Note: I wrote the article below before attending the Social Justice workshop at the Iyengar Convention.
Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel, (Peggy) Gwi-Seok Hong and their team did a superlative job of bringing an unexpectedly large crowd of us into dialogue about the challenges of white supremacy. I’ve been guided to Layla Saad’s book on the topic (available at whitesupremacybook.com) and to Kathleen’s blog: yogaandsocialjustice.blogspot.com
I’m looking forward to working more intensively within our own Iyengar Yoga community in Austin on these issues.
My personal blog has been dormant for awhile. There’s been lots of movement in my life over the fall, winter and early spring. I’m ready to come to a stop and let the world go on around me while I find some stillness, but it’s not to be until later this summer.
The Dallas Iyengar Yoga Convention has been a surprise and a blessing. I had so many misgivings about attending at all that I nearly passed up the chance to maintain my perfect record at National Iyengar Yoga conventions since the first International one in San Francisco. That first one was put on largely with the spearheading energy of Manouso Manos and the San Francisco Iyengar Yoga community. Manos is the very same senior teacher who has now been asked to stop using the Iyengar name and been dismissed from the National Iyengar Association due to credible allegations of inappropriate touching while he was teaching yoga classes.
Discussions today in three different meetings have given me great confidence that the organization/community of Iyengar Yoga teachers in the United States will continue to thrive and grow in the years to come. I’ll discuss them in the reverse order of the timeframe they actually occurred. in The last meeting of the night was the meeting of Iyengar teachers. Deep bows of thanks to Lisa Jo Landsberg and Marla Apt for beginning a project to give us all training in the ethics of appropriate touching/adjusting/ assisting—whatever you want to call it that Iyengar teachers HAVE to do. Lisa Jo and Marla cooked up the idea of a course on this topic well before the Manouso issue came up, so their work is not in reaction to the recent crisis in our organization. They are collaborating with others in the community who have experience in social work/psychotherapy/academia to develop an e-book and e-course on the topic that all certified Iyengar teachers will have to take and review every year (or possibly every other year).
The general meeting, facilitated by our president, David Carpenter, was a calm, well-organized gathering that, because of its very calm, gave space for people present to speak about their own experiences of inappropriate touch. As people who have luckily not been on the receiving end of violent or inappropriate touch, we have so much to learn from survivors of the experience. Comments were made that pointed out how much language shapes our perception of life—we were guided to STOP using the term “victims” of inappropriate touching, and instead use the word “Survivor.” Another person suggested using the word “assist” instead of “adjust.” Language can be so powerful, and when there is a power differential in a class due to the trust that students place in the teacher, it is especially essential to be judicious in the application of hands to a body we don’t know well. Consent chips were discussed, as well as the “waiver” a student may sign as they register for classes at a studio, as well as the common practice of asking in the very moment whether the student is willing for the teacher to touch them.
The second meeting, the General Meeting, had David summarizing the process that the board went through when the allegations against Manouso came up. David gave a summary of events and described how Pune was involved in supporting IYNAUS’ actions toward Manos as a result of the investigation and how IYNAUS came to hire an outside investigator. Additional legal fees were incurred when Manouso’s lawyers wrote a letter to IYNAUS apparently threatening to sue the corporation. As a lawyer myself, I know that what Abraham Lincoln said more than a century ago about our profession is absolutely true: “A lawyer’s time and advice are his/her stock in trade.”
Neither David Carpenter nor I nor any other lawyer I know in the Iyengar Association are specialists in the area of abuse. So it was necessary to find an outside investigator who is. Nor are we specialists in the area of the litigation of these kinds of cases, so it was necessary to consult with an attorney or a firm who DO know that area of the law in detail, through study and courtroom experience.
This is why IYNAUS now has had significant legal expenses.
Thankfully these expenses have not bankrupted us. Honestly, complaints against Manouso first arose in the late 80’s and early 90’s when I was on the original founding board of the organization. At that time, there was concern that if the behavior continued, we could have a lawsuit on our hands that we could NOT, indeed, afford. The close relationship Manouso had with BKS Iyengar led to Iyengar’s appeal to our community to ask him to get therapy, to reform his behaviors, and then to accept him again as part of our “family.” We did what Iyengar asked us to do, and our trust has been broken.
