Abhijata Sridhar Iyengar

Truth always rests with the minority… because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion.

Soren Kierkegaard

Abhijata Iyengar is teaching an online yoga class this week. Only IYNAUS members are eligble to take the class, so it is incentive for people join IYNAUS. I think they must need members. Unconfirmed reports say the proceeds will go to IYNAUS and the Iyengar Institute of Los Angeles which is struggling. I suppose it’s no coincidence that all the teachers at the Iyengar Institute in LA who studied with Manouso were either let go or not offered any online classes. It appears that this sudden emergence of an online week class by Abhijata might be a scramble to save the Iyengar Institute of Los Angeles and IYNAUS. IYNAUS said the online zoom class was sold out at 1000 and then added more spots. One thousand participants would mean $175,000 which almost covers what IYNAUS spent on the independent investigation of Manouso Manos. It is worth noting that just yesterday final rules were issued on how title IX sexual assault cases are handled– bolstering due process for the accused. Dozens of students accused of sexual assault have won court cases against their colleges because their rights of due process were violated. IYNAUS followed college campus title IX procedures when dealing with the allegation against Manouso. This week’s changes to title IX procedures mandate live hearing by adjudicators who are not the investigator and real time cross examination by the other person’s lawyer or representative. Manouso was afforded none of this, and the investigator was responsible for not only gathering the evidence, but she functioned as the judge, jury, and prosecutor.

Today, I read an Instagram post of a fellow CIYT who has been attending Manouso’s online classes. The CIYT posted a picture of Abhijata Iyengar and lauded her teaching. I messaged the CIYT and our exchange went like this:

Me: Too bad Abhijata and IYNAUS have infringed on your rights of free speech and free association.

CIYT: Yes, that is correct.

CIYT: In this case taking a stance and not studying with her is what Russians call “to piss off the conductor I will walk”. It hurts me way more than it hurts them. I am just as joyful when I study with Manouso, and if I had any other job in my back pocket I may have taken a stronger stance. I can’t afford to, since this is career number two and I am not retraining again.

Me: I totally get it. He even tells people to keep their certificates! I am not going to report you!!! It’s just so fucked up and it’s yoga.

Her: I know. It sucks. I hate it.

Do you see the paradox?

Inconvenient Satya

It’s been a few days since the drop-dead date for CIYT’s to declare their allegiance to IYNAUS. This is such a paradox considering yoga means union. While the letter posted above was being painstakingly composed by the senior teachers and their association IYNAUS, the coronvirus was spreading across America. Several weeks later we would find ourselves in self-isolation with all yoga studios closed across the globe including RIMYI.

While Iyengar Institutes closed down and Manouso aligned teachers scrubbed his name from their bios, or were not being invited to teach at all, Iyengar senior teachers took to social media to promote their online classes. The timing between the flood of students entering the online market because of studio closures and the promotions of these online classes was uncanny. One might think it was opportunistic. Meanwhile, Manouso quietly posted some free, easy-to-follow pranayama classes targeting the lower lung where the coronavirus in known to take hold. At the urging of his students, he began teaching online classes making sure to keep the identity of his students anonymous to protect them from the Iyengar family, Iynaus, and the Yoga Police. Word spread fast and hundreds of students benefited from his daily, hour-long classes this past week. Some are the very CIYT’s who were forced to scrub his name of their bios in order to keep their livelihood. A forced allegiance is not an honest one. I feel for these teachers who are put in a position where they have to lie about who they are and what they believe. I feel for an organization demanding an allegiance based on one-sided truths, greed, and ego.

Today, I looked at bios of teachers who I know study with Manouso and was saddened to see Manouso’s name absent from their bios. I came across this testimony by one of his former teachers who assisted him in class for years. She still claims him as her teacher and renounced her membership to IYNAUS.

I and a friend in yoga have interviewed many of the teachers who assisted Manouso at the Abode over the years, some for as many as 25 years. None of them had any evidence to support the accusations while some had evidence that would call into question the credibility of one of his 5 accusers. None of his assistants were interviewed by the independent investigator, even the one who was named to have witnessed an assault.

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

From Arjuna

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:   

  1. 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:   

  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?  

