Through dogged investigative work, careful listening to survivor stories of assault and abuse, and close analysis of the cultic mechanisms at play in the sphere of Pattabhi Jois’s Ashtanga community, Matthew Remski’s Practice and All is Coming offers a sober view into a collective and intergenerational trauma.
It also offers a clear pathway forward into enhanced critical thinking, student empowerment, self-and-other care, and community resilience. Concluding with practical tools for a world rocked by abuse revelations, Practice and All Is Coming opens a window on the possibility of healing—and even re-enchantment.
Two percent of the people think; three percent of the people think that they think; and ninety-five percent would rather die than think, G. B. Shaw once remarked. David McAmmond, President of The Yoga Association of Alberta, author of A Practical Guide: Yoga Therapy for Backs.
Matthew Remski has authored a remarkable book. His fair examination of some of the cultish and dogmatic elements in yogic culture—and the impact they’ve had on women, in particular — is erudite, well-researched and engaging. But what’s of particular note in his work is the empathy, sensitivity and respect he takes in addressing the abuse inherent in authoritarian systems. In doing so, he’s created a testament to those whose lives have been directly impacted by such abuses of power.
The voice of the victim is often buried deep. Not just in spiritual communities but inside every one of us. Perhaps that is why most of us fail so miserably in really listening to the kinds of stories that can only be told from that particular voice. We cut them off before they begin, we explain, interrupt, belittle, blame or turn away. All of it to avoid facing the vulnerability of the victim as our own.
For that reason, I’m quite convinced this book will ruffle some feathers. It may also do a lot more than that. The rock-solid research, the high-quality material, the clarity of analysis and the unflinching commitment to transparency makes Remski’ s work hard to ignore and impossible to brush off. This book marks a new chapter in the history of modern yoga. One that bears witness to the beginning of healing process long overdue. It´s also a delight to read, by the way.
For those of us comfortably supported by the yoga world it is never easy to read Remski, but for this very reason it is essential that we do. Practice and All is Coming is a thorough exploration of the discontents of the ashtanga yoga community, and by extension it contains insights for all of us who attempt to cohere through therapeutic and spiritual practices. The strength of our work, Remski has long argued, is dependent upon how thoroughly we can explore our shadows. Here we have a manual for doing just that. Adam Grossi, author of Wind Through Quiet Tensions.
Matthew Remski opens a window into a part of the yoga world most people have never seen - a world where trusting seekers with open minds and full hearts are cruelly betrayed. He explores how this happens, what the sometimes debilitating and pervasive after-effects can be, and how to heal from it all.
By interviewing many former followers and experts in the field, Matthew offers the reader a wonderfully rich and up-to-date synthesis of data and practical information. His book is unique, as it provides a significant amount of hard-hitting personal stories and facts while simultaneously being infused with sensitivity and an awareness of the impact these can have on those reading the book who have been through trauma.
I will certainly be recommending this book to my clients and colleagues.
An utterly shocking exposé of the fascinating, messy relationships between yoga, narcissism, systems of control, and charismatic leadership. The author usefully synthesizes Attachment Theory and current research on cult dynamics, cutting through the gauzy mystique of the yoga industry with a strong analysis of power, rank, and privilege. Both sensitive and searing, Remski's critique is a tour de force that provides a much-needed public health service to yoga practitioners and teachers alike.
"Matthew's well-researched exploration of the dynamics of concealment and abuse within yoga communities, and sexual abuse by the late Pattabhi Jois in particular, challenges our individual reluctance to speak out against abuse cloaked as spiritual authority. The mental gymnastics employed by so many in order to avoid confronting the hard truths discussed in this work are equaled only by the physical contortions required within the practice of Ashtanga Yoga itself. This book works like an effective cognitive, rather than physical, adjustment - exposing misaligned values, compartmentalization and denial. It provides space for those affected to have their voices heard, and goes a long way in the attempt to understand the process of deception, entanglement and abuse."
