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Yoga, Scandals, Personal Responsibility, and Collective Growth

The yoga community’s weathered some difficult storms in recent years. Many dedicated practitioners have been hit hard by the fallout, some devastatingly so. Others, of course, have sailed through more or less unscathed. Regardless of how well your personal life and practice have fared, however, there’s much to be gained from taking some time to reflect on what’s been happening, and what may or may not have been learned as a result.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a recap of some recent yoga headline news. This past spring, three women filed lawsuits against Bikram Chourdhury, accusing him of rape, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Last fall, five women filed a police complaint charging Kausthub Desikachar, the grandson of Sri T. Krishnamacharya himself, with sexual, mental and emotional abuse. Earlier that year, a fed-up employee launched a lurid website accusing his boss, Anusara Yoga founder John Friend, of sexual abuse, financial duplicity, and employee endangerment.

In addition to the guru scandals, a series of controversies have revealed some serious rifts in a community that likes to proclaim “We’re All One.” There have been heated and at times nasty arguments over whether yoga can indeed “wreck your body,” the cultural effects of yoga commercialism, the legitimacy of selling “yoga for weight loss,” the acceptability of injecting yoga into the political arena, and more.

I think it’s safe to say that this onslaught of scandals and controversies has produced some big waves of emotional reaction. Which is understandable. Particularly for people who have been hurt by the actions of a disgraced teacher or fallen guru, it’s entirely appropriate and even healthy to feel angry, betrayed, grief-stricken, and more. And even for those not so immediately involved, it’s normal to have difficult feelings come up when a practice you love becomes embroiled in scandal and controversy.

I wonder, however, whether we in the yoga community have been holding sufficient space for each other to safely process such feelings. I could be wrong, but it seems like the most common reaction to the waves of difficulty that have crashed through the yoga world of late has been to try to separate and disassociate from them. If that’s true, it’s a big problem, because it means that we’re squandering what could be a valuable opportunity to transform our selves and our community in positive and empowering ways.

Yoga teachers and other leaders in the field have a particularly important role to play in this regard. In times of rapid upheaval and flux, your actions are more likely to generate significant ripple effects, touching the lives of not only your students, but also others you might never personally know. As such, this time offers a valuable opportunity to leverage your own learning and growth in ways that support the larger community – and, in so doing, make a meaningful contribution to the evolution of modern yoga.


“Don’t Give Your Power Away”

If we’re to make the most of this time, however, we need to reflect on how well we’ve responded to the controversies and crises that have broken to date. Of course, this is going to vary enormously from individual to individual. On a collective level, however, I believe there’s reason for concern.

Most notably, the two most common responses I’ve heard to the guru scandals have been to attack the perpetrators as scumbags and/or observe that those negatively impacted “shouldn’t have given their power away.” As partial or temporary reactions, these aren’t necessarily bad. There’s a problem, however, if and when they become overly one-sided and sustained. Why? Because when that happens, you’re splitting what’s really a widespread pattern of problematic interpersonal relationships into two disconnected halves: bad leaders or hapless followers.

This way of framing what’s at stake focuses attention on the actions of isolated individuals, rather than patterns of human connection in relationships, organizations, and society. Such a one-sided and unbalanced perspective not only distorts our understanding of what’s been happening, but blocks forward movement toward healing, connection, and growth.

Saying that someone else “shouldn’t give her power away” implicitly confers blame and presumes superiority. Logically, there’s an underlying assumption that each of us can and should control the powerful psychological (or, if you prefer, karmic) forces driving our attraction (or aversion) to others. There’s also an unstated accusation that if you can’t consistently do this, then there must be something quite wrong with you – something that, it’s implied, the person telling others “not to give their power away” doesn’t share.

Such a dynamic not only creates emotional separation, but runs the risk of generating feelings of defensiveness and shame on the part of those accused of “giving their power away,” and self-righteousness and grandiosity on the part of those making the accusation. As such, it perversely reinforces the problem of negative interpersonal relationships that it’s supposedly trying to stop.


Reality Check

What the “don’t give your power away” paradigm fails to recognize is that it’s entirely normal to be driven toward (or away) from particular people by powerful unconscious forces. Emotional patterning based on the relationships we experienced in early childhood is deeply imprinted into our psyches, quite literally encoded in our nervous systems. Of course, some of us are more sensitively wired than others. But no one is immune to the power of early conditioning.

