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).
WEATHER THE STORM:
A SUBTLE® YOGA GUIDE FOR BUILDING RESILIENCE
Cultivating Calm in Times of Crisis – A Subtle® Yoga Tool Kit
Discover how to help your students get through this crisis… by gaining an incredible skill set from the comfort of your home and within a few hours!
Subtle Yoga for Greater Nervous System Resilience and Brain Function
Download my FREE Yoga class video - plus script and stick figure cheat sheet today! Try something different! Help your students focus on their nervous system, not just their hamstrings!
Stay Up To Date!
Sign up for our newsletter.
You have Successfully Subscribed!
We would love to hear from you!
Please wait while comments are loading...
This was a terrific piece.
Thanks for addressing this and expressing compassion for those who have experienced abuse, trauma, gaslighting and betrayal. Since the abuse ‘keeps happening’ I wonder if we can write a list of warning signs for yogis as they consume material from a variety of teachers…. I am shocked Yoga Alliance has no policy to revoke or make a suspension period for violators’ teacher training program or something. Some oversight body feels very complex and like a pipe dream, but we can at least consider educating people about the pitfalls of the yoga industry. Thanks for the scriptural references and guideposts for healing. I would say to anyone, “don’t strongly affiliate with any one teacher, brand, style, studio, business… remain independent and focused on your own practice, business, local yoga community, inner work, family and development of your own unique offerings. Be careful not to be in service to someone else’s business and livelihood. And by all means run; run fast when someone suggests you be in service to the ‘tradition’, ‘lineage’, ‘karma yoga’, ‘seva’ . Save that serving the poor, the vulnerable, the disenfranchised… but not ‘serving’ where others are collecting money and getting paid for their time.
Pulling apart to put it back together… yes. As I move through this I want to consider what sign posts might have served me as a young mom coming into this strange unmonitored industry that makes such an impact on the psyche bound with the physical…. and my and the collective propensity for transference. I hate to see history repeating itself over and over and over using spiritual bypassing and abuse of power. Very complex. Thanks for writing this.
ouch. Yes, Run fast from those who seek to exploit you. I totally agree. Thank you for giving me the nudge to get this message out there. You are an inspiration and I’m sorry for what you endured.
You might like to investigate yonishaktithemovement on Facebook, which does indeed have a list of warning signs for people to look out for.
Also the website https://yonishakti.co/the-movement.
So true Kristine… Viveka is an important feature in yoga… its important to know the true from the untrue …this can only be achieved by tuning your focus inwards and creating awareness on the subtle body and feeling the sensations… Looking forward to learning more on CHAKRAS
Such a wonderful and thoughtful post, Kristine! You highlight the challenges organizations face with scandals, and the critical need for more clarity in the realm of oversight. Since yoga therapy is an emerging profession, some of these lessons of what’s needed in oversight happen in real time. We need to take time to assess what else is needed in oversight, develop policy that is relevant to it and then implement.
Thank you for weighing in Alyssa. I have so much respect for what IAYT is doing. You’re changing the profession for the better.
Thank you Ruby!
Thank you Kristine for this post. 🙂
Thank you, Kristine, your insight and perspective are illuminating, and I love how you wove in the teachings from the Gita and the Yoga Sutra. While I dislike the word “scandal” in general (not objecting to your use of it), I have been one of those affected by one the teachers who “screwed up.”
What I find so helpful in your article is the paradox of my realizing that the same teacher who directed abuse (verbal/emotional) to me in public and hurt me also taught me a great deal of your message. I learned about viyoga, samyoga, viveka…he has a masterful level of the teachings…it is a paradox that the very traditions I learned through him are what empower me now to claim my own power.
I am not making excuses for him. I was traumatized by him. It was many years ago, but his recently being in the news for abuse of power brought back the memory which I had forgotten. Your support is helpful, Kristine. I have an enormous amount of support from many other powerful women who have stepped away this teacher. Through them, the extraordinary teachings of seeing the eternal light within me that knows, and the embodiment of knowing that I have all I need inside me, I am making my way through the grieving process. Yes, I have the shakti and support to move forward, in my own light.
Thank you, Kristine.
Wow Barbra, such a beautiful example! I am so sorry that you went through an abusive time with this person, and I am so inspired that you have moved beyond. Post-traumatic growth in action. What’s even more inspiring is the idea of women supporting each other in that shift and coming into their own power. It reminds me of the Captain Marvel movie where, at the end, when Jude Law’s character is goading Brie Larson’s character and telling her she has to prove to him…then she blows him away and says, “I have nothing to prove to you.” I wanted to get up and cheer for all the women in the world who have come to this realization.
