I’m inspired by New York Time’s reporter Katie Rosman’s recent work, covering widespread manipulation and abuse by yoga gurus and their teacher-followers. So I want to keep this conversation going with you all, and I think we should keep it going together as long as it takes.
It’s important to understand something here, something I’ve heard Tara articulate so clearly for more than a decade now. This isn’t just about handing out green and red cards that say please touch me or not. That’s a small picture window into a big picture problem.
The big picture is a culture of manipulation and control, that has woven its way strongly into most major forms of yoga – just as it has woven it’s way into so much of the entertainment industry and business in general. It’s a human problem.
When you convince people they aren’t good enough, in so many ways, it’s the beginning of manipulation, control, and abuse. For example, by cleverly pushing people to follow imaginary rules of “alignment” and manipulate one disconnected part of your body at a time into a made-up idea of “correct” – you can quickly convince people that they are much worse off than they ever knew, because wow, suddenly they can’t even do the simplest of things!
Combine this with the reality that when so many of us first approached yoga, we were vulnerable, needed some help, and we had hope. Which made the unimaginable imaginable. So many people who need protection at this time, are so vulnerable to gurus and systems of abuse.
And here in yoga the abuse isn’t isolated, it’s systemic. It’s written into the teachings and trainings, how to capture us when we are most vulnerable, convince us that we need more help than we ever imagined, that we must suppress all logic and reason, and believe we need to go through the teacher to get what we need so badly. And at the same time, they’re also very good at telling us we are specially chosen and very lucky to be in this position. It helps keep us hooked.
And it’s systemic for many reasons. One is we’d never fall for this nonsense if it weren’t for vulnerability and hope. We’re human. The other is for many of us, it’s hard to even know when we’re part of the system. There are so many nice yoga teachers who lead “alignment-based” yoga, astanga, anusara, power, vinyasa. All systems well-designed to immobilize and control people with false rules – rules that would never fly with a professional athlete, or someone who has already a good connection and sense of how to harmoniously get around in their body.
But for most of us, these systems capture us easily because we’re human. And as humans, we came to yoga because it’s probably been years or decades since we felt a good connection like this, and we’re hoping for something better. The time when we are most needing something good, we’re most vulnerable to something bad.
Which brings me back to red cards, green cards, and the truth about touch. if you are part of a system that works by disconnecting people from being in charge of their own body, immobilizing them one part at at a time with imaginary alignment rules, manipulating and controlling them with a feeling of “I can’t but the teacher can” – even if you’re a nice person – then the touch will be disconnecting, immobilizing, manipulating, and controlling. If you’re a nice person it’s not sexual abuse. But it shares the same continuum. Because that’s the system. It’s the system that needs the red card.
Some of you reading this now are teachers. Which means some of you shared this same thought, right around now. “But I do know this student’s body better than they do, and I am in charge. I’m the teacher. That’s why they came to me.” Which means you come from one of these systems. Most of us do. I know this because I’ve been there. I learned under the same systems as you, ashtanga, anusara, alignment-based vinyasa. All places where touch is given by a teacher who knows better than the student. Things don’t go well from here.
There’s a better place. One where touch relaxes, connects, and supports another human being to feel what’s going on in them, and make their own decisions on where they should go next. This is a very different kind of touch, that exists in a very different kind of system.
So teachers, we have a choice. We know how to take a deep breath, and notice that our position isn’t fixed, it’s movable. And from here, we can change our position. When the system is wrong in the big picture it creates, even if some things are nice, we can change. Give it the red card. And become part of a better solution.
I think it’s important to see all this. And from here, it’s important for good people to stand up and say something is wrong when they see something is wrong. Stop supporting it. Recognize that the big picture matters. Everything people do, everything a system does to people, it all counts.
So we can do something different. Support each other to end abuse where it exists. And create something much much better. Because we can.
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