my analysis of both situations I am not implying that meaningful connections and lifelong learning can’t or didn’t take place on the kula-bus or over chai in Chennai. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of students have benefited greatly from the tools and networking that both Anusara and KYM/KHYF have offered through the years. This makes the story all the more complex and painful. My critique is aimed at the cultural frameworks of ungrounded celebrity-worship (in John Friend’s case) and corrupt hierarchy (in the case of KYM/KHYF), and how these both squander the true potential of yoga community. I hope to shed light on why we’re attracted to these structures, what we can do to force them to change, and how we can turn our attention elsewhere.

I want to acknowledge that one of the most difficult things that happens when a scandal like this breaks and challenges the integrity of an institution like KYM/KHYF is that many people who enjoyed their learning experience with the organization and benefited from it suddenly feel polluted and defrauded, as though the abuses they were unaware of at the time now somehow invalidate their own personal narratives. For those of you who feel this way – and especially those who are currently enrolled in the now-paused KHYF programmes in Austria, Estonia, and elsewhere – I hope that you can take comfort in the notion that the goodness of your learning experience speaks mostly, if not completely, to the integrity that you brought to it.

I also want to be clear that as I critique KYM/KHYF, I am doing so from an outsider’s perspective, which means that I am analyzing how the organization presents itself to the public, the commonly available documents that expose the scandal, and also presenting insights from conversations I’ve had with those who have been affiliated with KYM/KHYF over the years. I have never met any of the principles involved, and I bear no one ill will on a personal level. This makes this article a political act, aligned with the commonly accepted practice in modern democracies to analyze and critique public figures and institutions from afar.

I’m including this quasi-disclaimer because in my experience so far I’ve found we’re still trying to get comfortable with open critical discourse of our leaders and institutions in modern yoga and mindfulness culture. In response to two instances of my criticism – writing about Anusara and exposing the deadly corruption at the heart of Michael Roach’s neo-Buddhist cult – I have received hundreds of emails from devotees accusing me of interference or malice or jealousy or even blasphemy, because, I believe, they are intensely hurt by the revelations and do not know where to direct their anger.

So where is this “afar” from which my observations come? I’m a community builder in Toronto yoga culture. My practice has been honed in India, the U.S., and Canada. I am a non-denominational practitioner fascinated most by the integrative embodiment strategies that yoga has to offer, and how they intersect with somatic psychotherapy and neuroscience. I care little for yoga metaphysics and less for gurus. I am compelled to write about KYM/KHYF because I am a shareholder in the broader yoga tradition and have a deep interest in how it can become a globally relevant culture. And when something as bad as this happens, I have to act.

On a personal note, I also have to act because my own baby boy was born just this week, and something in me aches for the tangle that T.K.V. and Kausthub are in. I wish them transparency and healing, and I week for father-son relationships worldwide.

Being primarily a North American yogi also means that I cannot speak to the politics of KYM/KHYF from an Indian point of view. Having spent some time in India, I know that KYM/KHYF is embedded within a web of cultural influences that I will never fully understand. I hope that my postmodern and North American critique inspires something equal from an Indian counterpart, who can speak to the meaning and position of KYM/KHY within Indian yoga culture particularly, and Indian culture generally.

 

3. Resorts and Ashrams, Vacations and Pilgrimmages: Where Shall We Find Yoga?

As I described last winter, the Anusara situation presented a kind of systemic vata derangement with regard to relationship, intimacy, and home. Too much air and wind element, too much wandering-lust, too many qualified elders bailing out of the tour bus, too many householders borrowing against their homes for yoga vacays with John, too many DVDs, too many breathless people opening their unboundaried hearts at too many eco-resorts. The violations of Kausthub and the so-far hunkered-down responses by KYM/KHYF, by contrast, seem to have the sticky coating of excess kapha. Entrenchment disguised as stability. Stunted infantile sexuality. Self-satisfaction disguised as authority. Possessiveness over teachings disguised as “lineage purity”.

