The recent Jivamukti sexual abuse allegations have reignited a long-running conversation on power dynamics, teacher-student relationships, and cult-like status within the yoga community. Each time news breaks of another guru abusing their power, the yogasphere erupts in further controversy, but as much talk and (sometimes therapeutic) conversation there is, are we really making progress when the list of abusers just keeps growing? In the wake of Jivamukti-gate (and so many other cases, the more major ones being Bikram, Desikachar, Friend), a recently launched petition aims to bring the dialogue a step further to integrate standardized abuse training and education for the greater yoga teaching community through Yoga Alliance.
Why Yoga Alliance? Yes, they are still a registry, but they are also “in a unique position to make this dialogue mandatory by including it in the educational standards for Yoga Teacher Training,” Laurie Endris, the petition’s author writes. Endris is the director of Svasti Yoga in Minneapolis, MN.
“This abuse is not unique to yoga institutions,” Endris notes, adding that, however, yoga culture “is particularly vulnerable with somewhat permeable boundaries (often yoga teachers engaging in acceptable dual relationships with students) and the Guru worship culture creating an environment where abuse can thrive.” Dialogue, education and prevention are the top priority.
This may not be the answer to all our problems, but it’s at least an effort to take action, taking a step to expand beyond the routine cycle of shock, shame and disappointment every time we hear about another fallen guru.
Yoga Alliance did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
The full petition reads:
OPEN LETTER TO THE YOGA ALLIANCE
I have been deeply disturbed with the most recent allegations of abuse against prominent NYC Yoga studio, Jivamukti. They are joining the ranks of many yoga institutions that have a dark history of abuse allegations, Bikram, Satyananda of Bihar School, Yogi Bahjan of Kundalini, Muktananda of Siddha Yoga, Swami Rama of Himalayan Yoga, John Friend of Anusara to name but a few… and the list gets longer every year as more people are gaining the courage to speak out. This abuse is not unique to yoga institutions & is widespread in many spiritual communities. Yoga culture is particularly vulnerable with somewhat permeable boundaries (often yoga teachers engaging in acceptable dual relationships with students) and the Guru worship culture creating an environment where abuse can thrive.
I am committed to social justice in all forms, and I believe the time has come for yogis to engage in a dialogue about how to prevent this kind of abuse in our community. The Yoga Alliance is in a unique position to make this dialogue mandatory by including it in the educational standards for Yoga Teacher Training. Silence only fosters an environment where abusers can continue to abuse and victims are afraid to come forward. Please consider adding mandatory abuse & sexual harassment prevention education as well as cult awareness into the “Yoga Philosophy, Lifestyle and Ethics for Yoga Teachers” section of your standards for the 200hr requirements. Also, consider issuing a clear statement on your policies for handling complaints against registered teachers and schools to promote accountability. I look forward to hearing how you plan to put this into action.
In gratitude with a heavy heart,
Director, Svasti Yoga
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Vande Gurunam Caranaravinde
to English translation
I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus
This is part of the basic instructions for all of yoga. It says we are suppose to worship the feet of the gurus.
Isn’t that a self-serving way to teach others these ideas. Some do exactly that.
Someone that is truly practicing yoga would never allow themselves to be worshiped by others.
The word gurus was not meant to be a person exactly. It was meant to be knowledge in all forms. Which starts to make more sense.
Vande Gurunam Caranaravinde
“I have respect or gratitude for the teachings available to me” (teachings could be the practice it’self)
The Yoga Allliance has been working so hard to lobby and pass laws against any kind of regulation, that they did not stop to realize that some people may abuse this privilege. I say defund Yoga Alliance as they are no longer relevant to yoga.
I totally agree. Yoga alliance is a commercial institution and it really does not care about Yoga and safety, hence their low standards for Yoga Alliance certifications.
Interesting article in “Yoga International” by VK Harber, “Does the Guru-Student Model Work in Modern Yoga?”
Good quote (I hope it’s not too long to violate copyright; I recommend reading the whole article):
“To be clear, I am not advocating for the return of a pure guru-student model. I’m advocating for an end to that language and model within the context of this industry. I would also advocate for acknowledging some uncomfortable truths, beginning with the fact that the industry is very lucrative for some. This may in part be responsible for our having replaced discernment with unquestioning loyalty, and allowing physical prowess to trump spiritual health. We’ve confused exhibitionism with vulnerability and guru groupies with lineage bearers. We’ve perpetuated manipulation, control, and violence, all under the mantle of empowerment and peace.
