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

Via yoga 2.0 lab
on Oct 25, 2012
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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.


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.


140 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. Sheryl says:

    Amen, Matthew. I live in a small midwestern city of about 200,000 and have spent a decade learning from gifted and dedicated teachers whom nobody outside of this primarily rural county has ever heard of. My yoga teacher has been teaching for 25 years, lives in a town of 700 people, and has studied with Iyengar, Richard Freeman, and the Dalai Lama. My meditation sangha is led by two ordained zen priests who have a beautiful zendo in the basement of their unremarkable suburban ranch house. These are people I learn from, share meals with, and confide in. I know their spouses, their children, and their pets. I run into them at the grocery store and kids' soccer games. I trust them completely because I know them, and they know me. I see how they behave in all aspects of their lives, not just when they're in front of a class or leading a retreat. This is community. This is intimacy. It's what everyone deserves–to be seen, and known, and loved by a true spiritual community. I'm hoping that these scandals inspire more people to look within their own local communities for those quiet, sincere, non-striving teachers who have so much more to offer than a well-known name or fancy lineage.

  2. chiara says:

    A great essay, I agree on a lot of what you have written.
    I would only take issue with the interpretation of YS II.40 you used as critique, since TKV Desikachar gave a far less Victorian version in The Heart of Yoga. So let's give Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

  3. Emily says:

    Wow, powerful. Thanks!

  4. gphase says:

    This is an excellent post and the part about teachers in our localities and their life-driven practical gift deserves its own article. Not keen on the wordplays and especially the speculation though, is there really any need to Freud-guess the Desikachars like this, all based on internet postings alone? Make him/them answer for what he has done and make everyone else aware of it is good enough for me.

    Now if I was married to a man who went to write such a piece in the week his son was born, we would have a new yoga scandal on our hands, this time violence and not sex related!!

  5. Jennifer says:

    Thank you.

  6. Lone Star says:

    I've re-read this several times, and have yet to find one, very important "next step." If Kausthub is to grow out of the hypothetical man-child neurosis that you theorize, he had better get off his fat ass and answer charges in Austria. Nowhere do you mention that a crime has been committed. Like we say in Texas, sometimes a man is just as mean as a snake. And so are his friends and KHYF allies. They are not just enablers, but accomplices creating a new narrative of lapsed judgment & necessary healing. Right now, they're organizing a healing chant night for everyone involved — as though that will remove the reality that he is the (alleged, likely) perpetrator here. We can't forget that he has been charged with a crime that requires his appearance to answer questions, make restitution and/or face jail time. K re-traumatized victims of sexual trauma, who were obliged to disclose their psychiatric status to him — a requirement of every KHYF yoga therapy application. He's a predator who chose the women precisely for their vulnerability.. And doing a Kickstarter campaign — that's all very well meaning, but erm. The KHYF and Kausthub are responsible for their own actions and negligence. They need to accept that responsibility if they wish to evolve beyond the pathological immaturity you describe. And we should demand that they do, on behalf of those women, who must feel even more shattered because of the new notoriety.

  7. Scott Smith Miller says:

    Right on, Matthew. You hit the nail right on the head with your point about "homegrown" yoga. You're absolutely right–if there is exoticism involved, there will be trouble.
    I just have one suggestion:
    Your use of the name Patanjali is tied to the very misogyny you decry. Please read my post on this blog entitled "A Woman Authored the Yoga Sutra." I realize you just finished a book about someone who never existed, but you should be as willing to recognize your own misguided allegiance to bad ideas as you are willing to recognize that habit in others. Let your intelligence be your guide and I'm sure you'll recognize what changes need to be made in respect to our ties to the Yoga Sutra as it is extant today.

