When do Yoga Adjustments cross the line?

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“Pervy Yoga Instructor FAIL” practicing “inverted lotus fondle” via our pal Jeffrey, who tipped us to this photo I’m identifying as no less than the venerated, late, occasionally controversial Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois—the founder of Ashtanga Yoga—himself. Via Failblog.com.

It’s tough—there’s been some lawsuits when yoga teachers (remember the “Graspin’ Aspen” yoga teacher) (ab)use their power, auhoritative position and trust to “touch” students in inappropriate ways—but the line between…

…genuine adjustment (which can be very intimate, crossing the line of what is “normal” and yet  still be appropriate within the context of yoga)


…flirtation (can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “pretty” students get more attention in classes)


…inappropriate violation of one’s boundaries (even here, there’s a litigation-confusing line between what’s appropriate in Indian and Western cultures)

…is rarely clear. That said, I’m a schlubby bloke, and no one ever touches me inappropriately (though experiencing other schlubby guys lean their bodies on my rare in downdog is…a unique experience), so I really wouldn’t know. I do know that I love getting adjustments, they change my practice and even open up my entire life, a bit. I remember one of the first classes I ever took with Richard Freeman, I was sweating and trying as hard as I could to do a backbend…and suddenly he was standing over me, put his hands under me on my shoulder blades, gently lifted up, and an in-rush of air changed my world—I opened up, if only for a moment, my still, stale heart.

My opinion: the student generally knows when the line her or his line is getting crossed, and can judge whether that crossing is welcome (if they’re flirting back) or not at all welcome (the vast majority of the time). That said, before taking yoga class into the courtroom, it’s best to give the benefit of the doubt.

You might, however. What’s appropriate? What’s inappropriate? And who’s to judge?

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anonymous Aug 4, 2015 2:13pm

As a male instructor I cringe when reading such articles. I love adjustments. My best ever was by a male instructor who put his fingers under my glutes to help lift my tailbone in uttanasana. The second his hands touched my butt it felt weird but before I could even process it, my mind shifted to appreciating the incredible amount of space he was able to see available to me. I give adjustments regularly in my classes without being afraid or timid because I have no ill intent. I trust my students as much as much as they trust me. Any male instructor could be seen as dirty or unprofessional via a snapshot. This picture is an exception but the judgement about him may be inappropriate. We practice and teach for inner peace, health and well being. Gossiping about anyone isn’t prescribed in any limb of yoga especially about one who has obviously made a huge impact on the practice we share. What’s unfortunate is that male instructors seem vulnerable to these type of attacks based on the vast disparity in the amount of males vs females that practice. It scares me to think that my rep could be torn down in like fashion not by misappropriation but by misjudgement of onlookers. We are working with bodies of all types, sizes and conditions and that may lead to tricky adjustments at times. If you have a problem with an adjustment and your instructor isn’t obviously taking advantage then operate from love and communicate it. This feedback will prove valuable for the instructor, student and others that may share that opinion.

Peace and Power


anonymous Jul 24, 2015 7:18am

Strange people. Isn’t yoga supposed to help you rid of all the layers of conditioning and see things for what they really are?

It is just another body part. The skin has the same cells. How different it is from pushing your lower back in pascimottanasana?

Only cultures driven by guilt, shame and fear despise certain parts of the body.

Precisely why people need more asana, pranayama and meditation.

anonymous Jul 21, 2015 11:58am

The real amazing part of the photo that westerners are completely unaware of is that in the Indian culture this is far beyond the bounds of being inappropriate. I am waiting for some big ashtangi fanatic to write something in support of guruji making this okay. Well, it is not, specially in India. It is against dharma. Touching in public is even not within the culture except in modernized bigger cities. The photo goes against not only yoga in general but the entire cultural foundations and customs. When we think yoga is just about asana it makes even more of a focus on the physical, the wrong direction. Asana means seat, meaning for meditation. Where is there not any meditation in any "yoga" classes in the West? You are not your body, remember?

