There are so many ways we are silenced or silence ourselves. Speaking up, sharing ideas, confronting injustices, and challenging passive (micro) aggressions can cause a great deal of discomfort. I nearly put this article away for good, being silenced by the idea “too much time has passed.” (So therefore it’s forgotten and we all have gotten on to other [better?] concerns.)
I haven’t really gotten on, none of us have really. We may forget the past but the past does not forget us. And what happened at Kripalu’s yoga teacher training still resonates through my life and relationships. I could also be silenced because, through other’s lenses, I am now the one with the problem, having not gotten on.
Nearly halfway through the Kripalu teacher training we had a Kripalu teacher, Sam from their RISE program give a talk. RISE is a program they take into institutions and organizations (educational, law enforcement, other work environments) to teach about yoga and “self-care.” In his presentation (which had watermarks of RISE on the power point) he gave a history of yoga. He shared how Bikram Choudhury (Hot yoga) “brought yoga to the US,” and went on to share how the others, that included B.K.S Iyengar, (Light on Yoga book) established yoga. All men. All with histories of sexual and financial misconduct. Sam mentioned something vague about the accusations around Bikram as a side note and moved on.
My body first reacted and shut down the next day. I shared this experience with another yoga teacher outside of Kripalu and she supported my writing them an email testimony.
Later that night I researched and discovered Kripalu’s dark past (not mentioned in the training at that point), and the abuses of the yogis he mentioned, Bikram's abuses being the most known.
I confronted Kripalus’ continued silence and disowning of not only their past (they claim they have moved on because they are no longer an ashram but an educational institution), but they responded to me in a perfidious manner. The speaker (whom I emailed my concern to), never got back to me. The director of the teacher training responded in a community setting where she started the conversation by calling me out. She mentioned “my letter,” and asked me if there was something I wanted to say about this now. Most of the other students hadn’t read or didn’t know anything about my letter, or concerns. Then she went on the defensive for Kripalu and the two teachers from Kripalu (one of them the founder) who were caught in sexual and financial misconduct. She said this was a community conversation but there wasn’t enough pause or time given for anyone to respond or speak up. Both of my teacher-trainers were silent. Afterward a dozen students reached out to me but most chose to focus on their teacher trainings. I had one follow-up conversation with the director, wherein I discovered more of the legacy of silence and why the two teachers were not reaching out to me, at least in the open.
As a therapist of forty years, working with a plethora of pain stories and trauma histories, I know with certainty that abuses become traumatic more by the response of the family, community, and first responders (if there is even a response) than from the trauma itself. We can live and thrive through horrific circumstances and violations when we are seen, heard, and tended to initially. When we keep our past transgressions as part of the community conversation, and in this case, part of the traning. Child abuse continues mostly due to continued institutionalized silence and forgetfulness. Afterall, we are all supposed to just get on with our lives. Continued silence and control of the narrative at Kripalu guarantees that more abuses, more microaggressions, and misconduct will occur.
Here is all they had to do:
The presenter of the RISE program could have reached out to me and owned up to his mistake, then agreed to represent the history of yoga and yoga teachers in a more ethical, true, complete manner. In fact, this simple outreach and restorative response is all I or any future Kripalu student would need.
Both teachers bear some responsibility to break the silence, even if it meant they might lose their job. (When a student in one of my circles or gatherings shares that something disturbs them, I follow up. I own up to what I can do to invite and engage safer, more courageous space.)
Reach out to me and ask me what kind of community conversation I would like to have. (One teacher did reach out to me, but said they too felt silenced in that environment.)
Finally, change their curriculum. Yoga’s dark history, the cycle of abuse, silence and the harm of dogma and power should be part of the 200 certificate training of yoga. Challenging the silence and the dangers must be a strong presence within the teacher training. One of the questions and expirations within yoga teacher training must include what led so many past and present yoga teachers/leaders to abuse their students? Does holding Ivengar’s, Kripalu's or other teacher's teachings as a resource in any way encourage continued silence and cultism? Or abuse?
That’s it. Their response collectively and individually was instead either institutionalized microaggressions or institutionalized silence while continuing to support a false narrative of yoga’s history, especially when it came to yoga teachers. (Remember this was a yoga teacher training.)
In ways I have gotten on. My yoga practice is a small quiet time alone at home in the mornings, accompanied by my meditation and writing practices. I have resources, a community of friends and teachers who show up with integrity and skillful means.
What you can do:
Trust your experience and when you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, trust this! If you feel crazy or disturbed, it means something crazy and disturbing is going on. Listen to your experiences.
Know your teachers and organizations. Don’t be swept up (and away) by the rebranding or new paint job. Do your research. (I had not researched Kripalu enough. I likely would not have taken the training had I done more investigation of their history beforehand.)
As an independent thinker question the ultimate validity of the attainment of those in whom these discrepancies have become painfully obvious.
Remember that teachers play a small, ephemeral part of your spiritual or metaphysical experience. They provide the bells and whistles, you and your Higher Power (spiritual allies) provide the spiritual experience.
Don’t invest big money. And don’t follow teachers with a huge following. His Holiness the Dalai Lama for example doesn’t have a “following.” And most of his teachings are free or offered through various educational settings for a reasonable fee. Be aware of the sunk-cost fallacy, which means that the higher the buy-in, in terms of money and attention, the less likely one is to see a thing independently of one’s investment. (Once we invested ourselves, it’s hard to see the truth and let go).
Understand microaggressions, how and where they come up and what they sound like.
Understand and explore your own hidden aggressions toward yourself and others.
Break silent agreements. Be a whistle blower. Question authority and speak up.
Live your life as best you can from your side, meeting others halfway. Be an example of how a person of integrity responds to institutionalized aggressions and dogma. In all settings claim your role as a conscious leader. More on this in my recent book (based on conversations with Parker J Palmer): The Clue of the Red Thread.
Resources to help continue an authentic community conversation:
“Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” –Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life. Check out: The Center for Courage and Renewal for practices (and people to practice with), in discovering renewed clarity, commitment, and courage to act with integrity on what matters most to you and your worthy cause.
Yogi Amrit Desai, Founder of Kripalu Desai is still active in the yoga community.
For resources and more information on the history of abuses in the yoga culture: HERE
A well rounded, albeit disturbing account of abuse by past yoga teachers: Yoga reconsiders the role of the guru in the age of metoo. “I was far more hurt by the culture of silence and ignoring the victim and victim-blaming than the abuse itself,” she told me. “If there would’ve been support from the community, and it had been dealt with, it would have gone away.”
"This narrative about yoga’s ancient roots has become a sacrament for Hindu nationalists, and it is echoed in the West. But it is mostly myth, an idealized origin story of the kind so many would-be nation-builders, from ancient Rome to the Zionists, have fostered about themselves." – taken from, "The Billionaire Yogi Behind Modi’s Rise", by Robert F. Worth, 2018. The New York Times Magazine
An article and resource from the Christian faith on breaking through the walls of silence. "A culture that silences its members from speaking with each other about suspected abuse is one where abuse will almost always flourish."