Sexual Misconduct, Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga Yoga & Me.

5.3

The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

Views 10
Shares 5.3
Hearts 1.0
Comments 4.8
Editor's Pick 0.0
Total Ecosystem Rating 5.3
3 Do you love this article? Show the author your support by hearting.
13
45.1k

I was a young dancer in my first job (apprenticeship) in a country far away from home.

My boss/choreographer told me that the best place to teach me some important lessons that I failed to understand through formal instruction would be in his bed, during and after sex.

I didn’t let him take me to bed, but I did keep dancing for this connoisseur of dance because the learning opportunity as a whole was dear to me. I considered it an exceptional privilege and worth the madness.

On another training day, we had a barre-class wearing only tank tops so he could make sure that our testicles would rise and fall appropriately with our pelvic floor movements in plie, relevé, dégagé, and so forth (yes, the unease of the moment was thick!). There were many more such moments during the six months I spent with this choreographer before the misalignments out-weighed the learning, and I cut my apprenticeship short.

A few years later in my early 20s, I was teaching dance and choreography at a performing arts institute in Denmark, just trying to make a living. On one occasion, I found myself in the room of one of my students with whom I shared a mutual attraction. But what I thought was a consensual act changed; shortly into it, she shook her head beneath me and stuttered a muffled “no.” I stopped on the spot in a mild state of shock. It didn’t take much to realize that right there, in my inexperience, I misunderstood the relationship between us and abused my power as her teacher. What appeared to me as something we both wanted, was in reality my confusion of our roles. The realization cut through me like an icy knife.

I learned that day by direct experience that the student-teacher relationship is not to be messed with (sexual relations between teachers and students are also illegal in Denmark, my country of birth). I understood poignantly why this type of relationship is sacred, and that the inherent power imbalance in this relationship will always blur the line between attraction and respect, distorting intentions and signals.

I realized that it is us, the teachers, who are responsible for maintaining the sacrosanct terms of the relationship. We are required to act with ethical principle all the time, every time. I have never once engaged in sexual relations with a student of any type since that one haunting encounter years ago. I learned my lesson early through a combination of self-flattery, ignorance, and failure.

I now teach yoga to people, and this division is more important than ever. Dedicated to the Ashtanga Yoga methodology, I teach on the road and serve as director of Miami Life Center, a yoga center founded by my wife and me in 2006. A significant part of the teaching methodology in our lineage relies on physical adjustments: helping a student get in and out of postures provides unparalleled kinesthetic feedback, which is useful for understanding what an asana is about on a deep level in the practitioner’s own body.

Experiencing the internal sensations that accompany a correctly-embodied posture gives the student an internal map to identify and recreate the physical mechanics that constitute these (sometimes very complex) postures. These sensations are the most powerful and useful teachers we have when learning asana, much more so than receiving verbal instruction or visual cues. Without this deeper embodied knowledge, we limit our access to the deep benefits yoga can bring to our bodies and minds—hence the emphasis on adjustments in Ashtanga Yoga.

In working with both beginner and advanced students, the line can be hair-thin between appropriate and inappropriate touch. In the attempt to always respect a student’s mental-emotional boundary of touch, I ask all our teachers at Miami Life Center to keep physical adjustments simple, clear, and light (in “low-voltage zones” as the brilliant David Swenson calls it), and keep their hands on unquestionably non-sexual places on a student’s body. Only when trust is firmly established do we draw upon adjustment techniques that require a more skilled understanding of anatomy, using hand and body positions with lucid precision so the practitioner can learn deep-seated body mechanics without any misunderstanding of intention or boundary.

In the 11 years we have been teaching yoga at Miami Life Center, we continuously commit to honor our students’ healthy boundaries, whether physical, emotional, mental, religious, or sexual in nature. Safety and trust within our community is targeted by conscious use of our four pillars—simplicity, honesty, compassion, and integrity—our stated foundational values.

As an Ashtangi, it shocked me when I recently learned that one Ashtangi friend and colleague experienced touching on her genitals and buttocks by my teacher Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 2004.

I have read and heard of other women whom have experienced Pattabhi Jois touching their genitals, buttocks, and breasts in the 80s and 90s. Confused and trying to make sense of it all, it seems to me that the experience of Jois’ touching falls into five categories:

1. Jois never touched my private parts.
2. Jois touched many places on my body, inclusive of my private parts. I never felt any touch was inappropriate.
3. Jois touched many places on my body, inclusive of my private parts. It was instrumental in healing my illnesses.
4. Jois touched me on my private parts and it felt inappropriate. It stopped after I made him aware of my disapproval.
5. Jois touched me on my private parts and it felt/still feels traumatizing.

Neither my wife nor I had ever been touched in even a remotely inappropriate manner by our yoga teachers, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois, and I had never seen it happen in my years with them. So as I hadn’t talked to anyone with this direct experience until recently, I unfortunately had not given fitting attention to this issue in our community.

