Update: Richard Miller’s response

This is a public post on both Richard Miller’s and iRest’s Facebook pages, dated March 14:

“First, I want to begin by saying unequivocally, I take complete responsibility for my actions….
…know my actions sit within a larger history and context and I don’t think I can write a statement on this topic without acknowledging the tremendous pain, hurt and grief in our Yoga community, our society and culture as a whole.”

Unfortunately, it sounds all too familiar: married man can’t take no for an answer.

Been there. More than once.

You be the judge.

This time Richard Miller

Are we still surprised/shocked/angered that this shit still happens? Once again a well known male yoga teacher has been accused of sexual harassment. Below is iRest’s explanation about the incident and the NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement):

Richard Miller and iRest Institute have recently been the subject of allegations of sexual harassment and then oppression by the use of a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). We know that our community is concerned to hear this and we wish to address these allegations with the utmost care, respect, sensitivity, and transparency.

With trauma-sensitivity as a foundation of our mission and the iRest teachings, we recognize that secrecy creates a significant barrier to safety and healing and transparency is paramount. We equally wish to respect the privacy of those directly involved.In an effort to begin a new pathway for resolution, we reached out to the individual making the allegations and heard their request for the details and facts of the allegations to be excluded from any official iRest Institute statement. While it is not our intention to withhold information from the iRest community, we feel it is crucial to the process of restoration and healing to respect this request, and agree to provide only the degree of detail that maintains this respect.

While employed at iRest Institute in 2012, the individual now stating these allegations brought forward a complaint about Richard Miller. The employee has requested we not detail the incident.

The harassment complaint was investigated, found to be valid, and advanced to a process of independent mediation agreed upon by both Richard and the employee. Both parties came to a resolution that would allow them to work together again. At that point, a memorandum of understanding summarizing the events to date, and setting out appropriate workplace engagement in order to guide future interactions between the two was signed by both parties.

Six months later, the former employee expressed their desire to terminate their employment, and as part of a departure package, an NDA was signed.

In 2020, the former employee reached out to the Institute questioning the legality of the NDA previously signed. The Institute sought out legal advice and the NDA was found to remain a valid contract under California law. The Institute also took the issue to its independent Ethics Committee for review and the Committee determined that the validity of an existing NDA was a legal issue and out of the scope of the Ethics Committee but recommended the Institute review its process of employees signing NDAs when departing the organization. The former employee was notified of both the legal opinion and the Ethics Committee’s decision by the Institute’s lawyer via email.

We recognize that we are being called forth to engage in further acknowledgment and healing.We hope to continue to re-establish communication with the individual voicing these allegations in a way that offers a renewed pathway for listening and understanding and facilitates healing and resolution. The understanding and handling of matters like this has – and will continue to – evolve. We now know victims should not be silenced. We also know we can do better. We will continue to think deeply about any additional steps that need to be taken in our organization as we move forward. We also wish to remain open and offer a safe space for healing for our entire community. Questions can be sent to the Institute and we will do our best to respond, as appropriate.

What makes me go hmmmmm…is, “We now know victims should not be silenced.” That is iRest’s contention? NOW know? But not in 2012? 2012 wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things.

The problem here is the NDA which is what we called a CYA (Cover Your Ass) document when I worked for lawyers. The only difference is that someone promises not to talk about something. Where is the transparency? Obviously iRest did not trust the person not to talk or else why ask for an NDA? An NDA is to protect the accused, not the accuser. Think Trump and Weinstein.

This is probably not a popular opinion but I am not surprised or angered or even disappointed about Miller’s actions. How much have we seen over the 20+ years in the Modern Yoga World with Amrit Desai, Kausthub Desikachar, John Friend, Mark Whitwell, and others? Call me a cynical old broad.

Should we hold teachers who teach about trauma and PTSD to a higher standard than a 200 or 500 hour teacher? In my opinion, of course, but even Bessel van der Kolk was fired from the The Trauma Center due to allegations that he created a hostile work environment and bullying yet his books are still used for teaching about trauma. People have the attention spans of flies. Move along, nothing to see here.

People still study with Kausthub, Whitwell, and Bikram (albeit outside the US since he fled.) I’m not defending any of them. I believe in calling out bad behavior. I wrote extensively about Kausthub in 2012. But nowadays? I think this will blow over quickly.

Richard Miller was co-founder of the International Association of Yoga Therapists. I don’t know him and don’t know how he teaches or his style. But can we stop putting teachers up on pedestals in 2021?

Richard Miller spoke at SYTAR in 2019 (the annual symposium of yoga therapists) and obviously was still in a position of authority and power 7 years after admitting to sexual misconduct. He continues to be a public figure for iRest and yoga therapy. By using the NDA iRest clearly wanted to protect their brand and made the choice to keep the allegations and the NDA hidden until now. In a word — YUCK. How about UNETHICAL?

The employee was forced into silence with an NDA. iRest and/or Richard chose to cover their asses. iRest is a 501(c)(3) “educational non-profit dedicated to helping people resolve their suffering and experience deep healing and peace.” Ironic.

The thing is, someone knew. Someone always knows and chooses to keep quiet. People knew about John Friend. People knew about Kausthub Desikachar. Mark Whitwell’s penchant for much younger women was an open secret. And it seemed everyone knew about Bikram. There is always a wink wink. I worked for lawyers for 20 years thru the 1980s and 1990s LONG before a #metoo movement. I have stories. People ALWAYS know.

When I posted about this on my Facebook page a long time teacher said, “I thought Richard Miller was one of the teachers of integrity.” There is STILL a culture of silence and gaslighting.

