Iyengar Yoga and COVID-19

I love Iyengar yoga as I understand it from the teachings of BKS Iyengar, Geeta Iyengar, Manouso Manos, and a few other teachers I have had along the way. Abhijata Sridhar Iyengar is a fine teacher, and she may very well develop the level of sophistication that her granddad and aunt posessed, but I doubt it. Great yoga teaching is not genetic. I do not relate to the teachings of Prashant Iyengar and can’t even get through a minute of his videos posted on IYNAUS facebook. The practice of Iyengar yoga transforms, but the politics, in-fighting, and hypocrisy detracts from the teachings and prevents the method from gaining a wider exposure. It is becoming more and more like a cult, especially from the outside looking in.

So back when the original accuser of Manouso went with her story to the press, a gaggle of CIYT’s along with some Sanskrit scholars and an Australian therapeutics teacher issued a missive to the IYNAUS board demanding more action to protect students. Here are some excerpts:

As an association whose mission it is to promote the teachings of Yogacharya Sri BKS Iyengar to the world in a pure and ethical manner, we (the members) have a greater duty and responsibility to the public to ensure that our own complaint process: ….

….Our members, students, and the public should have faith that this organization will adopt and adhere to the “best practices” to insure no further harm to our members or to our organization, and the good name of BKS Iyengar and his teaching methodology.

We understand that IYNAUS is a volunteer organization with limited financial resources. However, given our moral responsibility to our members and the potential legal liability to the association, we cannot afford not to institute these reforms. Those of us who are longtime members of IYNAUS are willing to work with the community to identify and implement action items in line with these recommendations. In light of the the upcoming convention in April 2019, it would be appropriate to present a plan of action to IYNAUS members at the general membership meeting at that venue.

Please confirm receipt of this letter as soon as possible. We look forward to supporting you in upholding the hightest ethical standards for our association.

Kindest personal regards,

(A whole slew of Manouso detractors….)

Okay, is anyone following my thinking here? IYNAUS sprang into action, spent something like $184,000 all because one student five years after a class she had taken said she was sexually assaulted. (Just for the record, I support investigating sexual assault complaints.) However, here we are in the beginning stages of a global pandemic which threatens to last for another couple of years, and as far as I can tell, IYNAUS has done nothing except promote the online classes of senior teachers. Where are all those senior teachers who were willing to help design processes to protect students from sexual assault in a public yoga class? The average Iyengar practitioner demographic is an aging and vulnerable population. All it will take is one super spreader to wipe out an entire Iyengar yoga class. What kind of protocols will be put into place to ensure student and teacher safety when it is safe for Iyengar yoga studios to reopen? Most cities have announced multi-stage plans for re-opening, so where’s all that concern for student and teacher safety, IYNAUS? Where’s the COVID-19 task force?

CDC guidelines for daycares recommend:

  • Machine washable cloth toys should be used by one individual at a time or should not be used at all. These toys should be laundered before being used by another child.
  • Do not share toys with other groups of infants or toddlers, unless they are washed and sanitized before being moved from one group to the other.

Does this hold true for yoga props and blankets? BKS Iyengar is known for inventing props. Where is the righteous outcry from all the senior Iyengar yoga teachers who signed the letter excerpted above? Does the well being of Iyengar yoga students and the protection of BKS Iyengar’s legacy only matter when it is to their benefit?

IYNAUS spent hundreds of thousands of dollars protecting students from Manouso’s big toe adjusting sit bones. The very same adjustment BKS Iyengar gave over and over again. Staying quiet isn’t the answer. It won’t protect anyone.

There’s more. Let me know if you would like to see the entire letter.

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