I regret to admit that I had assumed it had happened for a brief moment of time long before my studentship. I assumed it had been addressed properly, and that the state of appropriate sexual and ethical conduct at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute and the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (KBJ) Ashtanga Yoga Institute that I experienced was evidence to the fact that a definitive change had been successfully made.

I regretfully realize that I have been too fast to dismiss the rumors and the photographs of my teacher. I have allowed myself the bliss of ignorance while some of you, my fellow practitioners, have been processing painful experiences at his hands, and that hurt, disillusionment, and trauma have taken root in you. It is evident that you should not have experienced what you did, and I should not have been so busy with my own experience as to not be present with yours. I regret that I have not been your friend, your ear, and your shoulder over these years.

An apology seems insufficiently light, yet I apologize to you for my absorption in my own process and my obliviousness to your pain.

The question that springs to mind is why Jois touched these women’s lady parts during yoga class.

Was he healing or molesting? Your guess is as good as mine, and there are many opinions circulating at present. I know one thing: if Jois had touched the Mysore police commissioner’s wife in this way, he would have been run out of town the same afternoon. So why did he touch some of his Western students this way? Having been his student doesn’t offer me any valid insights to his motive—I am as confused as everyone—and honestly, motive doesn’t really matter in this case, anyway.

At the same time, it is no exaggeration to say that the learning I did with this man reshaped my entire life along with my perception on living. Gratitude and love for him runs deep in my veins. In my current processing of this information, I find myself making a divide between the man and his method—a man who taught me his (and his guru’s) system of yoga. I find myself in contemplation of the man and his actions these days. Taking the liberty to let hands wander on a student is unacceptable and potentially criminal in any educational setting, but even more so in the modality of yoga where surrender and trust are professed as the main means to progress.

Jois’ trespassing speaks for itself; it cannot be justified. Still, I cannot get around the incredible substance of the Ashtanga Yoga system. Here in the middle of my processing, I know one thing: just as I didn’t reject dance due to misalignments by my choreographer 30 years ago, I cannot find reason to discard Ashtanga Yoga by the inauspicious actions of my late teacher. Furthermore, there is no ambiguity of sexual boundaries under the current principled captainship of Sharath at the KPJ institute—none!

So, as I practice and teach Jois’ Mysore style just as he taught me to, I must ask if this is an acceptable path to choose. Is it okay for me to sit with two opposing feelings simultaneously? Can I denounce Jois’ actions while feeling indebted, grateful, and full of love for him? The news recently spoke of a mother who’s drug-addicted son had committed murder while on a bender. She felt guilty for the victim and her family on behalf of her son. She felt guilty for reasons only a mother can know. And yet she still loved her son. This is of course an extreme case far from the nature of Jois’ inappropriate touching, but it personally helps me shed some light on the inner workings between my mind and my heart.

Let me finish where I started, as there seems to be a common thread contained within these revelations.

I have stopped counting #metoo posts. The number of stories are seemingly infinite, and the degrees of misconduct too vast. Friends I have known for years now have given voice to story after story of sexual misconduct that range from inappropriate comments to full-blown rape by strangers, friends, boyfriends, bosses, co-workers, yoga teachers, taxi drivers—you name it. The disrespect, disregard, and violence that my female friends have learned to consider acceptable collateral damage at the hands of us men (in most cases, the perpetrator of this violence was male) is overwhelming and eye-opening to me. It is also terrifying.

There can be no doubt—we men have a socially conditioned problem. The mindset with which we conduct ourselves toward women on a pretty general basis is obviously not okay. We need a system tune-up. And somehow, it seems, society as a whole has been both deaf and mute on the subject until now. It’s an imbedded attitude that needs adjustment.

Most of us men have at one time or another carved ourselves negatively into the life of a woman by careless or inappropriate sexual conduct. I know I have. It is an uncomfortable acknowledgment. I regret to say that such conduct is not just the work of people like Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump, but by most of us. We men are going to have to come to terms with that. Despite the campaign’s messy bits, the #metoo movement has brought to surface sufficient proof that we dwell in a broken culture that targets women everywhere.

I thank you women for stirring the pot, for standing up despite our disregard, ridicule, and violence. We (men) need to self-adjust, because #timesup—and, as Oprah Winfrey tells us, “A new day is on the horizon.” We men are gonna have to acknowledge it’s now time to listen and take ownership of ourselves and our collective behavior to take us forward to a better day in stride with the powerful women of the world.

Fellow men, let’s do everyone a favor and begin to assume less and ask more. Listen more mindfully. Seek to understand, not respond. Act with more empathy and less self-interest. Facilitate this conversation amongst us about how we can do better. Keep each other accountable for the “nudge-nudge” lewd remarks, the locker-room talk, and the “bro” conduct when it gets a little too “fun” or too wild. Hold each other to a standard of respect in both tongue and deed. Commit to creating a sphere where both men and women can co-exist with minimal disrespect, maximum safety, and zero assault.