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.  
Love,  
Arjuna

Is Iyengar Yoga a Cult?

  • The letter below was widely circulated and was re-written as an official complaint by the author. It was ignored by the institute to which it was sent.

    Hi Manouso,
    I am writing you because I received the letter you’ve recently written (looks like around 2/5).  Thank you for, as always, being the voice of sanity!
    I’m sorry I’ve not been in your classes since all of this nonsense began.  It’s not because I do not trust you or any of that! It’s simply been lack of time and money. You will see me on Feb. 22nd in __.  I’m signed up for that one day and I’m looking forward to seeing you there.
    What you wrote in your letter from this past week is so spot on in every way, but mainly in terms of calling Iyengar yoga a cult.  My husband and I have been referring to it as the church of Scientology (as a joke).  It’s a disaster.  I could tell you many stories of what’s gone on in personal situations over the past year, but I’ll spare you those details.  There is however one incident that has happened to me personally that I think you should be aware of.
    As you may or may not know, I teach at the institute here in LA.  There was a letter written last fall by ____ and _____ that several of us signed which highlighted how unhappy we are with the “investigation” that was conducted by IYNAUS and how poorly they treated you.  I’m sure you’ve read it.  In my opinion it was spot on and mentioned all of the things that I had been feeling as well.  I signed it because those “in charge” should know how other teachers feel about the situation, etc..
    A couple of weeks afterwards (after signing onto the letter) I ran into _______s at the institute just before I was scheduled to teach a class.  He approached me and asked if I was pressured to sign onto the letter.  I told him I was not and asked what difference it made, why was he asking?  He then went on to ask me if I was planning to continue to go up for higher levels of assessment.  I said that yes, I was.  He said at that point that he was “concerned for me and wouldn’t want the fact that my name was on that letter to jeprodize my advancement in the system”  he said that “you never know who might get a hold of that letter or read it”  when I asked what he meant by that he said “well, like the Iyengar family might see it and it could effect your future assessment or certification”.  I was surprised by that and asked how and he said “well, I don’t know, but you never know and I’m just looking out for you.”  he then suggested I write an email and send it to him stating that I didn’t agree with the bulk of the previously signed letter in order to protect myself.  I told him that I would think about that.
    I felt like I had been visited my the mob – like a scene out of every mob movie I’ve ever seen (except in a yoga studio – weird)!  The interaction with _____ was so unsettling that when I came home that night I discussed it at length with my husband.  He immediately suggested that I write down the whole conversation so that I could recall it clearly in the future.  I did just that, and I included a portion of it above to explain the conversation to you.
    _____ clearly tried to intimidate me (a male, in a position of power in our ‘organization’ – local and national board member) by telling me that I should take my name off the letter.  This was after his condescending accusation that I may have been ‘pressured’ into signing the letter in the first place – I have my own mind and the ability to think for myself.  He did this at the Institute here in LA – my place of work.  He made threats that keeping my name on the letter may negatively “effect my future assessments or my certification”.  Clearly a male in a power position trying to use his authority to intimidate me in my workplace.  I thought about reporting him to the ethics board, but after consideration, I realized that our national board has no moral compass so I didn’t.  
    So here we are, and NOW the Iyengars are coming out with their latest decree that we are not allowed to attend your classes and are threatening us with our certification!  The same threats I heard from ______.  What hypocrites!  They are plainly displaying behavior that they accused you of doing (male, power position, trying to control behavior, using threats / manipulation etc…) and they frame it as if they have some sort of moral high-ground.
    This system is full of WOKE Hypocrites.  I’m at the point that if they decertify me because I study with you, then they’ll be doing me a favor.It’s such a pity and it’s taken me a long time to fully see what’s happening because of my love for what the system was when I joined it.  I gave up a lot of status any money to call myself an Iyengar Yoga Teacher.  Before I became a CIYT I was considered a “senior” teacher in the YogaWorks system.  I felt that was silly, as I did nothing to become a senior yoga teacher there except be there long enough, and teach a large number of Teacher Trainings.  I gave up a position that paid me 30 to 50k per year more that what I made teaching classes, which I still teach.  I wanted more from my practice and I knew I could be a more effective teacher, and I’ve found more in the Iyengar system, methodically going through the assessments and the syllabi that Guruji laid out for us.  Now that has all become meaningless and they’ve dismantled the whole system.  I’m very happy I have the old certification manuals as they will continue to be my guidelines going forward.  
    I can’t align with what the system has turned into, but I remain dedicated to the method Guruji laid out and taught and that you continue to teach.  I remain dedicated and indebted to my teachers, including you and I intend to continue studying with you.  I want to thank you for teaching through all of this, I know it can’t have been easy for you!  
    I have no idea if my experience with _____ can help you at all, but if it can, then just let me know.Sorry for the massive email!  If nothing else, it’s to let you know that I’ve been thinking of you a lot though all of this and you have my support.
    Warmly,

