Title Image Manouso Manos Decertified

The Case of Manos: When Women Become Permissible Collateral Damage

Yesterday, IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States) made an announcement to its members that Manouso Manos would be decertified as an Iyengar teacher and that his membership within that organization would be permanently revoked.  Prashant Iyengar (son of B.K.S. Iyengar) and Abhijata Iyengar (granddaughter to same) have informed Manouso that he must now cease using the Iyengar name and the Iyengar Yoga certification mark in connection with his teaching.  These decisions fall on the heels of the release of an independent investigation carried out by Ms. Bernadette Sargeant involving numerous allegations of, as IYNAUS frames, “inappropriate touching”; a minimizing euphemism for sexual abuse and assault.  Ms. Sargeant who has worked on this investigation for over four months, has conducted hundreds of sensitive investigations, including dozens of sex abuse investigations: for the U.S. Congress, the U.S Department of Justice, other government agencies, corporations and associations.

IYNAUS has published on their website a redacted version of both Ms. Sargeant's Executive Summary and her Report. (WARNING. Some of you will find the language and content of this report extremely disturbing.)  Within, you will read details of how Manos, over decades, audaciously sexually abused and molested students who attended his classes and workshops under the guise of administering legitimate “adjustments”.

What is glaringly missing from the IYNAUS announcement is any apology to the survivors, particularly Ann West, whose first complaint to the ethics committee was summarily dismissed, with Prashant Iyengar contributing his impression long distance that it was a case of West having “misperceived” the adjustment she received, as if a woman doesn’t know what is happening to her own breasts.  In the just released statement from IYNAUS there is no acknowledgment of the harm and suffering caused to these women, not only by their abuser but also by fellow yoga practitioners, studio directors and senior members of the community who ignored, denied, and vilified Ann, and the other women lodging complaints with IYNAUS, for daring to speak out. Nor has there been an apology from the Iyengars. 

It was only through Ann West’s refusal to back down and to have the case appealed, and strong pressure via social media and the work of Miranda Leitsinger at KQED, that an independent investigation was initiated.  The Iyengars were initially against the independent investigation declaring in a letter to the US association that “IYNAUS should bear in mind that Manouso is a very senior member of our family” and that IYNAUS “should have gone out of its way to protect its family members.” This echoes B.K.S Iyengar’s treatment of Manos in 1991 as a prodigal son, after the Mercury Sun investigation found the same behaviors. 

One victim, Person 12, describes confiding “in a more senior student of the Iyengar community” about Manos simulating a sex act upon her as she bent forward in Prasaritta Padottanasana and being advised “not to complain: that if she complained, Manos would never adjust her again.”  These incidents speak to the heart of a yoga culture that is systemically corrupted and diseased at its core. 

I have been professional involved with this case since the late 1980’s and early 90’s when as a member of the board that ran Yoga Journal magazine we received several credible allegations from women who lived in different cities, did not know each other, yet related strikingly similar reports of having their breasts fondled while in deep relaxation, or fingers inserted into vaginal and anal orifices (which is legally considered digital rape).  Similar reports were also heard in the late 80’s and early 90’s by the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco, including complaints about Manos having sex with students within the institute building. Subsequently, Yoga Journal magazine banned Manos from appearing within its pages, in content or advertising.  And despite an expose published in a prominent Bay Area newspaper by Bob Frost, detailing reports of abuse, and despite Manos at the time not denying any of the allegations, he was forgiven by his guru, B.K.S. Iyengar, and continued his meteoric rise to fame as the senior most representative of the method.  

What is implicit from this report is the systemic complicity within an entire yoga community and organization that up until now has seen the abuse suffered by these women as unfortunate, but permissible collateral damage.  If this were not true, why have so many studio directors, senior Iyengar teachers and conference organizers continued to host a teacher with a known, unresolved history of sexual misconduct?  Why have so many continued to host Manos while an independent investigation was already under way?  The Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles advertised no less than 5 weekends this year up until just a few days ago, when low and behold, on the release of the report, these workshops vanished from their website.  Why have so many students of Manos, and those that teach at his yoga studio continued to support him despite knowing of these claims?  Many like Ann West and Cassie Jackson didn’t know about the historical allegations and feel that had they known they would not have chosen to study with such a teacher nor risked being sexually molested by him.  Yet others did know.  Back in the early 90’s I recall speaking to several studio directors about my concerns, outlining in graphic detail my knowledge of the reports only to be met with blank stares, a stunningly brief pause, followed by a declaration that would become all too familiar “but he’s such a great teacher.”  Or my favorite: “These things might have happened to other women, but he never abused me” OR I’ve never seen him do those things” (which is like saying you were not at the scene of a hit-and-run and therefore it didn’t happen). I’ve heard these excuses so often and in so many different contexts, that I cannot come to any other conclusion than the undeniable fact that: 

 . . . for many in the global yoga culture the personal acquisition of yoga knowledge, the attainment of yoga postures, and the economic benefits and professional currency of yoga careers heavily leveraged by association with lineage, will always win out over any necessity to take a moral stand or to take principled action.  In the grandiosity of one’s own spiritual pursuit, why worry about a few sacrificial victims?  This is the basis of the meme “I’ve-got-mine-ism”; whereupon individuals conveniently divest themselves from any responsibility to act in relation to harm caused to another.  It is this moral bankruptcy that allowed Pattahbi Jois to similarly abuse women for decades while senior teachers who knew about and witnessed the abuse did nothing.

It is said in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that the ancestor of all obstacles to clear thinking is avidya, which is variously translated to mean the inability to perceive the truth of our interconnectedness.  From knowledge of that interconnectedness we inevitably feel empathy and compassion for all sentient beings.  When someone else is harmed we feel as if we have been harmed.  This empathy for “other” is the opposite of avidya.   Without this knowledge of our kinship, we can go about our lives with a callous disregard for the harm incurred by others, because really, why should we care?

No doubt there will be many Iyengar centers and yoga studio directors around the world hastily cancelling Manos’s workshops now that he is no longer certified and therefore an unfortunate association. But as it stands, Manos can continue teaching in San Francisco under the newly abridged banner of his school “The Abode of Yoga” (formerly The Abode of Iyengar Yoga).  He can continue to teach through independent hosts and in countries where he can rely on the naivety of foreign students eager to receive some of his supposed brilliance.   Which calls into question whether we can, as we’ve been saying for years, uphold and police the standards of our own profession or whether it is long since past due for government licensing. 

I’ve worked on this issue for a long time, in many different capacities.  The Manos story is one that has haunted me for decades, knowing that despite my efforts and those of a few trusted colleagues, we failed to protect the future students who would work with him. I thought I would feel relieved, even celebratory that finally, finally, a teacher like Manos has been decertified.  And certainly, a precedent has been set that these behaviors can result in a serious consequence.  But the truth is, this is an hollow victory.  The soil, the climate and the conditions that fostered, supported and perpetuated this abuse remain.  The question now is how we collectively turn the corner and create a wholesome yoga culture in which all may feel safe and respected. 

References:

IYNAUS Clarifying Statement dated 3/15/2019, produced in response to Manos's statement 3/8/2019

Iyengars’ 11/15 letter to IYNAUS

IYNAUS’s 11/27 letter to the Iyengars

March 12, 2019 letter from Manouso’s lawyers to IYNAUS

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