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Spiritual Abuse in Modern Yoga

We will cover things such as victim blaming, the use of spiritual language to silence, pre- and post- #metoo and what role academia has played.

– Amelia Wood


This PodCourse is the first in a series entitled Spiritual Abuse In Modern Yoga taught by Amelia Wood, PhD Candidate at SOAS University of London.

In this PodCourse Amelia will offer, and critique, definitions of “Spiritual Abuse”. There will be space to consider how such definitions relate, and are relevant, to the context of modern transnational yoga. The parameters of modern yoga will be defined and we will examine why it is important to understand instances and allegations of abuses of power in yoga communities as Spiritual Abuse – what does such a definition include and exclude?

We will critically examine the discourse(s) that frame instances of abuse to consider how perpetrators are protected whilst victims are silenced. We will do this by looking at the ways in which the media, academia and wider institutions have responded to allegations – what can Spiritual Abuse and feminist frameworks offer in light of such responses? We will examine how hermeneutic injustice and racist stereotypes have been replicated within the discourse and how we, as members of the wider yoga community, can resist such injustice and allow our increased understanding to prevent further harm.

Each topic will be supported with case studies as evidence to give students an idea of the wide spread and varied nature of abuse within yoga communities. Case studies will include the lawsuits brought against Bikram Choudhury and Bikram Yoga from 2013 onwards; testimonies from former members of the Satyananda Yoga Mangrove Mountain Ashram, recorded by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse from 2013-17; a 2016 lawsuit brought again Jivamukti Yoga and allegations beyond these named organisations.

Content warnings will be given when talking about specific case studies, when necessary.

This PodCourse focuses specifically on Spiritual Abuse in Modern Yoga and is divided into three modules:

  1. Definitions and Framings
  2. Discourse
  3. Resisting Injustice

Module 1: Definitions and Framings

In the first module, we will consider: what is Spiritual Abuse; why is it important to understand the definition of Spiritual Abuse in relation to yoga and how can we think about it, critically? We will consider a brief survey of the field and some key case studies in the 20th and 21st century.

Module 2: Discourse

In the second module, we will examine how instances and allegations of abuse have been received and talked about in the media, on social media, and within yoga communities. We will cover things such as victim blaming, the use of spiritual language to silence, pre- and post- #metoo, and what role academia has played. We will intersect spiritual abuse and race: how has the discourse around abuse cases reinforced or dismantled racist stereotypes?

Module 3: Resisting Injustice

As members of the yoga community, as yoga teachers, practitioners or academics, we will consider how we can we resist injustice in light of abuse revelations. What are organisations attempting to do? We will think about spiritual abuse on a structural and interpersonal level, using ideas such as hermeneutic and epistemic injustice and look at examples of those who have resisted injustice.

Learning Outcomes

After taking this course you will:

  • Have an understanding of what Spiritual Abuse is, as a concept;
  • Have an understanding of what modern transnational yoga is;
  • Understand the ways in which abuses have occurred within modern transnational yoga and how we can define this as Spiritual Abuse;
  • Understand how such abuse has been represented in the media and the impact of such representations;
  • Have an understanding of structural injustice and why language in reference to abuse matters.

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