Manouso Manos Yoga

“The world would be a happier place than it is if acquisitiveness were always stronger than rivalry. But in fact, a great many men will cheerfully face impoverishment if they can thereby secure complete ruin for their rivals. ”

From Bertrand Russell’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech

The world will never be the same. The COVID-19 pandemic assures it. As I shelter in place, I notice that there have been some good things that have come from it. Though most of us have been in self-isolation, I have been heartened by the sense of community rallying for those in need. I appreciate the evening walks with my daughter in our quiet neighborhood which is normally bustling. Air and noise pollution has diminished. We have pressed a global pause button on this fast-paced life, which gives perspective as to what matters.

I was thrilled to join hundreds of other Iyengar yoga practitioners for Manouso’s first ever online yoga class. It was like returning home. My fellow teachers said they cried so hard. He didn’t advertise. The word got out. Proceeds are going to his teachers at the Abode. Manouso Manos embodies the teachings of BKS Iyengar like no other. Thank you Manouso Manos for continuing to spread the teachings of BKS Iyengar.

Abhijata Iyengar’s Letter

Letter from Abhijata and Prashant Iyengar to all IYNAUS members

So along the way, the team (YP, Yoga Police, The Advocate, Crystal Dildo Girl and the original accuser) accumulated a few followers who were more than happy to jump on the bandwagon, many of them never having taken a class with Manouso. They went to great lengths on social media to call out anyone, especially CIYT’s (certified Iyengar Yoga teachers) who supported Manouso or continued to attend workshops. This happened to me so I quit teaching at an Iyengar studio. All my students moved with me proving to me what I already knew, that the piece of paper doesn’t mean much to the students, but it sure means a lot to the senior teachers and their organization IYNAUS.

After the flawed report came out, the Iyengars had no choice but to decertify Manouso. This decision was blasted across social media. In fact I got two emails within one hour from IYNAUS broadcasting the news. Within the week Manouso had taken the name Iyengar off his website and repainted his building removing the word Iyengar. He continued to teach his weekly classes and workshops. Like always, he posted his workshop schedule on his website. This prompted The Advocate to write all the venues who were hosting Manouso threatening media attention for hosting a sexual predator. Manouso took the workshops off his website because, as always, he was trying to protect his students. A few brave souls continued to host him around the country, and so information about the workshops was sent via email. Ironically, if the Team got wind of these workshops, they referred to them as “secret workshops” .

So this went on for many months with the team relentlessly bashing Iynaus and the Iyengars for allowing CIYT’s (Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher) to study with a known sexual predator. Let’s not forget that the notion Manouso is guilty is not consistent with any legal finding. So at the end of January 2020, the Iyengar family issued the letter posted above which states that any teacher who continues to study with Manouso will be decertified. IYNAUS membership fees are due in January and the Iyengar’s letter came out at the end of January which is interesting timing.

