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Yoga Teacher FAIL…Is that Pattabhi Jois? [photo]

by YD on September 14, 2009

in Because It's...,Ethics,News

[Because It's Monday!] Yoga Teacher FAIL?

yoga-teacher-failYikes! Um…we’re kinda speechless about this one. A keen-eyed tipster tipped us off to this rather, uh, gripping snapshot from the ridiculously popular cheezburger failblog. And we’re fairly certain this is the late Pattabhi Jois, anyone confirm? Obviously we know (can assume?) nothing scandalous is going on here. Butt…*cringe*

Also, since it is Monday and all…if you haven’t had the pleasure, do yourself a favor and watch this ingenious mashup in response to Kanye West‘s naughtiness last night on the VMA’s. Sure he’s a jerk, but we almost have to thank him for inspiring this masterful rofl-inducing 13 seconds.

Kanye West Interrupts Obama’s Speech

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff September 14, 2009 at 8:12 pm



YogaforCynics September 14, 2009 at 8:19 pm

I’ve never been one to object to yoga teachers touching me in class…but that would very definitely be an exception…

Love the mash-up!


Bob Weisenberg September 14, 2009 at 9:43 pm

This is mild to what I’m reading in “Stripping the Gurus”, but it certainly fits right in.

Bob Weisenberg


Linda September 14, 2009 at 11:56 pm

that doesn’t look nice!


Bob Weisenberg September 15, 2009 at 12:24 am

This is so offensive it makes me wonder how we know it wasn’t done with photoshop. It would be terrible to be falsely accusing someone.

Bob W.


niceguyted September 15, 2009 at 12:25 am

Was that me? Was I the “keen-eyed tipster”? I know I saw this pic a little while ago, but I’d be impressed if I had the stones to pass it along to you, YD.


Colin Hall September 15, 2009 at 1:50 am

That absolutely is Pattabhi Jois. I belive the photo is taken from a video of a workshop he did in Hawaii. It is pretty bad – I don’t think even the most vehement advocate of Ashtanga Vinyasa could argue that this is just “incidental contact”.


David Potts September 15, 2009 at 3:09 am

How else do you check if a student is applying the root lock?
The bundas are a hard thing to teach.
Was Pattibhi Jois a gold watch wearing guru?


ebeans September 15, 2009 at 7:22 am

bandha check?


nancy (yoga_mydrishti) September 15, 2009 at 5:56 pm

holy annual exam batman! if i had a teacher check to see if i had my root lock engaged like that i’d be running for the door. Guru or not that’s a bit too close if you ask me. yeowsa


Sandra September 16, 2009 at 7:01 am

Yikes! Makes me rethink my ashtanga practice.


daydreamingmel September 16, 2009 at 9:51 am

We had a long conversation with my (authorised) Ashtanga teachers a few months ago in India after watching the film of Guruju in Hawaii which I think this may be a still from. There was a section of the film where Guruji spend a lot of time adjusting one lady in a way that could have looked quite sexual and we were all giggling about it. But in the discussion afterwards, my teachers said that that had been a long time ago, and after more exposure to the more litiginous North American culture Guruji had toned it down – but their comments were that he didn’t even see his students as bodies when he was adjusting them, he just saw energy. Now I’m not completely naive, and I know there is a lot of room for abuse when somebody is essentially given carte blanche to touch their students in a very close way, but personally I believe that we can attribute too many of our politically correct views to what is an ancient tradition.
That said, I’m not sure I’d be too keen to get this particular adjustment myself…. ;)


laluna September 16, 2009 at 1:09 pm

tradition, lawsuits, whatever…the whole thing is just a big ball of wrong, imo.


Bob Weisenberg September 16, 2009 at 2:04 pm

I’m with laluna.

daydreamingmel, I respect your point of view, but can’t really agree with you. You seem to be saying that he changed only in response to potential lawsuits. And, don’t you think that this behavior would be even more out of line in India? Look at how restricted even Bollywood films are.

Are you saying that he routinely runs his classes like this with Indian students? I would be very surprised if that’s the case. Perhaps someone with experience there could fill us in. For the tradition defense to be remotely true it would have to be shown that this has been acceptable custom for years in India. Even then, it could be argued that it’s always been an abuse of guru status there, too.

