When Obvious Isn’t Obvious: Abuse in Yoga

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Hi Friends!

I ran across this sign on my first trip to Wyoming, and my first time seeing bison up close.  They’re very, very big.  Big enough that the message is so obvious it’s funny, which is why I took the picture.  But, it’s also obviously here for a reason.  Because obvious isn’t always obvious.

Still, some things seem that way.  Over-the-top obvious.  For example, it’s obvious that tickling bison behind the ears isn’t a good idea.  Although I was tempted.  It’s obvious that jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, also not a good idea.  I come from a Navy family.  And it’s obvious that you don’t support a yoga style led by a sex criminal.  Because obviously, the system and the man are never so different.  The systems these people create both mirror and enable their ability to control and abuse people. 

But, we do support them.  Maybe because they are so good at making us believe we’re not good enough. Try telling a professional athlete to disconnect and manipulate each part of their body into an imaginary idea of correct “alignment” then move into another pose.  It won’t work.  The controlling guru has no power here.  Because this person already knows how to connect with and get around in their body really well.

Find a regular human who hasn’t felt so connected in years, and is looking for a way to get back in harmony with their body and life – now these yoga gurus and their teacher-followers have a real target.  They will tell you “Wow you’re much worse off than you thought.  You’re lucky you got here in time.”

And you’ll think to yourself, Wow I’m much worse off than I thought.  I guess I have to deal with this now.  Even if lots of it makes no sense.  These abusers are good at this, too.  Convincing us to do what makes no sense, because we don’t have the special knowledge required to understand.  And because it leads to an imaginary future, attained only through them.  Of course it’s crazy that we would go along with this.  And it’s crazy so many nice people would teach in the shadow of these leaders.  But we do crazy things sometimes.

Yoga isn’t much different from what’s getting overdue attention now in the entertainment industry, and business in general.  We’re getting louder and clearer in the conversation to end this abuse.  But we need to understand why.  Why does this keep happening.  Why are obvious things not so obvious, for so many of us, so much of the time?

It makes me think of the Hippocratic Oath.  Do No Harm.  It’s something so clear, that doctors shouldn’t harm us.  So the question is, why was this oath even necessary?  If it’s so obvious, how did it even come up?  It doesn’t take much historical digging to see that this isn’t what was going on, when people were going to see healers.  There was a lot of taking advantage, manipulating, controlling, abusing.  A lot of harm.  The oath that’s so obvious wasn’t always so obvious.

There’s something in here, that I think explains why we keep getting in trouble, again and again.  It has something to do with vulnerability, and with hope.  We go to doctors in a time of serious need, a time when we’re vulnerable, a time when we need hope.  Yoga isn’t so different.  So many of us gave it a first try when something real was needed, some help, and hope for better.  And what’s unimaginably crazy becomes imaginably real here.  Because it’s also a time when we can be manipulated and controlled most easily.

Fakers posing as healers gain power over us this way.  Abusers and criminals posing as yoga founders and teachers, entertainment executives and business leaders, all gain power over us this way.

The time when we most need hope for something good, we become most vulnerable to something bad.

Understanding why we keep winding up here, empowering the wrong people, enabling the wrong systems, is important.  Because obvious isn’t always obvious.  We are vulnerable.  We do need something better.  And we can support each other along the way.  We can support each other to empower our selves.

It’s why this conversation is important.  It’s why standing up for each other is important.  And it’s why standing up and saying that’s wrong or that’s right is important.  When there is something clearly right or wrong, clearly helping or harming, it’s important that we are equally clear.  If we aren’t, I’m not sure what that makes us.  Probably it makes us human.  But we can all support each other in moving into a bigger picture, where everything people do counts, everything matters.  And we can stop putting big picture faith in small-picture fictions.

The simple fiction is that we need to keep enabling abusers, because they gave us hope when we were vulnerable.  And the simple truth is, when we stop supporting what’s wrong, we don’t lose hope.  When we stop supporting what’s wrong, it’s the first time our hope becomes real.



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