The letter is a violation of fundamental human rights such as:  

freedom of association ( CIYT’s – have the right to gather with whomever they wish – even with Manouso and even if the national association and senior teachers disapprove); freedom of speech (CIYT’s – in their off duty time / off premises – have the right to speak about Manouso, criticize or praise him, discourage or promote him);  
privacy (CIYT’s in their off duty time – have the right to be free of employers’ tracking their activities – No senior teachers have the right to pry into teacher’s private lives to see if they are attending Manouso’s workshops);  (Recently when Manouso taught a workshop in the Southeast, the president of IYNAUS made phone calls to senior teachers in that area demanding to know the location of the workshop and who was attending.)
freedom of religion (for some of us – especially teachers – our personal yoga practice is a religious practice; it is legally protected, and the an Iyengar Institute can’t legally discriminate against based on who we practice and study with; IYNAUS espouses 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, MA, SH and Abhijata Iyengar for their roles in this unlawful and unethical activity that has cause so much damage to our fellow teachers.  
Iyengar yoga certification is a property and contract right that cannot be taken from teachers arbitrarily.  We earned our certification. We paid our hard-earned money for association dues, for testing fees and for training fees and the like.  We paid a lot of money but that pales in comparison to the sweat and tears – our time and work and personal sacrifices – put in over years and years (and for some of us, decades).  This at times may have seemed our selfless contribution to the promulgation of BKS Iyengar’s work. But there was always a quid pro quo; our training and work led to knowledge and advancement that was recognized through our certifications.  At least we had that certification – that was the deal; we took it for granted that it would always be ours – unless we did something so terribly wrong that it was taken away from us for good cause.  (That’s how the taking of Manouso’s very valuable senior certificate was justified by IYNAUS.) So, we had a deal with the system: we were rewarded for paying our money and doing our work with certifications, and we advanced or didn’t in the system; from a legal perspective, we had a contract and a property right and we relied on it; our certification could not (and cannot legally) be arbitrarily taken by anybody – 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).  

What a paradox! The aim of yoga is emancipation and yet the Iyengar family and IYNAUS strips of our basic freedoms. Check out this video of BKS Iyengar in Ultimate Freedom!

Taking Care of Humanity

Moral courage is the ability to distinguish right from wrong and having so distinguished it, be prepared to say so, irrespective of the views held by your superiors or subordinates and of consequences to yourself.

Moral superiority is the belief or attitude that one’s position and actions are justified by having higher moral values than others. It can refer to: 

Morality, when two systems of morality are compared.

Self-righteousness, when proclamations of moral superiority become a negative personal trait.

We struggle to understand that two things can be contradictory and true at the same time. Opposites coexisit. This murky feeling of cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable in today’s world and so we decide that one or the other is true. And then once we decide, we gravitate toward news feeds of facebook posts that support and enhance our view. This is making us collectively stupid and intolerant of other points of view.

And still there is no denying, we are all interconnected. As Carl Sagan wrote as he neared his return to stardust:

“Except for the two simplest, hydrogen and helium, atoms are made in stars. A cascade of thermonuclear reactions builds hydrogen and helium up into ever larger and more complex atoms which are then spewed out into interstellar space as the star ages and dies. There they drift for ages, occasionally coming close enough to one another to make a bond. Then two or more atoms make a commitment to go through life together. These bonds are the business of chemistry. In an eon or two a maelstrom of self-gravitating interstellar matter gathers up solitary atoms, and those bonded with their fellows, and plunges them into a forming planetary system. Four and a half billion years ago, that is what happened in our neck of the galactic woods. Our warm and well-illuminated little world is one result. All the atoms of Earth (hydrogen and helium still excepted) derive from these distant and ancient interstellar events — the silicon in the rocks, the nitrogenin the air, the oxygen atoms in a mountain stream; the calcium in our bones, the potassium in our nerves, and the carbon and other atoms that in exquisite detail encode our genetic instructions and job orders for making a human being. We too are made of starstuff.

There is hardly an aspect of our lives that is not touched fundamentally by chemistry: electronics and computers; food and nutrition; depletion of the protective ozone layer; mining and metals; medicine and pharmaceuticals; every disease including AIDS and cancer, schizophrenia and manic-depressive syndrome; drugs, legal and illegal; toxic water; and much of what we call human nature. We are, at least in large part, the way we are because of the atoms and molecules that make us up, and how they interact. In a deep and fundamental way chemistry makes us us.

The coronavirus unites humanity in that none of us have immunity to it. In that way, it is a great equalizer, though those will monetary means will likely fare better, as always. We are requested to stay home and practice social distancing in order to protect others who are more susceptible to the virus– in other words, to do our civic duty to take care of humanity.