I had many mixed emotions reading Practice and All is Coming, Matthew Remski's incredibly thoughtful and thorough examination of Pattabhi Jois' legacy and the potential for harm in yoga circles. It is particularly important and timely as yoga as a business continues to grow, and the pool of experienced teachers, versed in historical, social, cultural and political influences continues to diminish. Having been a dedicated Ashtangi, a student at one of the schools mentioned, and close friends and peers with several of the students named in the book, reading it brought back a barrage of memories, the smells, sounds and sensations of the practice room, the huge gyms filled with devoted students ready to kneel at the feet of Pattabhi Jois, and the culture of competition, striving, and overriding physical discomfort and pain to proceed to the next level.
The questions for discernment throughout the book can be a starting point for anyone wanting to enter into that process of questioning, critical thinking and self-knowledge. What came up for me the most was the recollection that, while I could see how the inherent conflicts in the practice, the dangerous adjustments, the hard in-group/out-group lines, the fear and reverence of the teachers, I still wanted to be there, I still craved the sensations of the practice, almost like a drug that while I could see its harm, I still sought it with passion and I truly believed that it was the one great "yoga," all others being for less dedicated - and less capable - students. Nearly two decades later, having long abandoned the "cult" of Ashtanga, I see three key lessons to be examined in continued practice and teaching of yoga. First, we must as students learn to better recognize when we are perpetuating harm while benefiting - physically, emotionally, or psychologically - from a practice. Second, as teachers we must come to understand that students can be telling us that something is ok, when it really is not. This does not ask us to be mind readers, but to be deeply discerning in ourselves - why are we putting our hands on another person, what is the ego benefit to us as the teacher, and how do we present ourselves all the time, not just in the yoga room. How do we treat others? How do we acknowledge our mistakes? How do we deal with money and practicalities of business while remaining steadfast in our personal integrity, rooted in our personal practice? These bring me to the third and most important lesson: what is our personal practice? Is it simple "hitting the mat" when things get challenging? Is it spouting off yama and niyama in response to a nuanced, complex conflict? Is it sitting down and listening to a 20 minute guided visualization on the internet? I would argue that just "doing our practice" - if our practice is not anchored in profound self-inquiry and relationship to divine presence - will never result in "all" coming. It will result only in a doubling down of our own egos and righteousness, a moral licensing that will continue to blind us to what is really happening, in ourselves and with our students, but more than anything, will rob us of the greatest gift that yoga has to offer, a relationship with self and a relationship with divine presence.
Molly Lannon Kenny, founder and director, The Samarya Center.
This is a horrifying and necessary tale that all current yoga practitioners and teachers need to know and reckon with. Jois and Ashtanga had a significant influence on what yoga is today in the U.S. and worldwide-from the ethics practices of teachers, to the way we pedestal (and isolate) teachers, to assists, to studio culture. This centers Ashtanga yoga, but as Remski suggests, it is relevant to every yoga lineage, and of course we know that it's culture-wide. Remski recognizes the qualities of isolation, lack of agency, victim-blaming, and silencing present in these survivors' accounts as implicit in rape culture-the responsibility therefore extends beyond the "perpetrators", and falls on all of our shoulders as bystanders and participants in "yoga community". We need to face and discuss this history and that of any harm in order to move into the true promise of living out yogic teachings-one of harmlessness, integrity, generosity, non-attachment, and the wise use of sexual energies.
Practice and All is Coming should be required reading and reflection for any yoga student (especially the ones that call themselves teachers). With respect and humility, Matthew Remski amplifies the courageous voices that expose almost 30 years of abuse in the Ashtanga yoga community and supports their stories with an insightful analysis of the harmful dynamics at play. Amidst the devastation, he offers practical inspiration for safer spaces to practice, grow and heal.
