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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