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My Adventures in Iyengar Yoga

There is NO HATE like YOGA HATE

We are all in this alone.

— Lily Tomlin

Okay, I am desperate. I can’t believe I have found my way to a blogging site but that’s where I am on this Friday evening. I have been frustrated by narratives being controlled on social media. I am sick of the righteousness, viciousness, and greed of yoga communities. I want to get my voice out there so maybe, just maybe, someone will look for another side to the story. I have no idea of the life span of a blog, but maybe in a decade when things settle down, some researcher will find my blog and unearth some truth and another side to the story.

My yoga adventure started unceremoniously in the year 2000. There was a yoga studio down the street from my house. I was in great emotional pain because I was in an unhealthy relationship and needed to find my way out of it. I ran four miles a day but that wasn’t even making a dent in my overcast outlook. So I wandered into the yoga studio. I think if the studio hadn’t been down the street from my house I would have likely never have started the practice.

Anyway, I found the courage to go to a class. I think the hardest yoga class is the first because it takes a lot of courage to step through that door of judgement (perceived or real) The studio looked like a crazy torture chamber with ropes and tresslers and all kinds of weird shaped wooden accutrements. The teacher was a beautiful, petite and buxom flexible “doll”. I mean she bent like some sort of gumby doll. I will never forget how she had us sitting in dandasana (staff pose) and told us to spread our toes. My toes were aliens to me. I willed them to spread, but I had no intelligence in my toes. The teacher quickly pointed out I did not have intelligence in a lot of places. I felt somewhat embarrassed about my lack of flexibility and “intelligence”, but I kept going to class because I liked the challenge and the way I felt after class. It seemed for a nano second my mind would be at peace. I came to find out eventually, the yoga I was being taught was called Iyengar Yoga. When I told one of my male friends about my budding interest in yoga he said, “There is no hate like yoga hate.” I laughed at the time but I never forgot his words. It’s a paradox.

AT LAST

“To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.”

Ella Wheeler Wilcox from her 1914 poem- “Protest”

At last, a senior Iyengar yoga teacher musters the courage to write a requiem for the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles and gives us a little glimpse at the underbelly of Iyengar yoga politics. You may read the entire article here. Here is an excerpt from the post.

Epilogue

Upon reading this post, I realize that I have been avoiding the complicated and painful final two years prior to closure. While the pandemic ultimately caused the physical closing of the Institute, a rupture in the community had fatally sealed the harmony of our family. It drove a wedge between colleagues as teachers monitored what they said, paranoid of being reported for questioning the decision of the National Iyengar Yoga Association (IYNAUS). Just as roses have thorns, people are inherently political.

The Me Too movement enabled women to speak forth, if they had ever felt victims of inappropriate behavior. Allegations against Manouso Manos caused IYNAUS to hire a lawyer to conduct an investigation. As teachers claimed their positions pro or con, the hostility was palpable. Teachers were prohibited from speaking Manouso’s name in the parking lot; he was being ghosted and systematically canceled. Divorce is never easy. The emotional toll can be crippling.

This closing chapter of the Institute was painful and tragic. Most spiritual communities that go through this process rarely recover. While we had many meetings to discuss how to heal our community, the writing was black and white, the die already cast. Any challenge to the investigation meant that you might be ghosted or cancelled as well. For many of us, akin to Arjuna’s paralysis in the Bhagavad Gita, this was a decisive moment. Is this the reason I was never invited to teach online when the Institute graduated to a virtual classroom?

The grieving cycle has its own internal rhythm. Trauma cannot be quantified, it is a deeply subjective experience. The letting go of an idea of a cohesive community amidst the politics of this event will be ongoing for many of us. I find myself discovering renewed strength and refuge through my students, teaching, practice, and dedication to the gift of Iyengar Yoga, sans any need for the institutionalization of his legacy. Now, when I begin the invocation, the memory of the Institute resides with those who have passed on, sitting on the right side of Patañjali.

Good Trouble

Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul…. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart… Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge…. But when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice.

John Lewis

We lost a civil rights giant on Friday. RIP John Lewis. Though he helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he was beaten and bloodied for his peaceful convictions of freedom and justice of all people. It’s depressing how gaggles of white people seek to oppress and deny others their most basic human rights. As a young boy in Alabama, John Lewis questioned segregated bathrooms, drinking fountains, movie theaters, and other evidence of Jim Crow laws. His mother told him, “Don’t get into trouble. Don’t get in the way.” But he was inspired to get into trouble and to get into the way. And thank goodness.

“Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”

John Lewis

I hate to sound too righteous but civil rights are civil rights, and in the words of John Lewis, “When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have the moral obligation to do something.”

