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Iyengar Yoga Dilemma

I recently watched the documentary “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.   In the movie, a tech executive says that fake news travels six times faster than the truth.  As shocking as that is, I wasn’t surprised. It reminded me of what I witnessed on social media when the original accuser went to the press with her allegations against Manouso Manos. Social media blew up. It was a shit show, and the modern day scourge played an integral role in exacerbating the situation from the start. Anyone trying to present an alternative viewpoint was attacked and accused of gaslighting. It was like a pack of jackals hunting for prey, which in this case was anyone who did not agree with their narrative about Manouso. I watched as Manouso supporters were silenced, and the defamatory and libelous posts removed as if they never happened. When I told the independent investigator about the role social media played, she told me she would not be investigating that.

So fast forward to September 2020, an article has been published on social media about the alleged abuse and cover up by a popular senior teacher at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York. It’s curious to me that the the social media sites that previously went wild with the news of the allegations against Manouso have not shared the posts. Crickets! Radio Silence! Interestingly, I was told that the teacher who stands accused was the very person who accompanied the IYNAUS President to India to present the case against Manouso to Abhijata and Prashant after Geeta died. What a paradox! He was specifically chosen because of his close relationship with Abhijata.

There have been no emails from IYNAUS asking for anonymous complaints from the past 30 years. No IYNAUS BOARD UPDATES on social media. Nothing.

The Advocate has been busy to no avail…. she posted this and more on her Facebook. However, unlike her last crusade, it hasn’t been shared widely.

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The Abode of Yoga

BKS Iyengar with Manouso Manos

I am so thankful for Manouso Manos’s daily online one-hour classes. They have been a godsend for me during this difficult time of a global pandemic, tanking economy, raging wildfires, natural disasters, racial tensions, violence, and political polarization. And, that’s just in the United States. These problems exist daily world wide. Air pollution doesn’t seem to matter to many until the air they breathe is polluted. These problems are bigger than me and my stupid blog, but I do notice that my hour of yoga with Manouso brings me out of my default setting of self-centered head and into a space of interconnectedness and love for all my brothers and sisters and all that exists. I cringe as I write that but it’s true. It’s these glimpses with the divine, where simultaneously everything recedes and comes to the forefront, that bring me back to my yoga mat day after day, and, more importantly, make me strive to be a caring human being willing to make sacrifices for others. Skillful action.

I appreciate Manouso’s yoga studio in San Francisco formerly known as The Abode of Iyengar Yoga. I appreciate it because it is no frills- nothing but yoga. Manouso never advertised nor did he take credit cards, so students who walked in the door had to know what they were getting into or at least have cash. When I walked through that door, I let everything else fade away. I was there to pay attention not to forget. The Abode of Yoga has a beautiful aesthetic- impeccably clean and organized and well appointed with props. The ceiling has a huge skylight which opens to allow in the delicious and cool ocean breeze. Manouso has hinted at reopening his studio at some point soon.

I know it wasn’t easy or natural for Manouso to transition to online classes, but he did it in a way that only Manouso could and would, a way in which it is safe for the CIYT’s and easy to follow. Manouso is a luddite and teaches to those who are in front of him and now he is stuck in a room teaching hundreds of students he cannot see. For many who do not live in San Francisco, it’s a dream come true to be able to take his daily online classes. His assistants, to whom I dedicated a previous post, are rockstars! This past week he took care of them by teaching daily sequences to soothe the lungs from the dangerous levels of pollution in the bay area. These sequences are also applicable for strengthening the lungs against the ravages of COVID-19.

I am thankful to Manouso for continuing to offer these daily online classes and sharing the proceeds with his teachers, and for encouraging me to pay attention and stay awake so that I may serve others during these challenging times. Yoga is more about what I do off the mat than on it.

Thank you, Manouso and all the assistants!

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PRAMANA

I question the integrity and validity of the independent investigation against Manouso Manos for many reasons:

  • I was in the class where the alleged assault occurred. Though I repeatedly communicated that I was in the class, I was not contacted by the independent investigator until I requested to be interviewed. I checked my notes with the notes of others who were in the class, and we maintain that the pose Gandaberundasana was not taught that day. This is the pose where the alleged assault occurred.
  • My testimony is unrecognizble to me in the report and when I asked for clarification from the investigator and the IYNAUS president, I was denied.
  • One person, the investigator, was charged with not only gathering the information but also evaluating it and making a determination.
  • The investigator apparently did not look into the credibility or bias of the people who made the allegations.
  • Members of IYNAUS ethics committee who originally heard the complaint were not interviewed by the independent investigator. Below is an email from one of the ethics committee members who resigned over the handling of the situation.
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Email from IYNAUS Ethics Committee Member

To be continued….

