Karen Rain Speaks About Pattabhi Jois and Recovering from Sexual and Spiritual Abuse — Video Interview

Thank you for visiting this page. If you scroll down past these intro notes, you will see the full transcript of the interview offered below, for easy citation.

We’d like to start with a trigger warning:

This interview conveys details of sexual assault and the silencing of a victim of sexual assault. The descriptions are detailed and emotionally charged.

One of our supportive advisors offered the following feedback: viewers should leave good time for self-care while engaging with this video.

It was suggested that this might be especially important not only for those whose trauma occurred in yoga spaces, but also those who have gone to yoga for healing.

We’d also like to offer the following resources, notes, clarifications, and links.

Karen Rain’s writings on her experience with Pattabhi Jois and Ashtanga Yoga can be found here.

Matthew Remski’s writings on adverse experiences in yoga practice can be found here. His article on Pattabhi Jois and sexual assault, featuring Karen’s voice and the voices of eight other women, can be found here.

Thank you to David Rendall for videography and editing, Diane Bruni for hosting us, and Meghan Bruni and Olya Gloria for appearing in the Contact Jam at the end.

Finally we would like to note that all questions were agreed upon beforehand.

Notes and Corrections:

00:04:15: In our first interview, on June 4th, 2016, Karen spoke about the assaults in this way: “Yes, he groped me. No doubt about it. His adjustments on me were inappropriate.”

00:06:32: Karen’s original #metoo post on Facebook from November 11, 2017, is here.

00:07:32: Matthew was able to find Karen through a conversation with Elizabeth Kadetsky, who knew about Karen’s name change.

00:09:20: Anneke Lucas’ groundbreaking post was first published in 2010, detailing an experience from 2000. She describes her experience in this panel discussion. So does Marissa Sullivan, who also gave testimony for The Walrus article. Anneke begins speaking at 17:00 and Marissa follows.

00:10:40: Since filming this interview, Matthew has heard second-hand reports of Jois sexually assaulting two male practitioners. These have not been corroborated. It is important to mention that Karen had heard accounts of digital penetration or rape at the time of the interview but was not comfortable mentioning it until a victim came forward to confirm in print, as documented in the Walrus article.

00:15:52: The woman’s name was Catherine Tisseront. She died in Seattle in 2010. Correction: Since filming the interview, we have been informed that her cancer was not breast but ovarian cancer, which progressed to her spine and finally brain. This is an important detail, but it does not change the points made here.

00:27:27: The video in question is here (trigger warning). Between 2012 and 2015 it was deleted from YouTube and Vimeo, at least once at the request of a senior Ashtanga teacher.

00:46:25: In Karen’s statement of complicity she also wants to apologize to anyone if she ever minimized or dismissed their unpleasant impression of or experience with Pattabhi Jois.

00:49:14: Addendum from Karen: “In the light of the abuses of Pattabhi Jois, I suggest the re-invention of Ashtanga Yoga without him. This is not the best choice of words. A few AY teachers have made the points that if they just omit Pattabhi Jois from the history of Ashtanga Yoga, wouldn’t that be a kind of denial? Wouldn’t we all be losing an opportunity to learn and help prevent abuse from happening again, both within Ashtanga and elsewhere? Thus I would like to correct my statement to: I would like a re-invention of Ashtanga yoga to use accurate language for his actions, to use sexual abuse and assault rather than the euphemisms of inappropriate adjustments or assists and that the fact that he was a serial sex offender be integrated into the story of his life as well as the history of Ashtanga yoga.”

00:58:06: Here is Kathleen Rea’s Contact Jam info. Here is a great blog she wrote about boundary issues and solutions in that community.

01:03:05: Addendum from Karen: “Something which has helped me immensely is friendship. I have a wonderful and supportive wife and friends. The support I get from people I haven’t met is also extremely helpful. I want to clarify that people who message me to support me and say I’m helping them, are helping me heal. They inspire me and help give me the strength to be the courageous person I want to be. They help me to face the backlash which is painful and triggering and does interfere with my healing. Speaking out is an obligation to myself, my healing and part of restoring my agency. I’m also committed to raising awareness/speaking out against sexual, spiritual and institutional abuse. At times it can be very scary and painful. It’s new for me to be doing this with my own personal story and history of repetitive abuse. I’m learning how to speak up and balance taking care of myself.”

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TRANSCRIPT

Intro statements

Karen Rain: 00:00:07

My name is Karen Rain, and I practiced Ashtanga Yoga from 1989 until 2001, and I studied in Mysore with Pattabhi Jois, for a total of two years between 1994 and 1998. During those two years, I was sexually assaulted almost daily by Pattabhi Jois.

Matthew Remski: 00:00:43

My name is Matthew Remski. As part of a larger project examining adverse experiences and abuse in yoga culture, I’ve been interviewing Karen Rain over the last two years. This interview represents the culmination of our discussions.

Learning to Listen

Matthew Remski: 00:01:02

As a survivor of sexual assault, what do you need to feel safe in an interview in which you’re speaking about it?

Karen Rain: 00:01:15

I think that all survivors of sexual assault, and I like to use the word victim because it’s a legal term, and because it’s been stigmatized. I also like survivor, but I want to reclaim the word victim as not something that is a stigma. Just to clarify that. I also talk with my hands a lot. Let’s see.

Karen Rain: 00:01:42

To feel safe, I need to be in control of how and when my story is told. So, if I say cut, cut, if I say I don’t want that in there, I disclose something that just makes me feel too vulnerable, you don’t try to convince me to put it in.

Matthew Remski: 00:02:04

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karen Rain: 00:02:06

And, I know you, so I feel comfortable with you. When you first contacted me, I didn’t trust you, you know I remember you calling and I was like, “I can’t help you.” You know, you’re not, you told me you were writing a book about yoga or something, and I was like “You’re not going to be interested in what I have to say.” And you were trying to reassure me that you were interested in whatever I had to say.

00:02:35

I was like “No, no one is interested in what I have to say.” And then over time, you got … I began to believe that you were actually interested in what I had to say.

Matthew Remski: 00:02:54

How did that happen? Because there was a number of conversations, like that initial phone call where I literally called you out of the blue.

Karen Rain: 00:03:02

Right. Yeah, and you were asking for Karen Haberman, and I changed my name to Karen Rain, and I was like “Oh who is this?”

Matthew Remski: 00:03:11

Right. I think I said, “Did you used to go by the name Karen Haberman?” And there was a long pause.

Karen Rain: 00:03:21

I was like, “Yeah.”

Matthew Remski: 00:03:22

Right. “Did you used to do a lot of yoga?” I said.

Karen Rain: 00:03:28

I was like “Unfortunately!” Yeah. I think in that conversation, we had agreed that you would send me a write up about like including the proposal for your book and what it was about, then I would decide whether or not I wanted to speak with you, I think that’s kind of how it went. Then, you know, the disclosure of what happened to me was very slow. I talked about what I saw, I talked about in terms of seeing Pattabhi Jois, and I think I was still using at that point, ‘touching women inappropriately’, or ‘giving sexually inappropriate adjustments’, I think I was still using those euphemisms, because that’s what the community was using.

00:04:15

I didn’t discuss what was done to me, like you asked … Like I said something briefly like “Yeah it happened to me,” but, that’s basically where I went. I pretended like I was okay with it. And then, I think it took over a year right, where I called you out of the blue, and I was like, “Okay, if you need more details about what happened to me specifically for your book, or if you would like them, I’m willing to share them now.”

Matthew Remski: 00:04:49

But with the same agreement, that I would keep you informed as to what the process was going to be?

Karen Rain: 00:04:56

Right, totally.

Matthew Remski: 00:04:58

Right. What happened in that year that, if you’re comfortable sharing, that I don’t know, allowed more of the disclosure to happen?

Karen Rain: 00:05:08

Well I think there was trust gained with you.

Matthew Remski: 00:05:08

Yeah.

Karen Rain: 00:05:10

There was more insight into my own experience. Something I had pushed aside for a really long time and just minimized.

Breaking Silence

Matthew Remski: 00:05:26

How has it felt in general to break your silence after really 20 years?