  8. Matthew you hit an other home run with this article. Truly enjoy your perspective and writing and please continue!

  9. @undefined says:

    K is not going to move his fat ass to Austria, knowing that he'll be charged. There's no way he could be acquitted, unless he gets an even bigger snake as a lawyer. I do agree that his entourage has enabled him – now they are are screaming and crying alternately. Up until now it's mostly been damage control, from the KYM and the KHYF. But it's a matter f money and livelihoods, so what do you expect?

  10. Vijay Vadlamani says:

    Forgive me for nit-picking here, but the following cannot be true: "… force him into hanumanasana to show off for Swami Vivekananda." If this is the same Swami Vivekananda whose pre-monastic name was Narendranath Datta, this could never have happened as that Swami passed on in 1902 – 15 years before BKS was born.
    I believe BKS mentions this incident in "Light on Life" but makes no mention of who the audience was.
    Great article, btw.

  11. dan says:

    as he pushes a traditional guru culture at the end i take it the author means glamour culture when he says guru culture but it's understandable he missed this as the revel in his own viscous barding makes me doubt the yoga 2.0 lab offers the same exacting stings aimed at the author's own clouds of imprecise bullshittery and pholishtick medicine instead keeping them in exclusive reserve for those certain feelings and those already prone as lessons to sniff at

    i mean that authentically

  12. matthew says:

    Thank you, Vijay, for the correction. My memory was partially true. I'll amend the article.

  13. ivan says:

    great intelectual view, loved to read it! thank you! there is only one small thing missing i dare to say, and i will let you find that out..

  14. Lone Star says:

    What do I expect? a little thing called justice and protection for abused women. until he faces charges he's going to keep abusing. i want to be sure he does not come back to the EU or US a decade from now, all "healed" and ready to go on…his visa needs to have a lasting black mark to prevent this (ie conviction).

  15. matthew says:

    dear dan — after running your comment through my be-bop translator-app, I do appreciate your initial point: I am in the end describing a kind of gurukula atmosphere. something to think about as we move forward, authentically.

  16. matthew says:

    scott — thanks for your note. i actually go out of my way in threads of yoga to describe the historical indeterminacy of Patanjali the person, and certainly the notion of "authorship" altogether, as the text is clearly a collation of earlier fragments from disparate schools. and some close readings of the text suggest several sources. i rely on the scholarship of bryant, larson, white and others.

    to me it really doesn't matter who wrote the text. what matters is how we use it, and more specifically how we account for and re-interpret its austere ascetic views.

  17. greateacher says:

    Very convincingly written. And astute.

    I wish to caution you, in a nice way, yet it may not sound so nice… you are an excellent writer. For this venue… on which articles like "Everyone is Mean to Me in Yoga", "To Boob or Not for my Yoga Teacher?" " I F^^Kng Hate…" the vocabulary and sentence structure might be too elevated and/or complex.

  18. Pankaj Seth says:

    Yoga exists within the context of the 4 aims of life, Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Yoga is a teaching towards Moksha. It does not speak to the other aims in life. When Patanjali's text is taken as if it does or should, then there is the felt need to make it say things that do speak to the other aims.

    The fault is not with the Yoga Sutra for being inward, ascetic and austere, but with people who expect it to to speak to things that it does not, on purpose, because there are other sources which address Dharma, Artha, Kama. A study of the literature which co-exists with the Yoga Sutra, within the Dharmic traditions would obviate the need to try to fit a square peg in a round hole.

  19. hanna says:

    We should insist on dropping the yoga community vernacular about "healing" when it comes to ethical and sexual violations. Victims' "healing" is a private matter. We can wish the best for those victims, express compassion and outrage on their behalf, refrain from blaming or shunning them, and make resources for help known. The rest, at the community and legal level, should a language of accountability: wrongs committed, judgment calls about severity, what justice is most fitting.