My world view is my own, but it has largely been shaped by my yoga teacher, Manouso Manos. Manouso does not consider himself anything but a yoga teacher. He does not like to be put on a pedestal, and in his classes he consistently reinforces the theme of taking care of humanity. He expects students to take responsibility for themselves. I can see how an innocent bystander with no knowledge of the depth of the teacher student relationship witness some of his interactions with his students as harsh, and at the same time, those students are immensely grateful for his honesty and intensity.

I have been particulary fascinated by the person referred to by the original accuser, YP Yoga Police, and CD girl (crystal dildo) as our Advocate. By all accounts, the Advocate is not a member of IYNAUS nor been in a class with Manouso. There is no doubt that there is a LOT of money behind the Advocate and with that comes power and a certain invincibility but not against a novel corona virus. COVID-19 both unites and isolates us. These opposites are both true. It’s these kinds of paradoxes that make us suffer and feel so alive.

I like to think that most people operate out of good intentions, and so I apply this to the Advocate. She has spent a great deal of time writing every Iyengar Yoga organization around the world and and calling out those who planned to attend Manouso’s workshops, threatening media attention for hosting and supporting a sexual predator. Her mean-spirited facebook posts get no traction on her facebook site other than from her sister and the same people who keep giving the thumbs up to each other and won’t move on with their lives now that Manouso has been destroyed and his thousands of students are left without a teacher or an association to which they feel aligned. She regularly dissects and critiques IYNAUS’s responses and is ready with an email to send to anyone who offers to host a Manouso workshop. She is lauded like she is an expert, and I keep asking myself, what motivates this Advocate?

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

Calling out students of Manouso’s

Manouso Manos Workshop Chicago 2018

I was in Chicago on business in November 2018, three weeks after the independent investigation was launched, and so I registered for Manouso’s workshop which was being held at the studio owned by the IYNAUS president. I don’t know the yoga community in Chicago so I kept to myself. I was aware of a devoted student of Manouso’s, who has an amazing practice and a lot of followers on instagram. She regularly hashtagged Manouso in her posts. She had brought with her to the workshop her young female student who had, as best as I could tell, a steel cage around her spine and was in chronic pain. During a break as I was waiting in line to get a drink of water, I heard the young girl practically beg Manouso to adjust her. She promised that she would never accuse him of anything, and he said, “And what about 5 years from now?”

The weird thing about this workshop was that the president of IYNAUS approached the instagram teacher. He sat down very close to her and began what looked like an intense conversation. I was sitting nearby and overheard him asking her to write another letter to the independent investigator explaining adjustments. Eventually, I came to know this teacher and she verified that the IYNAUS president did ask her to write a letter and that letter was used against Manouso instead of for him. She felt utterly used and manipulated. She continues to be bullied on social media by the accuser (Crystal Dildo Girl) who used to have a key to Manouso’s studio until he took it away. Instagram girl hasn’t hashtagged Manouso in over a year.

THE INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION OF MANOUSO MANOS

The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions.

-Virginia Woolf

Maybe it’s just coincidence that IYNAUS selected an independent investigator recommended by Yoga Alliance and then joined forces with Yoga Alliance a year later. Maybe it’s coincidence that YP (Yoga Pundit) and the head of the Yoga Police are both involved with Yoga Alliance, and maybe it’s just a coincidence that Manouso was deadset against Iyengar Yoga joining forces with Yoga Alliance because he understood the genesis of Yoga Alliance. He understood that YA 200 hour certificate and Iyengar Yoga Junior 1 certification are not the same.

