The Sexual Misconduct of Pattabhi Jois: My Thoughts, Accountability, and 5 Changes to Pledge my Support for the Victims

It is right that the #metoo campaign has galvanized a shift in our culture towards greater awareness and intolerance of abuse. The PJ sexual misconduct revelations have alarmed me and I am grateful that the victims are able to speak out and finally be heard. I feel ashamed to have been part of a community where this happened, and to have not been fully aware of it.

It is offensive and damaging that Sharath Jois has not made a public statement. I believe that reparation can only be made through the public acknowledgement of the truth, the hearing of that truth, and the implementation of change. Those at the top (including Senior teachers and those who run Mysore programmes, and many have) should be publicly acknowledging and believing the victims’ stories, and the truth accepted and made accessible, therefore sending a reparative message to all women who wish to practice. In the community there should be a move towards a more professional structure with official channels of feedback, complaints, communication, accountability and transparency. There should be a realistic Code of Conduct (a relinquishment of acquiescence to unrealistic teaching restrictions) and a professional attitude toward qualifications (to abolish the arbitrary practice of striking people off the list). I believe that the assimilation of training responsibilities into the wider teaching community (in a centrally organised way) would help to diminish the culture of hierarchies, power, and idealisation that exists in the current Mysore phenomenon.

In the absence of Sharath Jois taking responsibility, perhaps (as I think Donna Fahri has suggested) we should boycott Mysore, and challenge the cult like tradition of Guru worship and Mysore pilgrimage, and separate yoga teaching as a profession from spiritual seeking. Certified, Authorized and non-Mysore qualified Ashtanga teachers could take responsibility for the further dissemination of Ashtanga yoga as a profession. The spiritual aspect is more nuanced and for the individual student to explore within themselves. As Karen Rain has suggested, it is available to us to “re-invent Ashtanga yoga without Pattabhi Jois”. Yoga is just yoga and I think it can and should be interpreted as each individual teacher wishes, and separated from this man.

As an Authorized teacher I take this situation very seriously and deeply respect those who have withdrawn their Authorizations. I am still thinking about this. In the meantime, I have listed five changes below that I have made in light of all of this coming out.

  1. I have taken all pictures of Pattabhi Jois down from my studio altar, website and social media and will no longer use his image in relation to my teaching.

  2. I have stopped using the term ‘Guruji’. I will now refer to my one time teacher as Pattabhi Jois. Elevating someone to Guru status creates a culture of idealisation and unquestioning acquiescence and deference. This contributed to the power this man had and abused, as well as the culture of silence around it.

  3. In my Mysore classes I have drastically reduced my use of physical adjustments. I now ask whether students want to be assisted by me before commencing. In my led classes I now limit my approach to corrections and verbal guidance only.

  4. I will share the stories of the victims and those teachers in the community who have made statements, and direct anyone who enquires to their blogs and testimonies.

  5. I apologise to the victims for being part of a culture that enabled this to happen, having studied with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore annually from 2003 until his death in 2009. I am accountable by:

A) Not being aware of the extent of the abuse. I had heard jokes about historical finger up the bottom mula bandha adjustments, but nothing else or current – only one friend during a Mysore trip, saying she was uncomfortable with certain adjustments made by Pattabhi Jois day after day. When I questioned what she meant she said ‘it’s just too intense’ – now I still don’t know what she meant by that, but I regret not thinking about it and the rumours in a serious way. I think this suggests a culture of covering up, and a wish to turn a blind eye towards something that if seen and challenged could threaten my position within a cult like community where there is the fear that speaking out against the Guru would mean being ousted from the community and possible loss of livelihood.

B) Venerating the teacher and therefore contributing to his position of power, where boundaries could be transgressed.

C) By encouraging my own students to go to Mysore.

D) By desiring the qualification and therefore being part of a culture that grants Authorization like an arbitrary anointment from the ‘Guru’, rather than an achievement of clear cut goals and pedagogical achievements.

Thank you to those who have contributed to the conversation and there are no doubt countless other accounts and comments that I have not read, and to those who have been brave enough to speak out. 

2 thoughts on “The Sexual Misconduct of Pattabhi Jois: My Thoughts, Accountability, and 5 Changes to Pledge my Support for the Victims

  1. Great post, really clear and heart-felt. One aspect I don’t understand is the way hard assists and inappropriate touching or sexual assault are conflated. Surely the lesson to be learnt is that masculinity and venerating lineage are a dangerous combination. I do not understand why these horrible revelations would lead female yoga teachers to be cautious about the adjustments they do in their classes.

  2. Pingback: “Abuse in the Yoga Community”: Josh Summers Interviews Matthew Remski – Matthew Remski

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s