Friday, November 1, 2019

Empowerment and Transparency

Friendship, Love, and Truth by Currier and Ives
by Yonnie Fung

The yoga world has seen almost every major yoga lineage mired in scandal and its leaders exposed as perpetrators of different kinds of abuse to their community members (see Practice and All Is Coming Abuse, Cult Dynamics, and Healing in Yoga and Beyond). While the lineages were different, the responses played out in similar ways. Leaders in the various lineages were not transparent or accountable. When survivors spoke out, many in the community denied their experiences, discredited the survivor’s credibility and isolated the survivors. 

Others have attempted the moral impossibility of placing a foot in each camp—on the one hand, stating their support for the victims while on the other, expressing their loyalty to perpetrators and the power structures that allowed the abuses to happen. (See Yoga Talks Podcasts Synthesizer of Contemplative Traditions, and Conflicts and Confluences.)

As J. Herman observes in Recovery from psychological trauma in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, “it is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing…The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of the pain. The victim demands action, engagement and remembering.”

In the aftermath of truth being exposed, we can experience a range of mixed feelings which being in this conflict entails. This can manifest itself in sympathy for those abused, without the costs of supportive action—carrying on our daily lives as though nothing has happened.

We can compound the harm to survivors and betray the trust of our communities by continuing to display images of perpetrators in yoga centres and in our public communications, or by continuing to capitalise off our proximity to perpetrators, referencing perpetrators in honorific terms or in ways that don’t reflect the truth of their actions (see  Responding to Kino MacGregor’s Statements on Pattabhi Jois — by Karen Rain). Such actions isolate survivors and send a clear messages that their painful experience is meaningless and does not matter to us. They also signal to our community that we do not support the needs of victims of sexual abuse. 

“… remembering, truth telling, and support for survivors is the prerequisite for recovery and healing” —J. Herman, Recovery from psychological trauma in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences

For yoga teachers to be a part of the recovery process, we need to share our histories and be transparent and accountable about that history with our communities. Not doing harm in this context can not be a passive choice, it necessitates activity on our part—reflecting on the behaviours that enabled the perpetrator’s behaviour, examining whether or how our own attitudes and behaviours contribute to the survivor’s trauma and isolation. Passive inaction compounds the damage suffered by survivors. 

This is an excerpt from a longer article TEACHING INCLUSIVE, SAFE AND ETHICAL YOGA – PART 1: EMPOWERMENT that originally appeared on

Yonnie Fung graduated from the Australian National University in law and political science, specialising in human rights and gender studies. She was an international policy advisor to the Australian government and a lawyer for a global law firm before becoming a mind body educator. She is certified in yoga therapy, yoga, MovNat and is also a Trauma Centre Trauma Sensitive Yoga Facilitator.  

In 2011 Yonnie founded Yoga with Yonnie, an award winning yoga and movement space in Beijing, dedicated to small classes, non-commercialism, integrity and inclusive community. She has advocated for introducing yoga therapy into medical contexts and has worked closely with Beijing’s medical community in integrating yoga practices to patients recovering from injuries and chronic pain. She also pioneered the introduction of trauma sensitive yoga classes in Beijing where she held classes for survivors of complex trauma. She adopts trauma sensitive principles of supporting empowerment, choice making, and collaboration through all of her classes. 
Yonnie has recently relocated to Washington DC where she will begin offering Trauma Centre, Trauma Sensitive Yoga classes in November 2019.

This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, Editor in Chief of the Accessible Yoga blog.

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