IYNAUS hired the independent investigator recommended by Yoga Alliance, and she had no knowledge of yoga of any kind and certainly no earthly idea about hands-on adjustments. The investigator, an African-American female, was tasked with not only gathering evidence but evaluating that evidence and serving as the judge, jury, prosecutor, and the executioner. It’s worthy to note that I was in the class where the alleged assault took place. In fact, I and several of my friends, who were also in that class are sure that the pose the accuser was allegedly groped in, wasn’t taught that day. Of course it’s difficult to remember what was taught five years ago, but we all had notebooks with our notes from that class. In my case, I took off work to get to that class because I knew Manouso could help me find relief from an injury I had been dealing with. The studio where he taught that weekend was small maybe 850 square feet and the 50 or so students were in close proximity to each other. Manouso has a commanding presence so, as always, all eyes and ears were on him as he instructed. He’s not exactly light on his feet either, so you know when he is approaching. I know I watch him like a hawk and know where he is at all times because I want to see what he is doing and how he is adjusting students so I can learn. Other teachers have confirmed that they watch him as intently as I do. It is impossible to believe that he stared at a woman’s chest while he was demonstrating a pose without being noticed by me or anyone else in the class. There were many other points in the original complaint that did not ring true to me, which I suppose was the case with the Ethics Committee too, but that isn’t the point of today’s blog. I do think his accuser thinks she was groped, and I think Manouso did not grope her. Two opposing things CAN be true at the same time. I have room for both those thoughts in my brain.

Manouso is the first to say he isn’t the teacher for everybody. His straightforward manner, his ability to cut through the shit and mirror back to people what they don’t want to see, offends people. I think he is a major empath and others say he is a major asshole. Who is right? Manouso has taught nearly half a million people over the past 30 years. He hired the best lawyers he could find and they told him there was no way he could prove his innocence against anonymous complaints over thirty years. So Manouso resigned, but IYNAUS wouldn’t accept his resignation and carried on the investigation with what seemed to be a gleeful vengeance.

Social Media went Wild.

Manouso was being compared to Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein.

The sloppy and impossible-to-decipher report was published as a downloadable PDF on IYNAUS website. Of course IYNAUS posted it on facebook too, so it could be shared over and over again. The investigator recommended by Yoga Alliance found that there was a pattern of sexual touching. I will summarize the five substantiated complaints below. For some reason, the man providing information and not submitting a complaint was included in the report, too.

  1. The original complaint- Manouso stared at her breasts while he was demonstrating shoulderstand and he caressed her breast while adjusting her in ganda bherundasana. The complaintwas brought in 2018; the class was in 2013.
  2. The woman who Manouso caught stealing from him and had previously accused two other male yoga teachers said he had touched her genitals with his toe while adjusting her in supta padangustasana. She maintained that her boyfriend witnessed this adjustment. Her boyfriend was never interviewed by the investigator and adamantly denies it ever happened.
  3. A woman said Manouso stuck his finger in her anus through yoga tights in Prasarita Padottanasana
  4. A woman complained of common pelvic tilting adjustment in uttanasana where the hand moves from the tailbone to the pubis
  5. Woman complaining of a common slapping adjustment in ardha chandrasana
  6. Man who wasn’t complaining only providing information

I was interviewed and my own testimony is unrecognizable to me in the report. I was stunned. I asked for clarification and was denied by the investigator and the president of IYNAUS. It shocked me to my core to know that my testimony was being used to incriminate a man I believe has given his life to help others. To make matters worse, I was being attacked on social media and at my place of work for supporting Manouso. I noticed others were being threatened too. And so, I write this blog anonymously because there is no hate like yoga hate and the truth is getting buried because of a handful of people perpetuating a one-sided narrative. I know that people are reading this, and I know they see some truth. Thank you. I think it’s only a matter of time before I get attacked (again).

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet- Whose hands can strike with such abandon-That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living- Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness-That the haughty neck is happy to bow- And the proud back is glad to bend-Out of such chaos, of such contradiction We learn that we are neither devils nor divines.

–Excerpt from Maya Angelou’s A Brave and Startling Truth

Who is Manouso Manos?

