Yoga faces its #MeToo moment

In a field that is relatively unpoliced and protected by claims to spiritual authority, yoga teachers are facing accusations and pressure about inappropriate touching and other forms of abuse against followers, according to Katherine Rosman in the New York Times (November 10). In recent years, former and current students have gone public about their treatment at the “hands of one of yoga’s most important, influential, and revered gurus”—Krishna Pattabhi Jois, who popularized the school of Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga, involving an intensive series of postures and dynamic moves, has attracted celebrity practitioners (such as Madonna and Mike D) and others “hungry for a type A workout with a side of spirituality,” Rosman writes. Because this form of yoga, also called flow yoga and vinyasa yoga, involves teachers manipulating the bodies of their students, accusers are charging Jois, who is deceased, with exploiting these techniques to commit sexual abuse. Also facing similar accusations is well-known Ashtanga yoga teacher Jonny Kest, who denies these allegations. A former student of Jois says that because practitioners are told that yoga is a spiritual practice, it is assumed they don’t understand such mysteries and need to trust the teacher. Ashtanga leaders still revere Jois and are reluctant “to take part in an open dialogue about his legacy.” But Ashtanga yoga studios have implemented policies that allow students to express their uneasiness about certain forms of touching. Meanwhile, also under the spotlight for sexual abuse is “hot yoga” empire founder Bikram Choudhury, who is the subject of the Netflix documentary, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator.