THE IYNAUS ETHICS COMMITTEE

The Ethics Committee who handled the orginal compaint against Manouso was comprised of four capable and intelligent women. The chair of the Ethics Committe has a Ph.D in Forensics and is a consummate professional. After watching the vitriolic scourge of incorrect and inflammatory assertions about Manouso on social media, I was relieved when the Ethics Committee could not substantiate the accusations of sexual assault. The complainant filed a police report and no legal charges were brought. The police called to hear the evidence and did not proceed to file charges.

So the complainant who in her original complaint threatened to bring her case to the media, filed an appeal saying she didn’t get fair treatment by the Ethics Committee because a student of Manouso’s was on the committee, but as I mentioned in a previous post, she had been informed by the very student she called into question. The appeal happened in September of 2018. The president of IYNAUS, a white male, wrote a letter to the 5000 members of IYNAUS asking for feedback about the situation. He included his email address in the email blast. The email blast refuted point by point all the assertions made about IYNAUS in the the biased radio report. On October 1, 2018, a gaggle of Manouso’s enemies, including the hefty Australian therapeutics teacher mentioned in an earlier post and a couple of token professors in Sanskrit and Religious Studies, wrote a righteous letter to IYNAUS Board President and the Board which pretty much set the stage for IYNAUS to launch and independent investigation, which they did by the end of October. IYNAUS members were inundated with communications from IYNAUS using the creepy letterhead at the top of my post. It seemed like we were receiving weekly emails from IYNAUS asking for more complaints about Manouso. Each email blast was broadcast on social media where it was shared over and over again by the yoga pundits. The independent investigation called for anonymous complaints about Manouso over a period of 30 years.

Social media went wild.

I was appalled by the vicious and violent comments made by yoga practictioners on social media. I was shocked to see senior teachers and IYNAUS board members perpetuating and escalating the conversations. I was really baffled by one extremely vocal person on social media because I knew her to be a devoted student of Manouso’s. In fact, for the longest time, I thought she was a teacher at his studio because she would hang out there like it was her living room. She would take money, empty garbage, help herself to the lost and found and many other freedoms. I did not understand why she had turned on Manouso. I later found out that she had been caught stealing from Manouso and she posted pictures of Manouso teaching on facebook without his consent and so he took away her studio key. Through yoga he had helped her overcome an addiction and he allowed her to hang out at his studio and sub classes to help her recovery process so she wouldn’t turn back to the drugs. I also found out that she had made complainst against two other male yoga teachers before the one with Manouso stuck. More about this part of the saga later….

By January 2019 all four women on the Ethics Committee resigned because of the unethical behavior of a small group of IYNAUS Board members. The Chair of the Ethics Committee made these points in her widely distributed resignation letter:

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

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

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

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

I thought it strange that many of the IYNAUS presidents have been white males though Iyengar yoga is predominately female.

The Iyengar Yoga Police

Over the years, I have noticed in increase in the high-mindedness of yoga practictioners, especially in the Iyengar yoga community, which already feels superior to other yoga systems. I blame social media. Previously, there was no avenue for yoga practitioners to post perfect asana pictures captioned with a morally superior statement. It’s possible that the caption relates to something which they aspire, but it doesn’t always come off like that. It’s offputting and imposing, and and what’s worse- it creates separation. Paradoxically, yoga means union. What brought me to yoga all those years ago was the feeling of inter-connectedness with the universe. It was that feeling of total absorption that enticed me to practice.

So when the allegations against Manouso hit the airwaves thanks to a biased report from a bay area radio station, the Iyengar Yoga facebook groups had a cyber field day. Any support for Manouso was attacked with a viciousness incongruous to the sattvic image of yoga. It was strange and disturbing. I noticed the situation attracted loud voices into the fray that were outside the Iyengar yoga community. The groups vibrated with moral rightousness and hyprocrisy. One example was one gray-haired guy outside of the Iyengar system insisting that Manouso was a sexual predator on the Iyengar yogi site, and conversely defending Pathabi Jois’s innocence on another site. In one instance, a woman defending Manouso had her entire post torn apart line by line by my favorite charlatan Yoga Pundit. Yoga Pundit is the author of this line:

“The hermeneutic flow from de-familiarization to open-source and demystification tends to have an embodying effect.”

