About That Johnny Kest Scene in the NYT documentary
For the minority of yoga teachers (and smaller minority of yoga consumers) who have woken up to the fact that somatic dominance is a primary currency in commodified yoga, the Johnny Kest scene in the recent NYT/FX/Hulu doc was outrageous, but also recognizable and predictable.
There’s been a lot of great commentary on it already — most of it nailing down how the embodied entitlement of implied-consent “adjustments” merges with Kest’s patronizing shutdowns of the very straightforward feedback given by the women who were able to speak in the moment.
Theodora Wildcroft remarked that this is the kind of thing that exposes the mainstream industry as unworthy of public service — a blow to everyone moving in that direction. There will be much more to say on that point.
This is important to repeat: it’s bad enough that Jois’s crimes were hidden, now we see clearly that the invisibility of Jois’s crimes has enabled brand profitability for teachers of Ashtanga and beyond. In the meantime, Jois survivors have left careers, suffered health problems, and racked up therapy bills.It was clear to me years ago that this wicked calculus would put Jois’s survivors in class action territory if it were not for the fact that those who have profited on Jois’s name aren’t represented by any suable organization.
The documentary does not answer the question of whether Kest has committed assault. But it does show how easily he could.
Kest is operating in a somatic environment normalized by Jois, and which neither the industry around him nor its trade associations have challenged in any accountable way. The environment has changed in that adjustments have been standardized and domesticated within training systems, and the somatic dominance has crossed a gender line. But the basic premises remain. Here’s an incomplete List:
- The teacher assumes dominant and definitive knowledge over the student’s body.
- That knowledge is established by the objectifying male gaze* that diagnoses flaws that must be manipulated back into order. This means that the adjustment starts and can be felt before the touch. (*can come out of men’s or women’s eyes).
- The interventions are endowed with transformative mystery and so there can be no informed consent. (I.e.: The student’s body is to be enlightened to something it did not yet know. This can cannot be pre-explained.)
- Thinking or talking about what’s happening in the power dynamic encounter constitutes an interruption of esoteric communication. Asking questions means you’re not tuning in to the silent sweaty wisdom of God.
- The unregulated environment of implied consent, heavily gendered power dynamics and the value of silence provokes a spectrum of responses. Enthusiastic responses are instantly recruited to support the marketing narrative of the space, regardless of whether they are healthy or fawning (trauma-related).
The technique Kest is performing on the video I have only seen performed by one particular Thai massage teacher in Chiang Mai and it was about 20 years ago. It’s a most unusual and obviously extremely invasive position where ‘Thai abdominal massage’ was given. I have also seen a few students of that teacher continue using the same technique. None of them are Thai. My best guess is that’s the origin of what we see here. A typical example of how modalities mix and blend, lose context – ending up misleading, confusing, abusing.
I had to go to some effort to find the source material – “The Weekly” as a non-US resident and non-subscriber. I was happy that I did and that Matthew Remski got put into the story representing information from survivor/victims in the Yoga world. It gives me hope about what things I did, continue to, to influence those who might read my various postings. What came to me was the way Kest was defending and then avoided media attention. He used a group setting to speak authoritatively but was unwilling to speak to what he was defending in an interview.
Then others who studied with Kest went on with the same “narrative” that what change people go through is something that “may not have happened” if not for their fortune to be adjusted or even … implied trauma. If they didn’t like it, ie maybe boundaries were crossed without consent, that was still helpful. That fits with the Buddhist “pure perception” narrative that various teachers “only try help” and later students say “only does help” students. Or that it isn’t sexual when anyone watching the video who isn’t a yoga student who is experienced with this.
There is really a need to see this as a new revolution like the science revolution that free’d people from the church and massive superstition in the dark ages with the age of enlightenment.
“Enlightenment thinkers sought to curtail the political power of organized religion and thereby prevent another age of intolerant religious war. ” – basically it was science answer how things can be observed. Observation is meditation so for me the convergence of logic, science, objective truth and subjective truth is related to enlightenment. People want to bring vague terms about emotions and change, bringing things up but these are usually techniques to subjegate people, make them vulnerable in a power setting. Yes, physical touch can definitely unlock past trauma so then doing it and saying this is a good thing … well how do we get an objective grasp on that? How do we call bullshit and that was one of the elements – the yoga instructors still had this commodity that goes with being qualified, associated with success.
