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[eng] Yoga, Gurus… & abuse

With Sivananda Yoga I discovered Yoga as a life-style, after a 20 days stay in their Southern India Ashram en 2013.

Vishnu-Devananda, one of Sivananda’s disciples, greatly contributed to the propagation of Yoga in the west, and is revered as a Guru as much as his master in the many Sivananda ashrams and centers in the world.

His quote « Helath is Wealth, happiness is peace of mind, Yoga shows the way. » ; which I first saw written on the wall during that first stay, were a kind of sign to my younger, and encouraged me to step more seriously on the path of Yoga, a path that helped and healed me tremedously since.

That’s why this type of Yoga had a peculiar place in my practice, and it’s actually a sivananda inspired routine that I usually teach. I got attached to these traditions and to Integral Yoga, in comparaison with the classes I used to follow before and that I found too « gym like », focused on the postures.

In february I spent 5 days in Sivananda’s Ashram in Orleans, France, and at some point my roommate told me « Oh, have you heard about Vishnu-Devananda ? There has been allegations against him… It’s created a whole mess in the Sivananda community... »

I was stunned. I grabed my phone to ask google what was what and quikly realised that yes, his 10 years assistant, a now 63 years old british lady, testified on his repeated abuses. Following her declaration several other women backed her up, affirming they had been abused and raped by the guru in the past. (Vishnu-Devananda passed away in 1993.).

Disillusion. Despair and Complete Disgust fell upon me.

I thought about Bramacharya, about the supposed celibacy of the swamis that we learn about, about the plane Vishnu-Devananda flew in the 70s and 80s during his peace mission above war zones, trowing flowers and mantras instead of bombs, about his « complete book on yoga » that I recommanded so many times and that thrones on my library… All of this was mixing up in my head while his portrait was there, in the room, on the walls of the corridors and the yoga halls. His name that I had chanted that very morning during Satsang and before every class, still was being chanted by the mainly unknowing students, but also by the staff that undeniably knew.

I knew about Bikram’s, Iyengar’s, Desikachar’s, Pattabhi Jois, Satchidananda’s, Yogi Bajan’s abuses. And now him, too ? It was as if none of the great names of Yoga were exempt of this filth. What did that mean about the pratice that had changed my life, that became my profession ? And thinking about it, was it all so surprising ? Or is it that as soon as there is power, there is abuse ?

I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for a while, but I’m still so pissed that I had to do it on several goes…

However I think it’s important, urgent even, that we ask ourselves these questions. That we think about the implications of this practice created by men, for men. That is now practiced mainly by women, although many of the well-known, globably recognised teachers are men… With the domination rapport that it sometimes implies, and the insidious, underhand and perverse manipulation that sadly still occurs too often.

It’s a global problem of course, that we can find at all levels in all practices everywhere, but more than ever, in the Yoga world, I think the Guru era needs to stop.

The theorical knowledge is accessible everywhere, the practice comes mainly from personnal experience, and even if a guided practice can be benificial for many reasons… Should we nonetheless blindly rely on a figure that calls itself spiritual ?

Isn’t it healthy to question some of the practices of this science, that, as all things, evolves with time, transforms with its epoch ? Relying on the Science of Yoga, could we not be our own Gurus ? On the mat as in life ?

Whether we are a student or a teacher, whether we practice at home or with a group, let’s keep it in mind. Let’s rethink the borders between « Teacher/student » - « the one who knows/the ones who listen », to feed from each others without falling into the ego trap.

We are nobody’s master.

We are our own masters.

Let’s keep in mind that if something, a word, a touch, made me feel unconfortable during a class, it’s most probably not because « i’m no good at yoga/i’m not enlightened enough yet to understand »… Let’s listen to ourselves above all. And not hesitate to take to our heels if needed.

We have everything we need inside ourselves. We don’t need anyone’s validation, anyone’s light other than our own. We can help each others, learn from each others.

But we are our own masters.

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