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.
Unacknowledged for too long, Remski asks us to bear witness to the travesties perpetuated by some of yoga’s most celebrated teachers. Heartbreaking as it is, we learn through his determined and unflinching look at the mechanics of deception, and thus shattered, we witness the stunning capacity of some of the victims to rise and make visible what has only lain in shadow. Illuminated by their courage, Remski, a tireless scholar, asks more of us yet; to sharpen our discernment and determination in creating, over and over, everyday and for every-body, a safe, caring and ethically sound yoga practice that yes, carries a history of the inhumane and might yet, through our brokenheartedness, celebrate our humanity.
Matthew's new book is both a testimony of the past and a call to action, for establishing healthy boundaries and personal agency in physical yoga practice. Especially relevant for yoga educators who are in a position to create safer spaces for the next generations of practitioners. Tatjana Mesar, yoga educator, co-founder of Dynamic Mindfulness Berlin.
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.
The book 'Practice and All is Coming' is a result of the herculean effort by Matthew Remski in giving a voice to and unearthing the rampant, darkest, dirtiest, disturbing open secret in the yoga world.
The painstaking work — research and interviews — has helped open the floodgates and is truly commendable and will serve as a foundation for setting better mechanisms for prevention of abuse in the name of spiritual practices and even in other walks of life.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Remski’s book is of great importance to anyone who wishes to see the practice of yoga continue to evolve to include the contemporary understandings of trauma theory and attachment theory as well as anyone interested in relational dynamics, period. In being transparent about his own process of recognizing how his capacity to hear the stories of survivors was limited through living within a culture that replicates the silencing dynamics of interpersonal trauma, he offers us a pathway to recognize how our own actions or inaction may be complicit in furthering systemic harm, as well as ways to take steps individually and collectively towards greater transparency, clarity and safety. Deception sits as a central theme in the book, in stark contrast to the prioritizing of ‘truth’ often considered a key theme in yoga classes and texts, giving us the reader plenty to meditate on should we wish to integrate any spiritual practice we might have with clear-sighted critical thinking. I left each reading with a deep appreciation for the power that speaking the previously unspeakable can have, and the ways in which just as harm is often created/compounded collectively, so too can healing be furthered through relationship and supportive community.
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.
Matthew has done a great service to Ashtanga Yoga by writing this book. It does not make for easy reading.
I had come to believe that Pattabhi Jois, or 'Guruji' as I came to refer to him, was a great man, a wise Yogi, a Guru.
Matthew confronts us with the evidence of a different narrative and challenges us to look hard at what we have come to believe about Pattabhi Jois and the practice of Ashtanga Yoga.
He shines a light not only on serial sexual abuse perpetrated by Pattabhi Jois but also on disturbing cult like behaviour of senior members of the Ashtanga Yoga community. Many of these people were aware of his actions and acted to keep it out of the public eye to protect the image of their perfect 'Guruji'.
This book offers an opportunity to revisit how we teach and share Ashtanga Yoga, how we interact and relate to our students, how we create and hold safe spaces and how we use appropriate touch and physical adjustments in the Yoga shala.
This book is a must-read for all students and teachers of Ashtanga Yoga. Andy Gill, yoga Teacher.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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