This is why good psychotherapists (and yoga teachers) create safe environments in which clients can allow their unconscious reactions to being in a therapeutic relationship come up and be constructively worked through. Eventually, old wounds inflicted by insufficiently supportive and loving relationships can be healed through caring, insightful, and compassionate ones. Typically, however, such processes take years of work, and are often never fully completed.

Of course, therapy is not the only way to work out relational issues. Many other practices can help, including yoga, self-study, and, of course, investing time and energy in supportive friendships, partnerships, and family connections. The therapeutic model is extremely useful, however, in that it offers an excellent framework for understanding why human relationships are both so difficult, and so important.


Yoga, Community, and Culture

Bearing this psychological perspective in mind, it’s helpful to consider the scandals and controversies that have plagued the yoga community lately in light of the following facts:

  1. Millions of people in in our society today find it difficult to form supportive, loving relationships, and join nourishing, healthy communities. The unprecedentedly rapid rate of change in modern society has generated widespread social disconnection, which in turn causes substantial confusion and suffering.
  2. Given this situation, charismatic leaders promising easy answers and instant community can be highly seductive to millions. The same is true of many products and pre-packaged experiences, which are aggressively marketed with the implicit promise that consuming them will provide meaning and fulfillment.
  3. No matter how wonderful yoga may be, as a socially embedded practice it will inevitably become enmeshed in the larger culture of which it’s a part. And when you consider the traditional mystique of the guru-disciple relationship, as well as the contemporary tendency to market yoga as a magical cure-all, the potential for problems of poor leadership and cultural confusion in the yoga community is quite evident.

Putting the recent profusion of yoga scandals and controversies into this sort of socio-cultural context enables us to understand them in a more positive light. Rather than viewing them as shameful failures, we can see them as not-so-surprising developments in a community that’s struggling to find its way through some very challenging social conditions. Even more positively, having these formerly hidden problems burst into public view can be seen as a positive corrective to a yoga culture that was becoming increasingly blinded to the negative consequences of its own hype and mystique.


Personal Responsibility?

In the hyper-individualistic context of American culture, psychologically- and sociologically-informed perspectives on social issues such as the one I’m presenting here are often met with skepticism, if not hostility and derision. Specifically, saying that individuals are profoundly influenced by their own unconscious minds and social position is commonly attacked as a rationale for evading “personal responsibility.” Grown-ups are responsible for their own actions, it’s argued. No excuses or qualifications allowed!

The “don’t give your power away” argument is simply a “yogic” version of this familiar line. If you’re messed up enough to fall for an abusive guru, it’s implied, then that’s your own damn fault! A parallel logic pops up in controversies over yoga injuries and hyper-commercialism. If you choose to study with unqualified teachers who might cause injury, that’s your problem! If you’re troubled by seductive ads that commodify the “yoga body,” that’s your weakness! and so forth and so on.

From my perspective, the vision of “personal responsibility” conjured up by such rhetoric is empty and fake. What’s responsible about condemning people without making any serious attempt to understand them? What’s responsible about implicitly bragging that you’ve above any equivalent issues? Such aggressively simplistic responses to complex problems are really defensive moves designed to protect oneself from the threat of opening up to frightening feelings of disorientation and discomfort.

This is the opposite of compassion. Healing and growth occur when we see our selves as connected with others, not walled off and fortified against their experiences. If the yoga community wants to grow in response to the wave of recent scandals and controversies that’s swept over us, then we must learn to swim with the new currents they’ve created in more promising directions. The best way to do this is to experience this time as a new opportunity to learn from and connect with one another.


Sharing That Silver Lining

While I don’t necessarily think that “every cloud has a silver lining,” I do believe that we have the capacity to create positive meaning out of even the most heart-breaking disasters. I’ve also found that yoga can be an incredibly useful tool in this regard. Traditionally understood as an alchemical practice, yoga can help us transform the pain and difficulty we’ll inevitably encounter in life into opportunities for learning, transformation, and growth.

Given the recent storms that have blasted through the yoga community, this is a particularly opportune moment to find some silver linings. In this article, I’ve argued that perhaps the most promising way to do this is by improving the quality of our interpersonal relationships. In my view, this requires shifting our focus away from the real or imagined faults of isolated individuals, and toward how we connect and communicate with one another, both within the yoga community and beyond.