Constitutional imbalances aside, both organizations project the same distortion: yoga as an exoticism to be purchased in a place more hallowed than your hometown. There are differences, but I believe each system leads us away from our hometowns and existential facts. Friend hawked the pseudo-Tantra of “follow the Shri”, while KYM/KHYF promotes the throwback transcendentalism of Patanjali. Friend was always a little more accessible in the “manifesting abundance” department, offering a liberal distribution network: he vended in conference centers and wellness destinations, and assessed his students by video. The Desikachars, by contrast, have leveraged their exoticism through an opposite, scarcity model: you have to make a pilgrimage to their home to get the goods. In a way, Kausthub has bridged the two models with his travelling training show, but the umbilicus of his authority reaches back to Chennai.

Here’s my main point: between the junkets to Shringri-la and the devotional pilgrimage to the feet of teachers upon which we project our unintegrated wishes, I believe our daily experience, local resources, and workaday lives – which is where our yoga is really found and learned in the end – are vastly undervalued. Our studio newsletters and yoga magazines are filled with advertisements for places that are anywhere-but-here.

Why not just stay home and build grounded communities, rather than corporate satellites for cultures not our own? Is it too plain-Jane? Too every-day? What is this star-dust in our eyes?

 

4. Assessing the Memes and Products of Corporate Yoga

I’ve gleaned certain things from the opposing memes of Anusara and KYM through the years. The pilgrimage to KYM seems heavier in tone and commitment than zipping up to Denver to Blow Your Mind. Those I know who have gone to Chennai speak of their trips in low voices, using few particulars. They use the word “authentic” a lot. They take their time with their words, cloaking what they have learned with caution and humility. This is in stark contrast to the barkers of Shringlish, who couldn’t seem to refrain from bullying everyone with the presumed divinity of everything. They’ve recently gone quiet, thankfully.

The KYM/KHYF product seems to be framed by the journey to KYM/KHYF, a pilgrimage to make contact with the body of the son of the father who lived there once: T.K.V. is the lineage-holder of a kind of cryogenized shaktipat. I imagine he has needed to hold this power close, because he offers no easily-extractable method, as does Friend. You can’t boil yoga therapy down into UPA-style sound-bites, sellable in 20-hour doses in Puerto Vallarta. Yoga therapy demands the touch of a master so intuitive and specialized, it cannot be packaged. You have to sit at his feet for years to learn how to do it. It’s so very complex, you might just have to be his very son to understand it, inherit it, to own it, and to pass it on.

The Anusara product offered a lot of excellent instruction, but seemed to stake out its financial position through a kind of grandiose self-validation scheme, available to everyone who could pay to play. The KYM/KHYF product is subtler and richer, projecting a hushed sanctimony, and available to those willing to devote themselves to months per year in India, and a lifetime in the master’s shadow. On the Anusara side we have a product that shareholders are eager to divorce from its disgraced inventor. They can afford to dispense with Friend, because they can divide his product from his charisma. But on the KYM/KHYF side we see a product that is intrinsic to the master’s DNA. If T.K.V. is found conclusively to have sheltered his son from ethical scrutiny, what would be left of the organization he has built upon his character and his family name? He seems to have delegated relatively little substantial authority, except to his son. Even one of his most prominent Western students, Gary Kraftsow, was forced by some behind-the-curtain intellectual property-rights battle to rebrand his teaching syllabus as “American Viniyoga”. “American”, as in: “parts of it came from somewhere else, but now it’s mostly my own thing.” The message seems to be that real viniyoga remains safe within the Krishnamacharya gene pool, although they no longer even use the word “viniyoga”. The deeper message? Genes trump knowledge? This is sure to backfire when the genes begin to deviate.