To be honest even the #metoo story gatherer can’t be trusted, even if she is doing the right thing because I’m always suspicious of people with great numbers of followers. They also justify that there doesn’t need to be personal attention or knowing their students and if they teach in very large assemblies they want loyalty yet they also want to avoid knowing who they are teaching to. So even the people doing the good things can have conflict of interest – and a very successful yoga teacher knowing that the industry is rife with problems but saying “i have it all worked out, its like this” – its a real media opportunity.
Frankly speaking I think there could be a lot more people helping and yes paying yoga instructors if there was some kind of move against mass fame, mass following and popularity and the knowledge was common and that would be more like a new age of enlightenment. Much like the way Buddhist knowledge is being translated and later we might discard a lot of the absolutely drivel sutras that are mixed with revolutionary thinking of great minds of the past. Some of the “Buddhist” sutras [which I don’t bother with any more] are pure magical thinking, free of logic, free of history, free of testimony or test-ability just “if you recite this you will get these benefits”. That is the same as if you let me adjust you then you will get x benefits. If it can’t be explained so we can get our spouse or other intimate and trusted partner to adjust us and moved out of esotericism then its a problem – that leads to cult tactics to gather students to where the special stuff is taught by the entitled narcissistic leaders.
Yogi, Buddha, Enlightened … these are all just names for ourselves as we move from ignorance to …. less ignorance. Possibly we find delusional ignorance during phases of growth and fighting off that delusion is what I think of as the enlightenment where the veil of confusion, mental illness, deception or whatever is lifted and we might just be saying “oh that was wrong and those people are not to be trusted because they apparently knew it was wrong when they said it was true”.
I think you (and the writer) have it a bit backwards as to why barbers, manicurists and massage therapists have licensure requirements. Actually, it’s similar to other licensed trades. Typically, they have to provide proof of education to demonstrate that they have undergone training in their field. Then, they have to pass a standardized examination with the licensure board.
In other words, the licensure requirements are there to ensure that the licensee has formally trained in the field and has shown that they know what they are doing (at a minimum). Ethics, including boundaries of touching clients are included in the training, but are actually a small part of it. Most teacher training programs include that as well.
Licensed massage therapists have broad latitude in terms of touch and, in fact, licensed Thai massage therapists actually do some similar maneuvers to that in the video. Are they unethical? Not necessarily.
On another note, don’t you find it a bit odd that there is no interview of the woman who received the adjustment to see her reaction? It’s kind of a glaring omission really and I suspect that is because her reaction didn’t support the writers planned narrative. Anyone critically viewing this video can see it is agenda driven and not unbiased.
I’m confident in my teaching and the ethics in my studio. I actually don’t want the New York Times or a blogger telling me how I handle my profession.
The anti-regulatory attitude is very common, even though YTT programmes in general provide nothing approaching the competency required by licensees in touch professions.
What, in your view, was the writer’s “planned narrative”? If she was biased, howso?
I’m actually pro-regulatory. I think yoga teachers should have a bare minimum of training in various disciplines relevant to the field and that training should be under competent, trained individuals who have undertaken formal training themselves.
I’m also certain that none of that training will prevent an unethical teacher from conducting themselves unethically. My view is that most people know that touching another person in a sexual manner in a yoga class would be wrong and verbotten–and if they choose to ignore that then the New York Times or you telling them it is wrong won’t make much difference.
Medical professionals have extensive ethics training in this regard and have patients in far more vulnerable positions (alone, under sedation, etc). Obviously, it is wrong and illegal to take advantage of that. Yet, there are still outliers that do it. It’s the same with yoga.
It’s hard to teach someone the difference between right and wrong if they don’t already know the difference between right and wrong and respect it.
As I said, a fair and balanced view of the class would have included an interview after the fact with the woman Jonny adjusted.
Does her opinion matter to you? That’s not a rhetorical question. Doesn’t her opinion matter?
I cannot find any such interview. Since it would be obvious to ask her, I expect she was asked and probably gave an answer that didn’t fit the agenda of this writer. I think the agenda was to use the video, edited to show Jonny (who I’ve never heard of, BTW) in the worst possible light. Mainstream media does this frequently in many areas. You should know that (or you are one naive dude).