Karen Rain: 00:05:32

We need to tell our stories, however in telling our stories, it’s very precarious, because it can be re-traumatizing depending on how those stories are received.

Matthew Remski: 00:05:43

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:05:45

It’s terrifying to tell this story. It’s terrifying to break the silence. I also felt very free, and when the comments started coming in that were supportive, it was amazing.

Matthew Remski: 00:06:02

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:06:02

So as I say, it was mixed.

Matthew Remski: 00:06:03

Right. Was there any particular I don’t know, push that I mean, it was a short, very concise statement. But there’s a button to push, and there has to be a moment where there’s a final decision. Was there anything that contributed to that? Was it planned for a while?

Karen Rain: 00:06:32

I just saw the #metoo stories, and I felt compelled, I felt obligated since I was a victim of sexual assault by someone famous, I felt I needed to join the conversation, that it was like a moral imperative to do it. Yeah. Like, now’s the time, I remember you asking me, “Are you sure you want to connect the name Karen Rain with the name Karen Haberman?” And I was like, now’s the time, if I don’t do it now, when do I do it?

Matthew Remski: 00:07:15

Right. And, just to clarify, there was a name change as part of for you, as part of a moving away from that entire experience.

Karen Rain: 00:07:26

Yeah, it was part of it definitely, definitely yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:07:32

Yeah, and you know, strangely, it was by chance that I was able to find you, I mean you were Karen Haberman in a video, and another writer you know, had some indication that you had changed your name. But really, you hadn’t been in touch with anybody from that world.

Karen Rain: 00:07:58

Yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:07:59

For many years.

Karen Rain: 00:08:00

Yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:08:00

Yeah. And then you were on stage in front of it, back in the midst of a community that you actively left for you know-

Karen Rain: 00:08:10

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Matthew Remski: 00:08:12

Very clear reasons.

Karen Rain: 00:08:13

Yep.

Addressing Typical Victim-Blaming Statements

Matthew Remski: 00:08:13

Yeah. So since coming out, since disclosing, there have been a lot of support, and there’s also been like a raft of very common, old, worn you know, unhelpful comments and challenges to your disclosure.

Karen Rain: 00:08:40

Yep.

Matthew Remski: 00:08:40

And I’ve made a list, and maybe we can go through some of those and just put them to bed. So, okay. Some of the things that people will say in response to your disclosure, but also other people are coming forward too. And, I also should say that when this story was at the level of a kind of cultural rumor based upon photographs and video evidence, and there were no real voices to-

Karen Rain: 00:09:17

There was a voice.

Matthew Remski: 00:09:17

There was a voice.

Karen Rain: 00:09:19

Anneke Lucas.

Matthew Remski: 00:09:19

Anneke Lucas from-

Karen Rain: 00:09:20

2000.

Matthew Remski: 00:09:20

From 2010. So that story is ignored, that’s a voice, but the video evidence, the photographic evidence-

Karen Rain: 00:09:31

And I believe there were other voices going to teachers.

Matthew Remski: 00:09:31

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:09:33

And saying, “This happened to me,” and the teachers were saying, they were minimizing and saying you don’t understand, or they were somehow shutting victims voices down. I’ve heard that.

Matthew Remski: 00:09:47

Right, I have as well, yeah. And they would say things like the following.

Karen Rain: 00:09:54

Okay.

Matthew Remski: 00:09:54

Okay, so, speaking of Jois “He didn’t have an erection. So it wasn’t about sex for him.”

Karen Rain: 00:10:05

So, sexual abuse is about power, it’s not about sex.

Matthew Remski: 00:10:14

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karen Rain: 00:10:17

Yeah, I mean, I don’t know what more I could say there, it’s just simply not about sex.

Matthew Remski: 00:10:24

Right. Okay. Next one. Similarly: “I heard that Jois adjusted men and women in the same way. So, it wasn’t necessarily sexual.”

Karen Rain: 00:10:40

Okay, again, so I didn’t witness him adjusting men in the same way. I didn’t witness him kissing men on the lips, I didn’t witness him like massaging men’s buttocks when they said goodbye to him. I didn’t witness him holding a man’s genitals during an entire adjustment, I didn’t witness him putting his genitals against another man’s genitals, and grinding. I didn’t see any of that.

00:11:15

If he did that to men, that’s assault, and again, it’s not about sex, it’s about power.

Matthew Remski: 00:11:25

“It wasn’t so bad, because it was in public.”

Karen Rain: 00:11:29

Again, it’s about power, so actually the fact that he could do it in public is like, it underscores his power, the extent of his power. If he had to do it in private, if he could only get away with it in private, it means he has less power. He had so much power that he could do this in front of hundreds of people sometimes, I heard there were hundreds of people at his classes in the United States, or on tour.

Matthew Remski: 00:11:55

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:11:55

So this is an incredible power trip.

Matthew Remski: 00:12:02

Okay. “You’re using the word ‘assault,’ but I don’t like that word, I don’t think that word is appropriate.”

Karen Rain: 00:12:10

Okay. So, google it. He’s putting his hands on women’s breasts, he’s putting his hands on women’s buttocks, he’s putting his hands on women’s genitalia. He is getting on top of women, or sometimes standing and he’s pressing his penis, and grinding into our genitals, and our buttocks, and just look it up, it’s assault.

Matthew Remski: 00:12:47

We’ll go on. Okay. I don’t like repeating these things.

Karen Rain: 00:12:57

You don’t like asking the questions.

Matthew Remski: 00:12:58

Yeah.

Karen Rain: 00:13:01

It has to put you into a persona that you don’t have. Also I want to say, that’s why the videos were removed so many times.

Matthew Remski: 00:13:09

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:13:09

It shows assault.

Matthew Remski: 00:13:11

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:13:11

There’s no question about it, that’s assault.

Matthew Remski: 00:13:15

Right. All right: “It doesn’t make sense that you kept coming back, why didn’t you resist or say something? You must have wanted that treatment on some level.”

Karen Rain: 00:13:30

There was cognitive dissonance. I loved Ashtanga so much, and was so like dedicated to it, I thought I had found my ticket to freedom. And part of that narrative of Ashtanga being my ticket to freedom was that Pattabhi Jois was this guru, enlightened being, and so when I saw things, and when things happened to me, that didn’t fit that narrative, I just couldn’t accept it. There was disassociation, there was denial, there was … Yeah, I mean. I just was trapped. I never would’ve chosen it though. That for me is really important. It wasn’t like I designed it. Life would’ve been much better for me had that not happened.

Matthew Remski: 00:14:31

Okay, next one. “Jois was such a heart exploding teacher for so many people, that really must not be forgotten.”

Karen Rain: 00:14:41

Okay. So, I see this as kind of like they’re saying Pattabhi Jois is sort of like a Che Guevara figure, who some people say that because of who he was, and these great things he did, it really doesn’t matter what atrocities he committed, it just doesn’t matter. So that’s one side of that. And then another side of that is kind of like, I feel a minimization of sexual abuse, and assault, and spiritual abuse, because we’ve got to admit that he was doing that too in the position of a guru, it was also spiritual abuse.

00:15:21

They’re saying that these are not really that big a deal. And, to that … They’re really lucky that they have lived such a charmed life that they don’t know what spiritual, what all those things, the damage that sexual assault, and sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse can cause.

Matthew Remski: 00:15:49

“He had a healing touch, and healing hands.”

Karen Rain: 00:15:52

Okay, so why did he hurt me? This also, there was one woman in my Mysore, when I was there, who was there for … Who spent even more time in Mysore than I did. Probably even more devoted than I was. Who I witnessed him assaulting her more extremely than he assaulted me. More often, and more intensely. I saw him playing with her nipples in some of the assaults.

00:16:32

I recently found out that she died of breast cancer before she turned 46. I personally, knowing the health issues that I’ve had, believe that there’s a correlation, but even if there’s not a correlation, how can someone say that they were healing her? And I know that anyone can say, that there are going to be people who, no matter what, can find a way. They can say oh she went to Mysore, she already had breast cancer, he slowed it down, you know, because you can come up with any story at any time. There are always going to be people who are going to find a way to disregard something, some proof, the cognitive dissonance is going to be so strong they’re going to find some way to discard some proof. I can say that she went to Mysore in her mid 20’s, not too likely that she had already developed breast cancer.

