Sexual Abuse in Yoga: Karen Rain/ 1's Testimony
“Pattabhi Jois, a yoga guru, sexually violent me for years." This is the title of the first of the two articles that Karen Rain has submitted to us for publication. YogaenRed's position on sexual abuse in yoga is not to look the other way, but to listen to the victims, as we explained in a introductory article recently published. English translation: Athena Acevedo.
[Warning: This post includes photographs showing sexual violence, posted with the victim's permission
It took me twenty years to feel fully owner of my life again and reverse the shame.
When the allegations of sexual abuse against U.S. Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh were made public, the media published countless photographs of him. I wondered how these images would affect the women who denounced it. Would seeing those photographs, not to mention the real-time televised appearance, cause them anxiety and remind them of the torments they had described? Or, on the contrary, would you be comforted to see your image accompanying articles written by those who do believe and support them, and read by millions of people?
The photographs of my sex offender are ubiquitous. While his persona is not part of the current debate in the country, his image is in countless yoga studies and yoga altars around the world in a sign of reverence and worship, despite what I know and many people know about him.
In the mid-1990s, I studied yoga with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India, for several two-year stays. Pattabhi Jois created an athletic and intense yoga practice to which appointed Ashtanga. It is arguably one of the most influential and popular styles of yoga in the world. At the time, Pattabhi Jois sexually violated me in class, as did many other women, practically every day.
Back then, the idea that the guru of this yoga system was my sexual aggressor seemed inconceivable to me.
Practicing ashtanga yoga gave my life meaning and meaning by being part of an elitist group of certified teachers and advanced practitioners. It was my passion and my professional career, it made me feel healthy, fit, strong and gratifying, gave me a sense of belonging.
In addition I couldn't stand the idea of being a victim. The single word carries a stigma that I had internalized as synonymous with a loser, weak or pitiful person. I fooled myself so as not to feel or be seen as a loser, weak or pitiful. I convinced myself that Pattabhi Jois wasn't sexually violent. Occasionally, even I tried to outdo the aggressions. I wanted to believe what some people were saying, and they still say: that Pattabhi Jois was transmitting healing energy to me by touching me like that. Far from feeling pitiful, with these ideas I managed to feel fortunate, almost blessed.
It may sound like granting consent, but the asymmetry of power and the fear of reprisals if I complained, the fear of losing my friendships, my professional career and my sense of belonging, make it impossible to speak of consent: I was helpless in front of the great yoga teacher who unloaded her corpulence on me and rubbed herself against my body while I performed and held complex postures. I submitted, I endured, I tried to minimize it.
The truth is, there was never any consent on my part.
Today I choose to use the word 'victim' because, for me, it refers to my innocence in a situation of injustice.
Allegations of sexual abuse against Pattabhi Jois, both on Mysore and on international tours, span thirty years. Different women have talked about how Jois kissed them, touched them, sexually rubbed through clothes and raped using her fingers.
For me, the most frequent and dehumanizing sexual assault occurred when I pressed his penis against my genitals and moved his pelvis rhythmically, while I held various yoga poses, as clearly seen in this photograph.
In the image where I'm making an arch, he doesn't even touch me with his hands: his pelvis, his genitals are the only thing in contact with my body, my pelvis, my genitals.
Despite the obvious reality embodied in these photographs, countless practitioners will deny that there is evidence of sexual assault. I know it well: I used to think like them. Sexual violence was assumed as part of Pattabhi Jois' method of manual adjustment. Also, in the images you see other people practicing around me, iemage my friends in the same space, one of them even took pictures. It's not possible to inflict sexual assault with so many people around, is it?
In my youth I normalized his behavior. Like many people who are abused, it took me quite a while to get away. I continued to study with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore for two years and he continued to break my life. We hardly ever notice the gravity of a situation until we leave it behind. NI had years to fully see and understand what had happened.
I have decided to publish the images that have tormented me for over twenty years as a more radical step towards my vindication.
I left Mysore in 1998, thinking that Pattabhi Jois lacked ethics and should not be a yoga teacher, let alone being a revered teacher. However, realizing and fully understanding the gravity of his abuse of power was not instantly. At first, I minimized their violence. It took me years to pronounce the words "Pattabhi Jois sexually assaulted me."
Stoicism is as revered in ashtanga yoga as continuing to practice regardless of pain or discomfort is considered commendable. In addition, women who endure suffering are especially valued, so that I had been conditioned not to complain and minimize my ordeal. The intuition told me that the community would disdain the shortest of my testimonies and that only criticism, stigmatization and contempt would be found there. Instead of raising my voice, I chose to disappear.
I deliberately set out everything in my life to avoid seeing her photograph and to be traumatized again by the image of her power and prestige. I moved away from my community and friendships, changed careers and dreams. I stopped teaching and practicing yoga. I even changed my last name.
See photographs of Pattabhi Jois cheerfully or surrounded by glory detons in me the human reaction to the traumatic experience. My body freezes as I strive to interpret the signals it sends me. I can't tell what gives me security from what's taking it away from me. My mind goes out... something that, by the way, ashtanga yoga exhorts us to do: we must surrender, subject the body and mind to practice. By the way, submit to Pattabhi Jois, also called Guruji, an honorary appellation reserved for adored teachers, was highly valued. In ashtanga yoga, the degree of devotion of the practitioner is directly proportional to his merit within the ashtanguis community.
I needed 20 years to have the courage to write about this. If I could do it, it was thanks to the many very brave victims of sexual violence who raised their voices before me. The constant humiliation and pointing of the victims as guilty, both openly and underground, make it almost impossible to avoid further pain when we dare to speak. If I focus my experience, it's because I want to be part of building a safer and kinder world for victims to notice and report abuses, a world where they receive credibility and protection.
In part, I agreed with the publication of these images because they are proof that Pattabhi Jois sexually abused me, but also because he must be remembered as a sexual aggressor: it is not only the smiling guru on a yoga altar, but also a man who violent women in front of other people. I would like these photographs to be an invitation to reflect on whether we are looking a blind eye or underestimating any form of sexual abuse.
Karen Rain she studied at Mysore as a student of Pattabhi Jois from 1994 to 1998.