The alternative is quite simply insufferable.

~

P.S. My wife, Kino, has recently jotted down a series of solid recommendations for the yoga community at the end of her article. I recommend you give it a read.

~

~

Author: Tim Feldmann
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman

5.3

The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

Views 10
Shares 5.3
Hearts 1.0
Comments 4.8
Editor's Pick 0.0
Total Ecosystem Rating 5.3
3 Do you love this article? Show the author your support by hearting.
13
45.1k

You must be logged in to post a comment. Create an account.

Kim Roberts Feb 7, 2019 6:34am

Thank you for this thoughtful article

Judy Stern Energy Rmt Oct 2, 2018 1:29pm

WOW I did my 200 hours in Ashtanga style and had no idea of the sexual misconduct. I am a date rape and molestation survivor, and I see your point about do we stay with a system where the Guru has engaged in this type of behavior? I shall continue to meditate on this, but for now Ashtanga was the style I was brought to and trained in by my teachers and I have found much healing in this system. I thank you so much for what you said about men being mindful. Namaste

Shivin Varghese Unitholi Jul 28, 2018 5:38pm

You know what Carol. Being an Indian and having lived all 32 years of my life in this country, I can very well buy your point that a majority of Indians think that western women would easily get laid. It's a fucked up Indian mentality. But hey I also gotta ask you and all those women who are opening their mouths now after like almost two decades of that what they call "physical abuse" by Jois. How come you folks allowed him to touch in that manner and why were you silent on this matter which rather grave. That motherfucker K. Perverted Jois would have been behind the bars had you women voiced it when he was alive. So let me tell you this - you people are equally at fault.

Shivin Varghese Unitholi Jul 28, 2018 11:20am

You are still justifying Pattabhi Jois' act of "touching" in detailed pointers! Wow! And btw your wife Kino Macgregor has pointed in an article that she once decided to undress on the practice floor itself after a practice with Jois and when she was naked the man Pattabhi Jois was right around the corner watching her. And just when he was caught he pretended innocent and showed that he didn't intend to see her like that. That itself shows what kind of a pervert he was. Ofcourse he wouldn't have touched your private parts. But you sure he didn't touch Kino inappropriately.. or are you just making it up to be in the good books of Sharath Rangaswamy and KPJAYI.

Victor Esparza May 25, 2018 5:31am

I've seen the much viewed "video evidence" of Jois "abusing" women during adjustments, however at minute 49 of this video, he does the same thing with a man: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YybN587ByyE Another thing I find interesting, is that the video evidence is of him much older. I've seen several of him in his younger days (meaning probably prior to age 70 when he didnt have a gut), and I dont see those same types of intimate adjustments. Is it cause the ones i've seen are glossy ones meant for western audiences and/or ones which occured while traveling to the west? Maybe it's a matter of age and the loss of strength, requiring closer hold/touch

Lisa Solmirano May 24, 2018 4:36pm

Always with the victim, never with the agresor! https://www.yogacitynyc.com/single-post/2016/03/07/Why-The-Abused-Dont-Speak-Up

Carol Anspach May 6, 2018 9:21pm

I went to a workshop with Jois in Seattle in the early 2000's and experienced his fingers groping a bit inappropriately and remembered thinking he was a bit of a dirty old man. He was not giving me an adjustment either. I was just in downward dog I believe and he had his fingers on my rump and his fingers were gently crawling in between my buttocks lightly. But you know, Indians think western women are all whores anyway. I spent lots of time roaming around there and had some other strange experiences of a sexual nature...

Ce Ce Mar 2, 2018 5:10am

Dear Tim, to raise the question about whether he was "healing or molesting" goes to the very heart of the problem. Many of these women were initially clear that his touch was inappropriate, however because he was a much-loved teacher, because he was a well-regarded leader, because those present did not voice concerns/reactions, and because these women were likely stunned and traumatized by his assaults, they were not able to "hold onto" the truth that his actions were sexual assault. I ask you with compassion and deep humility to please consider that your question perpetuates the very harm that I believe you are trying to speak against. Peace.

Yar Pal Feb 27, 2018 1:53pm

Tejas Yoga you are refusing to acknowledge he did the same to men, yet accuse me blindness? what is the benefit to insist on hypocrisy? and it would not have only been the most senior leadership enabling him (and again, with men as well), but leadership at all levels and those many (including the men) who were subject to the same and said nothing, or did not find them transgressing. we are told he was told not to do these adjustments, and he would back off, and then go back to them; perhaps because he continued the adjustments with men he felt emboldened to then re-continue them with women. such questions, and the more important one about what these adjustments were even for, cannot be answered or even asked if that he did these adjustments only on women is all that can be said.