In future articles, I hope to propose some more concrete steps the yoga community could take to create conditions that better support healthy interpersonal relationships. First, however, I’d like to hear your thoughts. What do you see as the central cause of the scandals and controversies that have ripped through the yoga community of late? How well do you think the community has responded? Do you agree that this is an important time of potential growth? If so, what if anything do you believe should be done to facilitate this process?

Some big bubbles have burst and some strong silences have been broken. While I don’t want to minimize the pain of that process, I do want to recognize and maybe even celebrate the fact that it’s opened up some vital new space for creative exploration and growth. My hope is that the yoga community will step into that space committed to creating newly compassionate connections, both to our selves and others. If we do so, I feel confident that our path forward, while uncertain, will most certainly be illuminated by newfound promise, brightness and grace.


CH photo

Carol Horton, Ph.D., is the author of Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body, and co-editor of 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice. She holds a doctorate in Political Science from the University of Chicago, served on the faculty at Macalester College, and has extensive experience as a research consultant specializing in issues affecting low-income children and families. A Certified Forrest Yoga teacher, Carol teaches yoga to women in the Cook County Jail with Yoga for Recovery, and at Chaturanga Holistic Fitness in Chicago.

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  • West Anson

    Well spoken Carol. Part of the evolution and maturation process is self-examination and self-efficacy. Both of which the individual Yoga Practicioners and the Yoga Community, as a whole, often refuses to do but must come to grips with. Life is not all “unicorns, unconditional love, and positivity”. In order to grow we must deal with “reality, discernment, and integrity”. I often use Chakra Theory when explaining this to my students. We want a free-flowing Chakra, not one which is wide-open or closed-shut. In life we can have dreams but they must be tempered with reality. Love is fine but it must be checked with discernment. Positivity in life is “positive” but without integrity it becomes vacuous.

    • Carol Horton

      Thanks, West. You point to important imbalances in contemporary yoga culture that need to be addressed. I think that’s one of the potential silver linings to the recent teacher abuse scandals – it may leverage more of us into a place where we really see the value of “reality, discernment, and integrity.”

  • Ann

    Check out:


    TELL therapy Exploitation Link Line…

    • Carol Horton

      Hi Ann: Thanks for the resources. I had seen the International Yoga Alliance for Ethics website before, and actually posted a link to it on my Facebook Page. As I remember, that generated some concern about the fact that it’s an anonymous website – there are no identifiable individuals connected with it. This seems odd – do you have any insight into why it’s the case?

      As for the therapy abuse, I hadn’t seen that one before, but of course, it’s a sad truism that abuse occurs in all sectors of society: religion, therapy, yoga, politics, the family, intimate relationships . . . you name it. That said, I feel very strongly that the yoga community would benefit from learning more about the psychology of relationships, as there’s many extremely useful ideas and resources to draw from in that tradition.

  • lshark

    “Such aggressively simplistic responses to complex problems are really defensive moves designed to protect oneself from the threat of opening up to frightening feelings of disorientation and discomfort.” I think you hit the nail on the head with this sentence. The bottom line is that in order to be open to differing perspectives, and compassionate to all the players in the various scandals and debates, we must, we must, we must, learn to sit with and accept our own discomfort. To me, that is a cornerstone of yogic practice. And it is hard. Really hard, sometimes. And I doubt any of us will ever master it. But I can’t imagine that there is any other way to heal or grow, either personally or collectively, as a community. Thanks so much for your brilliant writing!

    • Carol Horton

      Hi Ishark: Thanks for reading! From what I’ve experienced myself and observed in others, this topic commonly brings up a lot of discomfort. That’s not surprising, as it strikes deep into so much that’s so important: our relationships, practices, choice of teachers, vulnerabilities, personal histories . . . particularly for those who have really committed themselves to a serious yoga practice, it can be really dicey ground to navigate.

      That said, it’s my hope that openly acknowledging the fact the discomfort arises, and that this is normal, will make it easier for people to open up and work through what’s triggering those feelings for them. Generally speaking, I think, the deepest growth occurs when we’re able to process what’s underneath feelings that initially make us want to defensively shut down and keep those troubling issues boxed up away from our conscious minds.

      I’d like to explore what sort of community and culture could best support individuals in this sort of process – particularly as I don’t feel that it’s so common at the moment. Of course, there are always exceptions . . . but by and large, I’m not seeing evidence of it.