Think about your silence. Think about your unwillingness to be uncomfortable. Think about yoga hypocrisy and why you read this blog. Think about why you can’t seem to shake the feeling that there was something not quite right about all the effort that was put into the investigation of Manouso Manos. What are you feeling?

  1. Do you support the organizations and individuals that violate our fellow teachers’ human rights and the law? – Organizations and individuals that attempt to control our fellow teachers’ private lives, speech, thoughts, associations and religious practice?  Organizations and individuals that have deprived our fellow teachers of their livelihoods, and slandered them as unethical?  
  2. Do you find your fellow teachers unethical for having the opinion that IYNAUS’s Manouso report is flawed and, based on that opinion, continuing their study with Manouso during their off-duty hours? Do you support their decertification and termination?
  3. Do you think that during a global pandemic with yoga studios closed in California, Manouso’s online teaching assistants should choose IYNAUS and their Iyengar Yoga certification over a dependable and stable income?
  4. Do you think it’s okay for senior teachers to threaten lesser ranking CIYT’s who questioned the impartiality of the independent investigation. Do you think it is okay for senior teachers to serve cease in desist orders to fellow Iyengar teachers who questioned the validity of the investigation and the role of senior teachers in the investigation?
  5. Do you think it’s normal that teachers are invited to teach classes and then uninvited when they refuse to remove Manouso’s name from their bio?
  6. Do you think it is normal that CIYTs are forced to pretend that Manouso was never their teacher when he actually was and still is? Do you think it’s okay to not give credit to your teacher or lie about it?

When justice is served, it doesn’t leave a bitter aftertaste.

Move on, IYNAUS!!!

On Friday, April 5, 2019, IYNAUS sent this email blast to its members:

The body of the letter contained this paragraph:

Maybe 15 days was a typo. Maybe it was supposed to be 1500 days, because as of today, it has been 462 days since we were told it would be available on the website for 15 days , and it is still up there. Does that seem vindictive? Move on, IYNAUS! Manouso has and so have all his students. We are happily studying with him daily. Stop chasing the CIYT’s who have chosen not to believe the one-sided report. Stop demanding that CIYTs remove Manouso’s name from their bio’s and penalizing them when they will not. Stop shaming and silencing CIYT’s. Move on, IYNAUS. It’s time. You won. GG!

FROM IYNAUS WEBSITE JULY 10, 2020

Silence is what allows people to suffer without recourse, what allows hypocrisies and lies to grow and flourish, crimes to go unpunished. If our voices are essential aspects of our humanity, to be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanized or excluded from one’s humanity.

Rebecca Solnit from her book The Mother of All Questions
  1. Do you find your fellow teachers guilty of the “crimes” of having the opinion that IYNAUS’s Manouso report is flawed and, based on that opinion, continuing their study with Manouso during their off-duty hours? And do you, therefore, judge your fellow teachers as being unethical, and do you support (as Abhi intends) their decertification and termination – effectively, their expulsion from the Iyengar community? OR
  2. Do you reject the organizations and individuals that violate our fellow teachers’ human rights and the law? – Organizations and individuals that attempt to control our fellow teachers’ private lives, speech, thoughts, associations and religious practice?  Organizations and individuals that have deprived our fellow teachers of their livelihoods, and slandered them as unethical?  

Guru Purnima

Guru Purnima is celebrated on the first full moon after the summer solstice. It is celebrated as a festival in India, Nepal, and Bhutan by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. This festival is a celebration of gratitude for gurus– spiritual or academic teachers. It is the brightest full moon of the year. Guru Purnima literally means large darkness dispelling moon. A guru is someone who destroys the darkness of ignorance and brings one to the brightness of clarity and knowledge. The brightness of the big full moon against the vast dark sky is a beautiful representation of what a guru signifies.

Today is Guru Purnima and this post is dedicated with gratitude to the selfless and inspiring teachings of Manouso Manos. Here are the reasons I chose Manouso as my teacher and continue to study with him.

  1. Manouso knows his shit. His knowledge of the physical body and the intricacies of how each asana affects the mind body experience is astounding. I mean, mind blowing. I also learn a lot about history, physics, science, anatomy, philosophy, and an occasional basic cooking tip in his classes.
  2. Manouso inspires. He pushes. He is passionate. His teachings are clear, concise, and methodical and make me a better yoga practitioner, and more importantly, a better human being.
  3. Manouso is compassionate and sensitive. He has gone out of his way to help me with injuries and emotional distresses.
  4. Manouso tells me the truth. He doesn’t try to please me or earn my devotion. He tells me straight.
  5. Manouso leads by example. He consistently reinforces themes of shared humanity, taking care of each other, the environment, and future generations. He does not engage in gossip and keeps confidences. He subscribes to the notion that the rising tide lifts all boats. He genuinely wants to see his students advance.
  6. Manouso is generous in mind, body, and spirit. He responds to emails promptly with information. He generously donates his time for studio openings, conventions, and other causes. He helps students who are strapped for cash. He wants his students to take up the practice of yoga themselves and not rely on him.
  7. Manouso has a keen sense of humor and can laugh at himself.
  8. Manouso is unapologetically comfortable with who he is. He stands tall and holds his head high. He is not afraid to disagree. He is not afraid to say he was wrong. He is not afraid to say he doesn’t know.
  9. Manouso gives credit to his teacher BKS Iyengar in every class.