I am personally so very sad that these complaints arose again, because every time we sponsored Manouso to teach a workshop in our community, I learned a lot, and so did most of the students who attended.
Other behaviors, however, over the years we did sponsor his teaching in Austin, led some in our community to doubt his integrity. Though I never witnessed the behaviors alleged by the survivors, nor did I hear from anyone who did, I sensed an anger in Manos that did not seem to mellow over the years.
Here’s where my story becomes personal. I also sensed an anger in my father that did not seem to mellow over the years. Many who have been to Pune for decades have commented on both B.K.S. Iyengar’s temper and his daughter Geeta’s. There is a syndrome called “intermittent explosive disorder” listed in the pdr of psychological diseases. Those who exhibit its symptoms tend to fly off the handle in a kind of incremental way. Something small goes out of whack, some small thing occurs to disturb them, and quickly, like a fire finding fuel, their temper whips up into a full fledged tantrum. It becomes almost impossible to be around them, for their behavior can be out of control, screaming, shouting, breaking nearby objects or striking nearby people often occurs.
I am not a psychologist, though my father deeply studied the works of Sigmund Freud to become a psychoanalyst. My brothers and I grew up “underneath a photograph of Freud” quite literally. My father hung it up on the living room wall of our home in Brookline. It was visible to passersby, especially at night, so when my parents entertained, it was how people recognized the house—“the Freud house.”
Growing up, I never suspected that abuse might be a part of our family history. My mother was very protective of my brothers and me; she had been trained as a nurse before marrying my father and kept her home and family in impeccable “by the book” order. Dr. Spock and my father were her guides in mothering, as well as her Polish immigrant mother, who married a Lithuanian coal miner as a teenager.
After two decades of family breakdown, however, which included suicide attempts by both my father and my oldest younger brother, shock treatments and extensive therapy for the brother, my father’s death, and two children and then a divorce for me, it was clear that something was boiling underneath the surface of our family.
One spring when I had come up for an Iyengar Yoga workshop in Dallas that my friend George Purvis sponsored with Ramanand Patel, my mother sat me down in the Black Eyed Pea Restaurant on Lovers Lane near her home and told me about being abused as a girl by her coal miner father. Incredulous, I asked her why she never told her mother, her husband or her psychotherapist and chose finally to tell me.
Her response was “What good would it have done?” On the drive back to Dallas, I wept for nearly three hours, partly out of grief for her, and partly out of gratitude that she had finally told SOMEONE.
My perception of the anger syndrome that I mentioned above, is that when people’s deep needs for touch are NOT honored, or worse, are actually met with harmful touch, a deep wound occurs in the psychic body. Being close to my mother, I now think her wounds affected the people closest to her—my father, my brothers and me. Her sorrow, her rage, her confusion all contributed to our psychic lives in a way that none of us understood. I remain grateful to her for telling me what had happened to her, and I remain open to education by other survivors to help me understand what would heal us all.
The assessors’ meeting, led by Laurie Blakeney and Nina Pileggi, Chair and Chair-elect, was impeccably organized and, amazingly, kept to its timetable. We have rewritten our certification and assessors’ manuals to better explain what skills are expected of senior Iyengar teachers. The process of assessing and certifying has come a long way in the years since the process began. I’ve witnessed much growth and refinement. We have resolved to support each other in the process going forward.
Younger teachers in our system are recognizing the potential for healing that opening up the body in a safe way using the Iyengar approach to asana can bring. We all have felt the powerful effects of a beautifully sequenced practice session or class to bring us new understanding, new life into our whole being. We all see and feel the interconnectedness not only of our own body/mind/spirit, but the interconnectedness of ourselves to each other on this path to greater understanding of the power of touch.
As we move forward, I am confident that we can maintain clarity around this issue if we work together and communicate frequently and honestly. I am so grateful to all who had to walk this dark night of the soul but found a way to speak out. I am grateful to Abhijata for telling her story, to the survivors of Manos’ abuse for telling theirs, and to all who serve our Yoga community for coming together to speak their minds and hearts.
The photograph above was taken at the Dallas Museum, thankfully a short walk from the Convention hotel, and thankfully free (except for special exhibits). The Chihuly stained glass has always enchanted me. The "America Will Be" exhibit was remarkable.