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A Line in the Sand

Equality | Transparency | Empowerment

Sexual and physical abuse in Ashtanga yoga is real and we believe victims and survivors when they say it has happened to them. 

This therefore puts Amayu and the teachers who are part of it, in direct disagreement with those teachers who say they do not believe it or who deny the existence, experience and harm the sexual and physical abuse has caused victims, survivors and the Ashtanga yoga community.

Abuse in the yoga community happens because yoga exists within a societal culture that is patriarchal, misogynistic, racist and homophobic.  It happens because yoga has a culture that elevates teachers over practitioners and focuses on the historical experience of the teacher over the lived experience of the practitioner.  It happens because yoga communities form around the charisma of leaders rather than the welfare of practitioners.

It happens because leaders in our yoga community deny it happens, because leaders silence the voices of those who’s experience is different to theirs, who’s stories make them uncomfortable and because leaders do not want to do the hard personal work to reconcile their past. It happens because most people do not challenge or question their own privilege and because men’s voices are still louder than women’s and men’s opinions carry more weight than women’s.

We are not surprised that abuse happens in yoga, we are deeply saddened but we are not surprised.  Sexual and physical abuse happens in schools, in hospitals, in churches, in film and media, in sports, in care homes for the elderly and disabled, in children’s homes and in our own homes. In the US someone is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds and in the UK 1 in 5 women experiences sexual assault and 1 in 4 experience domestic violence. So why is the ashtanga community surprised that it happens in here?

What angers and frustrates us, are those people within the yoga community who choose to ignore the world they live in, who choose not to educate themselves about the prevalence of abuse, the physical and psychological harm it inflicts and who choose not to question their own bias and privilege.

The uncovering of abuse in so many other professions, has been the catalyst for changes to the law, systems, processes and culture, yoga should be no different.  Amāyu models itself after professions where safeguarding, equality/diversity and whistleblowing are part of the fabric.  We find it difficult to reconcile the complete lack of oversight, accountability, policies and systems in place to stop abuse from happening in the yoga community alongside a culture that allows abuse to continue.

Amāyu is founded on the principle of cooperation. Of ground up cultural change based on equality, transparency and empowerment. The ashtanga yoga community must change.  There is no place for abuse, control, hierarchy or veneration.  It must be a place where practitioners are safe, where everyone’s voice has weight and authority, where practitioners are seen as the experts in their own bodies and where teachers have to be invited into their practice.

Culture doesn’t change when someone at the top decrees it. It changes when individuals change the way they think and act.  It is all of our responsibility so let’s stop waiting for someone else to do it and start now.

Practitioners – question, challenge, expect respect and kindness and if you don’t get it…speak up, share your truth and find another teacher.

Teachers – train, learn, practice.  Train again and listen with your eyes, your ears and every fibre of your being to what practitioners are telling you. Create the systems, policies and processes that keep people safe, be open to challenge, embrace professional supervision.  Never forget that it is the practitioners who come to their mat’s day in, day out who further your career. Not a venerated teacher. It is your responsibility to acknowledge and equalise the unequal power dynamic that exists between a practitioner and teacher, it is a job that is never done.

We are grateful to those survivors who have had the courage to speak out in the face of criticism, denial and verbal abuse. The ashtanga community should be grateful to those who have dared to put their head above the parapet at huge personal and professional cost.  Their voices have and will continue to bring long-overdue change to the systems, practice and culture of ashtanga yoga and Amāyu is committed to being part of that change.

The Amāyu Cooperative

Emma Rowse, Helen Mcabe, Scott Johnson, Jock Orton & Greg Nardi