Thank you Manouso for being you. Your teachings transform. I am grateful to you for your teachings and to your teacher BKS Iyengar.

Good Standing

The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.

Albert Schweitzer

The schedule for the four-day free class given by the star-studded cast of elderly Iyengar teachers has been adjusted to allow for Prashant’s online class. Oh my. You must have a recommendation from a teacher who “is in good standing” and at least 3 years of experience to listen to Prashant’s drivel. Don’t take me at my word. Sign up an experience it for yourself! Geeta and BKS had the goods. The house of cards is falling, starting with the closing of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles. They are closing shop and moving to a non-Iyengar yoga studio in Beverly Hills. Manouso kept them financially afloat for years. He would teach there as many as six times a year. His 3-year therapeutics program (the only therapeutics class endorsed by BKS Iyengar) was a cash cow for them. Several senior teachers assisted him in the therapeutics class. Originally, the course was designed so that the senior teacher assistants could review the material without him being present, but he got so many complaints from the CIYTs attending that he felt the need to attend all the sessions. The complaints centered around the senior teachers’ demeaning and abusive language, not to mention their inability to replicate what he had taught. Most recently the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles, “fired” or did not give slots to teachers who study with Manouso. Ask them.

I guess that didn’t work out so well for the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles. You can read more the shenanigans at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles in previous posts.

Manouso taught two classes each day last week: pranayama and asana. I find it utterly ironic that he continues to attract more students on a daily basis than most teachers dream of. I know many are CIYT’s, but my lips are sealed. And someone please explain to me what “good standing” is because it appears there was an abundance of behind the scenes manipulations by those who stood to benefit the most from Manouso’s ouster. I do not consider that “good standing”. Has anyone else noticed how the IYNAUS page devoted to justifying their actions regarding Manouso keeps changing as some of the behind the scenes information has come to light? The above email is not referenced in the timeline on IYNAUS website.

Here’s part of the ever changing timeline:

3/15   The IYNAUS Board announces that independent investigation will be concluded notwithstanding MM’s resignation.  See the eblast here.  The Board responds to the accusations that had been made by MM and his lawyers on 3/8.  In this response, IYNAUS releases the Iyengars’ 11/15 letter, IYNAUS’s 11/27 response, and MM lawyer’s letter of 3/12. Links to all these documents can be found on the Clarifying Statement Page on the IYNAUS website. 

3/26 IYNAUS President receives the investigative report and executive summary of it from Ms. Sargeant.  IYNAUS President receives legal advice that directors have good faith belief that sharing the report with the Iyengars is in the best interest of IYNAUS, notwithstanding MM’s resignation.

Oh, and here’s the link for Prashant’s online class, if you have a teacher who “is in good standing”.


FUIYNAUS

It’s sad that during a global crisis IYNAUS has revoked the certification of teachers who are assisting Manouso’s online classes. It’s hard enough to make a living as a yoga teacher during a raging pandemic with most yoga studios closed and the online zoom market saturated with free classes. Manouso continues to pay his teachers while other senior teachers offer free classes. Free classes effectively undermine the ability of struggling yoga teachers to make a living when students can find a free yoga class taught by senior teachers pretty much any day of the week. 600 is a very popular number of registrants these days. I noticed that an upcoming star-studded IYNAUS free four-day offering boasts 600 registrants. The president of IYNAUS continues to offer frequent free yoga classes. You get what you pay for, I suppose. I understand during a recent webinar panel discussion regarding opening a yoga studio during COVID-19, CIYT’s were told by a member of the IYNAUS board, a white male attorney, not to make any public statements about the danger of opening studios. Very Trumpian as Fred Smith might say. Defund IYNAUS is what others might say. After a while, an organization serves no purpose other than to justify its existence. IYNAUS was sure to make the disclaimer that the session content was not related to IYNAUS policy. Excuse me?

“Science, like love, is a means to that transcendence, to that soaring experience of the oneness of being fully alive. The scientific approach to nature and my understanding of love are the same: Love asks us to get beyond the infantile projections of our personal hopes and fears, to embrace the other’s reality. This kind of unflinching love never stops daring to go deeper, to reach higher.

