When I think about you, you touch my ass

September 23, 2009

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois gives an adjustment to (the attitudes of?) a pair of yoginis

This photo has been making the rounds on the internet. I saw it on Facebook, but it was also referenced on a blog I saw on Yoga Journal (Yoga Spy).

For those who don’t know, and apparently there are MANY out there in the wide world, it shows the modern founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, engaging in what can only be described – objectively, from looking at the photo – as inappropriate touching of two yoga students, under the guise of “giving an assist” or “giving an adjustment” in a yoga context. It was linked from failblog.org, as in “yoga instructor fail“.

As you can see from the comments on that blog, those who do not know who SKPJ was either roundly criticize the man for putting his hands where they absolutely should not be put, EVER in a yoga class, or joke about the sexual nature of the touching exhibited (“did these girls pay extra for a happy ending?” type thing).

What made the comments interesting to me is the question of what would a full-in, in-the-cult, ashtangi say?  Would someone who is deeply committed to the ashtanga community believe that there is nothing wrong with this picture?  Would they believe that something is wrong with this picture but convince themselves otherwise?  Would they try to convince others otherwise?  Would they try to send the message to the world that this photo is somehow “incorrect” or “out of context” when in reality, touching is touching, and no one should be touching anyone that way outside of an intimate and private relationship.  No matter WHO is doing the touching.

I wondered about the people whose livelihoods depend on continued goodwill between them and the family of SKPJ – teachers of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga who have received or expect to receive or desire to someday receive authorization to teach this type of yoga.  Would they refrain from commenting?  Probably.  But what would they be thinking?  Would this be a chink in the armor of their guru (a guru whose feet I once sat at and kissed…truth be told)?

Psychologically speaking, we tend to emphasize in our own minds that information which supports our inner hypotheses, and we tend to overlook or dismiss that information which does not.  It’s called “cognitive dissonance”.   Would it be so against an ashtangi’s inner hypothesis of “SKPJ is my guru, and I kiss his feet” that the visual information contained in this photo would be “cognitive dissonanced” away?   Dismissed?  Like it didn’t exist?

As someone who has left the cult (although I still practice yoga and incorporate many of the physical lessons I learned while studying Asthanga), I see it as nothing short of abuse.  Perhaps not intentional.  Likely not intentional even.  But an abuse that comes from being put on a pedestal for so long by your followers that you longer have to keep your behavior in check.

It’s an age-old story really.

Anonymous comments on this blog are permitted, and I hope that you will weigh in.

YC