  20. hanna says:

    The use of psychobabble about sexual violation is stupid and suspect. People often use these terms to try to soften the intensity of the crimes committed, ito generalize about woundedness, so that somehow these incidents are re-framed not as individuals who do things to harm other individuals but rather something to do with everyone's woundedness and healing in general. It's bullshit. Remski's brief psycho-analysis of this perp is insightful, and his comments about Friend are funny, but really, armchair analysis even from a brilliant guy is only that — armchair analysis. What's going on with the psychology of the perp is not really that important, b/c there's no evidence that this guy is more screwed up about sexuality in general than anyone else. The difference is in power and access — he has had the power and opportunity to act on his shit. So yeah, we can make comments about the general psycho-pathology of perps, put really, the focus should remain not with psychologizing rape culture but with insisting upon accountability and justice. Keep dismantling, as Remski pointed out, the tendency to exoticize the "east," raise the tenor of intelligent skepticism in yoga culture. INSIST on it.

  21. hanna says:

    Greatteacher, wtf are you talking about?

  22. thanks says:

    It's not necessarily useless to look at the psycho-pathology of sexual perps. The characteristics that Remski describes are as applicable to Rush Limbaugh as to yoga moguls who are sexually abusive. There IS a psychopathology to violence — or maybe many. But to me, tyhe question is also, WTF is wrong with these men? What twisted forms of masculinity are these? For all the arguments over "sacred masculine or feminine," what about twisted and defiling masculinities? But yes, stop the bs about "community healing" in these instances. We don't all need to perform some kind of online psychotherapy session together — we need to do some hard questioning and tough thinking.

  23. Pankaj Seth says:

    Scott, history exists within perception. Directly seeing the structure of the latter (and thus re-contextualiizing the former) is the whole point of the Yoga Sutra. To tie the YS into a history-centric worldview and debate is to miss the point of the YS, and the Dharmic traditions in general.

    Not for nothing does history blend with what we call mythology in the Dharmic literature, and in fact ends not as if one has wound some clock backwards, but due to an epistemic shift.

  24. Kath says:

    I completed my 200 hour training at a local, long standing yoga school. My 500 hour training was through the HYF of SF, an affiliate of KHYF. I resigned 3 years later, shortly before the scandal broke. My gut told me something was very wrong. At first I felt a bit ungrounded but then I realized 1) I am a good teacher. 2) I use what I learned well, in my life and my work and 3) I am not my teachers. I still seek learning but I feel a freedom to go beyond the confines of one tradition and use my own inner wisdom to discern what works for me and my students. After all, my inner voice nailed this one!

  25. Scott Smith Miller says:

    I agree, Matthew. The YS is a collation and the authorship of the text as it is extant today doesn't matter. But if you read my post you'll see that we do still have an historical record to interpret and if we do that well we can change things for the better. By naming Patanjali you do identify the text in relation to a anti-feminine movement. Since you do identify Patanjali as the author, why not change that identification to Gonika? It's an easy change and it's easy to explain that her version is no longer in existence. That sets up a whole new understanding of yoga's evolution. Relating well to evolution is one of the key ways to avoid fundamentalism.

  26. Scott Smith Miller says:

    Did you read my post, Pankaj? If not, please do. I would really appreciate your opinion on many of the issues addressed. In my opinion, you are the best commenter on this blog. That having been said, the "tie to a history-centric worldview" has already happened with the YS. That's my point. It is tied to a male-centric worldview. It is tied to a point in history when feminism was at an all time low (brought on by left-brain written word emphasis) and religious hierarchical control. So to break down that connection we can have a new view. And it makes sense. Please look at how I reinterpreted the so-called Patanjali myth. It makes much more sense in connection with Gonika. The crediting of a woman will then loosen the ties to male-centric worldview, allow us to connect to a real, present moment "epistemic shift" that will end up correcting many of the fundamentalist problems in the Sutras (beginning with the mistaken idea that there is no connection between Pure Consciousness (Purusha) and Nature (Prakriti). If that were true then Revealed Knowledge of the sort that is supposedly in the YS couldn't be spontaneously revealed.

