Edited 7/6/19: As I sit and read this blog over three years after I first wrote it, it gives me great pause.
In recent months, there has been a flood of information about the harmful and abusive “assists” and “adjustments” that Pattabhi Jois gave during 30 years of teaching. These assaults and sexual assaults were packaged in a way that was confusing and enabled by the broader community.
While I was not an ashtanga practitioner, I have been a student of those who are (some whom have studied with Jois). Some of the teachings from this community have shaped what I offer and how I speak about the practice of yoga. I am slowly unpacking these influences and questioning their validity.
I had heard vague, nearly-silent rumors of these accusations years before writing this blog in 2016, but I admit to pushing them aside because they were confusing and uncomfortable for me to process and understand at that time. Because I wasn’t directly involved in the ashtanga community, it was relatively easy to forget about these stories as I took what was convenient and what I liked about this system while avoiding what made me uncomfortable.
I acknowledge that I may have unknowingly and inadvertently been complicit by writing this blog (and probably in what I taught during classes as well). It was not my intent to say that we have to struggle or be in pain during yoga, but I can see how it could have come across this way.
I apologize for ignoring stories and evidence of abuse in the Astanga community. I commit to supporting the victims and listening. I want to do better to create a safe place for all to practice yoga free from abuse.
For more information about the stories of abuse within the Ashtanga community, you may refer to the following resources (Trigger Warning: links contain stories and photos of sexual assault):
If you or someone you know have been sexually assaulted, there are resources available to you through the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (www.rainn.org): 800-656-4673
"Practice and all is coming"
Said by Sri K Pattabhi Jois -- and passed along as if a promise. A promise of what I wonder?
So many of us want this "all" to be good things. And often times it is.
You'll hear this message, this promise, in some forms of yoga. Practice and get stronger. Practice and get more flexibility. Practice and get a better butt. Practice and get bliss. Practice and get that pose. Practice and get what you desire....The list of what you are promised to "get" goes on.
While yoga definitely has the potential to offer us all these possibilities and more, there is no guarantee.
I've found through time and practice that these things are not sent to us in neat little packages. Instead, we get the "all" of practice in a messy, tangle of knots. Knots that it takes much careful time and attention to untangle. Knots that might keep us stuck in a particular pattern for quite some time.
We receive waves of practice. Waves of insight and inspiration so great we think it'll never stop. Waves of discouragement and difficulty so great we consider giving up.
We experience through practice many gifts, but also much heartache, pain, discomfort, etc. In my experience we are learning about the self through experiencing what is in the moment. Through the practice of yoga (practice = all aspects of yoga and mindfulness, not just asana and physical postures) we become aware of: joy & sorrow, pain & pleasure, clarity & delusion, suffering & transcending, peace & turmoil, dark & light. By experiencing these things all mixed up we may come to realize that the world of duality is an illusion, and yet it is an illusion that shapes the "real" world we live in.
Carl Jung refers to this darkness, the parts of our self that we hide, as our shadow self. He says we cannot escape our shadow self just as we cannot escape our physical shadow.
If we come to yoga and try to escape, we may just find our self facing that which we are trying to run away from. The honeymoon phase is over. It is often at this point in our yoga practice that we walk away. It gets too hard.
If we come to yoga and only want to feel good, we will be sorely disappointed. Many aspects of yoga and meditation are VERY uncomfortable. As a new student, when we come to realize this we often stop coming.
In my opinion, it's just when it gets mentally uncomfortable that we are most ready and needing to commit more fully. We are starting to see our shadow and understand its darkness. And yes, it is terrifying.
(edited to add clarification: I am not talking about physical pain, but mental and emotion pain.)
Do I understand this? No. Have I figured it out? No. Can I explain it in words? No.
Have others come before me and tried? Yes. I look to their wisdom and insight to open my own understanding.
What can I offer to you?
I can offer my commitment to stand by you as a teacher and as a student. I can hold space for what may happen while you're on your mat.
I can commit to getting on my mat and working on the knots in my body. I can sit on my cushion and work on the knots in my mind and emotions. I can acknowledge that the knots are particularly plentiful in my relationships and my work off my mat, and it's just as important to untangle them there.
I commit to being a student and seeing my teacher as often as I can. I commit to meeting new teachers and trying new approaches, remembering that there are many ways to practice yoga.
I commit to build a supportive community of teachers that honor practice and acknowledge that they don't have all the answers.
I will remind you of your own inner wisdom and truth.
I honor your perspective as different then mine, and no more or less valid than mine.
I promise to listen to myself and to my breath. And to be gentle with myself when I realize that I haven't been listening.
I promise to listen to you without trying to fix anything for you.
I acknowledge that our path together may be smooth at times and quite rough at others. Our path together may be long, or it may be short.
I know that ALL is not something I can predict or plan for myself, or for you.
I can promise you that ALL comes to us in different ways and different times. And I can promise that you will not be the same tomorrow if you practice today.
So please, practice what supports you and offers you self-knowledge.
p.s. when I speak of practice, it is not limited to asana practice on a mat, but is much more inclusive of the eight-limbs of yoga and mindfulness practices of any tradition.