on the Kausthub scandal, yoga, and rape

I am as tired of the yoga community and their asinine responses to entirely scandal ridden debaucles like Miss Roseanne over at It’s All Yoga, Baby on her latest piece on Desikachar’s son Kausthub and his sexual coercion of young women.  She says a lot of things I think are spot on like her breakdown of the people types:

“There’s a small contingent of dismayed and concerned folks calling out for an alliance of ethics or increased regulation and accountability…[People saying],”Don’t sign up for his classes! Unlearn powerlessness!” [as well as] “Unless you were there, you don’t really know…”

I feel like these are the same people that also pipe up when there is domestic violence or rape involved. They are the same person type that always says non-helpful things that winds up doing nothing but shutting down all reasonable discourse on the subject at hand and effectively halting and stalling any meaningful change in the right direction. They want you to consider that the victim has equal culpability in the situation, they want you to believe that it is as simple as avoidance to improve the quality of your life.

All three of these people hi-jack the dialogue to something that is no longer relevant to the subject at hand. The first wants to talk about how to make yoga accountable but this is about a womanizer whose lineage is of the highest respect in the community who is allowed to continue on teaching with the high probability that he’ll continue the offensive behavior not what policies Yoga Alliance should post.  Now the conversation has been derailed (But we weren’t there so how do we know)– which just turns the back on the women who are trying to speak up against the injustices suffered against them.

Because it could have just been one woman– but it was multiple women. It could have just been one time but it was multiple times and yet “we don’t know what really happened.” Sounds like a hearty dose of some trolling but the thing is, this attitude persists into real life and that is what is truly upsetting.

But this is not just the yoga community– this conversation is happening everywhere. This is a conversation that needs to be had amongst women and men and everyone and yoga merely provides the opportunity to speak on it again and again. We care about yoga, but we are having entirely the wrong conversation– it’s not why is this happening in yoga, it’s why are we allowing rapists to benefit from raping?

“The fact that this [rapists teaching yoga] is permissible in the yoga world is highly problematic.”

Yes, I’m calling it RAPE. Because coercion is included in the definition of rape and by coercing women (or men, or non-binary gendered people) into performing sexual acts by abusing your position of power over them you are effectively entering into rape territory. An argument could be made the same for John Friend and Bikram Choudry. But we don’t like to use the “R” word because it conjures up quite distressing “stranger danger” images in our mind: like it’s supposed to.

Most rape is committed by someone you know.
Most rape is unreported.
Most rapists only rape because they can get away with it– they use social conventions to justify their rapey behavior (you’re welcome– rapey is now officially a word anyone can use).
You are going to find rapists where ever they can get away with raping– in yoga communities, in frat parties, in marriages, in high schools, in Stuebenville… all over the world.  Rapists are like abusers out in the world pushing the limits of their entitlement.

So what are we talking about as far as yoga is concerned? How is yoga allowing rape to happen within its ranks? Yoga is just a microcosm of the global picture and national picture at large. Rape is an incredibly prevalent part of the global and national cultures around the world.  And even in India, rape is “Beyond Out of Hand” just like America.  And that’s why this conversation totally sucks.

We’re not talking about feminism and it’s place in yoga, we’re not talking about patriarchy and how it ruins the good old yogic times we thought we could have, we’re not talking about intersectionality– we’re talking about the details of one situation. We are talking about the tissue  and why or why not it’s snotty, not the cold that made you blow your nose and not the imbalance in the body that made you sick and not the culture that spread the disease rapidly…

This is so important.

We need to talk critically about the role of yoga– the radical and transformative and rebellious and revolutionary role that yoga plays in this society. We need to acknowledge that the global culture is a patriarchal and misogynistic culture that does not care if women are abused within it. We need to talk about how yoga can transform this oppressive system and stop contributing to the demoralization and oppression of women. We need to talk about the patriarchal and misogynistic roots of yoga and critically evaluate them and not dismiss them and then become shocked when women are abused by their gurus.

We, as women, need to take back yoga because I believe it was always ours and men took it to skirt their responsibilities– because yoga was always for the “other” that was oppressed or didn’t fit into the patriarchal and oppressive notions of society (because patriarchy doesn’t just hurt women) and evolved into the exclusive boys club only recently in history and even if it didn’t as long as there is misogyny and patriarchy, we all have elements of that in our being that we internalized and accept without question.

We don’t need to hear the details of what the women went through– we already know because it’s the same story thousands of times.
We don’t need to shut out Kausthub because in his place 2 more will rise and fall again (Bikram, Friend, and even yogis past like Jois, Satchidinanada and more)… It’s hard to know that there is this philosophy that means so much and preaches so much and has saved your life and the people you looked up to are possible rapists waiting to grope you in a vulnerable asana. But this is why this conversation is so important! Because we walk around just assuming that things are as the patriarchy presents them: fine and dandy, benefitting everyone. But we are so excluded if we are women, people of color, and non-binary gendered.  Yoga seems to break that mold but it really doesn’t. So when things that happen in the world at large bubble up from the yoga mat, it sucks to realize that the safe space you thought you had was really just an illusion.

But this is, paradoxically, the point of yoga– to strip away the illusions so you are left with truth. The truth is, yoga is not special. Yoga needs to be radical and revolutionary always and it can’t do that as long as we subscribe to the basic premises of our institutions, our global mechanisms, this patriarchy and its many forms of violence against women.

We need to stop looking at “yoga” and start looking at the world and how to make things better so this will end. Because yoga is good enough up to a point and this is that point. We can continue to hear of scandal after scandal or we can release attachment and get our intellectual hands dirty to have a conversation on what it means that yoga is failing people and can’t erase or undo the systemic injustices the way it’s being practiced.

We need a new yoga, we need a yoga revolution.

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