Sunday, December 8, 2019

Consent And Unwanted Touching In Yoga

Picture of Pattabhi Jois on Karen Rain 
I treat many patients who practice Yoga regularly and diligently. A few of them have even gone for retreats in Mysore, (also known as Mysuru) India.

But lately, I've heard lots of horror stories from patients getting unwanted / not asked for adjustments from instructors. These improper touches happened in public right here in Singapore. One patient even stopped practicing after she felt so traumatized after one such adjustment.

Most of these patients practiced Astanga yoga. Ashtanga is physically demanding as there are many strenuous posture and dynamic moves. It was made popular by Krishna Pattabhi Jois.

Vinyasa, power or flow yoga are versions derived from Ashtanga yoga as well. Celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and William Dafoe were early converts and helped popularize Ashtanga and Jois to the world. This made Jois famous and easily idolized. In Astanga, training under or with him was similar to a Catholic priest being trained by the Pope himself.

Jois also helped popularize touches or adjustments where yoga instructors physically touch, move or manipulate a student's body.

For a long time, much of the yoga community has been slow or perhaps unwilling to respond to such allegations. The fear may be that these instructors are fearful to discredit those seen as gurus.

Adding to this problem is that students are told that yoga is also part spiritual practice, anything that they did not understand, they have to trust what the instructors tell them.

Some teachers rely on just verbal cues to help students while others can either gently or forcefully move students into certain postures or alignments.
Karen Rain and Jois
Jois as you can see was definitely not about yoga postures or alignments as you can see from the pictures above. Due to his fame, power and perhaps devotion commanded by Jois, all these adjustments made in public somehow seemed to normalize them.

Nine women (including Karen Rain) went public about their experiences with Jois in 2018. The article written by Matthew Remski, a yoga teacher published in The Walrus, a Canadian publication. They described being groped, kissed, even fingered through yoga tights.

Prior to this in 2017, Rachel Brathen, a yoga studio owner asked her Instagram followers if they ever had inappropriate touches/ adjustments in yoga. Hundreds of women wrote back and shared how they were being propositioned after class, during retreats, forcibly kissed during private mediation sessions and even assaulted on post yoga massage tables.

In an article by Katherine Rosman published in the New York Times, she wrote about how she attended a class at a yoga festival when there would be many other yoga instructors and students with a producer, camera woman and sound engineer.

Her story "came to life" right before her eyes when the instructor demonstrated an adjustment with him placing a woman's bottom on his lap, spreading her legs apart and wrapping her legs around his waist. You can have a look at the article and watch the video here.

What is worse is being touched/ adjusted in improper ways during classes right in public. That somehow seemed to make the touches / adjustments legit. If forcefully done, adjustments have often caused physical injuries as well.

My patient tells me that now some local studios will have a "No adjustment" tag where students can place beside their mats to avoid unwanted adjustments.

Those of you who practice yoga beware and make sure you do not get hurt with unwanted adjustments.

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