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A fine line

One of the most difficult and persistent tensions I hold in my work is between that of survivor, ally, activist, teacher and researcher. Although my own research doesn’t centre around abuse in yoga, trauma, survivorship, ethical relationships and accountability are all subjects that I’m regularly called to speak to. I don’t mind that, because although the work isn’t easy, it is vital.

I’m very proud of colleagues who walk that fine line on a much more regular basis – people like Amelia Wood, Jens Ausberger, Angela Gollat, Jacqueline Hargreaves, Philippe Deslippe, and Josna Pankhania, as well as my old friend Matthew Remski, whose work focuses on these issues, and good allies like Wendy Dossett, Dawn Llewellyn, Suzanne Newcombe, and Lisa Oakley who provide good spaces for difficult conversations to be had. They’re not the only ones, but they’re good people I have meaningful and hopeful conversations with, in difficult circumstances.

I’m mentioning them here because firstly, I think that work is often done quietly, painstakingly, with a paper here, a seminar there, building to a whole conference over here. I also think it gives the lie to the idea that researchers are in any way divorced from the communities they study – any one of these people could choose to write and research less harrowing topics. They do this because they do care – about survivors and about the practice. And in a number of cases, sadly, they do this work because they have first hand experience too.

Finally, I’m mentioning it now because I think a culture change is happening. People involved in the teaching of, and research into, modern yoga are trying to reconcile with abusive tendencies in both well known individuals and institutions on more than a case by case basis. As a complex set of overlapping, global communities of practice, we are trying to do better by survivors, and trying to figure out how and why things go wrong, more than ever before. In a couple of weeks, I’ll have the difficult honour of hosting a podcast for the Religious Studies Project on this very topic. I can’t wait to share it with you. So if it seems like the reports of abuse in yoga are sometimes never ending, remember this –

This is a conversation that we weren’t even having 20 years ago, and this is a reckoning a long time coming. We have a chance to make a real difference.

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