Below is a letter from a CIYT which is being widely circulated. Make up your own mind, but it’s important to have all the information to make a decision. The narrative about Manouso has been tightly controlled and one-sided. The letter below has been slightly edited for readibility because names have been removed.
Friends in Yoga:
First, thank you for opening the discussion, _____ and Co-Presidents _____ and _____. I appreciate this opportunity to speak to all of you on this email chain, and to clear the air.
Please excuse my writing to you anonymously – under my pen name “Arjuna.” I use the pen name because I fear further retribution and harassment Indeed, I (and my recently terminated fellow teachers) have already suffered great retribution, harassment and discrimination from IYILA’s board and curriculum council members, IYNAUS and Abhi – in violation of our legal rights.
We don’t, and won’t, all agree but let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Your moral courage, ethics and your sense of who you are and where you belong, are called into question now. Your perspective will determine your truth – and whether and how you deny your former brothers and sisters in yoga. You and I – all of us – are in Arjuna’s shoes… We must choose:
On the one hand, do we stop unlawfully discriminating against our IYILA teachers who study with Manouso in their personal / off-duty time? Or, on the other hand, do we continue the division in our community and, in Abhi’s name, further the schism and exile from our teaching staff and community those teachers who study with Manouso?
Unfortunately, a “third way” – some called it “Switzerland “or “don’t ask, don’t tell”– no longer exists for us after recent actions by IYILA board members and, most significantly, Abhi’s letter. Abhi’s letter, sent to every member of IYNAUS – student and teacher alike – says that teachers who continue their study with Manouso are unethical and, because they are unethical, they will be decertified. As you all know, only certified teachers can teach at the Institutes.
So, those of us who continued to study with Manouso after his decertification, expected that the Institute would terminate us. Indeed, to further Abhi’s goal, _____ and IYILA board member ___________ (a lawyer formerly with one of Wall Street’s biggest law firms) formed an ad hoc “IYILA ethics committee;” Manouso students needed to be identified and removed from the teaching staff. Even prior to Abhi’s letter though, and in response to a “protest letter” signed by twelve of the teachers on staff at the Institute that questioned IYNAUS’s report and conclusion, IYILA and some senior teachers retaliated.
_A male teacher “threatened” and “intimidated” female teacher (in her words) at the Institute just before she taught her class. She likened his visit to “a visit from the mob.” He told her that her future assessments, her advancement in the system, and her certification would be jeopardized if she didn’t disavow signing the protest letter. He was on the Board of IYNAUS and IYILA at the time, so his threat was taken as credible. She wrote a letter complaining about his behavior. The letter was public (see previous post entitled Is Iyengar Yoga a Cult?) It said it that it could be shared with others and was, in fact, widely circulated. The letter was received and considered by the IYILA board. Rather than doing the right thing by reaching out to the author to investigate the substance of her complaint about a senior male teacher’s intimidating behavior directed at a more junior female teacher in the workplace, the board relied on a lawyer’s technical analysis that they thought would allow them to ignore the letter. The lawyer reasoned that the board was not obligated to act because, although they received the letter, technically, it was not addressed to them. After learning of the board’s reliance on the legal loophole, the author re-sent her letter to the Institute through its official channels. However, confidence in the board was lost and teachers were generally intimidated as much by his actions as the board’s inaction. The irony of this was not lost on us; it occurred in the context of the then board president ( and _____ organizing, and using the Institute’s very limited funds, to pay for therapists to “help” us manage allegations of a senior male teacher sexually intimidating women at the Institute. In this context, the board’s legal maneuvering to protect the male teacher (who clearly intimidated the female teacher) sent a clear message. His behavior was ok; questioning IYNAUS’s report could end your career as an Iyengar yoga teacher. IYILA was feeling more like a cult and she noted it. Senior teacher- the most influential and feared member of the curriculum committee – which determines who gets classes at the Institute) intimidated the youngest and most junior of the teachers who signed the protest letter. Senior teacher suggested to the teacher that their career as an Iyengar teacher and at the Institute might suffer if the they didn’t disavow the protest letter. The teacher did as the senior teacher directed (and this teacher should not be blamed for this in any way by anyone). This senior teacher’s retaliation wasn’t triggered just by the protest letter. She started right away after Manouso’s decertification to show all (both those senior to her in the hierarchy and those junior to her in certification) that she would enforce consequences for questioning the IYNAUS report and continuing to study with Manouso. She retaliated against ____ by ceasing to use ____ as her regular substitute teacher at the Institute. ____ had been her regular sub for years, and was popular with her students. She replaced _____ with less experienced teachers. Class attendance declined. Students complained. Her fellow curriculum committee members intervened and (as senior teachers) volunteered to be her sub.