Aren’t you concerned that the writer of this story (who clearly wants a juicy story) left out the “victim’s” opinion? As far as her assertion that she didn’t know about KPJ and his abuses, that’s quite incredible (unless she was living under a rock). All you have to do is google “KPJ abuses” and look at the images.
I would be very concerned about someone like yourself injecting your whole “social justice” woke agenda into my teacher training, shoe-horned in there under the guise of concern for women’s welfare.
Professionals in the field of ethics and psychology don’t do that. What training do you have in ethics and psychology?
Yes, her opinion would matter to me, although we don’t have access to it, and supposing that’s because she gave it but it wasn’t included is speculation.
Who identified the diaper change recipient as a “victim”? The point was that the environment was one of implied consent, which you don’t seem concerned about.
Rolling your logic forward: if the DC recipient said she quite enjoyed the adjustment, this would have no bearing on whether Kest had consent, or even whether it could be defined as assault.
You’re coming close to calling Rosman a liar. Why you’re doing that, I don’t know. She opens The Weekly documentary by saying she was unaware of Jois’s crimes. From responses to her article (and to my book), she’s far from alone.
I’m not going to respond to your ignorant insults. If you send along more they won’t be published.
do you recognize that you are, yourself, performing the very acts you decry when someone questions your own methods? I expect not. I also doubt that this will be a useful discussion, or even published as *you* hold the power on this forum. Yet I persist in the hope that you might find a moment of self-awareness.
I don’t find Ekaterina’s comments insulting Matthew. I think she brings up some valid points.
Ekaterina expressed skepticism about the Rosman’s motives and also her claim that she had only just heard of Jois’ actions. I’m very wary of mainstream media’s expertise in manipulation, especially the NYT. I’m skeptical of them too and, yes, I think they lie when convenient and they do it all the time.
I also got roped into the vilification of Jonny Kest, and hadn’t even considered the fact that Rosman excluded any discussion with the woman Jonny adjusted. I think it’s an extremely valid point and would also be surprised if such footage didn’t exist. The story is about Jonny Kest performing an adjustment on a woman. Without the woman’s opinion on the matter, including whether she felt she had consented to the adjustment, makes it seem like she is a convenient object for Rosman’s juicy story.
If you are truly interested in a constructive dialog on the issue of consent (should it be written, when is it withdrawn, can it be oral etc) then I would think this woman’s opinion on it would be an important contribution.
On a separate note, I think it’s unfortunate that when people question you, you find it necessary to insult them (yes, you are insulting Ekaterina). I’ve seen you do this frequently on social media where you insult someone who disagrees with you and label them dismissively as a “troll”. It discredits you as a journalist and makes it appear that you are a bitter nasty person. You should consider that since you will alienate many people with that attitude.
I responded to the substance of the comment, and will with you as well. Assuming that there was interview footage left out is pure speculation. So too is assuming that if the woman enjoyed the “adjustment” in question that that changes anything. A victim’s perception is only one factor in the definition of sexual assault. We know that Kest didn’t ask for consent from how he rejected the idea when introduced by the other students in the room. The story is not about Kest performing adjustments, but whether or not he’s giving them in a consensual environment.
This is what I found insulting and ignorant, because it straw-mans while bearing no relation to the cost of actual whistleblowing over the past three years:
I am grateful for the criticism I receive when it’s offered in good faith. I label people as trolls and ban them from my pages when they harass or defame, or even attack my family members. I don’t take that lightly.
Hi! Thank you for your comments. I am the woman in the video who spoke up to Jonny and asked why he wasn’t asking for consent. The woman who received the adjustment volunteered to receive it, and as far as I know, wasn’t aware of what the adjustment would be. The point of Rosman’s article was not that that person in particular was victimized, but that many people (including me!) would not welcome such an up-close-and-personal physical interaction with a teacher, particularly in savasana which is when this adjustment is intended to be given.
She spoke to me because I was the only person in the room who objected – not to the adjustment itself – but to the fact that the person wasn’t specifically told prior to being given the adjustment the nature of touch being given. I don’t know her reaction – I know what she told Jonny Kest at the time he was sitting between her legs, as I was in the room and that was also on camera … but as Remski pointed out, there are lots of reasons why people don’t speak out when they are in a group setting, with the renown teacher in front of them, and lots of people looking at them. I *do* know that several people came up to me after the workshop who WERE in the room and said that they agreed with me, and they felt the adjustment was invasive and made them feel uncomfortable.