Thanks for offering this defense though. It certainly forces us all to think things through, and it takes some guts to try to rationalize this picture.

The only thing that makes me wonder is that this is so blatant that it’s hard to believe he could possibly be aware of what he was doing, unless he didn’t know it was being filmed.

Bob Weisenberg


sarawati September 17, 2009 at 2:27 am

Is there a contact to this website? I would like to change a comment.


daydreamingmel September 17, 2009 at 6:19 am

Hey Bob,
Last night I wrote a brilliantly argued counter-comment (IMHO ;) & then the computer crashed & lost it…fate, perhaps?! Anyway basically what I was saying was – I’m not even sure on my standpoint with this, but I wanted to put across another point of view. it’s hard to be completely objective on it though as I think of him as being like a really good friend’s late grandfather so I might have had a bit of a sense of humour failure when I saw this post that probably just made everyone else giggle.
So, lesson learnt & note to self, don’t wade into debate when you’re not even sure what your opinion really is, but some very interesting points raised….nice dialogue, dorks! :)


Bob Weisenberg September 17, 2009 at 10:48 am

No problem daydreamingmel. That’s what these blogs are for!

(This blog didn’t make me giggle because I happen to be reading a book about gurus abusing their status, both here and in India, and why their followers tolerate it.)



Linda September 17, 2009 at 6:10 pm

can we just say that yoga teachers shouldn’t touch the pelvic areas or butt cracks of students? why can’t we just say it’s wrong, end of story? forget the discussions about being too “politically correct” or it’s “ancient tradition” or whatever. jeeez.

I don’t care if it IS P. Jois, he’s got his fingers in or on the crotches of two women. HELLO!?! and for what? so they can go “deeper” into the pose? puh-leez! and I don’t know about Mysore, but I DO study in India at the Krishnamacharya (Jois’ guru) Yoga Mandiram and there’s no “adjustments” like that there, believe me.

“checking root lock”? give me a f’ing. break.


Yoga Spy September 17, 2009 at 6:17 pm

I cannot prove the identity of the man in the photo. But I wouldn’t be shocked if it is indeed Pattabhi Jois. Cases of teacher-student abuse/misuse is rampant. Students might not even acknowledge the inappropriate behavior because they are too much in awe. It is a classic example of the power imbalances in certain relationships, such as teacher-student, doctor-patient, therapist-patient.

The photo reminded me of this Lauren Cahn post on the risks of Jois’s Ashtanga training: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lauren-cahn/five-words-that-do-emnote_b_250065.html.

Scroll down to the first comment, in which Michaelle Edwards volunteers an anecdote about Jois touching her pelvic floor. I doubt that Edwards would lie, considering all the heat that Cahn took for her critical look at the Ashtanga system. (I found Cahn’s post to be well-reasoned, well-written, and universally applicable (to all asana teaching, not just Jois’s Ashtanga).)

Yoga Spy


Bob Weisenberg September 17, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Wow, Yoga Spy. That’s quite an article. I would be interested from hearing from Ashtanga devotees who would like to speak up for the system, even if not defending the photo that started this blog out.

Bob Weisenberg


Linda September 18, 2009 at 2:29 pm

“Students might not even acknowledge the inappropriate behavior because they are too much in awe. It is a classic example of the power imbalances in certain relationships, such as teacher-student, doctor-patient, therapist-patient.”

thank you! that imbalance occurs in all wisdom traditions, why should yoga be any different?

ask yourself — why would you let ANY teacher crank on your body in a way that your gut is telling you is wrong?

my teacher in his early days studied with Jois three times. he told us a story on how Jois cranked on a woman’s knee and POP!


Bob Weisenberg September 18, 2009 at 6:05 pm

I agree with you amber. Abuse is enabled by followers who consider the guru infallible and therefore allowed to do anything with impunity. Sadly, this is a relatively mild example of a much more serious problem.

Bob Weisenberg


(OvO) September 22, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Waaaaait a minute. This extremely inflammatory photo from 15 years ago is going all over the blogosphere, causing outrage, disillusionment, confusion, denunciation, and even internecine battling, because GURU JOHN FRIEND tweeted it? Say it isn’t so.

