Our world is beset with suffering and crises at every level. In the face of constant overwhelm, many of us turn inward and look to our communities for support. Social, academic, religious, and physically-focused communities gather around every imaginable kind of cultural currency. Yoga practice is unique in that it forms a rich overlap of circles and for many of us it also offers welcome spiritual nourishment.
This topic goes beyond pandemic issues to encompass the critical discourse around high-demand groups, the explicit scope of practice, informed consent, pedagogy, and healthy working relationships that define safe and mutually enriching experiences in any method-based approach to skills practice.
Cutting through the jargon, we are talking about how we manage power. Going deeper, we need to talk about the fact that power is abused in every hierarchical system at every level. Is yoga any different? Are our yoga studios breeding cult dynamics? These questions have bubbled to the surface congruent with the #MeToo movement that is taking down the abuses of power endemic to patriarchy on a global scale.
If you're concerned about how mental health, accessibility, and social justice issues play out in the wider yoga world and how we use the methods of yoga at Meadowlark, please get involved in the conversation started by Amy Hughes and expressed in a series of podcasts now available on YouTube.
Amy is a feminist, erstwhile academic, and dedicated yogi who cares deeply about how yoga can be tended to survive the #MeToo movement as a powerful means of self-transformation. She has brought threads of contemporary critical discourse into our faculty space to get us talking about key issues affecting our profession. Amy has brought trauma-aware yogi and academic, Lorraine Close of Edinburgh Community Yoga, together with MLY's founding teacher, Karen Kirkness, for an intensely honest, informal yet informed chat about power dynamics. This is a relatable, passionate, and at times cutting conversation about what we are doing as teachers, practitioners, and people.
Be sure to check out BOTH podcasts embedded in this post. Amy pulls in Emma Isokivi, L2 Authorised & current Mysore Programme Director at MLY, to round out the discussion in the second of this podcast series. Find out more about Emma's Mysore programme here.
What do you need to get involved in this discussion? Key to our continued role as yoga teachers is that we all get to grips with the issues raised in Remski's 2019 book, Practice And All Is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics, And Healing In Yoga And Beyond. Read it. Talk about it. Put your comments at the end of this post.
We, core teachers at Meadowlark Yoga, are all looking intensely at the patterns of abuse endemic to lineage yoga and in particular the sexual assaults perpetrated by the late Pattabhi Jois. Furthermore, we see clearly the power dynamics that Remski has pointed out, and we are addressing our relationships in yoga to see clearly where our own methods need further scrutiny.
To be clear, Remski isn't just talking about sexual assault. He is talking about cult dynamics and how we must be honest with ourselves if yoga is to survive the reckoning. Here are some useful insights about what it means to be in a cult:
From a sociological perspective, Janja Lalich, PhD, defines a cult in her book, "Bounded Choice, True Believers and Charismatic Cults", (2004):
“A cult can be either a sharply bounded social group or a diffusely bounded social movement held together through shared commitment to a charismatic leader. It upholds a transcendent ideology (often but not always religious in nature) and requires a high level of personal commitment from its members in words and deeds.”
These relational systems are "comprised of a charismatic relationship, a promise of fulfillment, and a methodology by which to achieve it." (Lalich)
And here is the first episode of Amy's podcast... we are encouraging anyone who engages with the first episode to please also listen to the second episode which includes Emma Isokivi, our current Mysore Director, as we reflect and move forward with this work. Emma is weaving these themes into her role as this Sunday's 7th June 10:30 Mysore conference, so if you're involved in our community and feel compelled to engage then Emma welcomes you to dial into this free Zoom conference. She mentions that "this will be our first chance to discuss this as a community since the podcast release" and she's holding space for all to get involved. It's free. Link is here: https://bit.ly/2U50ZBK
Here is the second episode:
And finally, please stay tuned. Visit our Evolving page and participate in our evolution as we wake up to injustice at every level. We are offering a live roundtable discussion with Q&A and inviting anyone who is interested in this productive, constructive dialogue to dial in. This convergence of minds and experiences is designed to round out our approach to Remski's tool for transformation: PRISM. This acronym stands for:
P = Pause to reflect on the idea that each yoga method and community carries both value, but also, potentially, a history of abuse;
R = Reflect the literature on the method to find and understand that history;
I = Investigate whether the harm has been acknowledged and addressed;
S = Show how you will embody the virtues and not bypass the wounds of the community;
M = Model transparent power-sharing and engaged ethics for future practitioners.
The Webinar for this discussion is scheduled for Tuesday, June 30th at 8 pm GMT.
Help us develop our PRISM document for best practice toward managing power dynamics at MLY.
...or grab link:
Please be aware:
Join us here:
"Practice and All Is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics, and Healing in Yoga and Beyond" Remski, Embodied Wisdom Publishing, 2019
"Take Back Your Life, Recovering From Cults and Abusive Relationships." Lalich and Tobias, 2006