Yoga Pundit has many other gems equally incomprehensible. Yoga Pundit has 5000 women followers looking to him to keep them safe from spiritual bypassing and somatic dominance. By all accounts somatic dominance is a term YP made up. What’s interesting is that some of the other Yoga Police are picking it up like it’s a medical diagnosis. Both Yoga Police and Yoga Pundit have the YP acronym so don’t get confused. I will always spell out Yoga police! Yoga Pundit will be abbreviated due to lack of importance. Interestingly, YP is part of the Yoga Police!!!

Here’s one of my favorite posts on YP’s facebook from a long time Iyengar yoga teacher and practitioner.

“Yoga Pundit, please know that the Iyengar community is reading closely what you write…Please coach us where you see appropriate. Please hold us accountable…”

The Iyengar Yoga police were starting to close ranks around the Iyengar Yoga community. I must be careful with my posts because I am afraid the Iyengar Yoga Police will come after me!

Manouso Manos Allegations and Geeta Iyengar

I love Geeta Iyengar so much. The first time I went to India to study at RIMYI (Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute) Geeta was not well and was not teaching. BKS Iyengar was not well either but would show up at the practice hall. I had waited a long time to go to India to study with the Iyengar family. It was a big deal for me. I had to take a month of work (no pay for two of those weeks) and had to find care for my daughter who was in elementary school at the time. It was this first trip to India that I realized the Iyengar family reminded me of the Beverly Hillbillies, but I would not dare say that aloud. Most of my classes for the month were with Prashant Iyengar, and after about a week and a half, I stopped going to class with him. I hated it. He talked incessantly, and when he stumbled onto a clever turn of phrase, he would repeat it endlessly with a proud smirk. He would put us in triangle pose on one side for 3 minutes and the second side for twenty seconds, if he remembered to do the second side at all. If we didn’t move to get the props fast enough, he would fly into a rage and scream at us with a contorted face. I kept thinking maybe I wasn’t smart enough or experienced enough to comprehend the complexity of what he was teaching, so I would listen harder and try more. Then I realized, whatever he was teaching, I wasn’t learning. Meanwhile, Abhijata Iyengar would petulantly march around the practice hall talking on her cell phone and ordering the Indian staff around. Occasionally she would give a disdainful look at a middle- age female practitioner which was (and still is) about 95% of the Iyengar yoga demographic. Scolding seemed to be her skill. I couldn’t shake the feeling that that I had been had. I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling of disappointment.

It was a long fucking month. I kept wondering why I spent all this energy and money on this trip to India when I had the best teacher in the world in San Francisco–Manouso Manos, but then came along the first Yoganushsanam. Yoganushasanam is a sacred cash cow for the Iyengar family. The event allows for 2000 practitioners from around the world to come to Pune India to study with the Iyengar family via jumbotron. This event welcomed all levels of practitioners and didn’t require a letter of recommendation from a mentor which is something RIMYI requires. I jumped at the opportunity, because I wanted to give the Iyengars another chance, and I had never studied with Geeta. Also, it was only 10 days so I didn’t have to find a month of care for my daughter. Geeta’s teaching was exquisite. She was demanding and profound. Her instructions were clear and concise, and she didn’t mince words. It was no surprise to me that when IYNAUS decided to open an independent investigation in response to the appeal to the ethics complaint against Manouso Manos, Geeta reacted like this, “Maybe you have taken this decision out of nervousness because of the havoc being created in the social media. Even though we don’t want to be judgmental it also seems like there
is an animosity that is driving all this. You cannot assume that an individual is guilty and go all out to prove that. Yoga teachers and Iyengar yoga Associations should act with more responsibility.”
A month later she she was dead.