Matthew Remski: 00:17:38

I’ll just interrupt the list to ask you a follow up, and say, was that kind of reasoning around his supposed powers, did that figure into your own thinking at the time?

Karen Rain: 00:17:38

Yes.

Matthew Remski: 00:17:51

Was that a story that you understood-

Karen Rain: 00:17:52

Yes, that was a story I believed, I wanted to believe.

Matthew Remski: 00:17:57

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:17:57

I know that both this woman, because she had back pain on the last trip that I was there, and I also had back pain, and she had told me that she had asked Pattabhi Jois why she had back pain, and he said he didn’t know. And, she put the idea in my head, and I asked him too, and he gave me the same answer, he didn’t know. Now, why didn’t he tell us he was healing us by putting his hands on our vaginas?

Matthew Remski: 00:18:21

Right, right, okay.

Karen Rain: 00:18:23

I mean if he really had a healing touch, why didn’t he tell us that? And why didn’t he know why we were in pain?

Matthew Remski: 00:18:32

Was there a way in which asking him that question directly, and getting kind of a non response, did that-

Karen Rain: 00:18:38

That started to crack open my shell, yeah definitely.

Matthew Remski: 00:18:41

Right, right.

Karen Rain: 00:18:43

I mean it was cracking, in my last trip it was really cracking. Yeah. That was in 1998, and by the time I left, I was like “He’s not my guru.”

Matthew Remski: 00:18:51

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:18:52

Yeah. I still wasn’t open about what had happened to me personally, but I was done with the guru thing.

Matthew Remski: 00:19:00

Yeah.

Karen Rain: 00:19:00

Or at least with him, yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:19:03

Okay. Next one. “He had a problem, but he stopped when people gave him boundaries, when asked.”

Karen Rain: 00:19:10

Okay. Yeah, perpetrators often test waters to see what they can get away with. So, it’s just strategic, if someone says “No,” he’s like “Okay I can’t get away with it with this person, I’m not going to do it with this person,” and then he goes on to someone else, and does it to someone who doesn’t say no. It’s not respectful. It’s just strategic, and he … I know that people are saying at times he stopped when he was confronted by his family or something. And then, started up again and stopped.

00:19:54

I hear there were ebbs and flows in his behavior. Again, it’s not like there was, he was apologetic or contrite, or anything, or seeking help for his problem, he just would stop when he didn’t feel like he could get away with it. This is not a sign of character, I mean, it’s a sign of yes, he was sick.

Matthew Remski: 00:20:27

“He didn’t know what he was doing.”

Karen Rain: 00:20:31

Okay. So, I can say I think he knew what he was doing. If he didn’t know what he was doing, people are projecting all this greatness onto a person who didn’t know that touching a woman’s breasts, touching a woman’s vagina, massaging her buttocks, kissing her on the lips, putting his penis against her genitals and grinding, or against her buttocks and grinding. He didn’t know that was wrong? Like, we’re projecting guru status, or people are projecting guru status on this? This is the emotional maturity of a toddler. But, you know, I don’t know how they fit that argument into their image of him then.

Matthew Remski: 00:21:20

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:21:21

It’s just like it’s-

Matthew Remski: 00:21:25

It does feel like with each of these positions, whole other bits of evidence have to be shut out or split off.

Karen Rain: 00:21:34

Right, right, you’d have to split off the other story about him to say that-

Matthew Remski: 00:21:38

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:21:38

“He didn’t know what he was doing.”

Matthew Remski: 00:21:40

Right, okay, now the next one then is interesting, is a little bit more complex, because it kind of goes like this. “He was only human, he wasn’t perfect, everyone makes mistakes.”

Karen Rain: 00:21:51

Yeah I would say again, there’s that split. So okay, he was only human, so let’s use human standards to judge him.

Matthew Remski: 00:21:58

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:21:59

Sexual assault, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, serious offence, you know, like let’s hold him up to human standards. So on the one hand they’re kind of saying, well he’s only human, but he’s above human because he’s kind of god like, he does these things, you shouldn’t judge them.

Matthew Remski: 00:22:16

There’s also the implication that it was your fault for thinking that he was more than human. While at the same time, he is kind of more than human, or he should be excused because of his human ness, it’s a strange-

Karen Rain: 00:22:28

Yeah, so, still, okay so even if say, I mean I’ve admitted to the cognitive dissonance, where I did try to believe in his healing powers, and I did try to … I did want to believe that he was like this guru of this incredible system that I had found. So I’ve admitted to that.

Matthew Remski: 00:22:52

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karen Rain: 00:22:54

I don’t see how that excuses his behavior.

Matthew Remski: 00:22:59

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:22:59

He still sexually assaulted me, and spiritually abused me, regardless of whether I held him to like a higher than human status.

Matthew Remski: 00:23:15

Regardless of who he was, the behavior was the behavior.

Karen Rain: 00:23:19

Yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:23:19

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:23:20

Yeah.

Would it Hold Up in Court?

Matthew Remski: 00:23:22

“He’s not here to defend himself.”

Karen Rain: 00:23:24

Yeah, so let’s look at the defences that people have offered and see how they would hold up in court. I mean, I know that courts can be sucky, but let’s just see how it sounds, so what was the first thing? “He didn’t have an erection.”

Matthew Remski: 00:23:42

Well I guess we could put it into first person: “I didn’t have an erection, so it wasn’t about sex for me.”

Karen Rain: 00:23:47

So that’s going to hold up in court?

Matthew Remski: 00:23:49

Probably not.

Karen Rain: 00:23:49

Okay.

Matthew Remski: 00:23:50

Okay, so “I adjusted men and women the same way.”

Karen Rain: 00:23:54

That’s going to hold up in court? I think that’s really funny, because I think most people would look at you like you were crazy if you said that: “I did the same assaults to men that I did to women.”

Matthew Remski: 00:24:05

Right. “What I did wasn’t so bad because it was in public.”

Karen Rain: 00:24:13

I don’t think that would hold up in court, do you think that would hold up in court?

Matthew Remski: 00:24:18

Okay, I think the point is clear, it seems like it’s a disingenuous–

Karen Rain: 00:24:28

Right.

Matthew Remski: 00:24:28

Statement, and it has more to do with feeling as though a particular image is being attacked, and it’s a stigma of helplessness right?

Karen Rain: 00:24:45

Mm-hmm (affirmative), because yeah if you look at the rest, none of them hold up in court either.

Matthew Remski: 00:24:51

Okay, well to roll back a little bit, you said a little bit about this before, but how has your understanding of what happened to you changed?

Karen Rain: 00:25:02

Yeah. So … As I said, like, I … I didn’t focus on what happened to me so much at first when I left, and I wanted to, I was in physical pain, and I had kind of set up in my mind that once I healed the physical pain, I can just put the whole story behind me. And forget about it. But, I didn’t completely address the sexual abuse. So,  even just my shift of using, of the vocabulary I use, that when I first stated talking about it, or even I disclosed to some people, said yes he touched me inappropriately in like 1998, and after occasionally, I said that.

00:26:14

The people I’m in touch with now who I said that to were like, I got a sense that something happened, but you were kind of like you didn’t want to talk about it, which I think is pretty standard behavior for victims of abuse, to minimize ourself and what happened. So that has changed, and bringing it forward has been as I said, there’s a lot of healing to that in terms of I have a safe platform to do it in a certain sense, like I’m getting a lot of support, and that same platform is also very triggering. I’ve seen so many photos of him.

Matthew Remski: 00:26:58

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:27:01

And I’ve had to confront all of the defences that we just went over, and other victim blaming type statements. And, so there’s been a lot of triggers as well.

Blindspots in Interviewing

Matthew Remski: 00:27:21

And, sometimes I’ve contributed to that even in our conversations.

Karen Rain: 00:27:27

Yeah, I think you sent me that video link.