So, even before we all received Abhi’s letter telling our friends, students and the world that we were unethical people about to be decertified, we were already so harassed by _____, ______ and the IYILA board that we were unsure how we could continue in the system. We heard about similar harassment of east coast teachers by JW. But we hoped. We hoped for the “third way.” We hoped that somehow we might all be able to get along again. Abhi’s letter though, unnecessarily and perhaps on bad advice, announced her strong intention to pursue a schism that we can’t fix – and our hope waned.
At this point, a couple of important clarifications:
- This is not about whether you believe IYNAUS’s Manouso report is flawed or is perfect. This is about whether you believe your fellow teachers should enjoy fundamental human rights – legal rights here in California. Rights such as:
freedom of association (yes, employees – in their off duty time – have the right to gather with whomever they wish – even with Manouso and even if our employer and the national association and senior teachers disapprove); freedom of speech (yes, employees – in their off duty time / off premises – have the right to speak about Manouso, criticize or praise him, discourage or promote him); privacy (yes, employees – in their off duty time – have the right to be free of employers’ tracking their activities – that is, IYILA does not have the right to pry into teacher’s private lives to see if they are attending Manouso’s workshops); freedom of religion (yes, for some of us – especially teachers – our personal yoga practice is a religious practice; it is legally protected, and the Institute can’t legally discriminate against us in our employment based on who we practice and study with; IYILA and IYNAUS espouse that yoga is not a religion though, so they can’t claim that they can discriminate based on our studying with someone they excommunicated). In the American constitution, these rights were adopted as individuals’ fundamental protections against tyrannical government. They were not initially viewed as applicable to employer / employee relationships. However, federal civil rights laws and state constitutions and laws (especially California’s) have rightfully expanded these rights to cover employee relations. Under these expanded laws, employers can regulate employee speech and associations and invade their privacy at the workplace during their on-duty hours. However, employers cannot control (or retaliate against) employees for their off-duty / out of the workplace activities, speech or associations (except in extreme situations where the conduct is unlawful). To my knowledge, after being asked not to promote Manouso in IYILA classes or at the Institute, teachers complied. These teachers are experiencing unlawful discrimination and retaliation for their off duty / off premises exercise of fundamental legal rights. Shame on IYILA, IYNAUS, the curriculum committee, _____, _____and Abhi for their roles in this unlawful and unethical activity that has cause so much damage to our fellow teachers. 2. Your certification is a property and contract right that cannot be taken from you arbitrarily. You earned your certification. You paid your hard-earned money for association dues, for testing fees and for training fees and the like. You paid a lot of money but that pales in comparison to the sweat and tears – your time and work and personal sacrifices – put in over years and years (and for some of you, decades). This at times may have seemed your selfless contribution to the promulgation of Guruji’s work. But there was always a quid pro quo; your training and work led to knowledge and advancement that was recognized through your certifications. At least you had that certification – that was the deal; you took it for granted that it would always be yours – unless you did something so terribly wrong that it was taken away from you for good cause. (That’s how the taking of Manouso’s very valuable senior certificate was justified by IYNAUS.) So, you had a deal with the system: you were rewarded for paying your money and doing your work with your certifications, and you advanced or didn’t in the system; from a legal perspective, you had a contract and a property right and you relied on it; your certification could not (and cannot legally) be arbitrarily taken from you – even by the new generation in India that inherited family power built by the great yogis Geetaji and Guruji (who by the way did not decertify anyone for studying with someone else – even the rival and great yogi Pattabhi Jois).