THE YEAR OF YOGA HATE! MANOUSO MANOS ALLEGATIONS

My Iyengar yoga practice changed a lot in the year 2019. The shift came when in 2018 a student a longtime student of Manouso’s filed a sexual assault complaint against him for an adjustment in a public class in 2013. Initially the accuser opted for anonymity , then violated a confidentiality agreement with the Ethics Committee and brought her case directly to the press. This unleashed a hate-filled onslaught of attacks and commentary, and as been the case so often on social media, it created a a situation in which the person being attacked, Manouso in this case, had no opportunity to defend himself. Two pseudo yoga pundits, outside the Iyengar yoga system but with thousands of followers and an ax to grind with Iyengar yoga, added their voices to the fray. When the four capable women on the Ethics Committee determined that there was not enough evidence to substantiate the claim, all hell broke loose on social media. The complainant filed an appeal citing that a student of Manouso’s was on the ethics committee. I found out later that she had, in fact, been told that Manouso’s student was on the ethics committee. In fact, she had been told by the very person she called into question. These two had formed a quasi-friendship during Manouso’s three year therapeutics program. In any case, the complainant filed an appeal citing that she didn’t get fair treatment because Manouso’s student was on the ethics committee, even though she had known that at the start. The crowd went wild on social media– I saw IYNAUS board members liking her Facebook posts as well as other well-known teachers in Iyengar yoga such as a stocky Australian therapeutics teacher whose main competition is Manouso, and a Sanskrit scholar who makes bank teaching at Iyengar yoga workshops, not to mention the current president of IYNAUS! I thought it might have been more appropriate for these high ranking teachers to maintain a neutral stance, but there they were giving the big thumbs up from the comfort of their homes. The one that really got me was the senior teacher who has youtube videos of her half-naked self doing yoga poses. She claimed she was offended by the sight of Manouso’s buttock in a legitimate yoga demonstration. PARADOX! The expression there is no hate like yoga hate was becoming a reality.

Iyengar Yoga Teacher Training

Eventually after teaching for a few years, I decided to pursue Iyengar Yoga certification more seriously. The studio owner decided she wanted to change the name of her studio and wanted to use the Iyengar name. In order to do that all teachers must be certified and no other styles of yoga can be taught, so the vinyasa, bhakti and pilates classes were invited to leave. I can’t say I have ever enjoyed a yoga teacher training and I have done many, but I can say unequivocally that Manouso Manos showed the most patience and compassion in teacher training. Yoga is an art, and the artisty really can’t really be taught. Sure, you can spit out the instructions in a methodical and robotic way, as was pushed in Iyengar yoga teacher trainings, but I think teachers should inspire. I found tremendous inconsistencies from one teacher training to the next and usually it was all about semantics. One teacher might insist that I say press your feet into the floor in tadasana while another teacher would tell me that that instruction was non-sensical. Often I left Iyengar yoga teacher trainings feeling confused, uninspired and unsure of myself.

It’s a strange dichotomy to practice and teach yoga while simultaneously over analyzing ever word and action. You can’t be free and rigid at the same time.

Manouso always says, “You can’t change and stay the same at the same time.” I think he might have been keenly aware of some of the paradoxes between the art of yoga and the business of yoga.

Happy Birthday BKS Iyengar

Today BKS Iyengar would be 101 years old. He died 5 years ago at 96, and so much has changed since then. Like, for example, Iyengar Yoga joined forces with Yoga Alliance just this week. This is a shock to many of us and certainly a slap to BKS and Geeta Iyengar because Yoga Alliance was formed in the 90’s to get some kind of control over quickie certification programs. Back when Yoga Alliance was formed, an Iyengar Yoga student had to be a student of Iyengar yoga for 6 years to become eligible for Iyengar Yoga teaching certification. There was no quickie path to becoming an Iyengar Yoga teacher. BKS Iyengar referred to what he was doing as “yoga”. He didn’t name it after himself, the name developed over time because what he was doing was so unique in its artistry and precision. He wrote the book “Light on Yoga” which is the bible for yoga instructors of all kinds all over the world. It was published in 1966 and continues to be relevant today. I have at least 5 copies. So now in this month of Iyengar’s birthday and his daughter Geeta’s year anniversary of death, IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga National Association of United States) has given up the power of Iyengar Yoga to Yoga Alliance. I can’t help but think that Geeta and BKS Iyengar would be turning over in their graves if they had been buried instead of burned.