Matthew Remski: 00:27:32

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:27:33

Which I didn’t actually look at until probably like the end of February, I sent it to a couple of people, and I thought I should probably look at this.

Matthew Remski: 00:27:46

You sent it to them to vet for you, to give a summary?

Karen Rain: 00:27:50

No, I sent it to them to have the information.

Matthew Remski: 00:27:55

Okay.

Karen Rain: 00:27:55

And, I hadn’t ever looked at it, I will never watch it again, but I was actually kind of shocked by it, because it showed him placing his genitals against women’s genitals, and I thought my disclosure had been a revelation, because I kept hearing all this talk about the mulabandha assault, or mulabandha “assist,” and so I just thought that was what everyone was familiar with, and no one even knew that he did things like what he did to me.

00:28:28

And then there was this whole video of him doing it to a bunch of women. I was like wow, talk about denial.

Matthew Remski: 00:28:37

Right. But I sent you the video-

Karen Rain: 00:28:38

A long time ago, and I didn’t look at it.

Matthew Remski: 00:28:40

But I sent it to you, and I didn’t … Did I-

Karen Rain: 00:28:44

I don’t even think you put trigger warning.

Matthew Remski: 00:28:47

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:28:47

And you sent me, and when people were writing statements, and there were photographs in the statements, I was like, I think at one point I was like, “You know, Matthew I can’t read that, it’s got a picture of him.”

Matthew Remski: 00:29:00

Right. And so it just did not occur to me, I mean, not being a victim of sexual assault, it’s so obvious to me now, like … But it literally didn’t occur to me that the photograph is a danger, it’s-

Karen Rain: 00:29:25

I feel really bad for actually the Harvey Weinstein victims as well, because his photograph-

Matthew Remski: 00:29:31

Is everywhere.

Karen Rain: 00:29:32

Is everywhere. And I listened to a podcast with an interview with three of his victims, and like one of them said, she had you know, she had also disassociated, kind of forgotten what had happened to a certain degree, and went and saw The English Patient, and on the way home from that, she threw up in a taxi, and so I think it’s just something that people aren’t really aware of.

Matthew Remski: 00:30:03

That’s, she’s seen the film and maybe just his name-

Karen Rain: 00:30:06

And the association with him was enough of a trigger to like bring about that somatic response.

Matthew Remski: 00:30:16

Right. And so, when you make requests, generally to the Ashtanga Yoga community, you know, look at what you’re doing with this photograph, look at what you’re doing with the epithet guru, or with “Sri”. You’re having to break through an attitude towards that image, and that epithet that is devotional, people associate with love, or … And, it’s so strange to have the circumstance in which the experience of the assault victim is-

Karen Rain: 00:31:07

Is ignored.

Matthew Remski: 00:31:08

Is ignored, is ignored and but it’s ignored because it seems to be inconceivable, it seems to be inconceivable.

Karen Rain: 00:31:15

Yeah, I think it’s also something we don’t realize. Like I want to say that this is not the only issue I’m concerned with, and that my values do go on to other things as well. I listen to a podcast in Spanish, and I donate a little bit of money every month to that podcast, and the person who does the podcast was like I’m going to make stickers, for the patrons of this podcast, and it’s actually about books, he does like book reviews each week in Spanish.

00:31:51

He decided to make stickers of HP Lovecraft, who is racist, and I messaged him, and said, like I don’t think that’s okay. You know, for people to be publicly displaying stickers of someone who is racist.

Matthew Remski: 00:32:09

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:32:10

He agreed with me, but you know. So it’s a value that I’m not only applying to my own situation.

Grooming, and Recovering Trauma Memories

Matthew Remski: 00:32:18

Right. So, when you were at the height of your practice, career, and your involvement with Ashtanga Yoga, you were like known as an elite practitioner, you were known for super human-

Karen Rain: 00:32:36

Wait, wait, because there was something I remember that I wanted to say to your last question.

Matthew Remski: 00:32:41

Right, right, okay.

Karen Rain: 00:32:42

How is my understanding, what happened to me changed. I realize how much I was groomed as well.

Matthew Remski: 00:32:48

Oh, okay.

Karen Rain: 00:32:50

So, like, because the way trauma is remembered is … It’s not necessarily a cohesive story, like I can’t remember all of it all at once.

Matthew Remski: 00:33:03

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:33:03

It’s, we remember pieces. And, it doesn’t all come back at once. And, so that’s also what’s been happening since I posted, since I’ve gotten involved in this, is I’m remembering more. And, I remember when I was studying with him in Encinitas before I had gone to Mysore, I was waiting for the bathroom, and he was using the bathroom, and I was alone, waiting for him. He came out of the bathroom, saw me, laughed, and smiled, and kissed me on the mouth, totally out of the blue.

00:33:46

I remember my feeling of discomfort, and at the same time, of being special. This is classic grooming. And what happened in Mysore too was incremental. I remember it developing incrementally, what he would do with me. Like, I can get away with this, oh maybe I can get away with more, maybe I can get away with more. Yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:34:13

So, as you describe more as you were saying, you’re remembering more.

Karen Rain: 00:34:20

Yeah.

Links Between Performance, Stress, Addictive Practice Cycles

Matthew Remski: 00:34:20

Right. I mean, you had kind of like a meteoric rise through that entire culture, because of your physical prowess.

Karen Rain: 00:34:29

Mm-hmm ( affirmative).

Matthew Remski: 00:34:30

It was almost, people would say that you were almost super human in how you were able to excel in the postures. That’s what I wanted to ask you, how do you think you were able to accomplish all of that under such stress?

Karen Rain: 00:34:50

I actually think in part it was the stress that helped me accomplish all that. My body was so charged with adrenaline and cortisol, it was like I could do things like lift up a car or whatever, I mean, I couldn’t do that, but I think I was able to perform at a certain level because of the adrenaline and cortisol, because of the fear that I felt. Yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:35:22

It’s just such a chilling thought.

Karen Rain: 00:35:26

Yeah, it’s an addictive cycle too. I mean, I think there was a withdrawal when I left Ashtanga and Mysore, that I wasn’t getting that adrenaline cortisol or whatever high, and I went through withdrawal, the actual experience that set that off sucked, and it created an addiction for that kind of high, and there was definitely, it was hard to, the withdrawal was hard.

Matthew Remski: 00:36:05

So it’s incredibly complex, you are groomed into an abusive situation with the … There’s dissociation, it’s not clear to you, or it’s very difficult for you to admit what’s happening as it’s happening, but it also feel terrorizing in a way.

Karen Rain: 00:36:31

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Matthew Remski: 00:36:32

And it gives rise to an adrenalized cortisol-

Karen Rain: 00:36:36

A sense of incredible strength yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:36:37

A sense of incredible strength, and so it’s almost as if the ability to perform the postures is, was it a way of getting away from him, or getting away from the contact, or that humiliation?

Karen Rain: 00:36:55

You mean trying to do them so well that I didn’t need adjustments? Because there was that.

Matthew Remski: 00:37:00

Okay.

Karen Rain: 00:37:01

Yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:37:01

I’m thinking of that, but also that they provided a kind of, the postures themselves provided a kind of triumph, that I don’t know, maybe made the rest of the interaction more tolerable, or-

Karen Rain: 00:37:22

Yeah, yeah I mean, it gave me a narrative that you know, as I said, Ashtanga was my ticket, and I was mastering my ticket.

Matthew Remski: 00:37:22

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:37:34

And that sort of like, the means justify the end, in a certain sense. So, yeah, there was that.

Speaking About Vulnerability to Harm Without Victim-Blaming

Matthew Remski: 00:37:45

Yeah. Okay. Another question related to the kind of defences that we ran through, but a little bit more subtle. It’s this question that comes up around whether people are predisposed to being involved in these situations. Whether or not you brought anything in your personal psychology to Mysore that made you more vulnerable to the situation.

Karen Rain: 00:37:45

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Matthew Remski: 00:38:26

Is there a way for you or for anyone to speak to questions like that usefully without buying into-

Karen Rain: 00:38:33

Victim blaming?