It is always interesting (or maybe not) that there is rarely any response from male yoga teachers about another male yoga teacher’s abuses. Whitwell commented on Kausthub’s transgressions but then he was accused of doing the same. Where are the male teachers openly supporting women, asking for a public apology from the accused or making a strong public statement about the accusations? Are the well known male teachers just another boys’ club? Maybe I’ve missed them but I think they are few and far between. Or maybe they are too concerned about a supposed “cancel culture.” One lone male teacher in the yoga therapists’ group on Facebook said Miller’s actions were a “wrongdoing.” A woman corrected him and said, no, it was “abuse.” Words matter.

As I wrote about Kausthub, “Karma bites us all in the ass in one way or another. The Universe pushes us towards things we are supposed to do and things we are not supposed to do. Sometimes we go against our better judgment and do questionable things anyway.”

“Love and light” are not going to make the questionable stuff go away. Why are we always asked to preserve their “legacy” or “hold space”? Anyone else damn tired?

teacher trainings: then and now

desikachar kripalu
L TO R: Leslie Kaminoff, Navtej Johar, Mirka Scalco Kraftsow, Gary Kraftsow, R. Sriram, Mark Whitwell, Richard Miller, Larry Payne  ©2018 Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education

I’ve returned from Kripalu from the Desikachar tribute weekend put together by Leslie Kaminoff and Lydia Mann that I wrote about here.  Leslie entitled it “Celebrating T.K.V. Desikachar: We Are the Lineage” and in the photo above are the presenters who took part.

There were three yoga sessions daily by each presenter, each one presenting an aspect of what they learned in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition.  Each night the presenters talked about how they came to the Krishnamarcharya Yoga tradition, what inspired them about it, and how they interacted with Desikachar.

Each one learned different things from Desikachar but the consistent thread was learning one-on-one with him and relationship.  Desikachar always taught that Yoga IS relationship.  Each of them went to India with different agendas, each one wanted to learn something different from the other so Desikachar taught to the individual according to their interests.

None of them went through a typical yoga teacher training with him as one does now, like a 200 or 500 hour training.  Listening to their stories it reminded me how differently they were taught then by Desikachar as opposed to now where people chase the pieces of paper that declares them a “yoga teacher.”

Does studying a mere 200 or 500 hours make you a yoga teacher?  In the 1970s and 1980s you would study with a teacher like Desikachar who would one day tell you “OK, now you’re ready, go out and bring what you learned into the world.”  Nowadays, who would be willing to study with a master teacher until they were told, in the master teacher’s opinion, that they were ready to teach?  What if that took two or three years instead of less than one year?  Be honest.

Each of the above presenters wanted to learn different things — Kraftsow was into religious studies while Kaminoff was not.  Johar went to Chennai to learn dance at the famous Kalakshetra dance school and met a man on a bus who said “you should go see my yoga teacher” and told him to go to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.  Kraftsow learned something that Payne did not learn that was different from Miller’s training and so it went with each one.  Same same but different as we say in India.

Which brings us back to yoga teacher trainings as they are currently taught and what makes a good teacher.

I’ve never studied with Rod Stryker but he said this:

“Above all else: never, never stop being a student; study with the best, most notably, those who truly embody what they teach. Only then can you become a teacher of distinction. Only when you grow to understand and feel a legitimate link to the vision of yoga as seen by the tradition of yoga, and relate to it as something that breathes with sublime life and wisdom––and has long before you took your first breath––will you truly thrive as student and only then can you become a great teacher.”

My first teacher training in 2002 was not even 200 hours and my teacher did not belong to Yoga Alliance, he grandfathered into it.  He also did not go through a typical teacher training.  He was living with his Indian guru who told him, “You’re ready, go to Chicago and teach,” so he came and opened one of the first yoga studios in Chicago, if not THE first one in 1984.

I went back in 2003 to do Suddha’s course again where he taught it a bit differently.  I ended up meeting Srivatsa Ramaswami shortly thereafter who introduced me to the Krishnamacharya tradition and the rest is history.  None of the intensives or private one-on-one classes I took at KYM from 2005-2015 were “teacher trainings.”  I do not have one piece of paper from KYM that says I am a “certified yoga teacher” in the lineage, yet I’ve been told that with all my trainings since 2002 I have a PhD in Yoga.  I once received an email from KYM referring to me as a “senior teacher” in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition.  Cough, cough.  Yeah, that and $3 will buy me a Starbucks.

So where are the students who want to study with a lineage holder in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition AKA me?  Crickets.

After teaching for 17 years I finally have a mentee whom I adore because she said she wanted to study with a teacher from a lineage.  Lineage was important to her.  She drives from Indianapolis (about 4 hours) once a month for a weekend and I teach in the old school way as Desikachar taught each of the presenters mentioned above:  she comes with what she wants to learn, asks questions, and I answer them.  Simple.

She leaves and then until we see each other again, she allows what I’ve taught to resonate with her.  She recently told me:

“I have been processing a lot about being a modern yoga teacher — what is authentic and truthful to the practice and what resonates as authentic and truthful to me (in my understanding of that truth)?
What I am finding is that the Krishnamacharya lineage, as I am learning through you, has strong resonance.  I am looking forward to continuing under your mentorship.  I am also rediscovering and reengaging my practice on a very basic level.  I’m getting to my mat and simply making shapes and witnessing my body respond. …
I am feeling more relaxed about my learning journey.  It’s a lifetime.  … I am letting what I learned settle and integrate.  There is no need to hurry the process.  I was seeking to obtain some definition of who I am/what I do.  It does not matter.  The label is the suffering and has often been my suffering.  I do not fit the mold.  It’s okay.  I am enough.”

Who wants some?