Recently Jivana Heyman of the Accessible Yoga organization posed the question on FB:
“Re: Cultural appropriation, how do you honor your teacher if they are/were abusive”, naming the Sivananda organization. I haven’t felt compelled to write about it until this moment, but now I do.
*trigger warning: rape, assault, abuse, and silencing are mentioned here (not in deep detail).
When I first heard of the assaults and sexual claims within the massive Sivananda organization, I thought perhaps I was just numb as I waited for a catharsis that never came. Then, I realized that:
1. I was not shocked and 2. It did not shake my foundations.
Anyone who went to these places comprised of many swamis and thousands of people from around the world for weeks or a few months at a time would undergo their own spiritual work without much sense of the politics of an opaque (not transparent) organization. Those who lived there longer, after the novelty of living and working without money exchange wore off, when the ashram became a reflection of the rest of the world, would always have to balance the internal politics with ones personal practice/connection to the teachings, routines, and community. That there would be teachers who could not live up to their own almost impossible expectations of celibacy for their entire lives is not surprising. That they were never held accountable for the abusive accusations, some from 20 years ago, as they continued to hold seats of power, also not surprising.
As someone who has written about deep concerns about cultural appropriation and the fetishized aspects of Indian cultures (though the connection to this question is vague) and someone who has survived both rape and multiple sexual assaults (a connection that feels more direct here) and someone who had an ex husband who I met in the Sivananda organization, who then turned around and slept with students inside and outside of the ashram, you might think that I would cancel the name Sivananda. All of these circumstances have taught me never to let anyone take away any piece of my rocky and dignified journey for any reason.
For many people, a lineage is no more than a yoga style to try on, a name to add or erase from their bios…