Matthew Remski: 00:38:34

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:38:34

Yeah. Yes, I think so. I think what … Yes, it’s very important for people to look at their, whatever my trauma load was before I went to Mysore, and whatever dynamics that I entered into and were triggering for me, like reasons that I froze, or reasons that I didn’t speak up, or whatever, like that’s important for me to look at, to know. That has nothing to do with blame.

00:39:11

I think most people got into Ashtanga Yoga, went to Mysore for some healing. And, including myself. Whatever I brought to Mysore, whether that trauma load was huge, or whether it was small, or whether I was even a bad person just hoping to become a better person, Pattabhi Jois abused me, he was the abuser. I should’ve been met where I was at, whatever my trauma load was. He is the one with the power, and he was the one who was supposedly the healer, and again, whatever trauma load I brought to Mysore, it increased exponentially after my experience.

PTSD Symptoms, and Recovery

Karen Rain: 00:40:07

So I never had trouble sleeping before my experience in Mysore, nothing else gave me PTSD.

Matthew Remski: 00:40:18

Can you describe a little bit of what the PTSD symptoms are?

Karen Rain: 00:40:28

Well, for me, probably starting in 2002, I started waking up at 3:30 in the morning several nights a week, feeling really anxious, and hyper vigilant that something terrible might happen to me, unable to go back to sleep. At that time, 3:30 in the morning is the time that I got up for the first year that I was in Mysore, to go practice. I think other symptoms of the PTSD have been somaticized trauma, where I’ve suffered from chronic fatigue for about 17 years. I’ve suffered from chemical sensitivities, and food sensitivities. Yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:41:32

Is there anything more that you’d like to say about how life unfolded after leaving Ashtanga Yoga in 2001?

Karen Rain: 00:41:43

Well, I think I thought I had found my like raison d’etre.

Matthew Remski: 00:41:49

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karen Rain: 00:41:56

And, that was taken from me. Or is it raison d’etre? I don’t know. But, that was taken from me, so I really floundered for a long time having many various jobs. All part time.

Matthew Remski: 00:42:16

You’re talking about life path and career.

Karen Rain: 00:42:19

Yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:42:19

Because you were teaching.

Karen Rain: 00:42:20

I was teaching, I had hoped to be a successful Ashtanga Yoga teacher, that was my vision for myself.

Matthew Remski: 00:42:26

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:42:29

I couldn’t do it, you know. Then, so there were a lot of things, like initially I had thought okay, I won’t teach Ashtanga, but I will find something healing within yoga, and I will teach that, but I wasn’t able to relate to yoga in a healthy way. Like it was just too triggering, I had to move on to other movement systems. And, so there was that, that just like finding, reclaiming my body, you know. Feeling my body, finding ways to … Yeah, inhabit my body again after having disassociated for so long. And getting comfortable with not, with like not being addicted to the adrenaline, and the cortisol and all of that, and then yes, and then finding meaning in life. Because I was depressed too.

00:43:39

And so, starting to work with kids, with youth, that was when my grief about having lost a career shifted. I would say my grief about losing like a movement practice, shifted earlier than that, probably when I stopped having pain, and I just I guess I had always, I had kind of hoped to become like a corrective exercise specialist, and but I didn’t actually have the passion for that, I realized, the way I had the passion for to teach Ashtanga. I was like I wanted to do something else, I just wanted to get away from like, I don’t know, body nerd stuff. I was just happy not to be in pain, and just wanted to enjoy my body and movement.

Matthew Remski: 00:44:35

Yeah. And, but I get the sense that because dance and a number of movement practices, and like contact improv, and things like that have been really useful to you, that it’s … That that’s a different type of embodied exploration than-

Karen Rain: 00:44:56

Definitely.

Matthew Remski: 00:44:56

Both Ashtanga, but also like corrective exercise, where you’re trying to figure out specifically what to do-

Karen Rain: 00:45:03

Yeah, like I used to be able to tell people which lumbar vertebrae were problematic for me. I don’t remember now, because they’re not problematic for me anymore, and I don’t really … So I like went in to study what happened to my body that brought me pain, and now I actually kind of forget besides that it was hyper mobility in certain joints.

Matthew Remski: 00:45:24

Right. You say you know, you describe the arc of reclaiming your body and inhabiting your body again, after this extended period of dissociation. There’s this very strange paradox that people would have looked at you at the time, and would have associated the postures you were able to perform with a kind of freedom, or a kind of with the opposite of what you were feeling. And I’m sure that must’ve been very confusing in terms of giving it up as well, that if you weren’t going to do those postures, that somehow you were going to lose social capital, or-

Karen Rain: 00:46:13

Yeah, but I did leave the community.

Matthew Remski: 00:46:16

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:46:17

I made the choice to leave that social capital completely anyway. But yeah, painful.

Complicity

00:46:25

You’ve openly acknowledged that in your own teaching of Ashtanga Yoga, that you through the process of adjusting, that you probably injured people.

Karen Rain: 00:46:34

I did.

Matthew Remski: 00:46:37

Can you say a little bit more about that? Or about other feelings you have about the-

Karen Rain: 00:46:43

I was complicit.

Matthew Remski: 00:46:44

Okay.

Karen Rain: 00:46:46

And so, I feel like there’s two parts, like to say I’m complicit, I really need to just say I’m complicit, not like I was complicit, but I was a victim, I was complicit.

Matthew Remski: 00:46:56

All right.

Karen Rain: 00:46:57

And, I encouraged people to go to Mysore, I denied what I saw. Both before I met Pattabhi Jois and after I met Pattabhi Jois, I gave unskillful adjustments that injured people. So two parts to my healing, one is disclosing the sexual assault and spiritual abuse, the other is admitting my complicity. So when I wrote my post about being complicit, that was huge for me as well. And, I think I wrote at the bottom, if you were injured, if you went to Mysore because of me, and were hurt in any way, I’m so sorry, and if I injured you, with any of my adjustments, I’m also sorry and feel free to contact me.

00:48:06

Thirty seconds after I posted that, I got a message from someone I was friends with who I was actually still in contact with, who has left Ashtanga, who hadn’t mentioned this, this is someone who I’ve been in contact with. Said, you know, you did injure me, I’m not angry at you. But, you did injure me, and went through like what they had to go through because of that.

00:48:41

I’m so sorry to anyone I injured, that’s all I can say, I’m just so sorry, I wish I could go back and do things differently. And, like if people, if it would be healing to anyone to contact me and tell me, I’ll listen. I have no excuse, and I just wish I could go back and do things differently.

Community Response

Matthew Remski: 00:49:04

What kinds of statements or responses would you like to see in general from the Ashtanga Yoga community?

Karen Rain: 00:49:14

The general Ashtanga community, let’s see. Again, I would like to see a change in that Pattabhi Jois is not the … That Ashtanga’s reinvented without Pattabhi Jois. I’d like to see the Ashtanga community hold teachers accountable, who should be held accountable for not addressing the issue appropriately.

Matthew Remski: 00:49:54

All right, well … You’re in-

Karen Rain: 00:49:59

I need water too.

Do You Feel Like Giving Up?

Matthew Remski: 00:50:03

You’re in a rare position. You’re not the only person who has disclosed what happened to you. But you’ve taken a leadership role in a call for transparency, through your disclosure. And you’re relatively alone, you’re not the only one, but you’re relatively alone in doing this. How does that feel?

Karen Rain: 00:50:43

It sucks.

Matthew Remski: 00:50:51

Do you ever feel like stopping?

Karen Rain: 00:50:55

Yeah. Every time I post, I’m like this last one. I’m done. And then someone … Someone sends me a message or something saying like what I’ve said has really helped them, and I think oh my God I’m not done, or someone else sends me, writes something that’s just so, like that I just can’t not respond to, that’s so triggering, and so like victim blaming, that I can’t not respond to it.

Matthew Remski: 00:51:46

And, the forum is relentless. I mean, you would have to actively choose not to be exposed to more communication.

Karen Rain: 00:51:59

Yeah, and I may.

Matthew Remski: 00:52:02

You might do that?

Karen Rain: 00:52:04

I may, I don’t know. Like I have to decide when, when my message is enough, like when I’ve said all I can say, that I don’t have anything left really to say, in this particular scenario, I never want to stop speaking up for victims of sexual assault, or speaking up about sexual abuse, or about rape culture. But, the forum of Facebook, and the community of Ashtanga, at some point, I hope to be done with that. Like I just thought my first post, I just thought I’m going to put my story out there, done. I don’t want, you know, someone had contacted me about an interview, and I was like I don’t think so. No I’m done, yoga doesn’t intersect with my life anymore, I don’t want to, you know, I don’t want it to. And then, Mary Taylor made her statement, I was like I can’t just leave that there without saying anything, and then all these other people started making statements, and I can’t leave those things there without saying anything.

00:53:28

Then, people started also telling that what I was saying was really important. And, I don’t want to let those people down.

Matthew Remski: 00:53:42

So you have to make a decision about how exhausting it is versus how much help you’re doing.

Karen Rain: 00:53:47

Totally like.

Matthew Remski: 00:53:49

Yeah, how are you doing that?

Karen Rain: 00:53:51

I don’t know. Someone used an example, said that you know, it’s important that I keep, that I’m aware of when it stops being therapeutic, and starts feeling like it’s disemboweling me.

Matthew Remski: 00:54:09

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:54:14

You know, it can go in waves maybe, you know, maybe I could leave it for a while, and then come back. I don’t know.

Matthew Remski: 00:54:27

Right. Do you want, go ahead.

Karen Rain: 00:54:32

I guess I want to get kind of, as I said, every post, every statement I make, I’m like “Okay this is it.” There is a message I want to get across. So I’d like to take this opportunity, because I was someone sent me a message saying something along the lines of you know, thank goodness that could never happen again, like what Pattabhi Jois did could never happen again, that times are different, and it couldn’t happen again, or I’m not sure exactly what the person meant.

00:55:09

I just want to say how dangerous I think that attitude is, and that was the attitude then, that whenever we start to think that it can’t happen here, or it can’t happen now, that’s an invitation to opportunity for it to happen. It can’t happen here, it can’t happen with him. He’s a yoga guru, he’s 80 years old, like it just … My defences were down as well.

00:55:42

I recently was looking at a book about teaching kids how to be safe against sexual abuse, and it had this section about, there were green light people, and then red light people, meaning that green light people were safe, and red light, and yellow light people weren’t safe, and the green light people they had listed doctors, care givers, and parents. And I was like, you cannot say that a category of people are safe, there are no green light people.

00:56:14

How many doctors, parents, care givers abuse children? This is so dangerous to teach anyone, that there are green light people, and yoga teachers are not green light people, yoga gurus are not green light people.

Ending With Something Really Happy

Matthew Remski: 00:56:37

I was thinking to first thank you for two years of like … Just, an incredible opportunity to learn and understand things from you, and to also suggest that we end with talking about something really happy.

Karen Rain: 00:57:07

Yeah. Good idea.

Matthew Remski: 00:57:10

So, you said “I’m coming to Toronto to see some old friends.” We made plans to meet doing this interview sort of came up later in the planning stages.

Karen Rain: 00:57:22

Yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:57:22

But before that you said, “You should come with me to Contact Jam.” And, I’ve heard about it, I was kind of familiar with it, I have friends in dance communities, but I’d never been to one, and you said “You’re coming.” And so we went, and-

Karen Rain: 00:57:42

Wait, wait, wait, that makes it sound like … I didn’t say you were coming. No, I was like you can come if you want.

Matthew Remski: 00:57:53

That’s right, that’s right, that’s right, you weren’t demanding. Okay, so why did I figure that way? Like, well maybe I felt like-

Karen Rain: 00:57:59

Well because actually you initially had something planned until 7:00, and I said it sounds like you won’t be able to come. “You said no I’m going to make it work.”

Matthew Remski: 00:58:06

Okay, all right. I don’t know, I think I’m saying I’ve got to come. I mean, anyway, so we go, it’s Wednesday night, it’s at Dovercourt House here in Toronto, and it’s run by Kathleen Rea.

Karen Rain: 00:58:24

Right. Shout out to Kathleen Rea.

Matthew Remski: 00:58:27

Okay, and you knew her through the grapevine of the contact world, because she actually has been instrumental in initiating the discussion around consent, and safe space, and boundary issues within contact improv, which are like obviously crucial.

Karen Rain: 00:58:46

Right. This was why I was like, I have to go to that jam.

Matthew Remski: 00:58:50

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:58:50

I actually knew I was coming to Toronto, and I made sure I would be here for a Wednesday night, so I could go to her jam.

Matthew Remski: 00:58:57

Right.

Karen Rain: 00:58:57

Because her jam is different from other jams.

Matthew Remski: 00:58:59

Right, right. So, okay, so I’ll just describe.

Karen Rain: 00:59:03

What happened? Yeah.

Matthew Remski: 00:59:05

So like, so I’m … I’ve never been to this thing, and she says at the beginning, okay if you’re new to this, you know, please come outside and I’ll give a little talk, and you know, I’ll help you familiarize yourself and orient yourself. So you and I are both new, and we were sitting there together with three other people who had never been there before, and Kathleen gives this like 10 minute, highly structured, lucid, concise you know, description of what is this space, what can you do in it, what are our boundaries, who will help you, who will support you. You know, what to do if you feel strange, what are your exit, you know, strategies.

Karen Rain: 00:59:50

We don’t explore dances with sexual contact in this jam.

Matthew Remski: 00:59:55

Right. And, that does happen in other places, but it’s not happening here.

Karen Rain: 01:00:02

Right.

Matthew Remski: 01:00:02

She also said that-

Karen Rain: 01:00:04

Consent is not assumed.

Matthew Remski: 01:00:06

Right, consent is not assumed, she also said that in this practice, a lot of emotions come up, and feelings will come to the surface, and we know that if those feelings are eroticized or sexualized in some way, that we’re just not exploring that here.

Karen Rain: 01:00:23

Right.

Matthew Remski: 01:00:24

But we don’t want to shame any of that either. Anyway.

Karen Rain: 01:00:28

You just don’t follow it.

Matthew Remski: 01:00:30

You just don’t follow it. And anyway, it’s like, I just couldn’t believe that you and I were sitting there outside of a room about to go do like some sort of embodied practice, and we’re getting a 15 minute, 10 minute little mini lecture and seminar on consent. When we’ve been talking for two years about a culture in which consent has been implied-

Karen Rain: 01:00:52

Also assumed, yeah.

Matthew Remski: 01:00:54

It has been assumed, and in which the you know, structure has been like a dominance hierarchy.

Karen Rain: 01:01:01

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Matthew Remski: 01:01:02

And she’s basically doing the opposite, and she’s doing it openly, and you and I are sitting there-

Karen Rain: 01:01:08

It was kind of like a complete circle kind of thing.

Matthew Remski: 01:01:12

Right, and I realized oh, because you had spoken about how healing this had been for you, and I finally got it. Then we could go in, and then you said, so are you going to dance? I said, well I’m going to wait for somebody to ask, because I’m a little bit shy. And she said, okay, well do you want to dance? And then, so we started.

Karen Rain: 01:01:39

Yeah, we danced, yeah.

Matthew Remski: 01:01:41

Yeah like I’m still trying to process that.

Karen Rain: 01:01:43

Like, don’t give me your weight though, because you’re like twice as much as I’m-

Matthew Remski: 01:01:46

Right, but I’m not leaning on you.

Karen Rain: 01:01:49

Well you can push against me, I remember I was like, I like being pushed against, but don’t like give me too much weight.

Matthew Remski: 01:01:54

Right, right. But like, I was … We talked for two years about this other environment. And, I don’t know, I could understand something of what the contact jam and consensual environment actually meant for you.

Karen Rain: 01:02:16

Yeah, which I want to say that like contact also has its issues.

Matthew Remski: 01:02:16

It’s problems, right.

Karen Rain: 01:02:22

It’s problems around assumed consent, that’s why I was like I’m going to Kathleen’s jam. I really want to check this out, yeah.

Matthew Remski: 01:02:30

Right.