My First Iyengar Yoga Workshop

I was an eager and devoted student in my early days of Iyengar yoga. Maybe too eager.

The owner of the yoga studio was sponsoring a senior Iyengar yoga teacher’s workshop at the studio. I had been doing Iyengar yoga less than a year at that point, but the requirements for the workshop stipulated at least 6 months experience with Iyengar yoga, and I had nearly double that. I had no idea what to expect, and I was excited to attend. The teacher was a very tall and boyish looking woman. She seemed to talk with a slight accent which I coudn’t place until she revealed that she had been in India so many times that she developed an accent. It felt affected to me. She put us through our paces, and I was struggling to keep up. I didn’t know many poses by their Sanskrit names so I had to look around the room if she didn’t demo the pose. Then it came: Uttanasan (intensve forward fold). I knew that name because I hated the pose due to its difficulty for me. I struggled because of tight hamstrings, and the tall teacher saw me struggle. She called me to the center of the room to do the pose for all the participants to see. I did the pose and then she asked “What is wrong with this pose?” There was a frenzy of comments. The comments just kept coming. I felt a flush of shame wash over me-and said, “I am a beginner. Please don’t pick on me!” For the rest of the class, she had me go to the corner and work on uttanasana. I felt humiliated. If I tried to join the class she said, “You go work on uttansana.” That night I took 4 ibuprofen before bed. I really hated this teacher. She didn’t inspire; she humiliated.

I showed up the next day for a couple of reasons: 1) I had already paid and 2) I wanted to give her a second chance. My hamstrings were screaming. Before class started she looked at me and said, “Go work on your uttanasana.” she gestured to the corner where I had been stationed the day before. Eventually, she invited me to join the class. She had us find a partner, and everyone sought someone they knew. I was just standing there when the oldest woman in the room appeared out of nowhere and introduced herself and asked to be my partner. I felt like crying. I knew this woman to be certified at the hightest level in our town. I was inspired by her grace and kindness. She saw how I was feeling and she shared my humanity. This was right action.

I finished the 3-day workshop and hated the teacher even more by the end. I swore I would never study with her ever, though she came back to our studio year after year. There was pressure from the studio owner to attend workshops by senior teachers when they came through so eventually years later, I attended another workshop. The tall teacher didn’t remember me, but I felt slightly redeemed from my humiliating first experience when she complimented my parsvottanasna (intense side stretch).

Years later the tall teacher started teaching workshops with her husband so I decided to check it out because it had been years since I attended her workshop. As much as I disliked her, I really hated him. He never stopped talking. I remember thinking he was like a shark only he had to keep talking to stay alive.

One morning as I was seated for the chant, one of our students, who happens to be a priest, entered moments before class was to start and all the blankets were being used so he didn’t have one for his seat for the chant. I was sitting on three blankets for my stiff hips, and I offered one to him. The tall teacher’s husband didn’t witness this, but his eyes focused on me. He look directly at me and asked, “What is your name?” I told him. He then spoke for about 15 minutes using my first name over and over again about how I was doing violence to myself because my knees were higher than my hips. All heads turned to look at me, because I was in the back of the room and everyone wanted to see who he was yelling at. I had never heard my first name used so much in a yoga class. I didn’t flush with shame but I did flush with anger. By the end of the workshop I had bruises on my arms where he had violently adjusted my arms in dwi pada viparitta dandasana (two legged inverted staff pose). I never ever studied with them again. I felt he was a very dangerous and abusive yoga teacher and she was not much better.