Oh crap. Here’s the new Guru’s tweet: “One asana adjustment to lose your Anusara yoga teacher status! http://bit.ly/12PQcD

Now, back to the last two items in the “Anusara Yoga code of ethics”

“When speaking publicly about other yoga teachers or yoga systems, always say only something positive. Never publicly degrade or demean other yoga teachers or yoga systems.”

“Avoid making direct comparisons between Anusara yoga and other systems. In this way we can cultivate harmony and unity in the community. This further honors the great art and tradition of yoga that we represent.”

In another context, I would be happy to speak about ashtanga’s problematic history, the many cultural contradictions, and the FASCINATING mutual learning process that took place when western women arrived on Mysore to study with this traditional Brahmin patriarch. But not in the tense, freaked-out atmosphere Mr. Friend has helped to foster by showing this admittedly brilliant, just-deceased teacher at his most confusing, offensive and difficult to understand.


Lauren Cahn September 24, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Fingers of teachers do not belong in crotches of students. There is NO context in which there can be ANY exception to this rule. A teacher is in a position of authority vis a vis a student, and some students are not capable of defending themselves before a teacher. A teacher is a fiduciary who can be trusted without question because many students are not capable of questioning a teacher. Thus, even the APPEARANCE of impropriety IS an impropriety in the teacher/student context. A student is INCAPABLE of consenting to this sort of touching for the same reason a minor is incapable of consenting to sex with a person of age.

I don’t give a RAT’s ASS who published this photo first, in what context it was published, and WHO is in the photo. If it were my own SON with his hand in the crotch of one of his yoga students, I would be appalled and would accept no excuses. There IS no excuse.

It doesn’t matter that the yoga teacher in the photo is dead, or that the photo was taken 15 years ago. It is WRONG WRONG WRONG.

The more I think on it, the wronger it gets. I only wish that I was this stern in my OWN writing on the topic on my own blog.


Bob Weisenberg September 24, 2009 at 1:22 pm

I agree with you, Lauren.



danny October 2, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Is that really Pattabhi Jois? I don’t think it looks like him except for the bald head.


Carina October 27, 2009 at 10:20 am

Yes, it’s him! While he was a yoga master, he was also notorious for giving these “mula bandha adjustments” to female students. My Ashtangi friends were smart enough to tell him beforehand not to go there.


Ryan August 28, 2010 at 8:34 pm

What a legend – long live the menage a trois.


Sarah October 3, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Do you think there was sexual intent from Pattabhi Jois? I do not think so. I think he did it to help his students. The adjustment works, its stimulates mula bandha directly like the heel does in Janu Sirsasana B . Mula bandha with breath is the ashtanga practice. If you really think Brahaman householder, and by all accounts sweet old man, had sexual, intent then that changes things. But there is nothing inherently wrong if this was done on a helpful basis, and the student wanted this help.

Are we not past the phase of thinking any touching of our pelvic floor is necessarily sexual? Are you kidding me?

A fiduciary relationship exists between the doctor and patient, but patients can consent to a pelvic exam.

If an adult ashtanga practioner believes stimulation of mula bandha is helpful, then they have every right in the world to get it, and he has every right in the world to give it. To go as far as Linda does by describing ashtanga students as incapable of exercising consent in this situation is going crazy far! It does not matter if you don’t believe mula bandha is worthwhile. Ashtangis as adults can exercise their own judgement and believe it is, and seek help from teachers in developing it it. I think my teacher gives this adjustment to some people , no big deal.

I have heard directly from a nearly 40 year practioner and world renowned teacher, and she is grateful that Guruji did this for her. She said there was never anything sexual about it. No different than a healthcare worker touching you for a very specific purpose or treatment you seek.

That 6o something year old accomplished teacher, woman, and mother, nor adult ashtanga practioners need radical paternal protection. You might think ashtanga yoga and this adjustment is bad but morality dicates that as adults ashtangis can exercise autonomy and believe in and practice all of it.


vichet January 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm

@Sarah: this old man did a good job, the two women is healed and he got sexual pleasure as compensation too :D


Kumbaya February 4, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Fingers in the soup….dirty old man.


Enunna February 1, 2012 at 3:26 am

This looks more like a win than a fail.


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