Yoga Scandals: Pulling it Apart to Put it Back Together
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | October 9, 2021
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations (in person and through social media) with several people about the current wave of yoga scandals. Because they involve teachers with whom I have no connection, it’s clearly not my job (nor my inclination) to jump into social media debate.
But I have a lot of compassion for the folks who have been affected. I’m really sorry if you have been hurt.
The ongoing unveiling of new scandals highlights the issue that oversight is severely lacking in the yoga world. Yoga Alliance claims it’s a membership organization… period – not an oversight body. Frankly, when it comes to these scandals, it acts like a crooked cop grabbing at coke dealers’ Benjamins.
Monitoring abuse should be Yoga Alliance’s job, but they washed their hands of it years ago. And the scandals keep happening. Which makes me think that we need to lobby hard for stronger oversight bodies in the yoga world. It won’t prevent this stuff of course, but at least it would put a deterring stake in the ground. IAYT is doing what it can, but it’s a much smaller organization.
I have a few things to share that I hope are useful in addressing these tedious, ongoing, bleeding hemorrhoidal problems of abuse in the yoga world.
A while back there was a popular bumper sticker in Asheville proclaiming “All One.” What a lovely sentiment. And, it covers the dents and dings well, along with “All good” and “Coexist.”
But when it comes to abuse, calls for unity may do more harm than good. Bumper stickers are relatively harmless. And perhaps there are deeper places to look for perennial wisdom than the back of a sputtering VW bus.
In the Bhagavad Gita (which is one of the primary sources of the Yoga Sutras, the other being the Samkhya philosophy of Maharshi Kapil) Krishna says:
taḿ vidyād duḥkha-saḿyoga-viyogaḿ yoga-saḿjñitam (6.23)
Let it be known: the severance from the union with pain is yoga. This yoga should be practiced with determination, and with a mind steady and undespairing.
The severance from pain is “Viyoga”, uncoupling yourself from the source of suffering. It typically requires viveka, discriminative wisdom.
Patanjali wrote: Vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyaḥ (2.26) Clear, distinct, unimpaired discriminative knowledge is the means of liberation.
I like to think about viveka as discernment rather than discrimination (because of all the negative baggage that second term has). Viveka means the capacity to discern, to be able to see through the BS. To see what’s real and what is transitory. To judge with clarity.
Without viveka, you are more vulnerable to abuse and grift (which does NOT mean you are to blame for it).
Developing viveka takes time and work. Getting older is one good way. So is screwing up and then reflecting on how badly you screwed up.
We all screw up.
And then, hopefully, we think about it, and we think that we don’t want to screw up like that again, and we beat ourselves up just the right amount about it (most people err on the side of too little or too much self-flagellation), and then, through the whole process, we change, we grow, and we get wiser.
We may need to apologize to the people involved. We may need to make amends. We may need to get some therapy. We may need to meditate and ask for guidance. Basically, if you are trying to live your life with integrity, just by screwing up and then cleaning up your mess, you start to develop greater viveka.
When another person screws up and you get hurt, you have every right to be angry and demand justice. And, you also have an opportunity to develop greater clarity – about who you are, what your values are, what you want to do with your life, who you want to spend time with, what you will tolerate, what you won’t.
This is the process of viyoga that leads to samyoga – the pulling it all apart so you can put it all back together again in a better way.
My partner Brett (who’s a psychotherapist) likes to say that trauma is like a bomb – it scatters pieces everywhere. And after a trauma, we usually need help putting pieces back together.
We’re going through a lot of trauma right now – not just in the yoga world, but everywhere, because of the pandemic and plenty of other geopolitical and socio-economic issues.
There’s been a lot of collective shattering of minds, hearts, and lives. The viyoga (pulling apart) is recognizing it and developing wisdom or viveka as we sift through the rubble. The samyoga (putting together) is the process of integration.
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. – Ernest Hemingway
Fortunately, we don’t have to clean up all the messes alone, we can ask for help when we need it. We can support each other in the process.
Viveka is a lifelong project. It gets stronger through practice, mistakes, therapy, community, talking to people you trust and respect. Don’t give your trust away easily. Folks need to earn it, particularly if they are in a position of power, yoga or otherwise.
And of course, there’s compassion. Patanjali, in Yoga Sutras 1.33 says that when folks are suffering, be compassionate towards them. When you’re suffering be compassionate towards yourself. And develop a sense of distance, a healthy boundary towards folks who are behaving unethically.
Traumatic growth is possible. And I hope that if you’ve been hurt, you are getting some help picking up the pieces, and feeling good about how much you’ve grown. There’s no excuse for the traumas and scandals and people need to be help accountable. And, for the survivors, there is always hope, and always a multitude of ways forward.
Please check out my free ebook, Chakras: Is Everything You’ve Been Taught Wrong? to discover 4 differences between traditional and new interpretations. It’s free.
I’ll be speaking about yoga and trauma recovery at A Renewed Life! Global: Discover Secrets to Heal From Emotional Wounds, Set Boundaries and Move Forward on October 11. Drs. Lisa Barrett and Bernie Siegel are also speaking (which makes me pinch myself a little in disbelief that I was also asked to join).