If you saw Manouso on the street you would never guess in a million years that he is a gifted yoga teacher. He’s almost always dressed in a white polo, dad sweater, blue slacks, and non-descript black shoes that tie not slip on. These days he looks more and more like a grandpa because he is one. He is a husband, father, and grandfather, and frequently his grandchildren run into class seeking a hug from their grandfather which he doles out generously. Often his wife Rita is in the front of class and Manouso will show his affection for her in sweet and surprising ways considering he takes yoga teaching seriously. Manouso wears the exact same thing every time he teaches: white polo and blue bloomers. He wears the same thing so students pay attention to his teaching not his yoga outfit. He grew up in Akron, Ohio and he sounds like it. His dad was a hard-working Greek immigrant and a raging alchoholic. His mom was died when he was 13 and was ill for years before her death. His childhood sucked. From a young age he worked with his dad at his dad’s corner store and helped deliver donuts. He often spoke for his dad because of his dad’s accent and limited use of the English language. Manouso had a gift for remembering all the donut orders and where they were to be delivered and so his dad depended on him. He is Greek and was surrounded by a Greek community in Akron. He has two older brothers and a younger sister who died of cancer several years ago. He has revealed in class that he was sexually molested when he was young.

He graduated from Ohio State on an academic scholarship. He says he reinvented himself in college once he was away from his dad, but he inherited his dad’s work ethic. He is a self-proclaimed terrible sleeper and often describes himself as “Aspbergery”.

After graduating university, Manouso and his Greek buddies moved to California to open a Philly Steak restaurant. His girlfriend Rita, who later became his wife, went with him to California. He and Rita ran in the same circles at Ohio State. Once they got to California, Manouso realized there were too many cooks in the kitchen so he walked away from the venture and took on a series of jobs to make ends meet. He struggled with back pain since he was a teen, and eventually found his way to a copy of Light on Yoga. He started reading the book and practicing the poses and found some relief from the back pain he had struggled with for years. He practiced out of the book for a couple of years and learned that the guy who wrote the book- BKS Iyengar- who he presumed was dead because of the old looking pictures in the book, was coming to the Bay Area. The year was 1976. If you know Manouso, you would not be surprised to learn that he found a way into that sold-out workshop and he found his way to speak with BKS Iyengar. He asked Iyengar about his back pain and Iyengar told him to come to India. A few months later, Manouso and Rita put all their stuff in storage and traveled to India to find Iyengar. Who knows what makes a great teacher but in Manouso’s case I think it is a combination of his elephant like memory and ability to make connections, his work ethic, his tenaciousness, his lack of self-consciousness, and the pain and loss he suffered as a child. He took to Iyengar yoga with burning zeal and it did not take BKS Iyengar very long to recognize that Manouso was a devoted and quick student. The two formed a very close bond and Manouso saw Iyengar as the father figure he never had. And, Iyengar trusted Manouso like his own son, if not more.

Manouso’s classes inspire.

If you are wondering what it was like to study with BKS Iyengar, Manouso is about as close as you will get now that Geeta is gone. Birjoo Mehta is also very capable. Manouso’s classes are challenging on a level I have never experienced with any other teacher, and I have studied with many. It is not uncommon for many in the class to think the class was specifically tailored for them. He’s that in control of his gift. He leads by example and he is consistent in his messaging of taking care of each other and the environment. I have seem him countless times quietly go behind someone who has forgotten to turn out the light and do it for them. He doesn’t make a big deal about it he just does it. I have witnessed him over and over again put himself in great physical pain in order to alleviate the pain of a student. He just does it because it is the right thing to do. He doesn’t try to impress with his knowledge of chanting the yoga sutras rather he teaches yoga from his own experience and what he learned from BKS Iyengar. Every class is a tribute to BKS Iyengar.

He is charasmatic with a strong personality. I’ve often heard him say, “I’m Greek! I’m loud!” His voice is loud, his instructions clear and concise. He speaks clearly and truthfully. This can soothe, surprise, frighten or offend people, but, with out exception, Manouso will speak truthfully. He is compassionate and patient. He can exhibit anger, but those moments come only occasionally, typically when as student has to be asked several times to do something or to pay attention. He has no tolerance for students who put themselves or others in danger or are incondsiderate to others. On many occasions, I have seen him defuse an uncomfortable situation calling out people for behaving inconsiderately. It’s a relief to all when he calls someone on their shit, especially the person who he calls out, if they are lucky enough to realize it. In today’s world, most people just get offended instead of thinking that they might actually be doing something that warrants reflection. When you are in a class with Manouso every thing else recedes and it’s just you and that voice- that abrasive-midwestern-Greek- scratchy-loud voice. It gets into your bones.