 

5. In the Shadow of the Fathers

I’ve thought for a while that the global attraction to a place like KYM/KHYF is in part an attraction to the same paternalism that now factors heavily in its troubles. Perhaps our drive to follow the son of the father of modern yoga, and then the son of the son, reflects our chronic need for a protective “authentic connection” to the “source”. Perhaps KYM/KHYF is a popular self-transformation destination in part because it serves up yoga with a sheen of that paternal certainty for which postmoderns are unconsciously nostalgic. See the tintype portraits in the hallways. Dream of being adopted into this venerable caste. Dream of approval, of being at the centre of things, of the benediction-pat on the head.

from kym.org

But seriously: who believes that father-son dynasties are altogether healthy? I look at those pictures of T.K.V. sweating through asanas under the “eagle eyes” of his father and wonder: Did you really choose this? And your son – did he choose it too? Or are we seeing in you guys a chain of demands, and the anxiety of influence?  I remember the story of Krishnamacharya snapping both of young Bellur Iyengar’s hamstrings to force him into hanumanasana to show off for visiting dignitaries. How imperious might he have been with his own son? It is clear that Mr. Iyengar has gone on to injure some if not many of his own students. Aadil Palkhivala stood in front of a room I was in a decade ago and smiled as he regaled us with the story of how B.K.S. humiliated him by commanding him to perform handstand for an hour in front of the group. “I couldn’t lift my arms for six months afterwards!” he laughed, which is what men do when they don’t know how else to process the absurd violence committed upon them. (They also laugh in deference when they are still scared.)

Elder male/younger male – not to mention father-son – dynamics are complex enough without adding in the spectacle of a public family business built upon spiritual exceptionalism. Anyone with a shred of basic psychoanalysis on board can see that T.K.V. stepped into a long shadow when he donned his father’s dhoti. And I imagine that if we scratch the surface of any of these first families of modern yoga we will see – as we do in every family and every culture – strong evidence of transgenerational cycles of violence and repression. Or do we think it’s somehow all simpler and more benign because it’s Indian?

 

6. Infantile-Aggressive Sexuality

One of the strangest themes in the allegations against Kausthub is his apparent aggressive sexual infantilism: enshrouded in magical thinking, enraged frustration, intense guilt and slut-shaming. These are accounts of a child-man playing sadistic doctor: pressing marma points with enough force to send one woman into convulsions, slapping buttocks and poking breasts, creating public scenes of icky innuendo, and assaulting female students with full-tongue kisses and potty-mouthed epithets. This is not John Friend’s schmaltz of multiple smooth-talking seductions and sophisticated lying that kept women waiting for him in supta baddha konasana in every port-of-call. Although it seems like Friend’s neo-Tantric sexuality couldn’t just be sex either – it had to be “therapy”, involving the very well-known and double-blind-tested procedure of “urethral-pouch massage”, for example. Or it had to “raise energy” for the coming global Shreevolution. It could be anything except intimate.

If the allegations against Kausthub are true, we’re seeing something much darker in Chennai. I’ll read it, hypothetically, through Freud:

Kausthub seems to present a sexuality arrested at a pre-Oedipal stage in which the child-man has been wrenched from the maternal sphere to be disciplined into the patriarchal path, and is now turning to women to beg for attention and validation as he tries to overcome his father’s power. But he unconsciously hates women, projecting onto every one he meets the image of the mother who seemed to abandon him. He digs deep into the misogyny of patriarchy, and runs with it: women are troubled, they are sick and degraded, they are possessed – and the fact that they do not yield to him proves their pathology. He pokes them, prods them, punishes them and slaps them like an overgrown toddler. This is straight-up limbic brain sexuality, murky and aggressing. It fears castration. It’s neither procreative, nor self-confident, nor joy-seeking. It is overwhelmed with a BPD-like terror of abandonment. It attempts to impersonate the power of his patrilineage: he told one woman that having sex with him would heal her, because he would let her hold Krishnamacharya’s ring during intercourse. It is the gross amplification of the sick and fearful tremor that many boys feel on the terrible threshold of autonomy and sexual action, and which he has not been allowed to resolve.

