Let nothing human be considered sacred. Let nothing human be considered divine. Marty Rubin
Yet another Senior Yoga teacher, revered as a Guru/Teacher of Teachers to many of his followers has been called out by an ex-student (and collaborator in his work) for misconduct. This is becoming an all too frequent event in the Yoga world. Posts on Facebook, Instagram and various Yoga blog sites attest to this teacher’s alleged use of psychological manipulations to gain intimacy with students over many years. In reading this particular woman’s blog, the words gaslighting, manipulation, grooming etc., come to mind in his interactions with her (and others who have since come forward) over the years.
The power imbalance created when a teacher moves from being simply a conduit to pass on the spiritual, philosophical and physical attributes of Yoga – to being regarded as a type of divine mouthpiece can prove seductive to say the least. Seductive not only to the teacher, but seductive also to the student looking for guidance and wisdom to navigate their lives.
People come to or discover Yoga for many, many reasons.
Many people come to Yoga because they have learned of the myriad physical and mental benefits a regular practice provides. Many people come to yoga because they are suffering; mentally, emotionally, and physically. They come because they are vulnerable and looking for answers.
And it is the vulnerable, the seekers of universal truth who are often the most likely to fall victim to the power plays of a teacher held in such high esteem that their ego overtakes all.
But Yoga is not about THEM the teacher, their ego, and certainly not their own self-gratification. Yoga to me is like open source software (IT background comes to the fore) it is dynamic, living, breathing, growing. Its ongoing development (in the asana sense) should be managed and nurtured by dedicated, ethical practitioners and devotees who want Yoga’s benefits available to ALL, with no one individual having overarching control. And this is where it gets messy.
Manouso Manos, Bikram Choudary, John Friend, Pattabhi Jois, Kaustaub Desikachar, to name just a few, have had serious allegations made against them. They and others have claimed any ‘encounters’ with students have always been consensual. The student may not have protested, nor felt able to at the time. But with the passing of years, combined with the healing that may have occurred, or the growing strength and confidence of the person concerned – this behaviour finally becomes recognised for what it was.
I have read and listened to a lot of the teachings and musings of the latest teacher named, and felt my own concerns, especially given someone I met through my own teacher training is a devotee of this man. They have followed him around the world, attended many trainings, and retreats with him. They believe fervently in his teachings. When I commented on FB about how sad it was that yet another teacher had been called out, and again later that their seeming justification or reasoning for some behaviours was implausible – found myself promptly unfriended on FB and all other social media platforms.
And trial by social media is a swift and harsh judgement. It can destroy a career in a short space of time. Without seemingly any reasonable way for the alleged perpetrator to defend themselves. I do understand all of that. But when dozens of people come forward, and put their names to the list of people feeling ‘wronged’ or ‘abused’ – and colleagues come forward saying they had their own concerns but felt they couldn’t say anything, and still others come forward saying ‘we had heard whispers for years’…. What action is there to take?
It has been suggested that we separate the teacher from the teachings – but I don’t see how that can be achieved. If you are teaching another person ANYTHING, especially anything that has a spiritual, ethical, or devotional theme – then it is damn important that you then don’t exploit the people hanging on your every word.
Exploitation of the vulnerable has been going on for millenia in many communities; groups, religions, schools and workplaces. It is only in more recent years that Yoga has hit the headlines, although the knowledge that some teachers were behaving unethically towards students has been known since Yoga began. However, due to the high esteem and god-like devotion some of the earlier teachers (and some today) were held in, nothing was ever said out loud or at least able to be followed through on. There was no over-arching governing body that these misdemeanours could be reported to that would act swiftly to deal with such matters.
The follow through – that is where a universal Code of Ethics and accountability is desperately needed, and some in the Senior Yoga Teaching Community ie: Donna Farhi and others like her are fighting valiantly for this to be taken seriously and for teachers to be held accountable.
Training in ethics is becoming part of many YTT programs, but there is such a long way to go. Dealing with the vulnerable or vulnerabilities that can arise in Yoga classes? – trauma based Yoga trainings run or created with the assistance of psychologists and counsellors are becoming increasingly popular. Nidra and iRest credited teachers know that these techniques are extremely valuable in helping individuals become aware, face their challenges and with help create stronger more independent selves.
Yoga and its teachings were created millenia ago –and as teachers we are delivering that which we haven’t truly created. So again, as teachers we are the conduit, we are human, fallible and responsible for you the student’s welfare. Don’t put on a pedestal those that should be standing beside you and encouraging you to follow your own path.
“Fallibility in a leader is very trying. Isn’t it? They spill so much of other people’s blood” James Clavell