Karen Rain: 01:02:32

Definitely.

Matthew Remski: 01:02:33

So you end up being able to participate in a culture in which all of the things that were taken away from you, in some way, through dialogue, and equality can in moments, be restored.

Karen Rain: 01:02:49

Right, and there’s definitely in contact improv, there is listen to your body, I mean that’s you know, listen.

Matthew Remski: 01:02:57

Right.

Karen Rain: 01:02:58

And that wasn’t in Ashtanga. I was-

Matthew Remski: 01:03:02

So you found a space in which you were actually invited to not dissociate.

Karen Rain: 01:03:08

Right.

Matthew Remski: 01:03:09

Ever.

Karen Rain: 01:03:10

Right, yeah. When I first went to Mysore, I was innocent, I was hopeful, and I was trusting. And I trusted in this concept that surrendering to the guru, and surrendering to what were called “adjustments,” represented some kind of spiritual fortitude. So, that was also part of yeah, that narrative that created the cognitive dissonance, and that kept me there.

Matthew Remski: 01:03:45

So, what has helped most?

Karen Rain: 01:03:52

Most? It’s interesting because that question is. sort of, shows what happened with Ashtanga, that I was like Ashtanga helps the most, and so I was like, I actually got so narrow minded about it that it was like, only Ashtanga helps. So I wouldn’t even say there’s anything that helps the most, there are things that have helped a lot. One thing that really, really helps a lot is I love being outdoors. I love playing in the woods.

01:04:27

I love going for hikes in the woods, I love mountain biking, not anything really crazy. But I like mountain biking easy trails. Just, anything outdoors pretty much, and finding places that are more kind of off the beaten track is really fun for me. And then there’s dance, and like you’ve mentioned, contact improv. I go through phases with that, in terms of sometimes I’m really into it, sometimes I’m not.

01:05:06

I always liked dance, and I dance at home, or I can go to other dances that are not necessarily contact, that are just like barefoot boogies. I also like to do kind of a contemplative movement, or contemplative dance, which is just whatever I feel like doing, whatever my body needs at that moment, I’m really connecting.

01:05:28

I do a little bit of Chi-gong, not a lot. And, that’s a daily practice. And, I actually recently realized that, very recently realized waking up at 3:30 in the morning, because that actually has gotten worse since my post, my insomnia, and particularly waking up at that time has gotten worse, since I posted the #metoo, my body is much more on like hyper alert.

01:06:08

I recently, it occurred to me, because at one point, I had been getting up and doing Chi-gong at that time. And it helped me go back to sleep, but then I was just like, I don’t want to wake up at that time and do anything, I just want to be asleep at 3:30 in the morning. So I kind of stopped doing it, and but then I realized maybe I do need to do something at that time, maybe I really do need to reclaim that time for myself, that I’m safe. That I have agency at that time, because I didn’t.

01:06:45

So again, that was really recent. It’s gotten better since I made that discovery. I actually slept through two nights without waking up at 3:30 in the morning. Well see, I said it’s so recent, but if I do wake up hyper alert, I’m going to start trying to reclaim that time for myself.

Matthew Remski: 01:07:05

So, just beginning to reflect on what you might need to do during that time was-

Karen Rain: 01:07:11

Helpful-

Matthew Remski: 01:07:11

That in itself was helpful.

Karen Rain: 01:07:12

Helpful, yeah.

Matthew Remski: 01:07:14

Because, so you wake up, you’re hyper vigilant, and you know now, you’ve done enough work to realize that, oh, this is about my agency, about my capacity to feel autonomous, and myself. So if I take hold of that, maybe that will be helpful.

Karen Rain: 01:07:32

And I think that’s part of the like, evolution of healing, is that there is different levels of knowing. I could’ve told you years ago this is why, I mean I did say years ago, that’s why I was waking up at 3:30 in the morning, that was when I practiced with Mysore, but, like, the amount that we really feel a truth can vary.

Matthew Remski: 01:07:57

Right.

Karen Rain: 01:07:57

And so, yeah, just a few days ago, I really felt the depth of that truth, and how much I have to honor it.

01:08:11

For me, it was always about what Pattabhi Jois did to me, and I didn’t confront the community, like I was disillusioned with the community, but my anger wasn’t towards the community. And still I don’t blame the community, they didn’t abuse me. I don’t think anyone or very few people in the community only real other sex offenders would have chosen for Pattabhi Jois to behave the way he did.

01:08:42

But, breaking the silence, I’m facing this … I’m experiencing really great stuff, I’m experiencing support, and love, and all of that, and that’s wonderful. I’m also experiencing the backlash, I avoided by just leaving the community and changing my name, without fanfare. So that’s very painful too. And, to realize, the level of complicity when people are not going, wow, like, I need to step up and address this. They’re still being complicit. Yeah, so that sucks, yeah. I wanted to skip that part. Just walk away, not have to experience the backlash, or yeah.

01:09:47

Yeah there’s a certain, I think I wrote in a post, there is a certain strength and resilience that I feel in having spoken about this, and even spoken about how much it’s hurt me, even though like, the hurting me was what I really didn’t want to admit, I never wanted to admit how much it hurt me.

Matthew Remski: 01:10:17

All right.

Karen Rain: 01:10:27

Okay.

 

Epilogue: Lessons and Messages

Karen Rain: 01:10:32

Several lessons and messages I hope to impart from my experience of being sexually, spiritually, and institutionally abused for two years are as follows.

One, sexual abuse, like physical abuse, is about power. Whether or not the perpetrator got sexual pleasure is irrelevant.

Two, sexual abuse can happen anywhere, even when we think a situation or a person is safe. However, thinking a person is safe does not make us responsible for the abuse. Not every person takes advantage of an opportunity to sexually abuse. Abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser.

01:11:28

Three, committing sexual abuse is not a mistake, flaw, or imperfection. It is a sickness, and a crime. It is a compassionate act to deconstruct the merit, and power of a sexual perpetrator. Those are things that were harnessed for the abuse. This benefits the world by curtailing rape culture, and offering healing to victims and perpetrators alike.

01:12:04

Four, if we do not condemn sexual abuse by speaking out about it, and deconstructing the power of the perpetrator, we are enabling abuse and perpetuating rape culture.

Lastly, if a teacher does not create an atmosphere where students can openly, easily, and comfortably challenge them, that is not a healthy learning environment, and they are not a good teacher. A good teacher, and healthy learning environment foster a spirit of questioning, and innovation.

01:12:42 (silence).

11 Comments

  • My Initial Response to Karen Rain’s Interview About Sexual Abuse

    Matthew forwarded me the interview last night and I read the first half then but couldn’t continue because I found it too distressing. I lay in bed for a long time and reflected, a process that continued through the night and in half daze this morning when reading the rest. I have known Karen as Karen Haberman and have practised close to her for around 10 or 11 months through 1996 and 1997 in KP Jois little Lakshmipuram studio. I will address you, Karen, now directly and will get Matthew to forward you my response.

    I want to thank you for coming out with your story. I was trying through the night to remember how close your mat must have been to mine. The old shala held 12 mats and my spot was front row, left corner in the 4:30am time slot. Sharath’s spot was front right and I think you practised next to him. This would have placed your mat about 3 metres maximum from mine. I am completely shocked that you had to go through all of this a few metres away from me and I was ignorant of it. I am deeply sorry.

    I am asking myself how I could not notice the extent to which these things were going on. I didn’t initially. We all focussed on our drishti (focal point) and practised as if the devil was breathing down our necks, literally. But I remember at some point I performed a twist, while KP Jois adjusted the girl next to me in drop backs. When I spun around I saw what looked to me like him grabbing her buttocks and rubbing himself against her while he stood between her legs and she was back arching. I was totally shocked. After practise I approached her, told her that I saw what happened and that I was happy to accompany and support her if she wanted to take it up with him. I remember to this day her clarity and steely determination in her eyes when she looked straight at me and said with a smile, “Forget about it. That did not happen. You are making it up”.

    I had two similar smaller occurrences when the girls in question simply smiled at me, shook their heads and walked on. At that point I decided that I must have hallucinated or made things up or maybe it was my ego or deviant nature that projected my own problems on the guru. I’m deeply and truthfully sorry. I’m sorry that you, and other women had to go through all of this and that I was so close to you and didn’t know nor did I feel what was going on in you. I should have trusted in my intuition and pursued that until it would blow up in some form or another. In my lack of action, I made myself complicit.

    At this point, after having read in the wake of MeToo so many accounts of sexual abuse by women conducted by men, I feel an almost primal shame of being male. I totally agree with you, Karen, that sexual abuse is not about sex. It is a ritual of domination. How much of that have men done to women through the ages. I think it behoves all us men to start treating women with more respect.

    Reflecting back now on Mysuru (new de-colonialized name for Mysore) it was a classic example of The Emperor and His New Clothes. The whole story was hidden in plain sight. I made a few attempts to discuss these things with senior teachers (I was a newie then and didn’t practise enough series to be taken seriously) but the response was usually along the lines of “Do your practice and all is coming” or “Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory”. I think I’ll spew if I hear those sentences once more. Questioning the guru was certainly considered theory.

    During my last stay in Mysuru in 1999 I shared all of my doubts with a friend. I talked to her about the process of projection, about idealizing a person, about giving up one’s power, hypnotizing oneself into beliefs and finally about taking self-responsibility. She said to me, “What you say sounds much too difficult and tiring. I just want to totally surrender to a person that fixes all my problems in return”. I think these really sums up the crux of the matter nicely. I realized then that I was a member of a cult. Shortly thereafter I packed up and left.

    Again, I am really sorry that all of this happened and that it damaged you and other women so much. Again, I’m sorry that I did not do enough to protect you and the others. I want to contribute to your healing by providing a safe space in which you can come forward and express all this. I will continue to post on my media and blog all new revelations in this matter. I also want to thank and acknowledge Anneke Lucas who apparently was the whistle blower on this affair. That must have been really scary to be the first person. Braver than I was.

    I would like also to thank you, Karen, for being so clear in your interview what constitutes assault and going through all the intellectualizations and rationalisations, that are trying to explain KP Jois behaviour away. I hope that we as a movement, the Ashtanga culture, can stop doing that and be truthful about what happened. I hope that we can show that we are more than a cult. And I believe we are or should I say that we can become that?

    Now here I am talking about providing a safe space where you can heal but I have to actually thank you for providing a safe space to me where I can come out.

    The year when you left, 1998, I wasn’t there. I came back in 1999 for a short period with unstable knees. My knees were getting better at the time and I could again do most of my practise. I shared my knee problem with Sharath Jois (then R. Sharath) and asked to be adjusted gently or not at all. In the coming weeks Sharath almost daily mounted me in Baddha Konasana by standing on both my knees with his full body weight. As he stepped up forcefully from behind, he found it hard to catch his balance and had to hold on to my shoulders to not fall over me. For a few moments he swung back and forth on my knees and it felt as if he was grinding them to dust.

    After the first day my knees were swelling to the size of footballs and I could hardly walk. Somehow, I thought the guru knows better and knows my body better than I (where did I get that idea from?) and I kept coming back for more. My knees were really saved by a senior teacher who came around to me and said, “Do not go back into that room! They don’t know what they are doing! If you don’t take responsibility for your body, you will end up in a wheelchair!” There was somehow an implied knowledge of that but nobody spoke out. I left Mysuru shortly thereafter and never went back to practice in the Jois shala. I am glad that I strongly advised any of my students not to go there.

    I am not writing that with any resentment. I have forgiven Sharath long ago. After years of healing my knees came good and I have a well-going daily Ashtanga practice 20 years on. The reason why I’m writing this is because there is still an emperor with no clothes in Mysuru. I think an apology should be issued by the Jois family for sexual assault and violating adjustments. More importantly I think there needs to be a disclaimer that Sharath has any form of guru status, that he knows our bodies better than we do. Let’s stop projecting our power on gurus and let’s cease worshipping people who insist on passing on knowledge and especially sacred knowledge in vertical relationships. That doesn’t work anymore (did it ever?).

    As all these things are being revealed the cult-like, fundamentalist tendencies in Ashtanga Yoga have only increased. More than ever one person defines exactly what is correct practice. Even just recently Sharath has accepted the title parama guru, claiming the fact that he is the only true representative of an ancient lineage and the only person to authorize teachers, etc. I am concerned that the wool is still being pulled over the eyes of young, unsuspecting people. To my knowledge the title was actually conferred to him by a Western senior teacher. The bogus-parampara juggernaut is still being propelled forward. Karen, you have brilliantly explored the issue of complicity in your interview, so I need not embark here on the issue.

    And the cover-up is still going on. In the last 24 hours I have hear from several sides that the video showing KP Jois sexually assaulting and adjusting violently students has been taken down several times by petitions of Jois followers. This has to stop. The cover-up has to stop and what has been done has to be owned. What we need here is a Truth and Reconciliation process and it needs to start with the truth. And not with cover-up.

    Until that has been done and apologies have been made a call to boycott the Jois shalas in Mysore is only fair. Also, those who are still touching the feet of that emperor without clothes should think whether they are not continuing that trajectory of power transfer that leads to unhealthy relationships and abuse.

    One woman commenting on my last post signed off with #gurufreezone. I have not explored that link but after all that has happened I think we need to make modern Ashtanga Yoga a guru free zone. Let’s be a collective of equals in which any form of teaching is not handed down in vertical relationships and where gurus can do as they please. Let’s turn modern Ashtanga Yoga into a collective of equals where teachers are mere facilitators and servants of growth for students. Let’s take our power back and stop projecting it on people who are as flawed as we all are.

    PS This post is only a fragment of what needs to be said but I hope to be addressing all that later down the track. Thanks to all of you who commented on my initial post of M. Remski’s article. I found them very valuable and will continue to read all.

    PS2 I have earlier today posted this response on my blog page and social media.

    Gregor Maehle

  • Karen – thank you for your courage. I have learned so much, you have helped me to reorient my own practice and teaching. To see you dance was beautiful. You move mountains.

  • Yes, thank you Karen! Very brave, courageous and honest! I see how difficult it still is for you now, I feel your pain. I understand as I also have hadsuch an experience only not at the hands of this guy. I am so glad you share this story. It is so very vital, important that people wake up to their projections, pretensions and allowing someone, anyone, especially someone who is a ‘guru’, to perpetrate these atrocious and despotic actions. I send you much love, strength and peace to you.

  • This is heartbreaking, she is so visibly upset to her core so many years later, I have nothing but love for this woman to do what she is doing now. Thank you Matthew for doing this with respect.

  • Karen,

    Thank you for your bravery, and your rational arguments in favour of a more balanced teacher-student relationship in Ashtanga Yoga. That you came forward with your account despite the possible backlash from parts of the Ashtanga Community shows nothing less than a great fortitude to do the right thing.

    I’m an Indian Hindu, and a novice to the practice of Yoga. What we call Guru-Shishya(teacher-student) relationships are sacred to us. The entirety of our mythology and religious texts is sprinkled liberally with stories of great Gurus leading their students to enlightenment with a combination of kindness, compassion and concern. Personally, it greatly angers me that Pattabhi Jois has committed these atrocities using this tradition as a shield. The very founding principle of the Yoga he expounded, Ahimsa, was thoroughly ignored by Jois. Self-restraint, which is a cornerstone of traditional yogic achievement, was cast on the wayside by him.

    It is distressing, to say the very least.

    The number of fake gurus abusing the trust people place in them have drastically increased. I have come to believe the ideal Guru is just that: an ideal. I now believe that anyone claiming to be a ‘Guru’ and promising ‘enlightenment’ must be thoroughly background-checked, their statements ruthlessly dissected and their agendas laid bare before even being taken into consideration. In a practice as personal as Yogabhyasa, they should perhaps be subjected to psychological evaluation before being let anywhere near students. If we are to trust these ‘Gurus’, let it be based on fact and verifiable accomplishments. As you have stated correctly in this interview, handing over our all our power to a flawed individual should immediately cease.

    I thank you again for bringing to light your story.

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