The tremor will deepen to the extent that a boy has been force-fed the psychological splitting of a sex-shaming and body-digusted tradition. Should we really be surprised at the shadow-explosions of a man like Kausthub, given his spiritual heritage? Given that T.V.K. and KYM/KHYF have taken their neo-ascetic reading of Patanjali as their root scripture, which says “By purification arises disgust for one’s own body and for contact with other bodies” (2.40, translation by Sacchidananda)? Or given that all Krishnamacharya would say about the sexual practices of the 3rd chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was that they were “dirty”, and “improper”? Or given that A.G. Mohan, Krishnamacharya’s other senior student beside T.V.K., is still giving Victorian-era tsk-tsk-ing lectures on how “Spirituality and Sexuality are Diametrically Opposed”? What are we to expect, amidst this much repression? A man-child with urges that disgust him throwing himself at women who both disgust him and whom he must objectify, all in the shadow of a father who unconsciously humiliates him with his virtue, fame, and sublimated virility.

 

AG Mohan, fellow long-term student of T. Krishnamacharya with T.K.V. Desikachar, expressing the master’s neo-ascetic view. Mohan posted this video in response to a KHYF course in “Yoga and Sexuality” offered by Kausthub, whose shadow life may have been aggravated by this type of systemic sexual repression.

7. Boycotting Guru Culture

I say: let’s help KYM/KHYF close up shop for a few years and do their family/communal therapy in private. When they re-open, it should be with a revamped Board of Directors in which less than a third of the members are direct students of T.K.V. Desikachar. Administration and devotion shouldn’t mix. When they do, decisions benefit internal delusions more than the common good.

Let us encourage senior KYM/KHYF teachers to make full disclosure of what they knew about Kausthub’s behaviour, when they knew it, what they did to address it, and what they saw others do to enable it. How can they remain qualified as teachers of yoga therapy without this step?

Let’s request that KYM/KHYF refund 100% of the course fees of any current trainings with Kausthub that have been suspended because of the legal action — including for portions of courses that have already been completed. Interim KHYF director Anupama Das has already tried to head off this obviously-ethical move at the pass by declaring that in one current but unfinished programme, “intangible knowledge has already been transferred”, and that discussion of refunding would acknowledge guilt. I would argue that the best-faith gesture KHYF could make would be to refund immediately to show willingness to restore confidence amongst the student body. They should also suspend their tasteless request for membership renewal monies. It is precisely this kind of bureaucratic arrogance that amplifies the interpersonal arrogance of which Kausthub is accused.

Let’s go further, and request that if any former students of Kausthub now feel that their certifications are invalid, that their fees be reimbursed.

Let’s request that KYM/KHYF offer to hire independent, qualified therapists/counselors to meet with anyone who has been in a programme with Kausthub if they apply. These counselors should be fluent in therapeutic languages outside of the language of yoga therapy, which I’m sure has been gutted of integrity for many of these students. The last thing they need is someone “correctly” massaging their granthis or re-tuning their cakras.

These are ethical no-brainers as far as KYM/KHYF is concerned. But the global yoga community can do even better than this, and take this terrible opportunity to show that we can actively take care of our own, while carving out new models of relationship.

Let’s take up a collection – maybe launch a Kickstarter campaign? – to help the victims with their legal costs and to finance those students who desire to complete their training, covering their travel expenses, etc. This recovery-training should take place with another organization, i.e., one that has not lost their trust. Perhaps another yoga therapy institute would consider organizing a special training period for those who wish to continue. Perhaps the students might ask Mr. Kraftsow if he is available. Let us also ask the associate-teachers of KYM/KHYF — especially those who distanced themselves from the organization based on suspicions they were not able to confirm at the time — to provide active support and mentorship for those who are now trying to “exit”.

