PRISM:critical thinking and community health in yoga
a special weekend with matthew remski
PRISM:critical thinking and community health in yoga
a special weekend with matthew remski
***Required Reading for the weekend can be found here:
Yoga practice is only as therapeutic and transformative as the communities that hold it are ethical, healthy, and resilient. Sadly, too many yoga communities have failed to deliver, while nevertheless portraying the experience of yoga in wholly positive terms.
Yoga practices and communities are prismatic: they throw off a full spectrum of light and dark colours. In this unique training module, we’ll play close attention to that range of experiences — from transformative to traumatic — as reported by people from many yoga communities. The intention is to encourage a practice of acknowledging and healing trauma patterns in the culture, so that communities can expand their safety and inclusivity.
The discernment aspect of the module will use historical data to explore the interpersonal and structural aspects of harm and institutional betrayal in yoga communities over the past fifty years. We’ll look at how sexual abuse has been enabled by learning environments of toxic masculinity, somatic dominance and spiritual mystification, and supported and hidden by cultic dynamics. Then, trainees will be provided with inquiry exercises and a clear, actionable set of best practices to inform their community engagement and formation moving forward.
Central to these is the PRISM method, a practice to Pause, Research, Investigate, Show, and Model community health. Trainees will come away from this module with a clear and positive vision of how to preserve and nurture what they truly value about yoga as they share it with others.
This module draws on the five years of research and interviews that began with the WAWADIA? project, and are culminating with the publication of Practice and All is Coming: Abuse, Cultic Dynamics, and Healing in Yoga and Beyond. It is 30 hours (50/50 in person/online) and provides CEUs through Yoga Alliance. It can fulfill requirements in ethics/history/philosophy in YA 200 or 500-hour RYT programs.
The in-person portion is 15 hours long, ideally scheduled into 5 3-hour discussion-based classes. It will encourage practices of reflective listening and conscious relationship. These sessions can fit into a 20-hour weekend training schedule with 5 additional hours of practice or discussion time facilitated by the host. The supported online component follows the in-person weekend, consisting of 50 personal inquiry questions to be completed in a time frame set by the director. The online platform will show completions.
Friday 6/28, 6:00-9:00pm Discussion #1: PAUSE
Pause to reflect on the idea that each yoga method and community carries both value, but also, potentially, a history of abuse. These can be disentangled.
When moving deeper into yoga practice, a pause can be really helpful. On a personal level, it can prepare us for the road to maturity that follows the yoga honeymoon. As a trainee heading into professional work, it can also illuminate the space between yoga marketing and yoga reality, and help clarify what we value and how we want to offer it.
In discussion #1, we’ll compare and contrast our experiences of yoga “conversion” or “epiphany” to explore the diversity of needs with which we approach practice. We’ll look at how these transformative moments can turn lives around, but also lock us into expectations about what yoga practice and community are. These expectations are often echo-chambered by yoga marketing, in-group language, and the performative aspects of practice — all forces which can make it harder for practitioners to speak out when things go wrong.
We’ll also look at the broader political landscape that has engendered the global yoga boom. Neoliberalism sets us up to pursue, value, and commodify private triumphs and transcendence. The modern yoga teacher can feel trapped in a precariat economy that favours unending and unrealistic positivity. If we pause and step back from this, we can see that marketing casts a shadow.
Saturday Morning 6/29 9:00am-12:00pm, Discussion #2: RESEARCH
Research the literature on the method to find and understand that history. It can educate everyone towards doing less harm.
What lies beneath the surface of yoga marketing? This morning’s discussion will survey the abuse histories of many mainstream yoga methods, outlining patterns both shared with the overall culture and unique to the yoga industry itself.
Abuse and institutional betray in yoga communities is not somehow separable from the toxic masculinity, charismatic narcissism, and rape culture mechanisms visible in all sectors. The yoga world can both compound and cover over these dynamics through corrupt spiritual justifications.
Key to any research process is the skill of listening. We’ll look at barriers to victims reporting and community members holding space. We’ll examine the feeling that the victim’s story is “contagious”: that if we let it in, it will make us ill with our own recognition. Taking the stories of several of Jois’s victims as case studies, we’ll explore the specific difficulties they encountered in being heard. This exploration will be aided by research into how high-demand groups or cults attempt to control information thought, and emotion.
On an embodied level, the experiences of victims of yoga community abuse can be richly understood through an examination of the disorganized attachment patterns that can develop within high-demand settings. We’ll use the breakthrough work of Alexandra Stein to look closely at this key phenomenon: how students can get caught up in a cycle of running towards the very person who harms them, in an anxious search for love.
Saturday Afternoon 6/29 2:00-5:00pm, Discussion #3: INVESTIGATE
Investigate whether the harm has been acknowledged and addressed. If it has been silenced, it can also be given a voice.
Abuse histories are covered over by specific and predictable tools of silencing and control. This afternoon we’ll continue our exploration of the cult literature that helps make abuse in yoga communities comprehensible, and addressable.
We’ll begin with a survey of standard models for group control, including BITE (Hassan) and MIND (Mann). We’ll look at the concepts like “self-sealing”, “bounded reality” (Lalich), and “loaded language” (Lifton) that make it difficult for victims to speak out, and group members to assess the health of their communities. Common to these models and concepts is the notion that deception, whether intended or not, is the root cause of community dysfunction.
Investigating the health and transparency of one’s community is as difficult as investigating one’s own internal tensions. Outside resources really helpful. Sometimes those outside resources come from those who have left the community. We’ll look at what’s involved in researching voices that have been marginalized.
Sunday Morning 6/30 9:00am-12:00pm, Discussion #4: SHOW
Show how you will embody the virtues and not bypass the wounds of the community. There is no bypass to healing.
The two Sunday discussions complete the in-person portion of the training by introducing active tools for self-inquiry and structural change. Personal tools come first, because we can’t expect the will towards structural change to come from nowhere. For ourselves and others, we have to show our work.
This morning we’ll introduce 8 tools for developing discernment and resilience:
1. Assessing Situational Vulnerability
2. Feeling and Understanding Transference and Idealization
3. Feeling and Understanding Disorganized Attachment Sensations
4. Assessing the Value and Effects of Trance States
5. Listening for Loaded Language
6. Assessing the Honesty and Transparency of the Group or its Leader
7. Rejecting the “Bad Apple” Argument: Thinking Structurally Instead of Individually
8. Rejecting I’ve-Got-Mine-ism
Sunday Afternoon 6/30 2:00-5:00pm, Discussion #5: MODEL
Model transparent power sharing and engaged ethics for future practitioners. Cycles of abuse, silence, and neglect can be stopped
In addition to personal awareness-building tools, healthy communities need structural support. In this concluding discussion, we’ll explore collective tools to help foster accountability. We’ll look at possible institutional and regulatory measures, and discuss what an actionable scope of practice and code of conduct would look like in the yoga world. The final hour will be left open for wrap-up questions and comments.
We'll be offering a two tiered payment structure, one partial scholarship, and one full scholarship*
Option 1: $250
Option 2: $300
Partial Scholarship: $150
Full Scholarship: $0
*To apply for the Partial and/or Full Scholarship please email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive your application. Please note that preference will be given to POC and folx experiencing economic adversity.