WAWADIA: Injury, Touch, Abuse & Trauma in Modern Yoga

In many yoga spaces, teachers and students share the expectation that adjustments are a standard part of practice. But this aspect of modern yoga is marred by an uncomfortable history. At the dawn of the global movement in 1930s India, adjustments in key learning spaces such as the Mysore Palace merged with the somatics of corporal punishment. They conveyed assumptions about spiritualized pain and surrender, delivered through a pedagogy of unquestioned charisma and presumed consent. In combination, these factors have led to decades of blurred boundaries, sexualized touch, and general intrusion. If you’re a yoga teacher and you want to adjust people, this presentation will help you get square with this history first. It will help you think about how you will protect your students from it, especially in an unregulated industry. It will offer guidelines for moving forward in the creation of safe and student-driven yoga education.

What This Presentation Covers:

  • Introduction to yoga injury data, including available numbers on injuries related to adjustments, and the problems of self-reporting.
  • Unresolved questions about scope of practice and touch competency.
  • What authoritarian pedagogy looked like and meant in early modern yoga; its legacy of mystique and power.
    • “The modern yoga movement emerges out of a homosocial educational context rife with corporal punishment. This context assumed the teacher’s ownership of and mastery over the body. Its assumptions about intervention, corrections, and consent linger.”
  • What we know and don’t know about T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989).
  • Mysore accounts of Jois and Iyengar.
  • The overt meanings of pain in the language of Jois and Iyengar.
  • Jois’ sexual harassment of women students.
  • How popular brands mainstreamed the Jois method of adjustment.
  • The pushback: how trauma sensitivity training, notions of “receptive touch”, more crossover between yoga and psychotherapy, and (especially) consent cards are overturning almost eighty years of intrusive teaching.

Supporting Links:

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