My first yoga teacher said to us, “Yoga is in the relationship.” Matthew Remski reminds us of this when he writes, “of the many things yoga practice is, it is a delivery device for relationship patterns.” Unfortunately, for too long dysfunctional and abusive relationships have been the norm throughout the modern yoga community. Remski examines the myriad forces and conditions that have allowed this travesty of yoga to continue and refutes the notion that it’s just a ‘few bad apples,’ by showing the systemic structures that create the conditions for continued abuse. And then he goes a step better and presents practices for cultivating transparent, horizontal relationships that – if adopted – will go a long way to changing the culture for the better. In the light of the #metoo movement when we have been told to “listen to women,” it is already beyond the time we must center and listen to the victims of abuse and de-throne the abusers. I hope that even his detractors will come to realize that we all benefit from the breaking of the spell that has kept us enchanted for too long.
While Mathew Remski is the courageous, insightful, and compassionate author of this informative, challenging, and thought-provoking book, this book is clearly a group effort. Equal parts theory, training manual, expose, and memoir, Practice and All is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics, and Healing in Yoga and Beyond ... is a foray into the difficult topics of personal agency, spirituality authority, and cult dynamics. In addition to his clearly articulated understanding of the problems inherent in many spiritual schools, Mathew provides hope for healing the confusion and anguish that arise in the heart of sincere practitioners when they are betrayed by the revered powers in which they have placed their trust. If you practice or teach yoga, please consider this book an essential companion on your path.
In this impeccably researched work, Matthew Remski shines a searing light on yoga’s many intentions, myths and pitfalls, deftly illuminating the potential for individual and collective trauma when power, deception and blind faith eclipse self-inquiry. A must read!
As globalized convert yoga finally recovers from the drunken honeymoon of orientalist cultural appropriation it enjoyed for a century or so, it finds itself sober and shocked, #MeToo revelations toppling school after school. Matthew Remski’s deep reporting here on just one of these tragedies offers not a simple indictment of Pattabhi Jois’s person or teaching, but a broad-reaching call for the best of Western theory and activism to be brought to a problem created by colonial encounter and resolvable only by changing the terms of that encounter. The book, like the yoga it deconstructs, unfolds “a vinyasa of meanings,” moving between the psychodynamic implications of the guru-student tradition and the harm-reduction practices that could both preserve and irrevocably change it. Most importantly, Remski centers the voices of women, using his position to witness and amplify their narratives in their own words. Few other books from within the convert yoga community ask so fluently and humbly how sincere non-Indian practitioners might be in wise relationship with the ancient lineages of Yoga, and the culture that developed them. Few outside it describe a tragedy of the modern colonial encounter with such an intimate and heart-rending precision.
I feel fortunate to have read Practice and All is Coming, and sad that many Ashtangis will miss its urgent message given the harsh criticisms voiced in anticipation of its publication. Thankfully Matthew is generous in providing the necessary disclaimers (as one should when critiquing any method that has helped and benefited so many) to prevent any stereotyping of “Ashtangis” — which is why the only thing this book demands of its reader is to get out of his/her own way. Matthew does not undermine the Ashtanga method, just the out-of-this-world interpretations of it — thanks to people who refuse to employ critical thinking on these matters he describes so thoroughly.
For those of us who consider ourselves yoga teachers it may be especially important to scrutinize ourselves and our community with clarity and honesty, in particular when it comes to the issue of power. Yoga, with all of its promise, is as susceptible as any other human institution to becoming a condition for abuse of power and all the suffering that engenders. With Practice and All is Coming, Matthew Remski has done us a great service by applying intellectual rigor to help us see how destructive power dynamics can set in and fester and then by suggesting how we can make yoga practice a safe, respectful, and empowering experience for all who show up. David Emerson, YACEP, TCTSY-F | He/Him/His, Director: The Center for Trauma and Embodiment at JRI, author Trauma-Sensitive Yoga in Therapy and co-author Overcoming Trauma through Yoga.
Matthew Remski was one of the first teachers to speak out on social media about physical and emotional injury and trauma in yoga. In doing so, he created a safe space for people to connect with each other over shared experiences and ultimately heal their own trauma. His book Practice and All is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics, and Healing in Yoga and Beyond sheds light on the sexual and physical assault that has taken place in the yoga community, while providing a resource that helps teachers and students recognize when they may be in an unsafe situation and empowers them to protect themselves. This book should be required reading for every yoga teacher training.