This is precisely the way that science loves nature. This lack of a final destination, an absolute truth, is what makes science such a worthy methodology for sacred searching. It is a never ending lesson in humility. The vastness of the universe — and love, the thing that makes the vastness bearable — is out of reach to the arrogant. This cosmos only fully admits those who listen carefully for the inner voice reminding us to remember we might be wrong. What’s real must matter more to us than what we wish to believe.”

Ann Druyan from her book, COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS

Who Runs IYNAUS?

Unfortunate slip of the pen for IYNAUS considering a CIYT of color is calling out IYNAUS for its history of racist and oppressive practices. The call to action is gaining momentum on Facebook, and interestingly most of the supporters are outside the Iyengar system, though I did notice a lot of #BLM virtue signaling by Iyengar Yoga Institutes and CIYT’s on social media. The POC CIYT signed the letter featured in a previous post which led to the independent investigation of Manouso Manos. I can only imagine he is wondering where his support is, and why all those senior teachers and the sanskrit scholars who signed the call to action about Manouso aren’t sounding the alarms and demanding action like they did for Manouso. Are they protecting their white privilege and their power? I am guessing with the recent threats of decertification for studying with Manouso, the lower ranks of Iyengar yoga teachers are afraid to support his call to action knowing that the ethics committee sent letters to Manouso’s teachers that assist him in his online classes. The letters demanded their resignation or risk decertification. Threats of losing your livelihood make people afraid to speak up against anything, let alone the glaringly obvious lack of diversity in the Iyengar yoga tradition. You may recall I posted the letter of resignation from the non-white Chair of Ethics committee. She has a PhD in Forensics and resigned because of unethical behavior on the IYNAUS board. All four female members of the Ethics Committee resigned over the handling of Manouso, and it’s worth mentioning that two of them were non-white. They have been replaced by three white-males and two females, one who is non-white. One of the three white-males is the former IYNAUS President– the very person the former Ethics Chair called out for unethical behavior, and coincidentally the POC CIYT is demanding his resignation for his inflammatory, racist responses to Black teachers who have labored on committees for free and who have endeavored to express to him directly their concerns about systemic racism within the structure of IYNAUS! Crazy town! It’s not clear to me why we need three white-males on the ethics committee of an organization that is predominately white middle age females. Here are some excerpts from the former Ethics Chair letter:

“Regret- that the Ethics Committee is marginalized and the Ethics chair and/or the entire committee appears to be foreced to step down because of its attempts to prevent potentially unethical and illegal actions i.e., handing over past confidential files to IYNAUS current and future presidents. Despite our efforts, there have been no attempts to assuage our concerns about potential illegal or ethical violations of confidentiality breach. The Board, in October 2018, voted for this agenda but it does not free us from legal and ethical ramifications. No rationale has been given to justify this breach of trust and confidentiality.”

Regret- that the silent majority appears to be enabling unethical practices of a small segment of this board. There seem to be no checks on the abuse of this power. The letter from the Iyengars and the letter ‘from the board’ to the Iyengars without input or knowledge of the board memers have not raised anyone’s concerns…

…There is nothing democratic about the decision making process because the decisions are being made by a small group without input or knowledge of the entire board…

…Finally, it is a relief to not have to defend anymore against false accusations by a few or to bang my head against a wall with silent passersby or to engage in unethical practices as forced by a majority vote by this board in its recent meeting.

Virtue Signaling, White Fragility, COVID-19, and Iyengar Yoga

Wow! What a time to be alive. Nobody is comfortable. Nobody. I, along with hundreds of other people, take refuge in Manouso’s daily online classes. They are a godsend amidst this onslaught of uncertainty. I heard 601 students registered for Manouso’s class today! Many of you will know why I make such a statement. Gross. Manouso continues to pay his teachers with the proceeds from his class. What a gift this must be for his teachers, as yoga studios are still closed in California.

So here we are in a global pandemic and nightly protests about systemic racism in the United States, which have spanned the world. And what action is IYNAUS and other Iyengar Yoga institutes taking besides posting the ridiculous black squares on social media which have effectively muted the message from the black community? IYNAUS ethics committee is busy chasing down teachers who are studying with Manouso and threatening decertification! Talk about right action….

I believe that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color. I define a white progressive as any white person who thinks he or she is not a racist, or is less a racist, or in the “choir,” or already “gets it.” White progressives can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree that we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived. None of our energy will go into what we need to be doing for the rest of our lives: engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual anti-racist practice. White progressives do indeed uphold and perpetuate racisim, but our defensiveness and certitude make it virtually impossible to explain to us how we do so.”

Robin Diangelo from her book White Fragility