anonymous Jul 13, 2015 7:27pm

I agree with ARCreated. It’s not just about not touching in inappropriate ways, the adjustment must truly be for the student’s benefit. I joined a studio in Auckland while I was recovering from rape. Usually the classes I attended were taught by a teacher who knew I’d been raped and was sensitive to my need for bodily autonomy. Occasionally they were taught by her husband who either couldn’t remember or didn’t care and would ignore me saying, “no, please don’t do that”, while pushing and holding me down in the exact same position I’d experienced being raped in. After the second time he did that, I quit yoga as I wasn’t prepared to risk being retriggered.

anonymous May 27, 2014 7:24am

KPJ was almost 90 at this stage and 'possibly' had a form of dementia. Nobody dared tell him to stop doing this and there was no shortage of people who wanted to attend workshops. This wasn't how he had lived his life.

    anonymous Dec 13, 2014 8:48am

    He had been doing adjustments like this for decades. It's an open secret.

    anonymous Jul 21, 2015 11:59am

    Its not dementia, its called $$$$.

anonymous Apr 28, 2014 4:15am

This is why real yoga teachers practice Bramacharia for *at least* couple of years before, and a couple of years after they are invited to teach. (I mean real Bramacharia, not "I'm so bramacharia"), of course in a culture in which you can do a week's course with no prior practise, and take a few selfies with your legs in the air, and call yourself a yogi, that's not going to happen.

    anonymous Jul 21, 2015 11:49am

    This is why a real yoga path is brahmacharya…….
    A car without an engine will never get you anywhere.

anonymous Apr 27, 2014 2:48pm

I would be pissed and his nuts would be permanently relocated to his throat. This is why I don't go to classes or trust people. Yes I have trust issues.

    anonymous Apr 28, 2014 6:05am

    Best comment here! So true – yoga teacher, yoga student….blah blah blah….we're all just people here going through the experience together.
    what's wrong is wrong and you know it,
    he knows it,
    and you make sure he (or she) knows you know it with a slap, a glare, a kick if needed.
    It's not about trust issues but self respect and respect for your fellow yogis.
    Right on, Kristine!

    anonymous Jun 20, 2015 8:05pm

    No, Kristine, you don't have "trust issues". You live in the real world.
    And don't EVER let anyone tell you otherwise.

anonymous Apr 27, 2014 10:42am

Noha I watched that video. Where are the scantily clad Indian female yoga students with their bodies contorted in such suggestive ways? That's part of my point above. These Indian "gurus" know they can get away with far more amongst their scantily clad Western students than with Indians who come to yoga fully covered in salwar-kameez and husband or family in tow.

With all of the above said, he adjusted both male and female students in the same manner (in the video) and didn't appear to have an erection (unless I couldn't see it).

But again I ask: did the Indian students of both sexes in India dress differently and did he adjust them differently? That would be the litmus test on whether or not Jois had a double standard and knew that what he was doing was of a particularly sexual intent.

Perhaps someone here who has studied under him extensively in India can comment?

anonymous Apr 27, 2014 10:34am

I love adjustments myself, and have never received an inappropriate one.
anything that involves a Yoga teachers fingers grazing the peri-rectal area, or lower labia is pretty much a no brainer.

anonymous Apr 27, 2014 10:21am

"…inappropriate violation of one’s boundaries (even here, there’s a litigation-confusing line between what’s appropriate in Indian and Western cultures)"

In Indian culture the only intimate (as in suggesting sexual) touching between people is between married couples, really. India doesn't even have a "dating culture" so when an Indian yoga teacher touches a student like that, they mostly do so to non-Indian students because they think they can get away from it amongst people who come from cultures where sexual touching between non-married people is normal (provided its consensual, of course).

But to the Indian male yoga teacher who was raised in a sexually conservative culture where marriages are arranged and the sexes are often segregated socially, Western cultures often appear to be a smorgasboard of "social" oppurtunities he lacked growing up in India.

And no, age or respectable social status does not matter in this context.

    anonymous Jul 21, 2015 12:00pm

    Sheetali, Thanks for the comment. They don't know that here.

anonymous Apr 27, 2014 8:34am

Also as a male teacher I always use the back of my hands to adjust female students, preferably just a gentle amount of pressure to bring, let's say a knee, into line. I teach in a small community and am very conscious about hands on adjustments of anyone, female or male (as I would be in any community or studio). Averting my gaze to the floor in positions such as happy baby is also very important. Giving the student their sanctity and personal space is an absolute must. I'm old and ugly enough to know where the line is and I will never cross it.

anonymous Apr 27, 2014 2:12am

if you don't believe in pictures search in youtube. It's disturbing.

anonymous Apr 27, 2014 12:29am

if you don't believe in pictures search in youtube. It's disturbing.