      • lshark

        Hi, Carol, it’s interesting that you bring up the rarity of community/cultural support for doing the inner work around our own discomfort. I am fairly new to yoga (< 4 years) and I was very fortunate in that I happened into a yoga community that is very supportive of shadow work, including examination of discomfort. For a very long time, I thought that the entire yoga world worked that way. It was quite an eye-opener when I finally "got" what some of the more seasoned yogis were talking about when they referred to the kinds of issues you discuss in this article; for a long time I wrongly assumed that their concerns were overly-emphatic, applying only to exceptions to the rule. As I've ventured out of the womb of my immediate community, I've gotten a better view of how, in the end, the yoga community really is a fairly representative microcosm of the Western spiritual/religious world. So I'm really grateful for writers like yourself (and all the writers who contributed to "21st Century Yoga") who both point out the scary stuff and share visions about how it can get better. Based on my initial exposure, I am confident (maybe over-confident – I don't know for sure) that there is a significant movement in the direction that you are suggesting in this article, and I hope it is gaining momentum! Thanks so much for being a significant contributor to the dialog!

        • Carol Horton

          Great to hear that you found such a supportive community so easily! They are certainly out there, which is wonderful. But, by and large . . . I have my doubts.

          At any rate, if you have thoughts on what makes your community work as well as it does – lessons learned that could perhaps be generalized to other settings – please feel free to share!

          • lshark

            Hi, Carol, yes, I feel very fortunate, especially after learning how rare my community actually is. Regarding what makes it work, I believe that leadership is critically important. In the yoga world, that means that it is primarily teachers who will set the tone of the community and instigate formation and/or change of cultural attitudes. So my thoughts on your question are centered around ideas/attitudes that all (or most) of my favorite teachers share.

            My favorite teachers (in no particular order of importance):

            1.) are very collaborative – they tend to work together on projects, and overtly honor (i.e., model to students) that they may have differences, rather than trying to adhere to some sort of pre-arranged dogmatic presentation. (E.g., the teacher training I am currently taking is led by two amazing teachers – Hala Khouri and Julian Walker – who have both a lot of similarities and also some distinct differences in teaching style and philosophy). This, in my mind, is critical; it models to students a perspective that values open dialog and interchange of ideas over strict adherence to a particular teacher’s interpretation of ancient scripture. It implicitly places responsibility on the student for actively thinking about what they believe, rather than blindly following an admired teacher.

            2.) encourage a reality-based, embodied practice that has as its purpose a fuller engagement with, rather than an attempt to transcend, daily life. This necessitates self-awareness practices, personal shadow work, acceptance of reality as it is right now, and a willingness to be curious about, and open to, unpleasant feelings. It also requires an ability to hold two seemingly opposing viewpoints or feelings at the same time and acknowledge the reality of both.

            3.) are committed, to varying degrees, to seva, social justice and supporting others in developing personal empowerment; they see yoga practice as a method of transforming oneself in a way that is not just beneficial for the practitioner, but also prompts the practitioner to be more aware of interdependence and the need for proactive attention to larger-than-self issues.

            4.) language their teaching in a way that never seeks to promote their own ideas at the expense of their students’ own truths/realities. They encourage their students to think critically and to not give their power away to any teacher.

            5.) are able to embrace both empirical/scientific ideals and spiritual/subjective experience as components of a well-rounded yogic perspective.

            6.) consider yoga to be a living practice that cross-pollinates with the time and place in which it is practiced.

            So none of this directly addresses “lessons learned,” but I hope it speaks to your question in the sense that the qualities/perspectives I listed here help to create a culture in which everyone is encouraged to think critically and develop a habit of seeing issues from a larger-than-self perspective, and can feel relatively safe voicing dissension because there is a reasonable expectation that others will at least attempt to be open to and consider opposing viewpoints.