Thank you Catherine! Sorry for taking so long to approve your input here: my notifications seem to have been turned off.
What we have is a heavily edited video of a class with an adjustment and a general discussion about consent and how to approach it. I don’t recall anyone assuming that the woman who was adjusted enjoyed it. That is you making a straw man argument and diversion on your part.
I think her opinion on whether on not she felt she consented to the adjustment in some valid manner is critical matter to explore for those who are truly interested in coming up with some type of solution on how to deal with touch in the yoga class.
I’m curious what you would add to teacher trainings in relation to how to interact with students vis a vis avoiding inappropriate touching (that is not there already). Note that sexual assault is a crime, and explicit cautions about not touching students private parts are a part of most teacher training I’ve been a part of. What would you add?
I also think that identity politics (and climate change etc) should not be imposed on students in a yoga teacher training (unless they consent to that ahead of time). Ekaterina’s statement that you quoted is a valid concern for someone running a teacher training. It is not defamatory.
I didn’t understand your statement about the cost of “whistleblowing”.
I mentioned enjoyment as the possible far end of the spectrum of acceptance. Unless Kest had performed that adjustment on that student before, or unless she’d seen it. it’s unlikely she could have consented to it, especially in any informed way. But the important thing here is that Kest himself denies practicing consent culture. If she did feel she consented, it would have been by random luck.
How would her opinion on whether she had consented further inform policy? Kest rejects practicing consent culture in this clip (no correction has been issued by the NYT), and when challenged by the clients in the room he dismisses them.
Throughout the abuse histories of Jois, Manos and others, “inappropriate touching” has been used as an undefined euphemism for sexual assault. If the adjustment lacked consent and involved sexual parts of the body, it’s assault. It has been rarely reported as such because of normalization and the obfuscation of “inappropriate touching”, plus decades of power dynamics in the culture that invest mainly male teachers with an almost unshakeable sense of entitlement. Jois himself was on the verge of arrest several times in the US during tours. His handlers always helped him avoid it.
What I would add personally to the culture of touch in yoga is the threshold of licensing consistent with massage therapy and its training in A+P and ethics, scope of practice, and informed consent, Massage therapists assault clients as well. But they can actually be held responsible for it. Beyond criminal charges, they can lose the ability to ever practice again.
I’ve done whistleblowing work on this material for many years now. The insult is to suggest that the concern is insincere.
Matthew, I don’t think you’re insincere. I think your working out your personal demons in public. That turns out to not always be the most helpful thing for a community, although you might find it personally cathartic.
SO hey, you do you. Just sayin’
Agree with you. Heavily edited video and no clarity on what was known before entering workshop. This pose would never be performed in an average JKest class. I’ve only ever seen him do this in specific workshops (which state Thai Yoga Massage offerings) in the descriptions. I am left feeling like this was a bit of a set up for Jonny. If you seek out a workshop that offers such practices, for learning purposes, then likely you know what to expect and likely consented beforehand to terms of signing up for workshop. Also volunteering in these workshops for poses is not required and you don’t have to offer to be adjusted for teaching others as seen in video. I’ve always only seen voluntary participation in his workshops.
Kest is not a ‘spiritual master’. He is an Anatomy teacher.
Is he? I don’t see that cited anywhere.
I think we are assuming all woman / men have trauma and or problems with hands on in yoga.
I’m a long time student of Kest’s and have never felt violated in any capacity. I also know that if you had a previous sexual assault you could have that conversation if necessary in private with Jonny and or any yoga teacher, as so they would be sensitive to your needs as opposed to assuming to be sensitive. I prefer adjustments and they make my class a better experience. I would be disappointed if we removed them just because of presumed offense.
I was assaulted in a massage years ago so now I take the right precautions when I book massages as to not trigger that experience again. I now only allow woman to massage me as I feel safe. It’s my responsibility to know mySelf and make proper decisions to ensure comfort in situations. Maybe go to a yoga class for abuse victims if you are not cool with being touched. If you did a study on how many teachers there are, and how many student, pairs with occurrences of abuse, I’m sure it’s smaller percentage than you’d like to think.
“Unless Kest had performed that adjustment on that student before, or unless she’d seen it. it’s unlikely she could have consented to it, especially in any informed way.”
