The musings of an academic geek yogi
My body and spirit have been broken many times in my life. My left arm will forever filled with metal and the sound of a car door slamming still causes my heart rate to elevate. In 2008, I found Iyengar yoga and my life changed completely. However, the last few months my practice has become more solitary; I have not been to an institute or taken a class at my home studio since I listened to a story on NPR about sexual abuse by teachers.
A close friend emailed me the KQED article that exposed a reputable Iyengar yoga teacher as interacting inappropriately with students. My initial reaction to the report was annoyance that a photo caption had mislabeled a pose as adho muhka svanasana (downward dog) that was clearly ardha uttanasana (half intense forward bend). My first emotions were quickly replaced with a sense of profound sadness. I could not divorce my own experiences of trauma from the accusations facing my community, a community filled with people that have been so critical to my own healing. Each social media diatribe dismissing accusers on Iyengar groups has only increased my turmoil.
Educators in society are always in a position of power over their students both in and out of the classroom. The argument could be made that yoga instructors have more agency than most teachers because those that cross the thresholds of a yoga studio as newcomers are vulnerable. People turn to Iyengar yoga because they are sick in their heart, their body or their mind and want to be better; the quest to be better is not undertaken lightly. If anyone abused the sacred trust of a student, they should face severe consequences.
I have felt shame for disengaging from both my yoga practice and this conversation. I am fortunate to say that I have never been victimized as an Iyengar yoga student in a class, workshop or at a convention. However, the barrage of reductive and defensive commentary by fellow yogis online has made me, as a survivor of sexual assault feel marginalized.
It is commendable that IYNAUS has responded to this crisis by being more transparent. That policies are being reformed and the teacher certification process will soon include a conversations of consent. However, as a millennial I cannot reconcile what leadership has communicated from what is happening on social media. To recruit and retain the next generation that will carry on the mantle of Iyengar Yoga virtual spaces cannot be neglected. Deleting conversations with testimonies of those who have felt unsafe is an attempt of erasure of that person, their voice and their suffering. Online discord within the Iyengar Yoga community has caused me to distance myself and consider walking away from my practice and teaching.
I authored this post to help me find my way back to my mat. But I also wrote it because I wanted to say to any fellow yogi survivor that has felt ignored, victimized or afraid, that even if you never unfurl a mat beside me: I believe you.