This is a potent treatise, bringing well-needed thoughtful and measured scrutiny to a controversial subject. Remski provides a thorough exposition of one of the icons of modern yoga – not to simply critique or discredit, but more to examine possible solutions to the unveiled issues. The book itself is part of the solution, in that it provides a platform enabling previously-muted voices to be heard. In response to these voices, he goes on to construct a research-grounded framework that elevates safety and inclusivity. This could be the means to propel the field of yoga forward with more integrity, and indeed, more authenticity.
This book should be considered required reading for all those involved in yoga therapy training, and I strongly recommend it to all yoga professionals as well.
This text is a formidable contribution and necessary, painstaking collaboration that took incredible courage and fortitude to bring to light. It plays a critical role in allowing yoga to move forward in our generation and the next, to reframe what it means to practice yoga, and how. It encourages our yoga community to begin to move out of the darkness of its history of sexual assault, self-harm, and guru as god worship, and into the light toward healing. To enforce a no tolerance policy against sexual abuse and psychological and spiritual manipulation that can end generations of violence against women, men, & the self with our collective, informed, and compassionate will.
As a sexual assault survivor, it took me years, almost 2 decades, to move from victim to victor. This text was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to read. But, it was also one of the most important. If you too are a survivor, I’d ask you to give yourself grace. Give yourself permission to stop reading whenever you begin to feel anxious, fearful, or pained. This book, although a necessary work to forward the conversation on ending violence against women and men, can and will be a trigger for many. It can feel like re-entering the dark, claustrophobic, stench-filled closet of the past, of suffering at the hands of men who think violence against women is okay. Many times while reading, my body and mind viscerally pushed back against reading, my throat tightened, threatening to close; and the anger, so old now it has turned to grief, begin to rise up and threaten to make me mourn all over again. Mourn for justice that, just like for the women in this book, will never formally be awarded.
Remski’s text and reporting of accounts of abuse are a long overdue, earth-quaking relief for many, because in doing so a small measure of justice, if just through making the truth known, can be won. The exposure of the dark underbelly of yoga’s patriarchal roots feels like a victory on many levels, especially for the victims. I believe this text is nurturing the significant evolution of yoga, away from its closed-door guruji roots and toward partnership relationship that respects and honors individuals regardless of their stature, class, creed, and especially, gender. Yoga and those who carry the privilege of teaching others about it should stand to care and nurture its followers, not abuse and silence them.
The bottom line is this: patriarchy hurts us all. The dominator model of relationship in which all things masculine and violent are valued above the feminine nurturer and peacemaker is not sustainable. Our yoga community must evolve toward compassionate partnership, where we stand shoulder to shoulder with one another, not grossly stacked atop one another like a pyramid, breaking one another’s spirits and backs and stealing the voices of those on the bottom. This text helps us pave a way toward partnership relationship and away from yoga’s dark and destructive guru-as-god history.
The healing potential of this book likes in an equal two parts – one part admission and revelation and one part evolution – the demand for evolution in order to nurture healing and recovery toward ending abuse, coercion, violence, injury, and deceptive manipulation in yoga. We should share power with one another, not over one another. Yoga should be about healing, not harm.
I am confident this text can empower those who are victims of abuse within the yoga community to speak up. It can also embolden us to support those who suffer and put an end to all violence in yoga, sexual and otherwise, for good. There is power in owning this story – because now that it has been shared we can determine its ending – one where yoga culture is positive, partnership-driven, nonviolent, and above all, safe.
Matthew Remski's Practice and All is Coming is a perfectly timed arrival on our bookshelves; a wide, exhaustive and balanced detail and analysis of the harms that spiritual teachers can inflict on students, a profound overview of imbalanced power dynamics found in institutions, important insights into the underlying psychological characteristics of cults and, perhaps most vitally, a final section covering a variety of tools and processes that lead toward safer spaces for practitioners. For anyone involved in organizing and maintaining a safe community for spiritual growth, Remski's book will provide a sobering and vital resource. Josh Korda, Lead Teacher, dharmapunx nyc, author of Unsubscribe.
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