Do you have some inside knowledge that Kest had not performed the adjustment on the woman before? Don’t you see that that is one of the reasons her input is important? That is the point Ekaterina is trying to make.
How do you understand the concept of informed consent in the setting of a yoga class? How would you define it?
Do you think that consent cards are “informed consent”.
I have no inside knowledge, but from the way Kest was questioned about that specific interaction, the other students in the room seemed clear that he hadn’t asked. Plus, again: he showed himself to be both clueless about and resistant to consent information.
Informed consent in any setting would consist of 4 basic communications: 1) I propose doing X for you. 2) This is why I think X will be of benefit (gold standard = providing evidence for benefit). 3) This is what might go wrong as I perform X. 4) This is how I can be held professionally responsible for doing X if I harm you.
The yoga industry doesn’t come close to offering or even understanding such a process, and would have no way of enforcing #4. So no, consent cards don’t cut it, but they are a start.
Regarding informed consent, you (Matthew) said:
“Informed consent in any setting would consist of 4 basic communications: 1) I propose doing X for you. 2) This is why I think X will be of benefit (gold standard = providing evidence for benefit). 3) This is what might go wrong as I perform X. 4) This is how I can be held professionally responsible for doing X if I harm you.”
I think you left out the most important part of informed consent. This is telling and demonstrates to me that you don’t actually comprehend what it is.
You missed the most important communication and that is the communication, from the subject of the intervention to the person proposing the intervention, that they UNDERSTAND the proposed intervention, its risks and complications and, with that understanding, consent to the intervention. Most settings of written informed consent actually have a place where the subjects writes in their own words what they understand the intervention to be.
Your answer, which demonstrates a flawed understanding of the process, helps me to understand why the opinion of the woman Jonny adjusted is not apparently particularly important.
That said, how do you propose that informed consent would work in the dynamic of a crowded yoga class? Suppose I, as a teacher, would like to have a student get the feeling of rotating your thigh back in Triangle pose. Should I go to student and say, “I’m going to touch the side of your thigh near your knee with my index finger (lightly), to show you the direction I’d like you to rotate your thigh. If you were to do this action, it will open the front of your pelvis more. There is no risk of injury in me lightly touching the side of your thigh or you doing the action. There is really nothing that can go wrong, but, if by some bizarre turn of events I harm you, you have the right to sue me in the court of law. Do you understand completely what I have proposed? Can you explain it to me in your own words? Do I have your permission to perform the foregoing?”
How do you propose to integrate that into the reality of a yoga class?
Yes I did leave that out, because I was enumerating elements that would establish the offer of informed consent from the service provider’s side. Attainment of informed consent would, I agree, require the client to sign off on their understanding. It’s pretty clear from Kest’s responses that none of those 4 elements were provided.
The absurdity you illustrate would be in play if you looked at the problem as resolvable in microexchanges. However, if a yoga space had a clear policy for teacher’s scope of practice, including whether or not they were qualified to touch and by what authority, and if they were qualified what adjustments would be applied and for what purpose, how a student might refuse them, and what a student could do if something went wrong… all of that could be done at the front desk or in web materials.
I think you’re referring to a release form that would be (and is) at the front desk or on the website of yoga studios. That exists already. It’s a broad form of consent and is not really considered informed consent. Few people even read such forms.
Individual consent is, by necessity, microexchanges. That is reality.
What you may be describing is an extensive list of adjustments that might be offered/performed in the setting of the class (with photos, I presume) as well as the benefits and risks of each. Like a menu at a Chinese restaurant. I would support that, but it still doesn’t work.
Since the benefits and risks of individual poses and adjustments are not really known, how would that be accomplished? The risks can’t really be separated from the risks of the individual poses themselves (which aren’t really known either). Since there are hundreds, if not thousands of adjustments and poses, how do you propose to handle that? And some students might want one adjustment, while declining others.
How does that work with the casual drop in student? Perhaps the front desk person asks if they want hands on adjustments. I like touch myself, so if it were me, I’d probably say “yes”. But, unless I went through the full process of mutual informed consent (for each adjustment) my “consent” would not be informed consent. And once I say, “yes”, then I’ve opened myself up for someone to cross the line as it were. In some of the more public cases of this, that might be a hand placed partially on the edge of a breast or something more.
