Matthew Remski has highlighted how dominant and abusive ways of teaching yoga can be somatised by students, in a spectrum from the subtle to the brazenly abusive, which can then be perpetuated if these students are also yoga teachers. Matthew Remski has coined the term ‘Somatic Dominance’ to describe this phenomenon.
BKS Iyengar is now recognised by many for being violent and aggressive towards his students (as is evidenced in many photographs, videos and personal accounts), and this could explain why, whilst there are many sensitive Iyengar yoga teachers with unbounding integrity, Iyengar Yoga teachers often hold reputations for being strict, hierarchical and imposing.
Equally, many of us are becoming more and more aware of instances of ‘spiritual bypass’, where expressing sentiments of ‘love and light’ are used as a smokescreen behind which to hide unresolved issues. This is, in other words, 'dissociation' and I have been noticing it more and more in yoga teachers and students who train in lineages which have senior teachers or gurus who use or used their ‘spirituality’ behind which to hide sexually abusive behaviour.
Yesterday a white male yoga teacher who is devoted to a guru who is a known sexual predator (which the white male yoga teacher does not believe to be true) asked me how I was. I answered that I was feeling a bit upset about the election results, and he responded that I should not let it worry me. I felt his dismissal of my feelings as something much more than what it appeared. There was an implication that I should be 'yogic' and 'rise above it'. And slowly I realised that I could indeed ‘not let it worry me’. I am a white middle class woman, living in a lovely house in a prime, labour voting, middle class area of York. I send my son to a wonderful Steiner school and I am able to get by with the few yoga classes I teach and spend most of my time and energy on taking care of my son. So yes, I could very easily just not vote, not partake in the 'shit show' and ‘not worry’ about the fact that a racist, sexist, abusive elitist millionaire will be leading our country for the next few years. Because even though I am a single mother who has had life saving brain surgery on the NHS after a brain haemorrhage and I may have several black and ethnic minority people in my close circle of friends and family (including my own son), I have enough privilege behind me to mean that, for instance, my mortgage gets covered by my father when I have a brain haemorrhage. My son is light skinned enough for him to not be attacked in the street. I have a small enough mortgage to get by financially and not rely on food banks. Sometimes I even shop at Waitrose.
I could equally sell my house and move to Scotland, or Portugal and tell Jack that I’m alright. But I will not.
What enables me or anyone else to ‘not worry’ about the political situation with Boris/Trump is my privilege and safety. But this self entitled privilege is born from colonialism and shows a selfish disregard for those who are not safe or privileged.
And the dissociative verbal diarrhoea coming from our dissociated yoga gurus buries our pre-existing unresolved dissociated issues even more deeply within us, making us feel safer in our avoidance of what lives within us. And this apparent yogic, spiritual transcendence - to be able to ‘not worry’ about the election - is actually a self entitled, white privileged, somatically dissociated disconnection. Which is the opposite of yoga. And shows an utter lack of connection, camaraderie and compassion towards our fellow brothers and sisters, whose safety is at risk. We might think we are being activists by providing food for food banks, going out and planting trees or raising money for charity. And we are. But if we exercise our self entitled privilege by not voting, thereby helping to allow a racist millionaire to become our prime minister, we are also standing with the oppressor. Despite our best activist efforts.
As I become more aware of my own white middle class privilege, I am realising how this has made me ignorant and disconnected to vulnerable people who do not have the privilege I was born into.
I have a lot to learn. And a lot to do. It is my responsibility as a human being. I need to use my privilege.
So please, if you ask me how I am, and I say I’m upset about the election, please don’t tell me not to worry.