Ashtanga Yoga and Historical Sexual Assault
STATEMENT OF ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.
On the 11th November, 2017, Karen Rain (formerly Haberman) publicly disclosed online that she was sexually assaulted over a number of years in the 90’s by Pattahbi Jois, the founder of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga postural method. She was not the only person to experience these assaults. Another practitioner, Anneke Lucas, publicly disclosed in 2010 and was largely ignored. Anneke also wrote an article in 2016 speaking of her experience with Pattabhi Jois. There have been a number of women who have since come forward with their own experiences of abuse. You can read Anneke’s 2016 article and Karen’s 2017 disclosure here:
Please know that the following reading may feel triggering, especially if you have a history of sexual assault. Know you’re not alone. Do seek support from trusted family members, friends or organisations such as Solace Women’s Aid or Rape Crisis, if you are based in London:
Whilst I am not an ‘Authorised’ or ‘Certified’ Ashtanga teacher, I acknowledge that I have benefitted from teaching the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga method over many years, and therefore have a duty to make a statement.
The purpose of this statement is to address a number of points:
- To acknowledge the sexual assaults and to express unequivocal support to the victims.
- To condemn the behaviour of Pattabhi Jois and acknowledge his abuse of power.
- To apologise for my culpability.
- To affirm my own practical response and to reassure practitioners who choose to learn from me, my commitment to supporting them in an environment that values their safety and individual lived experiences.
I have been practising Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga since 2000. I visited Mysore for the first time in 2004 and practised with Sharath, Pattabhi Jois’ grandson. I attended one led-class with Pattahbi Jois in 2005 in London. I visited Mysore for the last time in 2015. Ashtanga still continues to inform my asana practice.
I first read about Anneke’s disclosure in mid-2016. I discussed this in detail with a close unit of friends who are also Ashtanga practitioners. It shook us to the core and we held this in both our discussions and our awareness, unsure how to proceed but calling on this to be acknowledged and discussed openly in the small London shala we practised in. Karen’s disclosure in 2017 confirmed for me that this issue could no longer be ignored. A number of my fellow practitioners formed an alliance to support each other, discuss how we could contribute to bring about change, question and challenge authority figures, grieve, rage.
I am sorry to Anneke for knowing about her disclosure since 2016 and not doing anything about it. One voice should have been enough. I had not heard any rumours prior to 2016 about Pattahbi Jois’ abusive adjustments but I am accountable for my role in knowing about Anneke since 2016, and not doing or saying more. I am sorry to know of Karen’s experience, and the experiences of the women who have come forward.
I believe the victims.
Whilst a large part of my work is devoted to supporting female survivors of sexual violence, I still teach Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga to a public group once a week. I hold in my awareness the opposites and contradictions of these landscapes: the devastating legacy of the postural form that remains a small part of my teaching schedule; the knowing that it has been an informative and supportive practice for the history of my body; and my work with survivors of sexual violence. I am still coming to terms with how I include or exclude the public Ashtanga class in my schedule.
In the meantime, outside of the work with women, I continue to commit to teaching Ashtanga in a way that I hope is inclusive and accessible. I think it’s important to acknowledge that other abuses, besides sexual assault, can manifest in systems (like Ashtanga) that maintain hierarchical structures. Sexual violence is about establishing and maintaining power. I’d like to continue to keep questioning and learning about obvious and subtle power dynamics within these structures. As I have done for some time, I will continue to use the consent cards in my classes so that myself, and the supporting teachers in the room, receive enthusiastic consent from you to give physical assists. I would be interested to hear your view if you wish to contribute. Please email me here.
I apologise if I had ever referred to Pattabhi Jois by the title ‘Guruji’ in the past. I made a personal commitment at the end of 2016 not to practice in the Mysore shala again, and I still strongly hold that view. If you are reading this, and you practice Ashtanga yoga with me (or anyone else for that matter), please know I welcome any questions, comments or discussion.
Sincere thanks to Anneke Lucas and Karen Rain for looking over this acknowledgment statement, and all that you continue to stand up to and champion. Thank you to each of the additional women who have come forward. To the women who continue to come forward, speak your truth, even if your voice shakes. We are listening.