This will be the last blog post before Christmas and so, first of all, we want to wish all our readers a happy Christmas.
As I sit down to write every couple of weeks my intention is always to try to connect with you and to be as honest and open as I can. Sometimes I have an idea of what I’m going to write before I sit down but, often, I don’t. So I’m aware that sometimes I just end up rambling on about something or other (like now for example).
I want to thank you all for reading and taking on board my ramblings. Many of you reply and it means a lot to me knowing that you find this stuff interesting, enjoyable, or maybe even useful. I know there are a lot of different things competing for everyone’s attention these days and so I appreciate the time you spend reading the blog every couple of weeks (or whenever you get a chance).
I think 2019 will go down as the year that the global community of ashtanga yoga grew up a little bit and started to acknowledge that there were some skeletons in its cupboard. There are, it seems, still a few people who are holding out and suggesting that Pattabhi Jois did nothing wrong but I think, in general, there has been an acknowledgment that, as a community, we had some serious soul-searching to do.
I still believe that it came way too late (and I include myself in that criticism) but we can only move forward from where we are and I hope that the healing process – both for the individuals who have been his victims and for the ashtanga yoga community in general – has begun.
In the context of the shocking new Netflix documentary “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator”, there was an article in the Sunday Business Post this week about adjustments in yoga classes. I encourage you to watch this documentary, although just a warning; it is pretty shocking and probably triggering for anyone who has been through sexual abuse.
Although I welcome the conversation that’s starting to be had around this subject, I was pretty shocked to read the last paragraph of the Sunday Business Post piece.
It was a quote from Matt Quigley, owner of the YogaHub in Dublin.
We know Matt. In fact, he used to come to our classes in Oscailt around the time he opened his Camden Street studio. He actually asked us if we would move our morning Mysore-style programme to his new studio but we decided that we would prefer to stay independent in the end. None of that is relevant to the quote but it’s more to illustrate the fact that we’re friendly with Matt and that this is not a personal attack.
Here’s the quote:
“I went to a class in Marylebone last year, and I had to start laughing because I was in downward dog and the way that teacher assisted me I could feel his penis against my bum because he grabbed me by the hips. I’m used to that because that’s ashtanga, he doesn’t mean anything by it. That’s simply how they assist.”
My thoughts on reading this were:
First of all, I want to say that it’s possible that Matt was misquoted here. That happens all the time and I haven’t contacted him to ask him about it.
Nonetheless, this idea is now out there in a national Sunday newspaper and as one of only a few full-time ashtanga teachers in Ireland, I feel a responsibility to address it.
Maybe some people are ok with this sort of an adjustment from a yoga teacher but I want to be very clear here:
It’s not ok for any yoga teacher to touch their genitals against a student in a yoga class!! That is sexual assault. And if that teacher is doing that, and he carries on doing that, whether or not he is deriving a sexual thrill from it, he may end up being – justifiably – convicted as a sex offender.
It’s not ok and I disagree in the strongest terms possible that “that’s ashtanga… that’s simply how they assist”.
At our shala (and, I hope, the majority of ashtanga yoga shalas around the world) the students are treated with kindness and respect. We can’t let this go unchecked and we can’t assume that, just because there is physical contact between teacher and student in the Mysore-style tradition, that there also has to be genital contact!!
That’s absolutely crazy.