            I do have a “real life” example of how this teaching has helped me: I was very angry and felt quite demoralized by the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act. The next day, the Supreme Court ruled on Prop 8/DOMA, and I was ecstatically happy that my marriage is now indisputably legal at both the state (CA) and federal level. I had to do some work to reconcile two very different emotions that I was experiencing at the same time. I saw quite a lot of posts online on Wednesday that either dismissed same-gender marriage equality as unimportant, or that completely disregarded the Voter Rights ruling and celebrated the Prop 8/DOMA ruling. It took me a while to get past my frustration at how almost-universal it appeared to be that people felt a need to dismiss/ignore/minimalize one or the other of the decisions, and react only to one. But then I thought about how hard it actually has been for me to learn to be able to hold two opposing realities at one time and acknowledge the realness of both of them, and it gave me some insights as to one of the reasons why it is so easy for us as humans to polarize our awareness and opinions. Hope this makes sense.

          • Carol Horton

            Great analysis, thanks so much. It’s interesting that you’re studying with Julian and Hala; I did their Urban Yogi training at Esalen and it was great. I suppose that you know that Sarit Rogers, who shot the cover photos for both of my recent books, is in that training as well?? Small world . . . please say “hi” to all for me! 🙂

          • lshark

            Oh, yes, I love Sarit – I did not know her before the training. She is a wonderful photographer, and wonderful human, too! I will say hi to them!

  • Carol Horton

    I’m reposting the following dialog on this post from Matthew Remski’s Facebook page for those who may be interested, with permission.

    Michael Stone: If I wasn’t either on the road or changing diapers right now (both of which I did today) I’d add to this article the many, many excellent teacher-student relationships I’ve encountered over the years, and the profound impact of intimate one-on-one learning that also takes place in this vast land of yoga. Hopefully the topic of genuine mentorship will also be included in future renditions of this theme but it seems those stories are becoming few and far between. Unfortunate.

    Matthew Remski: We really do need those stories as well, Michael. I know that you, Jody Greene, Angela Jamison, and many others speak eloquently to this theme: I’m sure we’ll keep learning together.

    Carol Horton: I think that it would be helpful to unpack what goes into structuring such positive teacher-student relationships, if it’s anything beyond purely idiosyncratic personal factors. I’m not sure why simply celebrating the fact that positive relationships exist would help those who haven’t experienced them.

    Angela Jamison: Shall we also analyze what makes an effective/ acceptable/ safe/ politically correct romance? No awesome relationship is safe for the ego. And trust is an act of will. The only “structure” to be found in any of this is the MUTUALITY of the surrender in an effective student-teacher dynamic. That sort of dedicated relationship is not scarce. Or creepy. Or bad. Or wrong. Despite the efforts to repress these energies, they are expressing all over the place in modern yoga. It’s healthy, honest, and based in the heart. Just relax.

    Matthew Remski: Carol, I think it will be difficult to get much longitude in that unpacking, because the experiences are almost defined by their privacy, but I do know that fellow 21st Century Yoga contributors Nathan G. Thompson and Michael Stone have lots to say about how many contemporary Buddhist communities have learned to mediate teacher-student dynamics through strong Boards of Directors.

    Carol Horton: Yes, I think those would be helpful examples to lay out. I am not hostile to the relationships that Angela describes. But, that’s not my subject in this post. Also, having not experienced them myself (at least in the context of the student/teacher relationship in yoga), not feeling driven to find one, and not seeing evidence of them being everywhere as she does, I’m not the person to write about it. I’m happy to hear others’ experiences if they care to share, however.

    Angela Jamison: Ok. F.N., Roshi Joan Halifax’s insights on the move from pedestalization to normalization.

    Susan Albrough: Has anyone read some of Ken Wilber’s work on Integral Theory and Practice. He addresses issues like this (amongst many many others). Ken and some other of his contemporaries suggest that “shadow work” be incorporated in spiritual life practices. Problems that embroil eastern traditional practices could be mitigated by this western contribution of psychoanalysis.

    Matthew Remsk:i I’ve hesitated to wade into Wilbur because his own shadow of outrageous blunders is long and dark. His praise of Adi Da (later withdrawn) and Andrew Cohen vote him off my island. Do you think he’s worth the effort, Susan, regardless?

    Angela Jamison: Great reference. Whenever the topic of bad teachers comes up, I wish I could reference the topic of contemporary shadow work. But it feels like I’m the only one who cares. Wilber can be an apologist for “rude boys” (e.g. Andrew Cohen) and “crazy wisdom” (the Tibetans), but the work on integrating the shadow is extremely challenging and awesome.

    Jody Greene: crazy wisdom doesn’t require an apologist; just a responsible teacher.