And in the meantime, the rest of us can stop fetishizing the perfect and the exotic. Sriram’s letter calls for a boycott of Kausthub’s activities in order to sever him from the fathership. I say: let’s boycott guru culture altogether, because it’s not working. While we’re at it, let’s stop being bamboozled by charisma, and let’s give up on the tyranny of the “authentic”, because it should be clear by now that everyone is creating something. Yoga culture is growing because we’re making stuff up, for better or for worse. Adventurous teachers are creating dance-asana hybrids. Hatha and mindfulness are cross-pollinating. The Desikachars have created a family dynasty out of a name and a disparate array of practices. John Friend created Shringri-la. Creativity isn’t the issue. Motivation is. Transparency is. Developmental maturity is. (I don’t care who your guru is — if he hasn’t gone through some kind of psychotherapy because he’s too special or famous, he’s probably got a pile of unexamined shit in his closet, and he’ll look for any opportunity to dump it onto you.)

Things might be simpler if we just ditched the language of lineage altogether. Honestly: there are no real “lineages” in modern yoga. There are movements, art forms, brands, celebrities, and memes. Ideas float, combine, change, and disappear. Irony: Krishnamacharya himself was a syncretist, a bricoleur – sewing together a tapestry of Vedic, Tantric, and Hatha influences, collecting techniques from Lanka to the Himalayas. Who was around in his day to crown him “authentic”? He did then what we’re doing now – weaving together the tools that make sense to us in our own time, regardless of where they come from. He opened a bunch of old boxes and put a bunch of stuff together in a creative way. Assuming he nailed the whole thing down and passed it on completely to his son is like thinking John Lennon mastered music and then mind-melded all his talent into Sean. In what other sphere would we imagine that a son had osmotically absorbed the grace of his father, other than one so rife with magical thinking and totemism?

At the nitty gritty level, boycotting guru culture means looking at the ways in which we’re seduced by an over-determined notion of “teacher”. A regular and useful teacher of yoga is just somebody with good manners and a few good tools for self-inquiry they can show you in an encouraging way. You learn with them until you more or less get what they have to offer. But in the process you’ll make it into your own thing, because what’s worked for them can’t ever completely work for you. When you’re bored you’ll move on to someone who has a different focus. No teacher can give us everything we need: expecting them to is a psychologically immature refusal to accept the always-incomplete nature of the growth process.

 

8. Where the Real Teachers Are

It’s taken me a bunch of years to wipe the star-dust out of my eyes, but now I have a good sense of where the real teaching is. If you live in a city of a million or so, I guarantee you there are at least a dozen teachers who have been instructing asana and breathwork and meditation in relative obscurity for fifteen years or more. They began in the mid-nineties or before, when YTT programmes were few and far between. Maybe they took one, maybe they didn’t. They learned what they could from whomever they met, and did a lot of work at home. They stopped spending their money on the big conferences a decade ago. Some have traveled to India for ashram retreats, and some have road-tripped through the mid-sized towns visiting the older teachers who also work in low-overhead, quiet studios: mentors like Francois Raoult in Rochester, or Kim Schwartz in Albuquerque, Erich Schiffman in Ojai, or Angela Farmer wherever she shows up. They’ve practiced consistently and read and digested many of the key books. They’ve been teaching and learning and serving, largely on their own, mostly unrecognized.

But most importantly, our best not-famous teachers been living their normal lives: giving birth, raising children, paying taxes, voting, getting injured and recovering, working out sexual issues, staying put most of the time, sitting on PTA boards, getting married, getting divorced, celebrating anniversaries, getting foreclosed on, feeling tired, getting cancer, opening something new, undergoing chemo, doubting what they do, going into remission, and loving what they do, relapsing, crying in the dressing room after class. Their yoga is practical and bling-free, it’s not jacked up on power dynamics or heavy paternal pressures. Or if it was, they got over it. They know just enough to show you just enough for you to find your path. They are good-enough. You don’t have to take out a second mortgage or learn Hindi to learn from them. They are just like you, only a little older. You can see into their lives plainly. You’ll never amplify their flaws into social crises, because you reflect each other’s commonness too closely.

O precious teacher!  Precious, precious teacher – humble and good, kind and normal – however shall we find you? I’ll tell you how. It’s dead easy.