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HIP, HIP, HYPOCRISY!

Wow, what a sequence Manouso taught yesterday! I always appreciate a good hip sequence, and Manouso is second to none when it comes to Iyengar yoga therapeutics. The sequence was focused on strengthening the outer buttock/outer upper thigh to stabilize the femur in the hip socket. He had the 600 or so students (my estimate) working that area in different poses. We held the poses for a long time which isn’t unusual. Some classes we move through poses and other classes we do fewer poses for longer holds. Manouso often says that most people are stronger in the inner leg than the outer leg. He also says that yoga poses balance strength and flexibility. We held upavasita konasana for several minutes each side. We placed a wooden block corner right in the inner groin where the underwear line is. As we pushed the side of the block in as we used our brain power to tighten the outer buttock and thigh at the same time so that the femur could find a state of alignment/neutrality in the hip socket.

We revisited this concept in supta padangustasana with the leg out to the side. We rolled a blanket and placed it under the outer thigh/outer buttock of the leg going out to the side. The pressure of the blanket forced the femur upward. Meanwhile, the inner upper groin area where the block was in the previous pose (pictured above) Manouso directed us to imagine a weight there pushing the femur down. He told us to equalize the pressures.

He told the story of when his hips began to go bad and he went to India and BKS Iyengar helped him with his hips. He had spent years working on flexibility in his legs and BKS Iyengar had him work on strength on the outer thigh buttock area to help the align the thigh bone (femur) in the socket. He said Iyengar put him in this version of the pose and stood on his inner groin and told him to equalize the pressure and find some peace in the hip joint. It is not uncommon for Manouso to adjust students with his foot in the inner upper groin while they stay in the pose. I have received tremendous benefit from this adjustment as a student with back and hip pain.

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The Truth is a Moving Target

In early 2018, two CIYTs from Nashville, Tennessee made a poster for Manouso. It was a gesture of gratitude for Manouso’s teachings and a little tongue and cheek nod to his status as a “rockstar” yogi, an image he had no interest in cultivating. They chose the tag line “The Truth is a Moving Target” from one of Manouso’s lectures in which he talked about the evolution and shift in a person’s worldview and perspective as time passes. The poster sold out in record time and a CIYT from the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles decided to make t-shirts with a similar design. This swag became a source of jealousy for other teachers.

When the original accuser took her ethics complaint against Manouso to the press, social media bashed the tagline “The Truth is a Moving Target”. I remember talking to a yogi friend about all the vitriolic comments from yogis on social media, and he made the observation, “I think people just need more friends.” I have thought about that statement a lot. I think it’s true. When people are involved in life and have fulfilling relationships, they are not seeking attention on social media and forming alliances with strangers to bring down “others”. Others= those who do not see the world as they do.

There is but one solution to the intricate riddle of life; to improve ourselves and contribute to the happiness of others.

Mary Shelley

The reference that Manouso is guilty is not consistent with any legal finding. Manouso has denied and continues to deny all the charges.

Disillusioned with the Independent Investigation of Manouso Manos

I question the integrity and validity of the independent investigation against Manouso Manos for many reasons:

  • I was in the class where the alleged assault occurred. Though I repeatedly communicated that I was in the class, I was not contacted by the independent investigator until I requested to be interviewed. I checked my notes with the notes of others who were in the class, and we maintain that the pose Gandaberundasana was not taught that day. This is the pose where the alleged assault occurred.
  • My testimony is unrecognizble to me in the report and when I asked for clarification from the investigator and the IYNAUS president, I was denied.
  • One person, the investigator, was charged with not only gathering the information but also evaluating it and making a determination.
  • The investigator apparently did not look into the credibility or bias of the people who made the allegations.
  • Members of IYNAUS ethics committee who originally heard the complaint were not interviewed by the independent investigator. Below is an email from one of the ethics committee members who resigned over the handling of the situation.
Email from IYNAUS Ethics Committee Member

To be continued….

Allegations Against Manouso Manos

IYNAUS continued to solicit complaints about Manouso after the one-sided report was published. In a two week span, I received three official Iyengar communications soliciting complaints about Manouso. The fact that Manouso denied and continues to deny the charges was conspicuously absent from all these communications.