  27. thanks says:

    Thank you for holding up community-based teaching and learning. LOCAL helps. Being an adult in a community helps. My teachers and fellow students are part of my community — they live in the same city, some in the same neighborhood, we shop at the same stores, go to the same local festivals, shows and plays. We see one another all the time. It's great. But because of that, I see them only as other adults. There is no reason to assume or believe that because some one can help me into a pose or teach me proper Sankskrit or host special workshops on diet or whatever — no reason to assume or believe that they ALSO automatically have expertise about what I should eat, where, which doctors I should see, what my psychological history is, or anything. If any of them tried that with me, I would laugh in their faces. I adore them, but that kind of behavior would be totally out of bounds. WTF? Yet there are teachers who try to claim that because yoga is "a way of life" they can tell you how to live. WRONG.

  28. matthew says:

    Thanks Pankaj. This is a good point, lost on most contemporary non-Indian students, who lack the benefit of the broader purusartha context. But even within the vast Indian tradition, "yoga" is not always directed solely towards "moksha". Vibhuti pada itself makes this clear. Still — I wait for the day when modern global yoga training begins to appreciate all of the shades and purposes of its heritage.

  29. matthew says:

    Scott — I appreciate your revisionist project, and am happy to let you run with it. For me, trying to re-inscribe authorship of the YS to Gonika doesn't political sense, unless you're suggesting, and I think you are, that there's some sort of conspiracy involved to invalidate a proto-feminist text. I'm happier with the simpler narrative: the text is ascetic and phallocentric, and it works for us to the extent that we reject its hard dualism. I can't hinge any argument on notions of whether "Revealed Knowledge" is or is not accessible through the metaphysics of the text, because I don't believe in "Revealed Knowledge". But really, this is a topic for another post.

  30. Pankaj Seth says:

    Scott, I will read your blog and present my response there.

    Reworking narratives is fine (there will be opposition, but if the argument is sound then the opposition will have to sit down), and here is another angle… The Upanishads certainly know about Yoga long before the YS is written down, and in the oldest of the Upanishads, the Brihad Aranyaka (great wilderness), it is Gargi who is the only equal of Yagnavalkya in debate. It is she who in common with Yagnavalkaya has understood. People looking for a male-female balance should know about this.

    As to Sankhya (Purusha-Prakriti relationship included), that has been bested in debate by Sankara. Sankhya can be taken as a phenomenological explication from the pov of the subject-object duality. The emphasis in Yoga is to move towards, identify with the ultra-subjective pole, and it works. But, one then needs a non-dual approach like Advaita Vedanta to go further, or be stranded as one of countless purushas… reminds me of Leibniz's 'windowless monads'. Anyway, Sankyha has its place, like in Ayurveda for example, and as the backbone of Yoga, but in India it is Vedanta which has been in ascendency, not Yoga. AV of course opts for non-duality, rather than the dualism of Sankhya and Yoga.

  31. matthew says:

    hanna — thanks for these excellent comments. Makes me wish I could parachute them into the text, but you know how it goes. I hope I did focus upon structural dynamics throughout and community responsibility enough in the last section, but perhaps the final lines are sentimental in ways that over-generalize the victims' stories. And I do regret if analyzing K. draws empathy away from those who were hurt.

  32. Scott Smith Miller says:

    Well stated, Matthew. And, yes, I am suggesting that there was a conspiracy involved. That's why I jokingly refer to the whole thing as The Patanjali Code. You might change your mind about Revealed Knowledge in connection to what physicists refer to as "Field science." It promotes the understanding that "non-existent Fields of knowledge" are the source of "realized potential." It's particularly obvious with things like language. Westerners like Levi Strauss, and Heidegger have long sense done away with the notion that language could have started from scratch. Instead, as Heidegger put it: we don't just speak language, Language speaks us. As a non-existent Field, Language is accessed (by so-called savants) and newly realized potential in the form of words and sentence structure come into existence. In keeping with the post here, Krishnamacharya is known to have re-accessed the yogic potential known as the Yoga Rahasya, which had been "totally lost to the world for 1000 years." That's described in Health, Healing, and Beyond. I understand the trickiness of understanding everything you have explained so well in this post, but at the same time not falling into a materialistic perspective on reality. That can easily happen in the process of telling the social truth.