I don’t have an answer either, but these are considerations that must be addressed and it isn’t as simple as yes or no.
The other issue you mention is the qualification of the teacher to touch someone. How do you determine if someone is qualified to touch someone? Should they be a physio or doctor? Even that doesn’t prevent abuse.
If you look at some of the more public cases, the abuse was carried out by some of the most qualified and experienced teachers around. What qualifies someone to touch another person? Who makes that determination? I recollect that you are a yoga teacher yourself. Are you qualified to touch others in yoga class? If so, how did you come by that?
The yoga industry has not answered this question, but it needs to. Licensed manual therapists are surely qualified within their scopes of practice. They abuse clients as well, but they can also be held responsible, and be prevented from practicing if warranted. If yoga instruction had required a license in the State of California in 1991, Manouso Manos would have lost it.
I’m an RYT-500 and I adjusted students as I was taught and allowed to from 2003 until about 2012, when I stopped because I realized I didn’t feel qualified to continue, and because I was no longer comfortable with the industry’s lack of clarity around informed consent.
Indeed, the yoga industry has not answered the questions above (or even defined “yoga”). Massage is actually a lot easier to define for the purposes of licensure.
Nevertheless, from your comments, I gather that you believe that some type of board of licensure, administered by the state, should be enacted to oversee yoga teachers. And I have the impression that you think this board’s ability to revoke a yoga teacher’s licensure would act as a deterrent for malfeasance and abuse in studios–the proverbial “Sword of Damocles” hanging over a yoga teacher’s heads to keep them in line. A “police force”, if you will.
I’m a little concerned with what you have in mind, especially in light of your statement:
“If yoga instruction had required a license in the State of California in 1991, Manouso Manos would have lost it.”
That statement concerns me. I’m definitely no fan of Manouso, but what do you base that on? Are you familiar with the concept of “due process”?
If there had been a licensure board, it would have conducted an investigation of the matter, collected sworn testimony and, if indicted, Manouso would have had the right to a trial. Or, a licensure board might have investigated and decided that it did not have the evidence to prosecute Manouso. It would not have revoked Manouso’s license based on statements from a newspaper article (which is, I think, the basis for your statement).
Yes, I’m assuming that the article would have triggered an investigation and de-licensing, or, an investigation would have triggered the article.
I am not familiar with the person in your article, but I would like to contribute based on the subject of ethics that arose in the comments. I’m a relatively new Yoga teacher (5 years) and have done roughly 1,000 hours of various YTTs so I have some general idea of the level of ethics covered in such training. Throughout my teaching career, I’ve intuitively opted for verbal suggestions (adjustments) over physical adjustments because something didn’t quite feel right about physically enforcing my idea of how I believe the student needs to be performing the shape (how do I really know what is going on inside for them or even what is right for them?). I began university study 2 years ago to gain my qualifications as a Doctor of Chinese Medicine, which in Australia is regulated under the same regulatory body (and level of scrutiny) as a Western medical doctor and ethics is a mandatory first year subject along with ongoing reinforcement in every clinical subject. If we even fail once to obtain informed consent in our clinical classes (no matter how familiar we are with the ‘patient’) we fail. Once I am qualified and practicing I am expected (and required) to continue to respect my patients autonomy in deciding how they want to (or do not what to) be treated, no matter how experienced I become or how much I think I know more than they do. It’s kind of arrogant to think that I will ever know what is ultimately best for another. Naturally, there is a power imbalance (in both professions) because someone is seeking our expertise as they believe we can help them because they perceive us to know more than them on a certain subject. But we will NEVER know what is best for our student/patient because we are not them. And even if they want to give us that power to choose for them, we should not take it (IMHO) because that is disempowering. This is why respecting autonomy is a legal requirement in medical professions and a key element in the discussion of ethics and informed consent. I am appalled by the Yoga industry’s lack of awareness, interest, maturity and professionalism around this subject. I’ve even had the ‘star teacher’ at one studio teacher’s workshop on the topic of physical adjustments say, at the outset of the session, that ‘the issue of ethics and informed consent will not be covered today so don’t even bring it up’! What?! An entire session on touching students and you won’t even address if it is right or not? Anyway, thank you for sparking this important discussion and I’m happy to see you standing strong on your values around this topic.