I am not alone in my opinion that the one-sided independent investigation served as a convenient vehicle to remove Manouso based on long standing jealousies and quarrels. The timing is uncanny. Iyengar died in 2014, Geeta died in December 2018, and Manouso was removed in April 2019. There were no complaints against Manouso for 30 years. He was at the top of his game and traveled the world propagating Iyengar yoga as his guru BKS Iyengar had instructed him to do. Nobody in the Iyengar system embodies the teachings of BKS Iyengar like Manouso does. All you have to do is watch a video of Iyengar teaching and you can see the trust and faith he had in Manouso. IYNAUS did nothing to protect Manouso from being branded by complaints and accusations on social media and elsewhere. In fact, members of the IYNAUS board, IYALA and senior teachers contributed on social media to perpetuate the ruin of Manouso’s reputation. The decision to release the one-sided report negatvely impacted Iyengar Yoga, not to mention Manouso and his family and all the dedicated teachers. Once the report was released, the original accuser posted a video of the abuse perpetrated by BKS Iyengar and put a call out for all Iyengar Yoga abuses. Her audience of IYNAUS board members and senior teachers and the Australian therapy teacher went radio silent. Crickets!! I wrote one of them a letter asking why she showed the accuser support when Manouso was on the chopping block and not when BKS was being called out.

Her reply was this:

I no longer follow those posts and as much as I like and respect (original accuser name) I unfriended her so I would no longer have to see these posts. I have found (original accuser name) and her team – Mathew and Donna et el, force their followers to agree with them 100% or else you are described as being against them, against justice brought to predators and of general low moral standard. I don’t buy into this.

Of course the YP and the Yoga Police jumped on board sharing the abusive BKS Iyengar video widely.

The investigation of claims of sexual harassment made against Manouso was one-sided and designed to find guilt rather than to independently investigate claims in an impartial manner. Every exculpatory bit of evidence was not considered, such as interviewing witnesses who are noted in the report as witnessing an assault or just a basic background check of the accusers. It would have been relatively easy to establish the personal vendetta that one of his acccusers has against Manouso.

We live in a free country, a democracy guided by rules and laws. In a democracy, a person being accused learns the identity of their accuser(s); has the opportunity to question their claims; to explain their ‘side’ of the story, to tell their truth and to have their day in court. Manouso was not given this opportunity. Admitting to a simple adjustment such as a pat to the inner thigh in ardha chandrasana could land him in jail depending on the state in which the common adjustment occurred.

I was struck by comments on social media comparing Manouso to Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. These men have raped women. In recent #METOO cases that have reached the courts, the accused allegedly made unwanted advances of a sexual nature which included requests for private meetings, luring women to private meeting places under the pretext of business, and making outright demands for sexual acts and or rape.

The accusations against Manouso are materially different. All cases in the report allege instances of inappropriate touching occured during yoga classes with multiple students and or the entire class watching. Never once did a student receiving the instruction complain that the touch felt inappropriate nor did she ask Manouso to stop. In addition, never once did an observer speak up to say they were offended by watching the adjustment. All adjustments were public, all occured in the context of a yoga class, and all were observed by bystanders, including Iyengar Yoga senior teachers. No one took exception; no one asked Manouso to stop. In many cases, observing teachers had seen and experienced the same adjustments year after year and gave similar adjustments to their students. Decade after decade, nobody questioned the appropriateness of Manouso’s touch. And, all the adjustments in question were taught to Manouso by Iyengar. Moreover, the report contained no evidence that Manouso ever used his position to intimidate or prevent another teacher from advancing.

The reference that Manouso is guilty is not consistent with any legal finding. Manouso has denied and continues to deny all the charges.

Manouso’s Yoga Teaching

I continue to be amazed by the genius of Manouso’s sequencing, and I have no doubt that his daily online classes are being repeated by yoga teachers in their classes around the world. Manouso credits BKS Iyengar in every class he teaches, but I wonder if teachers are crediting Manouso in their classes. I am sure a few teachers credit him but most can’t because they fear decertification from IYNAUS. And here’s the thing, Manouso’s sequencing is absolutely his own, and the depth of his understanding of the human body makes his sequences impossible to copy. He gives way more credit to Iyengar than is actually owed. BKS and Geeta Iyengar taught Manouso how to practice and Manouso’s sequences are based on his practice. I am confident that even if a person were to memorize word-for-word a Manouso sequence, they could not pull off teaching it with the same sophistication. Manouso has an undeniable gift for understanding the human body and mind through yoga. He’s truly a master of his craft. Thank you Manouso for showing up every day. Your teaching transforms.

100% Manouso Original Material– If you are taught this sequence about the elbow, know where it came from! If you are teaching this, credit the teacher!

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.