What’s going on? No, really, what is going on? Our email inbox and social media feed have been blowing up over the past 24 hours regarding a bizarre event that happened at the Northwest Yoga Conference going on this weekend. A video of Savitri Palkhivala, co-founder of Purna Yoga and the Alive and Shine Center operating in Seattle’s eastside since 1992, is seen giving a talk to a group of attendees when she is suddenly interrupted by conference founder and director Melissa Hagedorn and asked to leave.
“Something is seriously wrong,” says Palkhivala who understood she had 10 minutes to speak, but was cut short in the middle. According to her daughter, Zenia Lumeria, who posted the video publicly on Facebook, Savitri was there accepting an award for her husband “for being a respected yoga influencer” voted on by attendees, and was given an allotted time of 10 minutes to address the audience of yogis.
“Savitri and Aadil were to be both teaching at the Northwest Yoga Conference as well as paying for having a booth for their college and studio,” writes Lumeria, but they have since been kicked out and removed from the conference schedule as well.
A statement from Aadil Palkhivala via Lumeria:
“To make it clear, I was given the honor and 10 minutes to speak. I asked Savitri, meditation master and my wife, to accept the honor on my behalf and speak in my place as I had bronchitis and pneumonia and could not attend. She very graciously agreed. It was a blessing to the conference to have a true master of light in their presence. No, there was no time issue. Because she did not even get the time of 10 minutes allotted to me but, the event started on time and the previous person who was also honored, humble and precious Bob Smith, simply accepted the honor and did not speak which meant that they had 10 extra minutes. It is sad that someone who claims to do yoga cannot even recognize a living master of light.” – Aadil Palkhivala, co-owner of Alive & Shine Center and co-founder of Purna Yoga.
The conference, in its 7th year, prides itself on being an affordable and diverse event set on “cultivating a unified yoga community through learning, sharing, and growing together.” However, many are crying foul after experiencing this extremely awkward interaction in person, or watching the video online.
The reason for the strange snub remains unclear. In the age of social media and smart phones, conflicts like this are amplified, but they are not often provided with very much context.
For the few minutes we see Savitri speaking, she hones in on male and female energy coming together, with a focus on family, which she sees as a missing link in India’s yoga world and which she believes has gotten lost in the West. “Feminine energy was seen as second class” she says of her early journey into yoga with her husband in their native India. “A new vibration of yoga is unfolding in the West,” she says. “So happy to see so many women involved in yoga.”
These words seem hardly offensive, so it’s unlikely the content of the speech caused the problem. But moments later Melissa Hagedorn is seen getting up from her seat, approaching Savitri and asking her to leave. “They’ve not heard the whole side of the conversation…Please leave the room…I put a lot of time and energy into this event. You’re not being respectful,” Hagedorn can be heard saying.
The whole side of the conversation? Savitri expresses that “this” is the yoga she’s concerned about.
This, whatever it is exactly, is clearly very uncomfortable, and it’s causing some major drama online and at the conference. Many are seeing this confrontation as an example of disrespect to yoga’s history as well an indication of racism and censorship in the modern (Western) yoga world. Comments are being deleted from the Northwest Yoga Conference Instagram and Facebook page almost as quickly as they are being posted.
We’re not sure of the root to this altercation, but we know it stinks and that the yoga community deserves answers.
The Northwest Yoga Conference has been contacted for comment.
If you have any more information regarding this matter, you may email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is Zenia Lumeria’s post in full.
Update #1: Yoga teacher Amy Ippoliti, who taught at the conference, responded to inquiries and issued her own statement. In it, she explains that there will be an official statement from the Northwest Yoga Conference forthcoming.
Update #3: Several yoga teachers who taught at the conference have issued statements or responded to the incident via social media. One of the sponsors, Embla, said that “we do not condone this kind of behavior” in an Instagram post.
We are saddened to find out what happened at the Northwest Yoga Conference. We do not condone this kind of behavior in any shape or form. We were initially excited to sponsor a yoga conference, since we love being involved with the global yoga community and adore what yoga stands for. However, these actions are not in line with our values at Embla, and we will no longer be associated with this organization. #notyoga
Update #4 (2/28/18): A statement has been issued regarding the incident via Founder Melissa Hagedorn in which she does not name Savitri but refers to her as “an individual” and addresses the public backlash. Here is the statement in its entirety.
I want to take a moment to address an incident that arose during opening ceremony at the Northwest Yoga Conference this past weekend.
An individual that was scheduled to receive an award at our opening ceremony informed us that they were not able to attend. They sent another individual in their place to accept the award on their behalf. Because there was another event in the room immediately after the opening ceremony, I wanted to ensure that the schedule was maintained. When the individual exceeded their time, I approached the individual to remind them of the time limit that had been communicated before the ceremony and, after their response, I retrieved the microphone. I regret I chose this action as the way to address the situation. This has been an immense learning and growth opportunity for me.
As I mentioned above, the reason I asked the individual to stop speaking was because she had exceeded the time that had been offered to her. There was no racial motivation. The nominee and their spouse have both been presenters at the conference for several years and the event continually hosts presenters of diverse ethnicity. I deeply regret that the issue of race has been falsely identified here as a motivation as it contributes to the undermining of validity for incidents that are truly racially motivated.
Though much of the information about the incident that has been circulated online is false and inaccurate, instead of focusing on the misrepresentations, I want to focus on how we can move forward as a community.
I hope that this incident provides the opportunity for the yoga community to engage in conversation about how we process and respond to these types of incidents that will inevitably arise. This incident has made me painfully aware of how deep the wounds of injustice and oppression are and how deep the need is for dialogue and learning about all of the ways this injustice occurs and how we as a community might address them. I am dedicated to working alongside the yoga community as well as my own trusted mentors and leaders in the community to help facilitate dialogue, action and change.
I encourage each and every one of you to be a willing participant of this dialogue and I hope that we may learn and grow together in a way that acknowledges our humanness. I hope that each participant will bring mindfulness into the way that they engage in this discussion and, in particular, apply these four yamas, or ethical guidelines, while doing so: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing) and aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Please note, any comments on our social media forums that do not apply these principles will be removed. We encourage comments that aim to engage in open, honest, sincere and respectful dialogue.
I am grateful that in spite of the incident, our community gathering was able to continue forward and hold space for yogis to deepen their practice in a supportive and inclusive environment. We will continue to look for ways to hold space for dialogue, learning and growth.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Northwest Yoga Conference Founder/Director
Update #5 (3/1/18): Savitri has responded to our request for comment about the incident and to the above statement from NWYC Founder Melissa Hagedorn. Read the full response here.