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.
Matthew Remski has written a painstaking and unflinching book that details multiple women’s first person accounts of sexual abuse at the hands of Ashtanga Yoga founder K. Pattabhi Jois, and the subsequent denial and cover up within his community.
This is a vital read that highlights the courage of the women who came forward within a culture of cognitive dissonance, unquestioning obedience, and magical thinking, in which pain is re-labeled as healing, injury as opening, and isolation as enlightenment.
At the same time, Remski thoughtfully navigates how yoga teachers and practitioners can continue to practice yoga today in all forms, while acknowledging the darker side of its origins. A heartbreaking and illuminating read.
Amongst the responses to the revelations of sexual abuse that have marred a number of yoga communities, Practice and All Is Coming is unparalleled. Of immense value to both practitioners and academics, the text centers the voices of the female victims of serial abuser Pattabhi Jois and illuminates the wider psychoanalytic and structural conditions that enabled such abuse. Practitioners will be gifted a demystification of transnational yoga and a way to both understand and prevent the toxic dynamics that have produced abuse. Academics will find a strong case for the utility—and even ethical necessity—for bringing cultic studies back into the field of New Religious Movements. With this ambitious and well-executed text, Remski has established himself as one of the most perspicacious and important scholar-practitioners of contemporary transnational yoga.
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.
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.
Thank you Matthew Remski and the courageous women who have stepped forward to offer this pivotal work. Practice and All is Coming is a service to humanity, to the yoga world-at-large, to long-time practitioners and future generations so that we can evolve into cultivating a safe space that all beings deserve. This incredibly thorough, sensitive and somatically sophisticated work is ESSENTIAL to the evolution of yoga for the maturity to unpack the shadow of abuse, body-image distortion and power-dynamics effecting many without conscious awareness of these undercurrents, while also recommending best practices and a PRISM method to move forward so that we may work towards ending abuse of all forms and transforming dominance-structures so that all beings are respected, safe and empowered in their journey of embodiment.
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.
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!
Reading and working with this book as an Ashtanga practitioner and teacher is like eating a heavy meal on Thanksgiving. The meal (a.k.a book content) is uncomfortably rich, and stays with you for a long time. Digesting it will give you burps and winds, a hangover even. After it is over, you might think that you are done with eating altogether. You might feel sorry for yourself and sorry for what you put yourself (and others) through. This book – much like a heavy Thanksgiving meal – can give you the perfect ‘shameover.’
Stay with this feeling for some time, let the wind(s) settle, and observe what happens next. At least for me, there is no going back to how things were: how I used to practice and teach Ashtanga Yoga and how I used to consider myself a part of this culture, proudly calling myself an Ashtangi. Even though I never travelled to Mysore, I practiced with teachers who did. I did my five to six practices per week, I worked my way through the series, I was concerned with advancing in my postures. I ignored various pains, thinking they would transform me somehow. I practiced yoga like I practiced ballet in my youth: forcing my body to fit into fixed postures. Aesthetic performance over introspection, form over feeling, technique over joy.
As a professional scholar, I cherish the content presented here as a rich source for my own research into the structural similarities of different environments of abuse in spiritual communities. But its value goes way beyond, reaching into what I thought was my very personal corner of practice, both spiritual and somatic. Much like in other areas of life, the personal and private proves to be very political after all.
In this illuminating book Matthew Remski brings light to the often-bypassed toxic dynamics and deception that occurs in the yoga subculture and new-age spirituality. Through compassionate inquiry, Remski provides a platform for honest discourse into cult dynamics, power imbalances, and why as humans we might trade autonomy and authenticity for acceptance under the guise of healing and community. To practice compassion, we must first acknowledge suffering and yet victims’ voices continue to be silenced and edited in order to protect images in the ashtanga community and beyond. As more abuse and manipulation is uncovered and exposed many schools, studios, and practitioners are reluctant to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, however Remski challenges us to examine who is the baby and what is the bathwater, separating our own healing and self-awareness practices from the brand and systems of power. In addition to providing insight into the psychology of attachment and the guru model this book provides reflections on how to move forward and ensure that these shadows do not continue to undermine equality, empowerment, and healing in the yoga community. To the women who courageously shared your stories may you continue to feel heard, respected, and supported.
In this important and powerful book, Matthew Remski not only provides a platform for many of the women who were sexually and physically abused by celebrated yoga “guru” Pattabhi Jois to speak in their own voices about what they experienced, but he also gives us the context for understanding why this abuse went unrecognized and/or was covered up for so many years. The implications are essential for all of us who practice modern yoga because the truth is that this type of abuse is not limited to any one particular lineage or school of yoga. And it is time for us all to rethink the “traditional” relationship of the yoga teacher and the student, to reform the organizations that oversee our yoga schools, and to find a new way forward.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
Packed with interviews of horrific abuse and real stories of recovery, Remski presents us an authoritative guide on the effects of sexual abuse, misconduct and trauma in the modern, globalized yoga world as well as analysis that invites the possibility of change to this culture of abuse. The struggle and resilience of the interviewees make for an intense and powerful read. It is in the context of colonial, plundering and appropriation of yoga culture that yoga has come bearing the scars of its violent impacts with the West. Remski does not pretend to separate himself in some false veneer of objectivity. He reflects on and owns his privilege as a cis white man and speaks to his learning curve in becoming an ally and even accomplice to those more often targeted for abuse. In fact, this is what makes the book so powerful: Remski himself is committed to unpacking and transforming the cult dynamics and cultures that surround such abuse and in doing so, shows us how we can do our part as well. Practice and All is Coming offers hope and practical solutions for those who seek — and I do hope this is all of us — an end to the cycle of trauma, abuse of power and sexual violence in yoga culture today.
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.
Starting with the first principle of yoga which is non-harming (ahimsa), and applying the clear seeing of meditation (dhyana), Remski offers us a framework for understanding how confusion and messiness around lineage and power has led to so much pain and suffering inside the world of yoga. This is also a guidebook in the yogic principle of self-study (svadyaya) helping us all look honestly at ourselves and our community. I am so grateful that finally, Remski offers us a way forward — with both practical means and inspiration - to remind us that yoga is a living practice and in the end, always about relationship.
Not just for yoga practitioners, this book shines a harsh light on harmful patterns that are far too common, as well, in polyamorous, kinky, and sex-positive scenes, themselves replete with their own predatory 'gurus.' It contains crucial insight and concrete tools for anyone who cares about creating healthy, abuse-resilient groups of any sort — even startup founders could learn something here. I want everyone who is or dreams of being part of a 'community' to go read it right now.
It’s a truth and reconciliation moment for ashtanga vinyasa, and Matthew’s considered and intelligent book is a crucial tool in the process of listening, understanding and making critical changes which is already underway in some (but unfortunately not all) ashtanga communities. There is an urgent need to dissolve the traditional top-down teaching model, give power back to practitioners, and evolve more adaptive models of practice, founded on what is safe, effective and biomechanically functional. This book offers case histories of abuse, analysis of the dynamics that allow abuse to happen, and strategies for moving forward in a positive way. If you practise yoga, if you are committed to creating – and want to inhabit – practice spaces of integrity, where the well-being of students is paramount, this book is an essential read.
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.
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