In light of the heartbreaking and disturbing reports about the sexual abuses of Pattabhi Jois, Jocelyne and I have a few comments that we’d like to make. Up until this point, we have made a conscious decision to engage in the very personal and painful conversation offline, in smaller, safer spaces, with groups and individuals in the yoga community. As we are all struggling to come to terms with the legacy of a man many of us trusted, we made the deliberate decision to engage privately until we better understood our own feelings and the feelings of our community. To that end, we’ve been actively educating ourselves, speaking with trauma and abuse specialists, sexual abuse survivors, and facing hard truths about how men often abuse their positions of power.
The stories that are being reported on the actions of Pattabhi Jois that constitute abuse are indefensible and reprehensible, and we feel for the many women who are struggling to heal from their trauma. We would like to say to these women that though we have not publicly engaged in this issue in a way that some feel have been enough, we have been listening, reading what you have written, and felt the pain that this entire situation has caused.
It is true that the yoga community has been slow to respond to sexual abuse. We have no regulation and no support structures for people to properly report these abuses, and our communities have not been equipped to handle them. It is not just the yoga community that has been slow, it has also been the case with clergy, doctors, therapists, sports, and in schools. The #metoo movement has brought this conversation to the forefront, and if we have the proper guidance and support, the yoga community could also enter into an open and constructive conversation that could lead us towards healing and thriving.
It is up to our community to figure out how to work together on this, which may take a willingness to engage in public dialogue, and so far, that has been challenging. Much of the discussion has occurred on the more often than not inflammatory environment of public social media forums. There is a tremendous amount of anger circulating, but the introduction of sexual abuse as a public conversation is new to us, as it is to many. If we are to engage in honest, critical, and productive communication, then perhaps we need to engage someone or some organization to moderate the conversation, someone who can help us heal. If that is what the community wants, of course.
In the spirit of open, moderated conversations, Spiros and Erica from the LA Yoga Club will be hosting a gathering in December to engage in dialogue. It is one that we wish we could attend, but we were already scheduled to be out of the country before they announced their gathering.
They have invited An Olive Branch, an initiative of the Zen Center of Pittsburgh, who focus on the need for greater understanding about sexual misconduct and reduction of abuses on the part of religious leaders. Their mission is to help communities recognize the trauma caused by sexualized relationships between spiritual leaders and their followers and help promote understanding and healing, as well as reduce the likelihood of future abuses. They will be present to help moderate and oversee community discussion, using the expertise that they have cultivated to facilitate a listening circle – an open conversation that allows each person to say what’s on their mind in a safe, open, receptive environment.
If yoga and yoga related practices are to remain refuges of safety and growth for us and our students, then community gatherings such as this, or restorative justice, could be a helpful addition to a growing dialogue. Self-regulation within organizations often fail, and the situation that we are in now is one such failure.
The abuse of power and trust is a crucial dialogue for our times, but it’s one that needs to be led by people who have had this conversation before. While we are not equipped to lead such a discussion, we are actively listening, learning and growing. We are also happy to speak openly with anyone and answer any questions where we have the skills and tools to answer, perhaps in a community organized meeting as the one mentioned above, with professional support, where we can speak openly about our feelings in a safe space. Although you are free to email Eddie, our experience has been that email and Instagram are not environments that are conducive to dialogue. We are happy to speak by phone or Skype, as Eddie has done on many occasions over the past year, with anyone who would like to speak with us.
In the meantime, let’s have patience for people who are slow to the discussion and welcome them in when they are ready. Grief, healing and processing do not have a timeline—for anyone.
Thank you very much.
Eddie and Jocelyne