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.
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.
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.
The last decade has been an uncomfortable one for those of us who have been born into fortunate situations in life. The fortunate are rarely self motivated to ask the questions that the less fortunate have to ask of themselves everyday. One area that has exploded into consciousness in the last year is that of the treatment of women by men and the casual sexual and psychological abuse they have tolerated for generations. Matthews book is a thorough exploration of how this has happened in the yoga world, starting with his growing awareness of what was happening, followed by heart wrenching testimony from some of the abused, and finishing with extremely helpful ideas about how we can inoculate ourselves against abuse cultures, and perhaps more importantly how we can start to build cultures that are safe and productive for all of us. This is a much needed book book arriving at precisely the right time, teacher training courses would do well to incorporate it into their syllabus. Peter Blackaby, osteopath, author of Intelligent 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.
The future of yoga depends on our ability to reconcile a past fraught with abuse and injury. If we ignore the pain that was caused in the name of yoga, our communal body will never heal. Yoga will go the way of step aerobics and the power of the teachings will evaporate into the history books. The first step in healing is acknowledging that there is a problem, and that is what Matthew Remski so powerfully demonstrates in "Practice and All is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics, and Healing in Yoga and Beyond." This is a text that can heal the wounds of yoga and allow us to re-imagine it as a safe practice for everyone, free from abuse and injury. Jivana Heyman, Founder and Director of Accessible Yoga.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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.
I welcome the powerful voices of the courageous, truth-speaking women that are heard so clearly in this valuable study. I applaud Matthew’s sensitive and subtle exposure of power imbalance, and his impeccable intentions to bring the voices from the margins to the centre. I give thanks that his moral compass guided him to reveal a crucial issue at the heart of modern yoga, and I hope that everyone who has ever shown up to a yoga class reads this book. I recommend it as required reading for every yoga teacher training course on the planet. Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, Ph.D., PhD, author of Yoni Shakti: A Woman’s Guide to Power and Freedom Through Yoga and Tantra.
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.
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.
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.
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