Note: I would have preferred to use a personal photo of spring flowers for the header, but this piece addresses the ongoing minimization of what Pattabhi Jois did to some of his students. This is a still taken from this video of Jois with students. (Trigger warning.)
I listened to J. Brown’s interview with Kino MacGregor. It was very triggering, just like her blog, “Ashtanga Yoga—Accountability, Acceptance and Action in the Arena of Sexual Appropriateness and Hands-On Assists”. The blog started out well, but then made me cry.
She says she believes the victims of Pattabhi Jois, but her subsequent words and actions indicate otherwise. I’ve found this typical in responses from people who are caught between justice and saving face.
In her blog she looked for holes in my claim by referring to a photo posted in the article covering my response to Mary Taylor. The photo shows me in the Lakshmipuram shala with Pattabhi Jois. She compares the positioning it shows to how she interacts with her own students in the same posture. It is a deceptive comparison. The photo of me with Jois had not been presented as evidence of Jois sexually assaulting me. Focusing on the photo, Kino ignored my actual testimony, quoted in that same article, that Jois dry humped me almost daily in supine postures. Both in her blog and on the podcast she reinterpreted and equivocated over other victim testimonies as well.
In the podcast, Kino tries to minimize the assaults by saying,
“I’d also like to clarify that what’s actually being talked about in the Ashtanga yoga world is the inappropriate use of hands on assists.”
Dry humping is not a hands on assist. It’s a sexual assault, as are the assaults he did with his hands, including digital penetration, which is rape. (The recent article in The Walrus goes into detail.)
The fact that Jois sexually assaulted within a class doesn’t make it less bad. It just shows how much power he had over people who wanted to study with him, and how much denial there was. If he couldn’t have gotten away with it in plain sight, but only in private, that would indicate less power. Sexual abuse, like physical abuse, is about power.
Part of believing me is believing that what Jois did to me was horrible, and that it matters. Kino doesn’t show that she believes that. She says that he isn’t alive, so she can’t ask him about it. That sounds like she’s doubting victims’ testimonies, or hoping that he could offer an explanation which would make what he did OK. If there was such an explanation, I’m sure Sharath would have offered it already.
I understand that relatives of people who have done terrible things often continue to love them. That Kino holds the conflict of what Jois has done “in her heart” is fine and good, but that is where it should stay. Continuing to publicly broadcast her wonderful experience and sentiments of reverence in terms such as “a person whose presence dispels the darkness”, “Guruji” and “Sri” is disrespectful to those who have been harmed. No one is taking away her relationship as she experienced it. We’re asking that it become private.
In the podcast, Kino offered to facilitate mediation for the victims. I don’t know if she has been trained as a mediator, but if she has, she’s forgotten a couple key points. Mediation is not recommended in certain situations, including with victims of sexual abuse and assault. Also, a mediator is supposed to be a neutral party. In the Ashtanga sea of silence, Kino, with her minimizations, reinterpretations and equivocations regarding victims’ testimonies, is one of Jois’ most vocal defenders. If I were to subject myself to mediation, I would seek a mediator to help me talk with Kino.
In the podcast, Kino said,
“I think in the voice of the victims, I think that we are at a place where it’s like what do you want? What do you need in order to heal?”
Stop publicly venerating a sex offender,
Stop referring to him as ‘Guruji’ or using the title ‘Sri,’
Stop displaying honorific or normalizing photos of him in shalas and on the internet,
Stop profiting from association with his name,
Stop glorifying having studied with him, and
Stop using the euphemisms ‘assists’ and ‘adjustments’ for sexual assault.
That Jois sexually assaulted some of his students is not OK and it never will be. People say that wasn’t their experience and it doesn’t matter what he did to others. Victims need our stories to matter.
I get the validation that my story matters where I can in my life. Mostly not from the Ashtanga Yoga community. But there have been a few surprises from teachers who I didn’t even know. Sarai Harvey-Smith, Gregor Maehle, Monica Gauci, Eunice Laurel, Jessica Blanchard, Andy Gill, Tim Laporte and RP Gold have given me hope that not everyone can ignore sexual abuse, even when there is pressure from their community to do just that. Many people in the non-Ashtanga global yoga community have been wonderfully supportive. There are too many to name.
Kino, I read in your blog and heard on that podcast that you were sexually assaulted by a yoga teacher. I’m so sorry. I believe you. I don’t need to ask the perpetrator about it. If he had been my teacher, he definitely wouldn’t be my teacher anymore. If he had been my friend, he wouldn’t be my friend anymore (unless, perhaps, if he voluntarily confessed, stopped teaching and entered a treatment program for sex offenders). I believe your story matters, even if you don’t believe mine does.
I’ve heard that Sharath doesn’t tolerate being challenged. For Ashtanga Yoga students to defer to that is repeating history, even if there is not sexual abuse. I’ve also heard that his response to Jordan Bakani-Aliling, when she reported being raped by an authorized Ashtanga Yoga teacher in Mysore in 2014 was insensitive and unsupportive. I think it’s more important that he be held accountable for that and make a public apology, than that he publicly acknowledge the sexual abuses of his grandfather. Ideally, Sharath would address both the abuses of his grandfather and his own shortcomings, spontaneously and with humility.