Our blog this time covers an issue that we feel needs to be discussed openly. We have talked several times about recent events within the Iyengar Yoga international community, and we wish to have an open conversation.
This has been a difficult blog to write, and has been delayed due to discussions with ourselves, our friends and our teachers. Please be aware that the material in this blog and particularly in some of the links may disturb some readers.
Bruce & Helen
Difficult Discussions within the Iyengar Community
Some years back, during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, I had a student who came to me having made a conscious decision to come to an Iyengar Yoga class. She had been quite involved with Satyananda Yoga in Australia and she was horrified by the allegations that were being made about the group that she now saw as cult-like. She would talk at length after class about things she had seen that she now saw as abuse that she had missed, and about things that were coming up in the Royal Commission that she had not realised were happening right in front of her eyes. Clearly she needed to talk, and needed to grieve.
As part of one of those conversations after class, she said "Iyengar is the only one that is clean". She saw BKS Iyengar specifically and Iyengar Yoga generally as "pure". I remember thinking at the time that she had rather put us on a pedestal as part of her grieving process. I remember thinking that there is nothing inherent in the Iyengar yoga system, or in any system, that can prevent a person abusing their power.
And sure enough, I have watched over the last 18 months or so as allegations have played out in America with regard to Manouso Manos - a senior Iyengar yoga teacher, now decertified, whose workshop I attended when he visited Australia as a guest teacher some years ago. Within the Iyengar community, there is now a conversation occurring about openness, transparency, appropriate touch and opportunities to speak up about inappropriate touch.
While it is an uncomfortable conversation for the Iyengar community to have, it is also a really important one. It is one we need to have if we are to observe underlying principles of yoga such as ahimsa - non-harming - and satya - adherence to the truth. Below we have included the contents of an email that the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUS) sent to its members on April 12.
Dear IYNAUS members, Last Friday, we announced the results of the independent investigation of Manouso Manos and the actions that RIMYI and IYNAUS have taken in response to Ms. Sargeant’s findings that Manouso committed acts of sex abuse in his classes between 2005 and the present.
We said that these events were “unspeakably sad and tragic.” These words did not do justice to the victims.
Sexual abuse of students in yoga classes is horrific. A yoga class is a place of refuge. A place for self-exploration. For quieting the mind. It is unacceptable for any teacher to violate that sacred space with acts of sexual violence. It is abhorrent to create not healing and calm, but trauma and pain.
We extol the courage of the victims. The courage to relive and describe painful traumas. The courage to risk reprisals and to expose themselves to scorn and derision. The courage to speak the truth to power.
We apologize to the victims. They should have been safe in a class taught by one of the world’s most highly certified Iyengar Yoga teachers.
They should have felt safe filing ethics complaints with IYNAUS.
It is now apparent that we failed to establish an ethics complaint procedure that our students trusted. We now know that many acts of sexual abuse were committed in the past 15 years, but that these did not lead to a single complaint between IYNAUS’s founding in 1992 and Ann West’s complaint in March, 2018. It is now apparent that other victims were not willing to come forward until we hired an independent investigator.
We are determined to effect wholesale changes in our community and in IYNAUS.
A committee led by Lisa Jo Landsberg and Marla Apt has been developing standards for adjustments and new instructional materials for all CIYTs. They will discuss their committee’s work at both the all members’ meeting and the teachers’ meeting that will be held at our convention in Dallas on Sunday.
In October, we adopted measures to eliminate or to lessen the fears that prevented the filing of complaints in the past. We discussed other such measures at our meeting yesterday. In October, we also adopted strict measures to guarantee the impartiality of the panels who investigate and decide sex abuse and other complaints. We decided at our meeting yesterday to restructure our ethics committee to assure that sex abuse complaints are rigorously investigated and decided in accord with the best practices in the U.S. Our goal is a system of unquestionable fairness that can be trusted to identify and remedy sex abuse whenever it occurs.
We will discuss these efforts further at the all members’ meeting at the Convention on Sunday. These events have stressed our community and the common philosophy that has bound us together. We can begin to re-unify by recognizing and appreciating the strength and resolve of those who took action and by responding accordingly for the collective good.
Yours in yoga, IYNAUS Executive Council
1In 2015, when the Royal Commission was hearing submissions. 2and an independent investigationcommissioned by the IYNAUS. 3See Abhijata Iyengar's opening address at the IYNAUS convention recently.Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114