Go to any class at any yoga studio. Approach the teacher after rolling up your mat. Ask them “Who are your favourite well-rounded senior teachers in this town?” They will give you three-odd names. If they all work at that same studio, press for two more names. If they’re all under 40, press for two more. Make a commitment to yourself to go to each of the named teacher’s classes in the following months. You will definitely find somebody you resonate with. Someone who is good enough to simply start you on your own path of inquiry, which is all you really need. They won’t be perfect, and they know it, and that’s good. They can’t give you everything. Some day you’ll move on.

Forget heart-openers on the beach in Costa Rica. Forget prostrations in Chennai.

We need to learn from someone like ourselves, right where we stand.

What we need is as close as we are to each other. We’re here to learn together.

Idols stand between us because we prop them up.

Falling, they will become human again, and seek healing and integrity with the rest of us.

 

_______

 

 

Matthew Remski is an author, yoga teacher, ayurvedic therapist and educator, co-founder of Yoga Community Toronto, and a new papa. He is a co-contributor to 21st Century Yoga. His new “remix” translation of Patanjali  – threads of yoga– is going to print right now. Mark Singleton, author of Yoga Body:The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, says of the book: “I don’t know of any reading of the yoga sutras as wildly creative, as impassioned and as earnest as this. it engages Patanjali and the reader in an urgent, electrified conversation that weaves philosophy, symbolist poetry, psychoanalysis and cultural history. There’s a kind of delight and freshness in this book that is very rare in writing on yoga, and especially rare in writing on the yoga sutras. This is a Patanjali for postmoderns, less a translation than a startlingly relevant report on our current condition, through the prism of this ancient text.” Please check out Matthew’s site for more writings on Ayurveda and Yoga.

 

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that B.K.S. Iyengar was forced into hanumanasana by T. Krishnamacharya to impress Swami Vivekananda. This was incorrect, and has been amended.

About yoga 2.0 lab

Matthew Remski is an Ayurvedic practitioner and Yoga Teacher Trainer in Toronto. His latest book, Threads of Yoga, is gathering international acclaim. He's teaching this online course starting 1/7/14. It's currently full, but there is a reduced-tuition option for auditing. The 12 weekly lessons will be available online for six months following the course. Participants receive a 130-page manual of notes.

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139 Responses to “It’s Time for Yogis to Develop Transparent and Democratic Community in Their Hometowns: some notes on John Friend and Kausthub Desikachar”

  1. [...] we walk a middle path: a Middle Way—between mean-ness and sycophancy. When, as with the Michael Roach, or John Friend controversies, we break news, we try and do so responsibly, thinking about mission [...]

  2. [...] community rooted in local concerns and resources. As I’ve argued elsewhere about Anusara and the Desikachar scandal, there is a structural problem with charismatic, corporate, transnational marketing movements that [...]

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  4. Tyler Zambori says:

    @Om shri: Postmodern Sexual Relationship Exaltation Disorder sounds like something you made up, and it's incredibly arrogant. If Hindus are so much better and holier than Westerners, then why are these incidents of gang rape in India being reported in the international news? Why are young Indian women having to band together in vigilante groups to protect themselves?

    @The Eastern Mind: To quote: “If your country, Canada, is an example of this egalitarian model of parent-child relationship then quite frankly, y'all can do with a bit more respect and a bit less, "its all about me, me, me". “ Boy you really do hate Westerners, don't you? OK then, I wish y'all had kept your yoga guru missionaries at home in India and not tried to spread your religion around. Everyone would have been better off.

    “The guru-shishya model is a functional one that has built within it the necessary mechanisms to reform any breaches. The Dharmic traditions are rich with the basic knowledge (and stories of examples) that humans are not infallible and give checks and balances for that. “

    If that's the case, why are there so many reports of guru abuses coming out of India as well?? You know it's true. Or are you all too good to have any of that? Right….

    What is your concern about cultural misappropriation really about? Are you really concerned about other people's spiritual development, or are you just engaging in worshiping your own culture?