  33. SimpleYogi says:

    In the name of "Authentic" Yoga , there is another scam going on in Mysore in the name of Ashtanga Yoga . They attribute their history to some non existent book called "Yoga Korunta" and this wonderful cock and bull story of how this manuscript was found and how it got lost is still being held as the Gospel truth . I have nothing against the Ashtanga System of Yoga at Mysore or nothing personal against Sharath and I admire the great work done by Pattabhi Joise in developing this system of intense Asana practice and that is now carried on by Sharath but I am suspicious when these sort of Cock and Bull stories are spread about its Origins and their so called claim to "Authentic Yoga" by expecting everyone to come to Mysore to receive the blessings directly . Initially it was Ok When few people came and Pattabhi Joise could attend to them individually but now it seems hundreds of people come to Mysore and God knows how does each person get the necessary attention . Now they are also Corporatizing themselves as "Joise Yoga" I do not know when the Mysore Bubble will burst .

  34. Pankaj Seth says:

    Yes, it would be better to teach Yoga contextualized within the 4 aims of life and the 6 views (darshanas). Otherwise, we create pseudo-problems which require the wasting of energy later.

    Next, 'revelation' is an incorrect translation of 'shruti', which means 'heard' or 'seen'. Revelation is a concept which exists together with the Abrahamic concept of an all-controller God who exists outside his creation and sends messages now and then. This is not the structure of the Dharmas, and though 'revelation' is a common translation, it is problematic as is 'illusion' for 'maya'.

    A modern example of 'seen' is the case of S. Ramanujan…

    "Ramanujan credited his acumen to his family Goddess, Namagiri of Namakkal. He looked to her for inspiration in his work,[81] and claimed to dream of blood drops that symbolised her male consort, Narasimha, after which he would receive visions of scrolls of complex mathematical content unfolding before his eyes.[82]"

    "When asked about the methods employed by Ramanujan to arrive at his solutions, Hardy said that they were "arrived at by a process of mingled argument, intuition, and induction, of which he was entirely unable to give any coherent account."[93] He also stated that he had "never met his equal, and can compare him only with Euler or Jacobi."[93]"

    And as to rejecting dualism, that has been done in India for more than a thousand years, with Sankara's Advaita Vedanta having bested all other views in debate. However, Sankhya/Yoga are very valuable… Ayurveda, Yoga Praxis, but the metaphysics of the YS lost out to the non-dualism of Sankara. As 'Yoga' is the buzzword in the West, Patanjali's text will needlessly be taken as the last word, when even in India this hasn't been the case for over a thousand years.

  35. satya says:

    I so appreciate your dialog here in response to what you wrote. its a great living example of real conversation – hearing and acknowledging what someone thinks or responds to your critical thinking without bullying, insults, or condescension. I praise the maturity of everyone's responses on this board, on this very disturbing and complex subject.

    I also appreciate the call from Matthew to "Stay Local". I live in NY and its awash with the celebriyogi or wanna-be's. The teachers seemingly trying to out-cute, out-smart, out-vibe each other via tele-seminar (the HOTTEST new trend in how to learn yoga!), or even through catchy name for class or workshop.

    What happened to going to a yoga class, with or without music, where you are transported into an experience of mind-body connection via the breath? I like what you said Matthew about finding a teacher that works for you, until she/he doesn't anymore, and you move on. Or better yet – start a home practice. Make your own studio space at home, complete with small meditation corner, put on your own turn-inward kinda music, and journey inward that way.

    I'm a local teacher, and I am over the yoga culture that supports glamorizing teachers that to me, are simply drunk on their own charisma. I'm also older than half of them.

