Blurred Lines? No. Crossing Boundaries in Yoga

*Trigger warning* This article will have content that is disturbing and sensitive.

She froze. “You don’t want to create a disturbance,” Ms. Evslin said. “You’re not sure what to do. And, you’re processing everything. Like, ‘What do I say? How do I handle this?’” [1]

“The merits of the women’s statements are debated by some yogis on social media” [1].

““We assume that yoga is this big mysterious thing, we have to be spiritual to do it and if there is something we don’t understand, we’re going to trust what the teacher tells us,” said Rachel Brathen, a well-known yoga teacher” [2].

Not all of the recent scandals have been sexual; some have involved financial impropriety or the physical abuse of students. During his workshops, B. K. S. Iyengar, who died in Pune, India, in 2014, openly slapped and kicked his students while telling them, according to the Times of India, “It’s not you I’m angry with, not you I kick. It’s the knee, the back, the mind that is not listening.” [3]

“Devotion to the guru is meant to symbolize devotion to the teachings, not to the man. But in the Western context gurus become rock stars, and students compete to curry favor with them. This gives gurus significant influence over their students, which is sometimes misused.” [3]

These are a collection of situations that were voiced and shared. Several more go unreported. These represent the unethical acts involved in this practice. It also underlines the misogynistic culture that forms within the world of yoga. There is a clear power hierarchical structure with the guru at the front and students learning, but this is further reinforced as the teacher controls the actions and movements of each student. Therefore, this practice needs to be carefully taught diminishing the political dynamics that are involved. Ethical and moral ways of doing yoga are necessary to establish a healthy, natural and harmonious environment. But, the changes need to be seen, not just talked about. This means that there needs to be a shift – a major shift – in the way this practice is taught, discussed, and even shared. It is scary, honestly, how deeply rape culture runs into every segment of society. It’s challenging to inhibit these actions, when some people have learned to be the way they are from childhood. Or when society does not put consequences to these actions. Teachers, gurus and people with power continue to perpetuate the violence through their authority. And it is not just in yoga; it’s rampant all over.

Yoga is a practice to cultivate openness and peace. Therefore, the identity politics of the teachers must be the priority. There needs to be more of a knowledge sharing that comes around in learning yoga. The words, the actions, and the movement need to match.

Boundaries are clear when there is discomfort. If there is a sense of something ‘wrong,’ it usually is wrong. Due to heightened sensitivity of the ‘Me Too’ movement, we are nearing slightly more awareness. But there is still questioning involved in whether something was not okay or too much. This is due to the lack of confidence instilled in women to not question authority and to regulate themselves, rather than question what’s actually happening. This happens everywhere. And now, yoga is spreading this even more. How do we stop this? By raising more and more awareness, dreaming of a world where women are confident in their abilities and practicing yoga where it is truly sharing love, energy and flow.

Sometimes, I feel like I spewing out so many big ideas, but they seem too big. Is it wrong to be so idealistic? Through idealism and optimism, I know dreaming can result in positive change. Dreaming gives us the possibility to achieve new boundaries. Boundaries that are respected. Clarity in unity. Remain idealistic. Imagine more.

Reference [1]
Reference [2]

[3] https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/yoga-reconsiders-the-role-of-the-guru-in-the-age-of-metoo

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