It’s time to Amplify and Activate, Charlotte!

In the current climate of inappropriate and harmful use of power, no community has been left unscathed. There have been countless stories, on both the national and local levels, of yoga teachers using their position of power and privilege to take advantage of their students, causing unjust harm to a vulnerable population (Bikram, Pattabhi Jois, and John Friend, to name a few). Yoga communities have the power to create safe spaces, break down barriers, and to lift up those needing encouragement and support, but it has become clear that the lines have been severely blurred. The practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years, and historically a potential student would seek to earn the trust and guidance of their prospective teacher. This process could take months, or years, of the student proving themselves worthy of such valuable teachings. Today, anyone with a few thousand dollars can travel somewhere tropical, return in two weeks with a certification, and the title of yoga teacher.  This all too familiar revolving door of training does not allow the student an opportunity, nor time, to fully digest the importance of upholding ethics as beautifully expressed by Patanjali as the yamas and niyamas in the Yoga Sutras, with non-violence (ahimsa) always being the first rule of conduct. This type of understanding takes years of self-study. It is up to us, as a yoga community, to hold each other accountable, speak up when something isn’t right, and no longer hide in the shadows of “love and light.”

 

The culture around permission, power, and teacher standards is shifting and it’s important to come together, as a larger Charlotte community, and have the tough conversations for learning and information exchange.  In partnership with Amplify and Activate, we have created a series of community meetings to raise awareness under the large umbrella of upholding ethics in the yoga community. We will come together for an all-levels mindful slow flow yoga class, followed by a meditation and panel discussion with members of the greater Charlotte yoga community, and beyond. The intention is to listen to the narratives, empower us all with a greater understanding of reducing harm, and to further open these dialogues to strengthen, include, and benefit the total community.  

Here’s a quick summary of the first event held on May 12th, at Yoga One to entice YOU to be in attendance at the next event, June 9th at Be Yoga Dilworth. First, Grace Millsap and Kelley Carboni-Woods shared the teaching space. Grace is a local rockstar 200hr ERYT and Manager at Be Yoga. She is a Self-Care Ambassador and the thought leader of the Ethics in Yoga series. Kelley is the creator of Peace Filled Mama, her teaching style is best described as “real AF”.  Her passionate advocacy for children to be treated as human beings as well as her wellness work is inspiring. The asana and meditation practice was created to open the heart, ears, and soul so we could each receive the messages and narratives of those who were willing to share their perspective on “What is Abuse, on and off the mat?”.  Jasmine Hines, powerhouse creator of The Inspower Agency and Amplify & Activate, started off the panel discussion by inviting the panel to take on being the “expert” from their seat (or point of view).  The panel included Linda Simthong (School of Jai founder), Vivian Selles (yoga teacher), Wendy Swanson (yoga studio owner and acupuncturist), Adam Whiting (lead teacher of Charlotte Yoga), and Rodney James (yoga class assistant).

Each panel member was given the opportunity to answer the first question, What is abuse?

  • Harm – physical, mental, cultural, sexual, financial.  An intention to manipulate or control. Abuse can also be the treatment of others that can show up as 1. Unacknowledgement 2. Shaming – eye rolling, other signs including language choices.
  • Everything is nature is in relationship or communication with each other. Abuse is when this relationship turns cancerous in order to gain territory in a nonconsensual or aggressive manner.  Vulnerability may place transformation on the teacher, putting them on a pedestal. Boundaries are key in any relationship.
  • Power dynamic can elevate without their permission.  Teacher should be kept in check. Self-study is key. Power can be seductive. Look at the big picture. How I feel later, not in the moment?
  • Harming without permission. Assisting is a power, and with great power comes great responsibility. It takes vigilance to respect boundaries of different people with different experiences of what’s “ok”.  People, in general, are impure, which can get in the yoga’s way. It’s important to respect the body’s connection to the actual yoga.
  • Abuse happens when others don’t honor boundaries (bubbles of personal space), relationships, and the spaces to heal.

The follow up question. What abuse have you witnessed and what actions (or inactions) have you taken?

  • Shaming of victim has been witnessed, which often leads to secrecy, silence and judgements. There is a need to move away from shaming. Listening is key with clear containers.
  • Moral compass doesn’t always show up in the abusers.  Be clear in touches (assists), approach with clear intentions, with some areas of the body being off limits.
  • Gaslighting of victims, shaming, blaming – coming from abusers and other teachers in the community has been recently witnessed through the lens of social media. Make a point to talk to as many people as possible.  Don’t allow your own lack of experience in a situation to negate others’ real experiences. Be open, but don’t defend.
  • While in the middle of local #metoo storm, packing up and escaping can be enticing as a defense mechanism.  The right thing to do isn’t always easy or fast, often it takes commitment, hard work, and community of people (teachers) banding together.

The final question of the afternoon was directed to members of the audience: What makes people complicit when it comes to abuse?

  • It’s easy.
  • Don’t want to be different or create waves.
  • Don’t feel that you personally have the tools, or not sure how to use them.
  • Complicitness has become an epidemic.  Wellness people aren’t doing the work and we can’t be aware of own mess without doing the practices we teach.
  • Often, our unconscious biases may cause harm when we subconsciously judge others based on appearance.  These biases may be related to race, body type, or able-ness.

The third in this dynamic dialogue series will allow for more voices to be heard, stories to be shared and connections to be made. Please join us on July 21st at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church as we discuss “The Power of the Teacher.” All interested students, teachers, and community members are welcome. CEU’s will be available for teachers through Yoga Alliance. These events are completely free, but we will be accepting donations for local organizations. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?