  36. Scott Smith Miller says:

    I am extremely pleased to be taught about "Gargi." Thanks. I knew you'd be helpful with this, Pankaj. Just to be clear, I am perfectly happy with the dualism of yoga. It is only the removal of the Soul-level, heart oriented type of intelligence that I contest. I'm sure Gonika's original YS text was all about the connecting experience. Sankya removes it and I do believe it was removed to serve the priests. It's the same old story. Priests of every institutionalized religion have removed the recognition of how we can access Consciousness itself directly. Knowledge of that is bad for their business.
    Thanks again for identifying another important woman in yoga history.

  37. Pankaj Seth says:

    You're welcome Scott, and your comment above about avoiding Materialism' is very apt.

    Sankhya is part of a nexus of views, some of which are 'atheistic' and others are very devotional (Mimamsa). Together, they are complementary. Sankhya is excellent for framing things in a causal way, where no deity comes in and makes a river run uphill. It is tied to rational, scientific endeavours in India, like Ayurveda. Nyaya (logic), Vashshika (analysis) and Sankhya (cosmology outlining quasi-ontological principles) have all led to this direction, without badgering the Bhakti orientation which is also strong in India. These all balance each others' potential excesses and blind spots. I am of course referring to the six darshanas, as you know.

    And BTW, if you havn't seen this, its a good watch…. a film about Sankara, in Sanskrit with subtitles. Its very, very Indian in look and feel. The filmmaker has a done a good job of creating a window to another space… (synopsis here…

    The either/or of the West can learn complementarity from India.

    BTW, it was a Yogini up in Gangotri that I met 23 years ago who asked me my name, and upon hearing "Pankaj Seth" said, "What kind of answer is that? Go and find out."… LOL.

  38. Scott Smith Miller says:

    I actually have seen that film, Pankaj. You're right about it. The cool thing was that a few years back, there was a young physicist (genius) who was doing post-doc work at a local university and happened to come into one of my classes. He showed me the film about Sankara in Sanskrit. His name is Kumar Raman, and as far as names go, that does tell you something. He removed many obstacles for me. His family was deeply connected to an Advaita Vedantist community, but Kumar had never done hatha yoga before coming into my class. Things went well between us on that level, and he taught me so much. One of the most important things he taught me was that people in the western yoga world were completely screwing up the Gayatri mantra by just saying "na" at a critical point. So we were asking for the knowledge of Light "not" to come into our consciousness. Jokingly, I would say that explains a lot.

  39. matthew says:

    These are good points for me to consider as I move forward with the presentation of my own work on Patanjali. Er, the YS. Er. The Gonika Sutras.

  40. matthew says:

    Hi Scott — and here's where we respectfully part ways. I have definitely fallen into a materialistic perspective on reality, after decades of metaphysics — Catholic, Buddhist, Sanatana Dharma, etc. I have no interest in getting up!

  41. matthew says:

    This last point is especially profound. I tried to address it in my book, almost in print:

    "The prominence of the old book may have more to do with its modern publishing history and the rise of global-yoga-guru-culture than to its fame within the broader tradition. Globetrotting Swami
    Vivekananda published the sūtra-s (as part of his seminal work Rāja Yoga) to popular acclaim in 1896, and vigorously promoted its transcendental message with his other-worldly charisma. But now, over a century later, why is it still better known to global yoga cul- ture than arguably more famous and utilitarian yoga texts? Consider the Yoga Yājñavalkya, 12 chapters delivered in the much more digestible (and perhaps equitable) form of a dialogue between a husband and wife philosopher-duo. This text declares jīvātma paramātma saṃyogaḥ: “yoga is the union of the individual to the whole.” Or—the Yoga Vaśiṣṭha, a beloved text of 32,000 verses, consisting of a dialogue between the sage Vaśiṣṭha and Prince Rāma, who has returned disillusioned from his youthful world travels and is basically told by the old existentialist: “Good for you! Melancholia is the beginning of true growth.”