With legal advice at IYNAUS and IYILA, the board and curriculum committee members were made to recognize that: teacher employees could claim legal rights to their certifications; taking certifications arbitrarily would expose the takers (the institutions and members of their boards and curriculum committees) to legal liability and even punitive damages. IYNAUS and IYILA hesitated. It wasn’t going to be that easy in California to arbitrarily fire employees in violation of their civil rights, and contract and property law. To move her agenda forward in this context, Abhi’s letter encouraged “unethical” people who study with Manouso to decertify themselves. An older senior teacher repeated this admonition to teachers. (This actually worked: At this point, more teachers voluntarily resigned. ______ had resigned her IYILA teaching position already – right after the IYNAUS report was issued. ______ resigned her teaching position at IYILA when she received Abhi’s letter. ____, as the sole voice for reconciliation resigned from the curriculum committee. Several other teachers said they will resign when they secure their future plans. Still others said that they are considering resigning. Many had already stopped paying dues as a protest to IYNAUS.
For those “unethical” people who would not decertify themselves or otherwise resign, the system needed some appearance of reasonableness and due process to avoid legal liability as our remaining senior teachers on the curriculum committee and board members proceeded with the plan to purify the teachers ranks and weed out any remaining Manouso students. To this end, the SF institute and others here pleaded for more time. So, Ahbi’s letter said something to the effect of – ‘no action on decertification would take place until April 15.’
Who knew a pandemic would arrive before more complicated plans could be implemented? ______described the closing of the Institute as an “opportunity” to implement a teacher and class schedule that would exclude teachers who study with Manouso. Teachers asked the Institute to assist them in teaching their classes by Zoom but the response was that yet another “committee” needed to study that. Meanwhile, the teachers’ employment was terminated and, abandoned by the Institute and knowing that their students needed the yoga, teachers quickly started teaching on Zoom on their own. When the Institute announced its Zoom schedule (which could have easily and logically included the teachers previously on the schedule), only teachers who do not study with Manouso were featured. The new Zoom schedule accomplished the desired result and masked a more blatant firing of Manouso teachers that could have created more obvious controversy, easier lawsuits from teachers and student complaints. Truly, as ______ had said, the pandemic was an opportunity.
No one wants to be part of an unethical community. What is your perspective on which community is unethical? Like Arjuna, we seek a path to right action. Abhi laid down a path for you follow but it further divides our community. ______and ______ follow that path and lead board members down it. That path presents attractive opportunities to remain, and indeed advance, in the system. I cannot in good conscience follow that path anymore. Can you? Here are your binary options:
- 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
- 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?
For me, Arjuna, it has been helpful to clear the air. It is still hard for me because I see my former friends, teachers, mentors (like a big family) on both sides of the battlefield. I now know the right thing to do. I must move on; I cannot remain involved with established Iyengar yoga organizations now that it has become an over-controlling organization – a cult. I will always be thankful to Iyengar yoga and all of you though for all you have given me before you took this unfortunate turn.
As you may have surmised, Arjuna consulted lawyers and doctors in advance of writing this. They say Iyengar teachers who study with Manouso have suffered greatly. They observe that the teachers have been excluded from their community, excommunicated, labeled unethical by those who inherited control of RIMYI, threatened and intimidated in the workplace by senior teachers, discriminated and retaliated against unlawfully by people they had trusted in positions of responsibility. These advisors say that the teachers could make claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, violation of civil, property and contract rights, slander, damage to reputation, and lost earnings potential, and that these claims over numerous teachers add up to significant damage claims that could be taken on contingency and pursued against the responsible entities and individuals. They say though that none of this can restore all that the teachers have lost. They say punitive damages are appropriate and necessary to curb abusive behavior of cults acting unlawfully to control their members private activities. Personally, I do not intend to engage these lawyers – at least not now. I prefer to move on – and away from what Iyengar yoga associations have become. Winning a lawsuit would be a Pyrrhic victory; I would become entitled to work at the Institute but the organization’s leadership no longer wants me (and I no longer want to be part of it or associated with them). I’m not sure one can go back.
Finally, please do not reply to Arjuna at this email address as it has already vaporized – even before you read this. Please do feel free, however, to discuss the elephant in the room – Arjuna’s dilemma – in the group call and remember – to quote the teacher who trained all of us and to whom BKS Iyengar gave his highest certificate – “The truth is a moving target.” So is ethics.