Episode 93: Ending Sexual Abuse in the Yoga Community — A Conversation with Mary Taylor and Judith Hanson Lasater

Judith Hanson Lasater quote | Yoga Podcast | Yogaland Podcast

Sexual misconduct in the yoga community isn’t new. But the evolving #metoo and #timesup movements have brought to light the magnitude of the problem for women from all walks of life — including within the yoga world. (Rachel Brathen collected more than 300 of them last year). It’s opened an important dialogue about how to put an end to sexual abuse, misconduct, and other abuses of power within the yoga community.

There are a few thoughtful yoga teachers leading the way, and I talked with two of them in this week’s episode: Judith Hanson Lasater and Mary Taylor.

Judith and Mary, with AZIAM founder Alanna Zabel, shared their stories recently with Yoga Journal. Now, they’re talking with me about what they feel should be the next steps for healing.

We talk about:

* The history of ethical standards for yoga teachers and how both Judith and Mary believe these standards should evolve in the future

* How the vocation of yoga teacher has changed through the years as yoga has become more commercial

* Why it’s important for teachers to create an environment where students feel safe and empowered to say “no”

* Judith’s tip for how to listen to your body to discern if something is wrong

* Practical steps yoga teachers can take to further the discussion, support students who have been victimized to share their stories, and create awareness about sexual abuse in the yoga community

* Mary’s perspective on what’s happening in the Ashtanga community on the heels of abuse allegations against founder Pattabhi Jois

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#Metoo Yoga Stories by Rachel Brathen
#TimesUp: Ending Sexual Abuse in the Yoga Community by Yoga Journal Staff
Inner Gold: Understanding Psychological Projection by Robert A. Gold
RAINN.org (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)

Mary Taylor began studying yoga in 1971, soon after she came home from France with a grande diplôme from Julia Child’s cooking school, L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes. She found yoga at first a means of finding equanimity during the stress of University, and it was that thread of balance that got her hooked. It was not until 1988 and finding her primary teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and the Ashtanga Vinyasa system that she experienced the profound and transformative impact that a dedicated and daily practice can have on all aspects of life. She continues to study and practice yoga and Buddhist teachings with great enthusiasm and inquisitiveness, with an eye on how the residue that is produced on the mat (and cushion) through these teachings informs and supports all aspects of everyday life.

Mary travels and teaches with Richard and also within the caregiver and hospital setting as part of the core faculty of the Being with Dying program (Upaya Zen Center) and the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Trainings. In 1988 she co-founded with Richard the Yoga Workshop. Mary is also the author of three cookbooks and the co-author of What Are You Hungry For? Women Food and Spirituality (St. Martins Press) and The Art of Vinyasa (Shambhala Publications).

Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.d. in East-West Psychology and physical therapist has taught yoga around the world since 1971.  She is a founder of the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, CA, as well as of Yoga Journal magazine.

Ms. Lasater trains yoga teachers in virtually every state of the United States, and is often an invited guest at international yoga conventions.  She is president emeritus of the California Yoga Teachers’ Association as well as the author of numerous articles on yoga and health for nationally recognized magazines.

Her most recent book is Restore and Rebalance: Yoga for Deep Relaxation, Shambhala Press, December, 2017. A complete list of Ms. Lasater’s nine books can be found here. She has also created numerous digital courses about teaching and practicing yoga.

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  1. I am so glad that you are addressing this extremely important topic. I hope that you continue to address this. As a teacher this has been heavy on my mind. I have certainly been in classes where I have seen and experienced adjustments that have made me feel uncomfortable. I am wondering if it is appropriate to bring this up in class? Should I be encouraging student to be more aware of the adjustments they receive and to say something if they feel uncomfortable. I would like to give them a few examples of what they can say in the moment so they are equipped should it happen. What do you think would be a good one-liner students could say to the teacher that doesn’t seem too awkward. I think it is important to empower my students to speak up if they feel uncomfortable with an adjustment, just not sure the best way to do that. Thank you for addressing this head on.

    • Obviously this isn’t an easy answer because every situation is different and a student’s ability to express themselves in the moment varies so much. This is why Jason and I are big proponents of the chips that you can put on your mat if you don’t want physical adjustments. My hope is that more studios will adopt this method so that, even if a student wants adjustments eventually, they can make sure they feel comfortable in a teacher’s class first. In terms of one-liners, how about, “That’s uncomfortable.” Or, “That hurts.” Or, “I’m nursing an injury and that doesn’t feel good.” I’d encourage the student to offer feedback to the studio owner and to be articulate about what the problem was: Was the problem that the adjustment hurt? Was the problem that the adjustment felt too invasive or inappropriate? Was the problem that the student felt triggered by a past experience? Getting clear on why it felt uncomfortable will help the student and it will help the studio owner offer feedback to their employee. Lastly, I’ll just add that communication can be awkward sometimes and helping your students understand that there’s nothing wrong with them even if it’s awkward may help!