    Has interest in the broader literature of yoga simply paled in the shadow of Patañjali-s austere monolith? Do we associate impenetrable brevity with ultimate truth? Are the opacity of the aphorisms ideal for agenda-driven cross-cultural misprision, insofar as we can project upon them anything we like? Or, more problem- atically, does our adherence to a minimalist ascetic text conceal a hidden wish to console our complex interpersonal suffering through social withdrawal and meditative narcissism? I would suggest we’re already accomplishing this consolation through consumerism, including the consumeristic aspects of contemporary yoga culture, and perhaps Patañjali-s original message of social disengagement subconsciously supports this." (Threads of Yoga, 17-18)

  42. Dale says:

    Wow. Ok, yes, it is true that, as you say, you do not understand the inside experience of the two yoga schools you pontificate on. And you appear to not understand branding and copyrights. And you seem somewhat surprised that religious leaders can be predators. Is there no Catholic church in your town? And thanks for chiming in on exactly how to punish people for their misdeeds.

    When yoga is practiced as a religion, I don't see indicators that the percentage of bad gurus is any greater than the percentage of bad priests or bad spirit guides, or whatever. So this seems to be more of a human problem than a yoga problem.

    Finally, just doing local yoga is a horrible idea. Every human endeaver grows best when cross-pollination of ideas and diversity in all areas is maximized. AS WELL AS what my teachers bring to the mat from their own practice, I also want the to travel and go to workshops with other teachers, national and local to other towns & countries. I want somebody to bring Anusara and Ashtanga and Shiva Rea, & Jonny Kest, & Doug Swenson, and Anna Forrest, and all of the other flavors of yoga to town. Let's have the whole cornicopia of yoga to taste, not just what grows around here.

  43. mahadev108 says:

    I think мost of western yoga practicioners just should understand more clear, that what they need from yoga its not the same goals which described in scriptures like Yoga Sutras or HYP. They need just physical practice for healthy wordly life, and maybe some meditation like kind of psychoteraphy or stress-relief. And for that purpose they dont need traditional guru from any sampradaya, because western yoga-teachers who have similar lifestyle and experience will teach such adopted-for-west-yoga better! They dont have samadhi experience or Kayvalya as it described by Patanjali, and dont need it, and their students as well. BUT idea of so-called demisitfication of Yoga Sutras i think is very naive. How somebody could demystify Yoga Sutras if he have not even a bit of very high spiritual experience, which described by Patanjali ? Its good idea to boycotte commercial Gurus who only want to manipulate students for selfish purposes. But if you will boycotte the whole idea of Guru-disciple relationship, it makes traditional yoga impossible for you. Nobody from spiritually experienced Eastern teachers will teach student who have no respect and discipline. And without such teacher its not possible to recieve yogic sadhana practice which could be transmitted only from persone to persone who trust each other.

    And the story of Kaushtub – its the story of supressed sexuality in India. I dont apologize his behavior, but he never been traditional Guru even according to Indian standarts. He is commercial yoga teacher as most of well known yogateachers nowdays.

  44. mahadev108 says:

    Not Vivekananda, but Paramahamsa Yoganada was visited that Maharaja of Mysore birthday party (Indra Devi also was there) where BKS Iyengar performed his traumathic asana show.

  45. matthew says:

    Ha. Thank you.

  46. dan says:

    a prescriptionist happily coughing dust just to say you're cleaning the wire lit for glamouring lines how could you be wrong without spinning amend amend

  47. matthew says:

    Dale — Thanks for weighing in. I'm not surprised at the violations at all, as I hoped to convey through bits of irony. Nor have I recommended punishments, but rather ways in which KYM/KHYF may restore public confidence (especially KYM, which is a public institution, given its non-profit status).

    The "local" yoga I champion is always-already cross-pollinated in today's globalized culture, which is what I was describing with the following, if you have the time to re-read:

    "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."