Tejas Yoga Feb 27, 2018 10:46am

Yar Pal he grabs women's buttocks, he grabs women's breasts. He spends double the time on them than men etc. He adjusts when no adjustment is needed or when his adjustment is of no efficacy at all. He does those things constantly while his senior teachers never do. He does them while paramaguru Sharath enables him. Good luck with the blindness.

Yar Pal Feb 11, 2018 12:06am

not what i see in pictures and videos- he lies face-forwards on prone men, puts his butt on men such that his testicles certainly touch them (through clothes), "cups" their perineum area with his fingers or palm where an anus is. perhaps he did this to women more, perhaps it is noticed more because patriarchy requires women to be property of a single man. and again, to be clear: admitting he did this to men and women does not excuse transgressing boundries or explain why he was doing these.

Tejas Yoga Feb 10, 2018 11:45pm

He does adjustments to women that he absolutely never performs on men. The blinkered will fight as hard as they can to remain blinkered.

Jeannette Fagan McDermott Feb 1, 2018 8:13pm

Great article Tim!

Yar Pal Jan 29, 2018 11:49pm

or rather, it is noticed that he is "grabbing" women but "adjusting" men, doing the exact same to both but understood differently because of the blinkered nature of patriarchy that requires women to be treated as property of men, and that there be no possibility of touch that is not sexual nor an attempt at dominance.

Tejas Yoga Jan 29, 2018 11:26pm

Cause in videos he is seen grabbing women a lot more than men. By everyone except his blinkered devotees.

Yar Pal Jan 26, 2018 1:34am

in videos he is seen giving men the same adjustments (so presumably he gave them when not being filmed), but this gets no mention. mentioning this would not absolve him transgressing, so why is it not mentioned?

Brenda Murphy Jan 25, 2018 4:25pm

I appreciate the article, and this conversation is long overdue, so thank you. I too, experienced an inappropriate event a couple of years ago with a male teacher in Naples. As we were doing seated forward bend, and without asking he sat on my low back (he was apparently impressed with my flexibility and wanted to help me even further). Firstly, he should have asked and been clear about his intentions and secondly, why would any man think another woman wants to feel his testicles resting on their back? I asked him to get off and I never went back to the studio. Recently I checked their roster of teachers and he is not there. Just as in some religious institutions, the yoga community needs to be aware and accepting of its own troublesome past.

Jodee Dixon Jan 24, 2018 11:32pm

Excellent writing. Every yoga teacher should read this. Every man. Ok, everyone!

Tejas Yoga Jan 24, 2018 2:15pm

Not only did the senior ashtangis not miss the memo. They are all complicit in this for money. And they have been covering this for years, for decades. Who wants to disrupt the gravy train? Make the guru look mortal? Who gonna study with me? No, guru is wise and magical, gimme your money! And let me tell you why he did it. He did it because he liked grabbing tits and ass. Like any man knows but pretends to forget when it comes to dear leader.

Shikan Taza Jan 23, 2018 11:15am

Dear Tim. Whilst I appreciate the broad sentiments you express, can you explain a little more about how you and Kino (and seemingly all the other senior Ashtanga teachers) have only recently found about this? I am a very average Ashtanga student who has never visited Mysore and have a pretty basic practice, but I was told about this issue in 2003 when I started the practice in London. I was told about it not only by my then teacher but also by a senior student there, who told me that she had recently been to Mysore and Pattabthi Jois had repeatedly touched her breasts when adjusting her. I remember it well as it was one of the things that made me not want to go to Mysore!Later I went on an yoga holiday with two other female teachers who told me the same thing about Jois. How is it that I - a yoga nobody who has never been to Mysore - knew about it 15 years ago but all the senior teachers who spent months in Mysore, and have yoga as their living, and who now criss-cross the world teaching thousands of students, didn't? Did none of the senior teachers read the 'Guruji' book by Guy Donaghue and Ediie Stern where Nancy Gilgoff describes Pattabji Jois 'physically putting mula bandha' on her (page 26). How could you physically put mula bandha on someone (man or woman) without touching them intimately? As I say, I appreciate how you propose going forward, but I think that to do so requires all the Ashtanga senior teachers to be frank about the past. It cannot be the case that all the senior teachers somehow missed the memo on this.

Mar Masana Jan 22, 2018 8:38pm

Thank you for writing this, Tim <3

Read The Best Articles of March
You voted with your hearts, comments, views, and shares.
CLICK TO SEE WHO WON

Tim Feldmann

Tim Feldmann is a yoga practitioner who teaches extensively in the Americas, Europe and Asia. Authorized to teach by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois, he is dedicated to Ashtanga’s traditional method and is currently practicing the Advanced A series. He is the co-founder of Miami life Center which he runs with his wife, Kino MacGregor. Find out more at his website.