    Matthew Remski: but can it survive a strong Board of Directors?

    Michael Stone: Just to share section 4 of the code of ethics we use here at Centre of Gravity:

    4) We undertake the precept of refraining from sexual misconduct. We agree to avoid creating harm through sexuality and to avoid sexual exploitation or relationships. Teachers with vows of celibacy will live according to their vows. Teachers in committed relationships will honor their vows. All teachers agree not to use their teaching role to exploit their authority and position in order to assume a sexual relationship with a student.

    Because several single teachers have developed partnerships and marriages with former students, we acknowledge that such a healthy relationship can be possible, but that great care and sensitivity are needed. We agree that in this case the following guidelines are crucial.

    a) A sexual relationship is never appropriate between teachers and students.

    b) During retreats or formal teaching, any intimation of future student-teacher romantic or sexual relationship is inappropriate.

    c) If interest in a genuine and committed relationship develops over time between a teacher and a student, the student-teacher relationship must clearly and consciously have ended before any further development toward a romantic relationship. Such a relationship must be approached with restraint and sensitivity – in no case should it occur immediately after retreat. A minimum time period of three months or longer from the last formal teaching between them, and a clear understanding from both parties that the student-teacher relationship has ended must be coupled with a conscious commitment to enter into a relationship that brings no harm to either party.

    d) If there is concern about a teacher’s misuse of sex, it can be confidentially brought to the attention of the Board of Directors (each name is listed on the website).

    Angela Jamison: Yes, excellent. I ask apprentices to read the journalistic book called “Sex and the Spiritual Teacher”. For the extreme cases, the waiting period you use is discussed there.

    Susan Albrough: Matthew, clearly you have had your eye on Wilber longer than myself whom only fairly recently discovered some of his work. However, regardless of blunders, I do believe shadow work is relevent. Intellectuals, like yourself, seem to like to joust with each other and I find that very educating. However, I am not one to takes sides readily. Even the Devil has something important to teach us!

    Angela Jamison: FWIW, Michael Stone, here’s as much as I’m willing to say publicly about our apprenticeship program. Carol Horton and Matthew Remski know that the program’s intensity is the reason I haven’t had much energy for writing lately. Training apprentices is has helped me *begin* to appreciate the level of surrender my own teachers had to undertake to transmit to me.

    Matthew Remski: Not just relevant, Susan: essential! I just like to get my shadow analyses from those who are actually doing their own, or at least trying.

    Susan Albrough: I don’t believe that we need to have others give us shadow analyses. Strong repulsions and attractions suggest the presence of the shadow. Just as we can reclaim our physical body in yoga practice, so can we reclaim aspects of our personal self by examination of our highly charged repulsions and attractions. Until this reclamation takes place in ourselves and in our teachers, there will always be abuses occuring. As far as I know, eastern spiritual
    traditions have been lacking in this form personal inquiry. Matthew, I can’t help but sense a strong replusion towards Wilber coming from you! Please don’t hate me for the little jab; I am very timid face to face!

    Matthew Remski: That’s a little too subjectivist for me, Susan! Wilber advocating for Andrew Cohen or Marc Gafni or any such charismatic has material effects on many people’s lives: families, finances, health care choices and marriages change with such endorsements. It’s a distinct irony of the postmodern condition that smart people can ride the shadow horse all the way to the bank. I try the best I can to take account of where my critique is coming from, and day by day I learn how deeply personal and subconscious the journey is. But it is also, as consciously as it can be, a moral, political, and cultural journey.

    That some traditions are behind in this discourse speaks to epistemic gaps and the vestiges of pre-intersubjective philosophies.

    Susan Albrough: As much as I am aware of my true self, equally I perceive you as you truely are. I have a long road to travel! Thank you for this discourse. Namaste!

    Michael Stone: Here is a description form the Buddhist Teachers Metting we had 2 weeks ago. Could this ever happen in the yoga community? This section: “Gone are the days of the culty and isolated rockstar dharma teacher beyond question — or at least the Gathering’s participants hope them to be gone. Those who would assert that they or their lineage alone hold the sole keys to the Buddha’s truth would have been very out of place in the midst of those of us who gathered at Deer Park Monastery for our sessions of conversation and interaction.

    Agreement on every point was certainly not a requirement, but treating each other with respect and integrity in the midst of deep and at times difficult listening and speaking was. And it happened in spades, over and over again, as the days of retreat unfolded.”