PATTABHI JOIS: When do Ashtanga Yoga Adjustments cross the line?

anonymous Apr 26, 2014 11:55pm

This is not fake!

    anonymous Apr 28, 2014 6:48am

    thanks for sharing the link – tweeted it – this guy was way beyond the boundaries…

anonymous Apr 26, 2014 10:47pm

why a lady yoga teacher can not be the part of this kind of adjustment,if at all adjustment is needed in that way ?

anonymous Apr 26, 2014 10:26pm

I found this article / commentary less than helpful. It addressed the issue of a yoga teacher "crossing a line" inapproproately when making an adjustment on a student and stated that each person would know when and what that is. Then it ends with saying "it's best to give the benefit of a doubt." Isn't that a contradiction? So, if I know that it is inappropriate – for me – why should I suppress that and give anyone benefit of a doubt? If it is not right fir me, it's not right. It is the responsibility of the teacher to assure the safety and comfort – physical and emotional – of the yoga student. If the teacher is not doing that, the student should make that known to the teacher (even if the student chooses to leave that teacher, please let the teacher know why – you owe it to other students to confront the issue). And I have to say that the whole idea that a teacher would use a yoga adjustment on a student as a "flirtation" or in a flirtatious manner is outrageous and offensive. Not the time nor place, and just creepy IMO. Same with students "flirting back." Seriously? Why are they in a yoga class?

anonymous Apr 26, 2014 8:49pm

As a male instructor this makes me cringe. I rarely do adjustments. I never would touch an area that would be covered by a bathing suit. If I do an adjustment in an area outside that restricted zone, I first ask permission. And then I use a yoga block. My goal as a teacher is to have students flourish, shine and radiate thier inner beatify. This kinda stuff hurts all male teachers who legitimately have thier students best interests at heart.

    anonymous Apr 26, 2014 10:27pm

    Thank you for your integrity and commitment to yogic philosophy.

anonymous Apr 26, 2014 8:26pm

Teachers should be aware that each student brings to the mat his or her own unique set of experiences. What might be completely appropriate for one yogi might be terrifying to another. Some may need touch in a safe environment to help heal old wounds. Some may interpret a necessary correction to form in a sexual manner which was never intended. I tend to make gender assumptions with this issue, but I strongly suspect that I need to grow past these assumptions and recognize that my biases obscure the bigger picture that this is a problem for both sexes. I don't have a good answer for this complex question, but I make it a point to get to know the instructors and attempt to understand the motives behind owners of the studio. I've known some that encourage (mandate) touch as a way to increase participation. If it doesn't feel right, I find a new studio. If I'm not there for the right reasons, I sit with it.

anonymous Aug 20, 2010 1:10am

you know it's not just about sexuality…appropriate is also ensuring that the adjustment is in the interest of the student and not about the teacher "doing" an adjustment….it's about injury and personal space — even if "appropriate" I still feel a student has the right to a bubble and it should only be crossed with permission. I'm guessing male teachers have a harder time with this issue?

anonymous Jul 1, 2010 6:16am

Disclaimer: In the event of creepy Mula Bandha check, [Student] is not liable for injuries sustained by [Teacher] as a result of [Student's] defensive/involuntary swift kick to the Jalandhara bandha.

anonymous Jan 2, 2010 2:08pm

[…] So it’s particularly painful and troubling when we find that sanctuary violated. […]

anonymous Oct 2, 2009 4:33pm

this is sad…to say the least.

anonymous Sep 23, 2009 2:43am

This photo was actually manipulated in photoshop. it is a fake…I saw the actual photo linked elsewhere where his hands are in a much more appropriate position..

anonymous Sep 22, 2009 9:32pm

Sorry, I agree there can be differing comfort zones and variations between what is acceptable in Eastern versus Western cultures – but this is just a man with his hands on a couple of vaginae. Epic fail indeed.

anonymous Sep 22, 2009 6:57pm

no way is that appropriate….

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