Teaching Iyengar Yoga

BKS IYENGAR ADJUSTING A STUDENT

In retrospect I probably started teaching Iyengar yoga too soon, but I was so enamored with the practice that I thought teaching would inform my practice. And it did. I started teaching a free class at the nearby community center and people started coming. The floors were dirty and we didn’t have props but people came. Soon a student donated blocks and straps for everyone. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I learned a lot and nobody got injured so I felt it was a success. Soon I was being asked to sub at the yoga studio where I took classes. Before long, I had my own class there. I remember feeling like an imposter. I am not naturally flexible so I wasn’t able to intimidate students with advances poses. Now I think that was a plus but at the time I associated yoga with flexibility of body only. It took me a while to realize that yoga is more abot the flexibility of mind than body. This is a hard thing to keep in mind with the advent of Instagram. Geeta Iyengar said: “Whenever we find stiffness in the body, our mind should be especially supple. It is never the stiffness in our bodies that limits our practice, it is always the stiffness of our mind.” I was beginning to get glimpses of total absorption in my practice regarding the interconnectedness of all things.

Manouso Manos Workshop

After my daughter was born, I took refuge in yoga. My teacher would not let me do any asana for the longest time, but eventually I was back to an active practice. Being a new mother had its share of stresses, and I loved escaping for that hour and a half to calm my mind and open my chest. I would go to three classes a week or more. I have very fond memories of those times when all I did was take care of my baby and go to yoga class. It was dreamy. When my daughter was about two-years old, Manouso Manos was coming within 5 hours of where I lived. I couldn’t resist the chance to study with him, so I enlisted my best friend to come along and to take care of my child while I went to class. I couldn’t be away from my daughter because I was still nursing, and we had never spent a night apart. I was so excited for this adventure. Manouso was teaching in an old church not far from the Iyengar yoga studio. The place was packed with students from every walk of life, but I noticed most students were older than I. The place was atwitter with excitement until Manouso barked out the words, “sit straight and tall.” Silence and focus enveloped the room, not in a weird creepy way but in a beautiful respectful way. It’s like the room knew the importance of the teachings.

The pollen count was absurdly high that day and Manouso led us through a series of poses and then stopped to explain. “Yoga is to take care of you. When you are faced with circumstances such as a high pollen count, you have to take control.” He taught a sequence of poses that reduced inflammation and opened up the sinuses. My head felt clear and open. I could jot down the poses here, but it wouldn’t be the same. It’s the way Manouso brings the asana that seems like he’s inside my body. He seems to describe a sensation moments before it surfaces in my consciousness. He’s got a gift for making the sequence tailored to each student in the room. I know that sounds absurd, but I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered students after class who thought the sequence was specifically for them.

My teacher and a few friends were with me. We were inspired and giddy after each class. We couldn’t get enough Manouso Manos.

Skillful Action

I think what I loved most about my early days as a student of Iyengar Yoga was the transformation I recognized in myself. Those were the days when I woke up regularly with a crick in my neck. After a few months of practice, it occurred to me that I hadn’t had one in so long I couldn’t remember. I also became much more aware of my posture and my breathing. I had suffered from acute anxiety as a young adult, and now I could control my breathing to control my inner tension. Over time the practice of yoga took the place of distance running though there was no clear line of delineation, except possibly the birth of my daughter. My daughter was breach in my belly and the midwife was concerned that I would need a caesarean section. She didn’t hold out much hope for a natural delivery. My yoga teacher contacted her teacher Manouso Manos about using asana to help the baby to turn. I trusted the skills of my yoga teacher so much that I gave a try to what Manouso told her to do with me. I didn’t understand what she was doing at the time, but I do now. It’s variation of setu bandha on the bench. It takes two teachers– one to hold the student’s shoulders down with their feet and while the other teacher moves the bench to the side that the baby’s head resides. The idea is that moving to that direction will make the baby want to scram to the other side. Then the bench is moved to the other side so the baby ends up head down in the position for a natural birth. I had no idea what she was doing, but I was game to try.

A few days later at my scheduled appointment, my midwife was astonished that my baby had moved and was in a perfect position for a natural birth!

My perfect baby was born three days after her due date and we were both happy and healthy.

My teacher quotes the Bhagavad Gita in that yoga is skillful action. The struggle of figuring out what is the right thing to do in any given situation is the human condition. The practice of yoga brings the mind body connection which quiets the ever-distracted mind. These glimpses of clarity allow us to distinguish what is the right action. That is the hope anyway.