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?

thoughts from a yoga subversive on the latest yoga scandal

Ganesh, God of Wisdom, with Vishnu

By now many people know about the latest yoga scandal about Kausthub Desikachar, all the allegations about him regarding sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse.  I learned about it a week before it hit the yoga blogs, first from the search terms people used to find this blog:  “kausthub desikachar scandal”; “kausthub desikachar sex abuse”; “kausthub desikachar allegations”; “kausthub desikchar rape.”

What the frack!  Something huge is going on!  “Uh, oh,” I thought, “this is going to be bigger than John Friend.” Then I got a Facebook message from a teacher asking me, “have you heard….”  I put 2 and 2 together and then I was sent emails with attachments of the letters that have now been published in various yoga blogs.

As many of you know, I have studied yearly at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Manidram since 2005 and have written many times about my experiences there.  I was shocked (but not surprised) when this news came out.  I have no allegiance to Kausthub whatsoever, he was never my direct teacher.  He was my teacher once for a class on Chapters 3 and 4 of the Sutras during my second trip to KYM in 2006.

The allegations made me physically ill.

I will only say that I am privy to information that is not public and that I will not make public.  I will also say that I am appalled that the 2007 letter from a KYM teacher to Desikachar outlining the reasons for her resignation from KYM has been published in yoga blogs.  I don’t know if she knows her letter has been passed around in emails and published in blogs (I have written to her via Facebook as she was one of my teachers 2005-2006), but I am sure no one wants their private letters published without permission.  Maybe she does not mind that her private correspondence was published, but I have to ask the yoga bloggers who made it public: did you ask her permission? Two women yoga bloggers came forward to write about their own experiences with Kausthub but that was their own choice.

I believe KYM must be open and transparent about all of it.  What made me angrier than Kausthub’s actions was that they were ignored by those in charge, including his father.

Many people asked me whether I wanted to speak or write about what was happening.  People expected me to write about it because of how many times I have studied at KYM, but I decided not to because it was too soon and my feelings were too raw.  My plans to take a group to KYM for private classes have been in the works since March and I seriously reconsidered my group trip.

The first person I asked for advice was my teacher, Srivatsa Ramaswami, whom many of you know I have studied with since 2004.  I also study with Ganesh Mohan, whose father also studied with Krishnamacharya.  They are the two I know who are closest to the lineage — they gave me good advice that I will keep private because it is between teacher-student (as was Saraswati’s 2007 letter to Desikachar.)  Not keeping teacher-student confidences private is one thing that Kausthub is accused of.

After MUCH consideration and literally sleepless nights about this, I decided to continue with my group trip to KYM.  Why?  Because I received advice from J. Brown, whose essays and opinions on modern yoga I respect.  He is familiar with the lineage via Mark Whitwell.  He told me that he thinks the situation is different from Anusara because there is no “spiritual head” of the tradition and it is by Desikachar’s example that there is no brand name (KYM does not call the style “viniyoga” as Gary Kraftsow does.)   This means that no one person can lay claim to it and, therefore, no one person’s bad behavior can diminish the power of the teachings.  In his opinion, he thought that I should carry on as planned and “stay true to your practice and the experience you were hoping to provide the people joining you and it will be good enough. The experience of going to India and studying at the Mandiram is not contingent on one particular teacher.”

“Stay true to your practice.”  I will let that resonate for a while.

I also received advice from one of my favorite teachers at KYM who is still there and whom I have known since 2005.   She told me that it is always about the teachings and what we learn from it, that the essence is important and nothing else.

Finally, it was hearing the Vedic chant to Patanjali every morning in my training with Ganesh Mohan this past week that helped me decide.   The chant told me what it’s really all about.   The practice.

That, and the fact that the people who have signed up for my trip told me that the allegations against Kausthub did not make a difference to them — they want the teachings and they trusted my judgment and wisdom about the situation.  As soon as the news hit I sent an email to everyone who had signed up or who was thinking of signing up letting them know how conflicted I was about continuing with my plans.  I asked them to give me a week to make a decision.   One woman told me that she appreciated my honesty and it was because of my  open and honest writing in this blog that attracted her to my trip in the first place.  Only one woman cancelled her plans to go on this trip because of what happened and I respect her decision.  We all have to follow our own hearts and I am at peace with my decision to continue with the trip.

Krishnamacharya’s teachings belong to the yoga world, they do not belong to the institutions or any one person whether it is  Desikachar or his son.  While KHYF is the money-making part of KYM, the two have always been considered separate entities.   Although international students attend classes at KYM, it has more of an “Indian” emphasis and influence, with Indian teachers.  KHYF was always geared to bringing yoga therapy training to the West with Kausthub teaching and overseeing the Western teachers (KHYF did not exist when I first went to KYM.) I rarely saw Kausthub at KYM other than in 2006.

About 6 years ago I considered entering the yoga therapy program (their first training) but decided not because of Kausthub. I thought his responses to my questions were arrogant. He expected me to fly to where he was teaching in the United States for a personal interview even though I had just returned from my second trip to KYM that was within 6 months of the first.  Regarding acceptance into the training, he said a personal interview would take precedence over a telephone interview.  I told him to forget it, that if two trips to KYM within 6 months did not show my allegiance to his grandfather’s teachings I don’t know what would.

Don’t lay this all on KYM.  As I said all during the Anusara debacle, the teachers who knew about John Friend’s shenanigans and said nothing are equally culpable.  The KHYF yoga therapy training program has Western senior teachers who work closely with Kausthub.  If they or any other Western teacher had any inkling that something horrible was going on, they should have stepped forward, gone public, disassociated themselves.  We now know that these things have been going on since at least 2007.  

From all that I know about the situation thus far I think nothing short of an exorcism can help Kausthub.  He needs long-term, intensive help.  Every one of us has a shadow side with secrets and REAL YOGA is about pulling up those demons and dealing with our shadow selves. It hurts like a MFer and it ain’t pretty.

Sometimes we need a radical change and a brand new perspective and the Kausthub situation is giving KYM just that.  I know they have separated themselves from Kausthub.  In an email I received from the Director of Yoga Studies in response to my concerns about bringing my group, she said that KYM “strongly believes in the teachings of Shri Krishnamacharya and Shri Desikachar.” KYM appointed Dr. Latha Satish as the acting managing trustee in place of Kausthub and I know her as a wonderful teacher.

Any situation is never black or white and there are many levels to this, including cultural.   I am absolutely not making excuses for Kausthub’s actions, but one thing I have learned in my 6 trips to India is to not view things in India through a Western lens — and I know that is something very hard to understand if one has not been to India as many times as I have or if one does not live there.   It is something I have discussed privately with people (both Western and Indian) and it is also something I will not write about but one can begin to get some insight from the book Being Indian

All that being said, I am wise enough to not let Kausthab’s personal failings get in the way of my respect for the Krishnamacharya lineage.  What Kausthub did (and he denies nothing) is a disgrace — but he only disgraced himself and his family, not the tradition.  If anything, this should be another wake-up call to yoga practitioners about putting their teachers on pedestals. Funny how people are so quick to question everything in their lives but their own yoga practice and teachers.  I don’t want to hear anything about how a “guru” is a bad thing — click the link and read what Kausthub has to say about the teacher-student relationship (in retrospect, apparently speaking about himself.)

As I heard Kausthub himself say this year, “If the spiritual teachings are valid, yoga will sustain; if yoga is merely a fashion, it will not sustain. The teachings are much larger than any crisis modern yoga is currently experiencing.”

When he said that I thought he was referring to John Friend but I know now he was predicting his own future.