My years teaching yoga have convinced me that people really yearn to experience embodiment and connection. People are hungry for spirituality, even if they do not name it as such. And they want to take this off the mat and into their daily lives. The willingness to follow teachers with little to no examination can be seen as evidence of just how much we all yearn to be in relationship. So much so that we are willing to overlook the inherent problems in a model that was never intended to be practiced in the context of capitalist industry.”
[Disclaimer: I have no connection whatsoever with the author or the website referenced.]
I’m appalled to think that people think being yoga alliance certified and practice American yoga makes them a guru. Sad state to watch people try to by their way to enlightenment.
I’m appalled to think that people think being yoga alliance certified and practice American yoga makes them a guru. Sad state to watch people try to buy their way to enlightenment.
“The Yoga Alliance is in a unique position to make this dialogue mandatory by including it in the educational standards for Yoga Teacher Training.”
You mean like they have those huge amount of hours for yoga anatomy in a YTT?
The last thing Yoga Alliance should be doing — which is merely a registry for yoga teachers — is advocating a legislation of morality.
And who is supposed to be the be-all and end-all of “ethical standards” in a YTT? Standards saying “don’t do X with …..” mean nothing.
Good luck with that.
Yoga alliance to over see what is happening in our industry ??? Is this the same mob that are responsible for the appalling approval and increase in crappy teacher trainings. God help us. And the Jivamukti scandal. Last time I looked nothing has been proven against dear lady Ruth. Here’s a thought. Take responsibility for your life. Your space. Your boundaries. I’m a teacher. Have been and owned a studio for ten years. I ain’t no guru. Read the scriptures, understand the guru relationship. Understand what is what before you turn studios like mine that have nothing to do with the hype into over regulated gyms.
That’s right Mick. Who or what is this Yoga Alliance anyways. As far as I can see it is a commercial company that does not care about Yoga really. Hence the low standards.
Like many of our members, Yoga Alliance has been following recent news about allegations of sexual misconduct by prominent yoga teachers with students in their teacher training programs. The allegations are troubling, and, if true, reflect conduct that is prohibited by the Yoga Alliance Registry Code of Conduct (https://www.yogaalliance.org/AboutYA/OurPolicies/CodeofConduct).
As court proceedings play out, some of the conduct may also prove to violate U.S. laws. None of the accused yogis in recent, highly publicized cases are registrants with Yoga Alliance Registry, so Yoga Alliance Registry has no authority to take any action regarding those individuals. Any registrant that is found to violate the Yoga Alliance Registry Code of Conduct, however, may lose his or her right to use the RYT® credential.
Several principles in our Code of Conduct prohibit sexual exploitation or harassment of students by yoga teachers. For example, every RYT® must accept the Code of Conduct and agree to:
• Conduct myself in a professional and conscientious manner.
• Create and maintain a safe, clean and comfortable environment for the practice of yoga.
• Encourage diversity by respecting all students regardless of age, physical limitations, race, creed, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
• Respect the rights, dignity and privacy of all students.
• Avoid words and actions that constitute sexual harassment or harassment based on other legal protected characteristics.
• Follow all local government and national laws that pertain to my yoga teaching and business.
Yoga Alliance also provides its members with resources to help them apply these principles in their instruction. Yoga Alliance’s video library, available to all members, includes an online workshop on “Healthy Teacher-Student Relationships,” (https://www.yogaalliance.org/Events/Online_Workshops/Healthy_Teacher-Student_Relationships) and Yoga Alliance will continue to add educational resources on this and related topics.
Yoga Alliance Registry’s curricular standards for Registered Yoga Schools already include a requirement for Contact Hours spent on ethics for yoga teachers, which may include topics involving teacher-student relationships. Yoga Alliance Registry is examining whether to expand and strengthen this element in both the curricular content of Registered Yoga Schools and the Continuing Education hours requirements for current RYTs.
Please feel free to direct additional comments or questions directly to me at email@example.com.
Morals are more important than training, but training would probably help