      • Thank you for the reply, I think this is perfect!! Looking forward to continuing the conversation and empowering students, teachers and all levels of the industry to do better.

  2. This was so important, thank you. Also thank you for mentioning the guidelines that you have given to your daughter. They are very helpful and applicable to adults as well.

  3. great podcast topic- i feel like i would have liked more space for you to add mary’s voice- it was really all about Judith…

    • Did you listen to Mary and I talk after the music break? The second part of the podcast is with Mary…I realized after the production that it might have been confusing.

  4. Thanks so much for this Podcast Andrea. I felt like listening to Mary talk about Jois’s gross behavior – sort of explaining it away, certainly trying to protect his legacy and his family from the shame he only brought on himself – is very much what it’s like for all of us who are too close to a situation to see it clearly. I found listening to her very difficult as she doesn’t seem to think Jois had the ability to know that pressing his crotch on someone’s crotch was wrong because he was from a different culture.

    Reading the letters on Rachel’s page, you can see the psychological contortions women go through to normalize their experiences, just as I have done when groped in a yoga class.

    • Hi Evelyn, I’m so sorry that happened to you. And I can relate to the feeling of “normalizing” my own experiences only to look back and think — What the heck just happened?? I’m not sure how she came through in the interview (I think I’m too close to it), but I know from talking to her one on one that Mary feels awful about Jois’ behavior and she wants the survivors to be acknowledged and to feel heard. And she simultaneously feels awful for the family who is clearly not currently handling things well. (<-That last part is my personal opinion. I think you're right in that Mary is more forgiving of the family members). Thank you so much for your comment. I want an honest dialogue, too, and I appreciate the sensitivity with which you wrote your comment.

  5. Thank you Andrea for this important episode, and for this podcast. I listen to several yoga podcasts, and it’s rare to observe the combination of deep listening, empathy, and expertise in the host. What a treat. I always learn a lot from your skillful questions and am inspired and nourished by your caring. Thank you!!

  6. This is why the western world and its people are so different than people in the East.

    People in the east remembers their roots. We were taught to cultivate a grateful heart especially towards their teachers(teachers in all areas of life).

    Even though I have never been to Mysore, never studied with Pattabhi Jois or Sharath Jois. I have been a yoga practitioner since 10 years ago. And recently fell in love with Ashtanga yoga and its greatness. I watched many videos of Pattabhi Jois performing his ‘adjustments’ to his western students on youtube. It seems to me like he was adjustmenting the same way he adjust a male as to a female student.

    He puts his hands in the same position as with a male student and a female student. Just google Pattabhi Jois adjustments and you’d see him placing his hands on the backside of his male students. Now is that molestation?

    I can only see his sincerely to sharing what he learned and love to people. One can see his passion and to give freely this knowledge to anyone who wishes to learn just tells us he has such a big heart.

    I really don’t think Westerner understand this part about Asian people and its cultural. We give RESPECT to the elders because they lived more years than us, that means they are bound to be more experienced in life, now of cos there will be unenlightened old people around but my point is we have certain wisdom to know that an experienced person has more wisdom than us thats why we give them respect.

    If Pattabhi Jois were inappropriate or trying to ‘get fresh; with his adjustments, why would he do so so openly? Eg, allowing fellow students to take photos, providing evidence to his molestation? If he wanted to get fresh, he would do so privately behind closed doors.

    It seems to me these western ladies, are missing out on something. When I hear of Hollywood stars coming out with their sexual assault, I laughed out loud. It is known in media/entertainment world in almost the entire Asia, if you want to become famous and have no talent you have sleep with directors/producers. A lot of successful famous stars in Asian started out this way. To the Hollywood stars who were complaining, I say ‘Don’t complain after you get you’d eaten your share of the pie’.

    You wanted fame and you got it, so don’t complain!

  7. Hi there! I’ve been guided to your podcast by a friend and I had just recently listened to the Bikram 30 in 30 on Espn. I immediately highlighted your episode with Julie but also this episode on sexual abuse. I’m a straight male yoga teacher and I’m constantly aware of boundaries and creating a safe space for students. I was connected to some teachers within the Anusara community when that was thriving. I would recommend you check you Kathryn Flynn – intelligent edge yoga – she has a posdcast episode without a Dallas Delahunt. I look at both as my teachers and they make a distinct shift in language around hands on adjustment. Instead they’ve taught me hands on enhancements. When we look at the language and the definitions of each word a huge shift happens.

    We are so overly sexual in media and society. And the need for non sexual touch, love and affection is so needed. Human to human connection. I believe We need to shift how we talk about adjustments. And change our language. Hands on enhancements can be incredible grounding and loving without appt any force or misconduct.

    I highly recommend checking out that podcast. Cheers and thank you for talking about this topic! Going to listen to the episode with Jason next!


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