    Once again you said: “The fetish that needs to be let go is occidentals misappropriating oriental cultures. “

    No, what is really needed is good instruction by people who can communicate that instruction clearly.
    It has been my observation that Hindus cannot do it because they have allowed their worship of their own culture stand in the way. I am not just talking about instruction on yoga asanas for the masses here either; now anybody can go buy a used yoga video cheaply.

    “(And if you venture to read any Desi/South Asian blogs, Indians are SICK of it. Especially your post-modern, left leaning, western university educated ones). “

    They should take their culture and go home!

    “I guess calling things what they are is just too boring and less likely to provide the excessive income upper-middle class white people need in order to fully transition into the elite class 1% complete with solar powered eco-homes on the island of Maui in which they conduct "retreats". “

    Wow, snarkville. I am not the 1 percent; I am not even upper middle class, and I gave your Yoga a good shot, and found it wanting. It withered on the vine because of “superiority complex.” Which you are exhibiting quite well here!

    Guess what, I consider Hinduism and yoga to be about as rife with hypocrisy as the Catholic Church.
    I say: before even getting to worrying about individual abusive gurus, y'all have to fix that first. It isn't going to happen. Because you're too stuck in your culture.

  5. Tyler Zambori says:

    @The Eastern Mind again:

    “Here's link to a diasporic blog discussing misappropriation;
    http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/0…. “

    I read it. Wow! More evidence of my assertions. More: “Oh our culture is so much more spiritually advanced than yours, we are the ones who really know, you'd better listen to us.” I call BS.

    I fond Kirti Kamboj's views to be shallow, but I probably do agree with this one: “Yet even with this, I was too naive to grasp just how diabolically clever and patient Brahmins are, that they could conceive of, and so flawlessly carry through, a plot such as this for thousands upon thousands of years. Luckily, though, I didn't have to, because experts such as Reeve were wise enough and brave enough to see and speak truth to such nefarious powers. And now the whole world can behold the misogynist plots of Brahmins such as Patanjali, more devious and secretive than gray aliens and Voldemort and the Illuminati combined. “

    See, once again we have a Hindu complaining about misappropriation of culture. She takes it as far as expressing fear that it means the white people mean to take over. OK: India won their freedom from British rule. And they are not likely to re-take it.

    The Native Americans were over-run long before any new-age types wanted to learn about native American practices, so I don't think her complaint has any basis in reality there either.

    Where is the concern for people's spiritual well being? You don't have it because you are thinking about your culture all day. And all night too.

    ________
    “Matthew, I DID address the issue of the article by stating that Kausthub and John Friend are not gurus so your critique of the guru-shishya model in this circumstance are irrelevant.

    You suggest throwing out that traditional model based on Kausthub and John. They have nothing to do with that traditional model. Its apples and oranges. “
    _______-

    If Kausthub and Friend people were mere asana teachers, then I agree.

    “I, like you, wish for Western people to drop their upper-middle class new age pretense of "authenticity" and actually STUDY traditions as they are (and the first step to that is calling things what they, not what they are not) – and contribute their own insights to them, WITHOUT misappropriating cultures and mixing up 2 or more traditions into a gobbledygook of burnt kitchri that makes them a global laughing stock, especially in the eyes of the people from the indigenous cultures they are misappropriating. “

    I, unlike you, wish that the Hindus could give some clear and useful teaching. I never thought it was even possible, until I found another Eastern religion that did have it – one that never arose out of India.
    Here is one westerner who will not give you cause to be worried that I will be mixing any traditions. I have no use for Hindu culture.

    “Matthew, I am surprised that you would suggest the altogether doing away of lineage and guru-shishya parampara considering that your chosen fields of knowledge are yoga and ayurveda, two knowledge systems that have been preserved and made it all the way down to today, to reach you and me, precisely due to the mechanism of lineage and guru-shishya parampara. Without such a mechanism this knowledge would be lost to you, me and the world at large.

    The guru-shishya paradigm sure could do with a breath of fresh air! Yep. A huge breath of it.
    Maybe the Hindu gurus should stay home and recruit only field workers who don't have much intellect
    to bother their teachers with? That is about what works with that authoritarian model.

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