    Matthew Remski: Well that’s our challenge, isn’t it? Very well done.

    Carol Horton: Thanks so much for sharing this, Michael; this is exactly the sort of resource and example that I believe could be really useful in the yoga community (hopefully . . . ). As I wrote in my post, I think that the time is right to at least try and leverage such a shift among those who are interested. It remains to be see how many are.

    One thing that I’m really curious about based on this short article, however, is whether the non-Gen X teachers are interested in connecting with this event. Although the description of generational differences seems accurate and illuminating, it seems odd to limit participation in the event and conversation by age. I’m wondering what the rationale for this might be.

    Frank Jude Boccio Oh god (that I don’t believe in) do I have to be the curmudgeon again?! That paragraph about the days of “dharma rockstars” being gone seems to me pure ignore-ance! What were they drinking in their tea?

    Conferences such as this and the one to be held by Buddhist Geeks (and so many more) are starting to sound way too similar to yoga conferences. The same names appear (but they are not ‘rock stars’ of course), and the general self-congratulatory tone is evident: “so many different views expressed so nicely” but the way I see it, the most important questions never get asked because of what Glenn Wallis refers to as the “decisional process” that occurs BEFORE any conversations get underway.

    I shudder what the feel-good yoga ‘community’ would make of and with such a conference! At least at buddhist conferences, one would imagine some talk about duhkha actually going on!

    Carol Horton: Was thinking of you when I asked that question, Frank . . . 🙂

    • lshark

      Carol, thanks so much for sharing this discussion! I should have added to my comment that writers/philosophers like you, Remski, et al. are also the leaders that we need in the yoga community. I do find it interesting that I have seen this topic discussed in many places, and yet comments such as Angela’s (referring to feeling that she is the only one who cares about shadow work) seem prevalent. I wonder if this is because there isn’t yet enough of a dialog to make it clear that many people are talking about that very topic, or is it the ratio of day-to-day interactions with people who “don’t care” to the relatively small-by-comparison number of writers discussing it? Maybe my question is just indicative of *my* level of naiveté, based on my relatively short time in the yoga community? But it does seem to me that, in spite of the prevalent yoga culture, with all its dysfunction and drama, that there are a good number of teachers, writers and philosophers beginning to speak out about the issues. I wonder if part of what appears to be a common sense of isolation – expressed by people who do care about this topic – might be due to the lack of a mother-ship governing entity. The closest thing we have to this – at least in the U.S. – would probably be the Yoga Alliance, which is a very young organization with no real authority. As far as I am aware (please correct me if this is wrong), it also has not published any widely-accepted standard of ethics. It’s oversight on teacher training is not what it could be. And so there really isn’t anywhere for all this discussion and debate to land, except on these widely scattered web sites and FB pages. This is not to diminish the importance of some amazing writing on the subject – I believe that is all extremely important (and urgent). But once those ideas are out there, discussion is required to keep them alive and evolving. I’m not sure how effectively all of this can lead to actual change in an environment where the discussions end up scattered in the wind. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.

      • Carol Horton

        Thanks for raising so many important issues. Here’s a few thoughts, in no particular order:

        As we know, the yoga community is very diverse in terms of philosophy, method, and orientation, and also very decentralized. That means that it’s impossible to gauge where “the community” is on any particular issue with any precision. There is a huge amount of variation, and no one has access to the full range of relevant information.

        That said, I personally believe that there are some strong drives in yoga culture toward the over-idealization of teachers and away from critical, independent thinking, which has contributed to the scandals discussed in the post. These include the influence of celebrity culture, the romanticization of “exotic India,” the unrecognized desire to use yoga as a form of escapism, calls to “turn off your brain,” etc. All this and more creates an unbalanced, ungrounded approach to practice, which in turn creates an environment in which these problems can grow relatively unchecked.

        Regarding how to best address this – I personally don’t believe that it can or should be done through centralization and policing. I think there there needs to be a cultural shift, and that this will only happen if there’s a groundswell of support for making changes. Currently, I see some promising signs that this is starting – much more open and incisive discussion, exploration of new methods of teaching and learning, etc. Whether such initiatves will end up being “scattered to the wind” or create some sort of more powerful momentum remains to be seen. We each do what we can, and then it is really our of our control completely 🙂

        I checked and Yoga Alliance does have a “Code of Conduct”: Interestingly, their 200-hour requirements only stipulate two hours of ethics training. Seems like that could be upped, for sure. But, even many hours won’t matter unless the teaching is good and the students are interested, engaged, and motivated to apply what they learn to real life.

