The author of the following article has requested to remain anonymous. This is her story.
When I first heard that he was coming to my yoga studio to offer a workshop I rushed out to my car thinking to myself ‘please don’t let it be who I think it is. Please let me be confusing his name with somebody else.’ I went straight to the glove compartment of my car where I kept my iPhone while I’m in class and googled his name. Article after article confirmed my fear. My yoga studio invited a sexual predator to conduct a workshop.
In recent decades there’s been a dark cloud hanging over the yoga community as many high-profiled sexual abuse cases involving yoga teachers against students have been brought to the public eye. The thought that one of those alleged perpetrators was coming to my studio made me feel sick to my stomach. I could not move. I was frozen in fear. Yoga has always been where I’d gone to feel safe. My safe space was no longer safe.
I’ve practiced yoga for over two decades, but it wasn’t until I was severely beaten and later raped that I discovered the healing power of yoga.
Yoga helped me with the physical and emotional injuries of my rape. Yoga helped me grow as a person. I credit yoga for helping me evolve from victim to survivor to thriver.
My day job is working in an executive position for a rape crisis center. I had yoga teachers refer other students or their friends to me that were survivors and might need somebody to talk to. I felt that everybody was very welcoming and did all that they could to ensure that I felt safe and comfortable in class. They succeeded. Whenever I step foot into a yoga studio I feel at home. I love going to see my yoga family.
I enrolled in teacher training class. I received three job offers to teach yoga (still undecided if I am accepting any of them) and was invited to assist in developing a yoga program for a US government agency. I went to class daily, sometimes twice a day and maintained a home practice.
When friends asked me if I was attending this upcoming workshop I said I was not. My yoga friends and yoga teachers posted links to the alleged sexual predator’s workshop on their newsfeed and I politely kept on scrolling down trying my best to ignore it. I figured if I could ignore this that I would be okay.
I knew the amount of work it took to get a yogi master to come to my hometown, and I didn’t want to ruin it for others just because it triggered me.
I continued to attend class and with a forced smile dreaded hearing the studio’s updates about upcoming workshops and events that the instructors gave at the end of each class. I almost vomited when teachers commented about what a great man and yogi this person is and how fortunate we are that he is visiting our studio.
I drove home after class in tears. I was not doing okay. By ignoring the pain that this was causing me I was not being honest with myself. I was going against my moral and ethical beliefs. Simply put: I was not practicing yoga. I thought about his victims and how they might feel knowing that their perpetrator is glorified at my studio and, despite all the allegations, he is treated with the upmost respect. If these survivors are anything like me they probably feel hurt. Perhaps they’re doubting and regretting coming forward.
According to RAINN roughly 60% of sexual abuse are never reported to police and 97% of rapists are never going to spend a day in jail.
We live in a society where perpetrators are rewarded and praised while victims are, at the least, not believed or, at the most, completely shunned out from their circle of friends, family or community or worse.
I first turned to my husband and my fellow-survivor friends. All gave the upmost support and understood my pain. I then talked to my yoga friends and while most agreed with me and couldn’t believe how insensitive it was of my studio to offer such a workshop, many others told me to ‘let it go.’ I lost one friend because they said that I was not practicing yoga because I “allowed it to bother me” and then proceeded to de-friend me on Facebook. A couple that did agree with me ended up choosing to attend the workshop because “he is so well known.” Others said to go take a class so I can let it all go and feel better as if saying the problem was with me for allowing it to bother me and not, you know, an alleged sexual predator coming to the studio and what that means for a victim of rape.
I am by no means an expert on yoga philosophy. I might not have practiced yoga for as long as others had at the studio. To me, my yoga practice among other things, is about not causing harm to myself and to all around me. I might not know personally the yoga master’s victims but I do know their pain. I know the pain of being assaulted. I know the pain of betrayal and of seeing your perpetrator being treated as a hero. I know the pain because I have lived through it, too. I do not want to contribute to their pain.
If I attended the workshop or turned a blind eye on the injustice and kept silent am I not causing harm to his victims?
For the victim, sexual abuse is life shattering and changes every single aspect of one’s life. Victims of sexual violence are at an increased chance of developing depression, eating disorders and eventually committing suicide. The trauma increases when a survivor is not validated or believed. When we attend classes with, workshops about or buy books written by alleged sexual predators we are showing, with our wallets, support for the crimes that have been committed. We can not validate survivors by admiring their perpetrators. We are causing harm.
We can’t just choose to support survivors aside from those raped by famous yogis or support survivors except when a famous rapist yogi is in town. It is never: “Well they committed one of the worst crimes known to man and that part is bad but we still will give them money and support and open our yoga studios to them because they developed a style of yoga or helped introduce yoga to the United States.” It simply does not work that way.
There is no shaded grey area when it comes to supporting survivors.
Showing support to survivors is done by not showing any support to sexual predators. We support survivors by giving unconditional support to all survivors of sexual abuse. You either support survivors or you support those that commits these crimes. It’s as simple as that.
From my little corner here on this earth I am standing in solidarity with my fellow survivors. Every time I get on my mat I think about all victims of sexual abuse and the roughly 38 women, men and children that are going to be assaulted in the United States during the time span of a 75 minute yoga class.
I am doing what I can to not cause any more harm to a group of women that already been victimized at least twice; once by what this yogi allegedly did and again by a community that has, for so long, showed tremendous support to sexual predators.
As unpopular as speaking out might be I am doing it because standing with victims of violence is my yoga.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault seek help or contact the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network at RAINN.org or the National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1.800.656.HOPE.