Nice article. How do we find out about the content. I do not have information and do not know what the stories are. Please advise of where to find the info. Thanks.
if you google “Yoga Scandal” or “Yoga Abuse” you will get enough info to keep you up all night. Just in the past couple of years information has emerged about a myriad of teachers. But really the watershed moment was the John Friend scandal back in 2012. Oh and the Amrit Desai scandal at Kripalu in 1994 was another watershed moment – at least in the west.
I at one time followed Depak Chopra. I could not find any scandal on him. Thank you for opening eyes and bringing awareness. I will walk with discernment most diligently and trust my inner awareness with discernment.
I’m assuming that you are aware of his recent scandals Michele?
Thank you for putting this piece out there. I can’t say I have ever felt abused by a yoga instructor, but the power dynamic of teacher-student lends itself to this type of behavior. I’m not sure Yoga Alliance is the place to go to police abusive teachers. It’s like asking the Catholic Church (a larger and wealthier organization) to police its own. In a yoga class you have a choice to not come back. In yoga teacher training you’ve plopped down a pile of $$$ to get training-not abuse- it’s not as likely that you are going to walk away. I’m guessing this is where the abuse is most prevalent . You are dealing with a business. The kind of oversight that would have enforcement with teeth would more likely be a state licensing of yoga teacher training schools . Yoga Alliance can only go so far. If you see something, say something. If this is a common problem, expect to see state licensing in the future. Just saying, “be careful what you wish for…”
I learnt a very valuable lesson during my initial yoga teacher training at an Ashram when the training was suspended due to the “Guru’s” sexual misconduct & abuse of power. It was heartbreaking to see the consequences & grief this caused to his “followers”. From then on I have never felt the need to align myself to one teacher or one style of teaching & it has served me very well. Be your own Guru.
This is a great article. Thank you for the references. And I love your analogy of the Marvel film. I might have to pinch that one.
So yes this is an important issue. i myself have witnessed several teachers / groups of teachers being abused – and have been on the receiving end of an attempt of abuse. It is totally shocking and heartbreaking to feel part of that. The only way I can continue learning yoga, is by having many teachers and keeping my distance. I have on my website a few pdf’s to support others who may have experienced abuse in yoga and how to be vigilant of abuse in yoga https://humancompass.co.uk/abuse-in-yoga/ – Hope this helps others. I also want to add that I do think that younger generation are so much more evolved now on an emotional level than me and my friends ever were. I have real hope that the next generation have much stronger boundaries and are much more aware of the red flags of abuse. Awareness and power are everything. Om Shanti
Thanks Bonnie, that’s a great resource. And it give me hope for humanity to think that the younger generation is more evolved!
I am part of ( 1 of) the traditions that has recently experienced such great disruption.
And appreciate you addressing this…Your points on compassion are beautiful – it is to be directed toward all those who have been hurt and all those that are hurting….
points to a quote by Pema Chodren….”it is not what happens to us…but how we are with what has happened to us”.
What can I do to heal and move forward? How do I work to create positive change and first heal myself so I can help others?
it is a process that will not be resolved today….Practice helps develop the courage, clarity and strength to honestly look at why any situation has triggered me – what still needs to heal? To change?
Ayurveda and Yoga teach us we are a “microcosm of the macrocosm”
The Macrocosm is ONE big mess for sure – we cant help but be affected by all of that.…. There is NOT a single system in our country..the world that is not in turmoil – Yoga, politics, religion, medicine, education, social systems. Right in the middle of Kali Yuga for sure!!!!
Stronger guidelines should ( hopefully) help prevent future occurances – lets work to create that. And the strength of practices such as what you share – to develop internal stability help us all. And that will help us to “be the change…”
Thank you for your wise words Laurie. And I’m so sorry that you have been hurt. Lots of love and compassion to you.
It is very disturbing that these yoga scandals keep happening, and my heart breaks for the victims. All are vulnerable who attend yoga teacher trainings (and classes too) and have such a huge financial and time investment and there is a power differential. I think back when i went to my yoga teacher training, i cant imagine how I wouldve reacted if it happened to me. As a Mental Health therapist we have a licensing board that we report to if there are any complaints against us and we can lose our license to practice. This same thing should be done with yoga so teachers can be held accountable or this will keep happening. thanks for this thoughtful article!
I agree Chris. Thanks. It’s very sad indeed.
Thank you. Thank you for the affirmations, the compassion, for speaking up. Thank you for calling out those that needed it, thank you for being there for all of us. A safe haven. I could go on and on about the abuses. Not only in the yoga world…the bottom line is we all need to be aware of what is around us, speak up and question what we have an inkling of, intuition, hair on the back of our neck, funny gut feeling. Question everything. Not just to be safe, but to learn. Question everything. If you are looking for that warm, safe haven, look inside yourself first, build there, trust your yoga teachings. Don’t rely on someone else for this. Look inside and build!
Thank you for this post. Very helpful perspective!