        • lshark

          Thanks for the feedback – it’s all very interesting! It’s very sad to me that the yogic culture seems to be moving in the direction you’ve indicated, but I’m glad you see some promising signs of progress. I do understand your point about strong drives towards over-idealization of teachers – it seems to me that this is more or less in line with similar drives in our national mainstream culture. Celebrities are reified in both. Yoga has “exotic India” and the culture at large has patriotism and the U.S. of 60 sixty years ago. Yoga as escapism, America-is-the-greatest-country-ever as a false sense of safety and security. Calls to “turn off your brain” and calls to watch more mindless TV and eat more mind-numbing junk food. It seems that underlying all of that is the same old, same old human tendency to want to feel special, somehow, different from the rest, and that leads inevitably to just the opposite: being pretty much the same as everyone else, with all the scandal, political drama and predatory practices that feed on the desire to believe in un-reality. So: in the mainstream culture, we’ve tired to solve that problem of predatory authority figures taking advantage of others’ vulnerabilities by passing laws and having professional governing boards. You are saying, though, that in the yoga world you believe that rather than have that centralized authority, we should rely on cultural shift. Is this because you believe that the issues in the yoga world are different than the rest of our culture, or do you believe that the governing entities in other professions (e.g., therapists, doctors, etc.) don’t do a good job of doing what they are meant to do? I am fascinated with your thought process and you have some amazing perspectives on this stuff, so if you aren’t over this topic yet, I would be thrilled to see your response to this question. Thanks!

          • Carol Horton

            Yes, those are great questions. I guess that my basic line of thinking is that one can’t force one’s yoga agenda on others, and shouldn’t try. Why? Because I value yoga as something that speaks to something very deep in people, and such experiences cannot be leveraged from the outside. They can be supported and encouraged, but that’s it. If most people are at the point where they want to continue to follow duplicitous but charismatic teachers (for whatever reasons), then that’s what they will do. Even if you could stop it from happening in yoga (which I doubt), parallel phenomena would just pop up somewhere else if the deeper issues are not addressed.

            Of course, you could say that same thing about therapy, and therapists are licensed and regulated. I guess that I personally would not want to trade off the sprawling creativity of the yoga world for more professionalized uniformity, despite all the problems that allows to flourish. I’m familiar with several professional realms, and see very clearly how they develop a lot of limitations that I also see as problematic. Yoga is open and experimental, which I like. That said, the experiment often produces outcomes that I don’t like. I feel that it’s best to simply accept that.

            I think, however, that it might make sense to have certain subsets of the yoga world, like yoga therapy, differentiate themselves by having professional governing boards like doctors, therapists, etc. That way, students could know where they want to go if they want greater professionalism and uniformity. Also, yoga therapy could then be legitimately covered by insurance. The organizational and financial hurdles to getting something like that set up, however, are enormous. So, I don’t see it happening anytime soon, unless the state gets really aggressive with trying to tax yoga in new ways, which could leverage a lot of change quickly, for better or (perhaps more likely) worse.

          • lshark

            Hmmm, interesting. I like your idea about the different subsets of yoga; I am a bit uncomfortable with your answer in general, but I can’t articulate why; that inability to articulate it leads me to think it is very possible that it is an emotional discomfort regarding my concerns around the vulnerability of many people to predatory authority figures. So I need to think more about that; thanks for bringing it up! Interesting, also, that you bring up the issue of yoga taxes – I think that is something that might force certain changes whether anyone in the yoga world wants them or not – if states decide that there’s a way to make money off the trendiness of yoga, they are likely to add layers of regulation that have nothing to do with what anyone within any yoga community is advocating. It will be interesting to see how that all plays out.

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  • The past few years for yoga have been some really tough years. All of these abuses, scandals have really degraded the quality of yoga. Our society needs to be responsible and mature. If all of us will think with a calm and relaxed mind, it will result in collective growth of us only. All Yoga Styles help us in improving the state of our mind.

  • Monica Vantur

    Amazing blog posted. Thank you for sharing it.

    Muladhara Chakra

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