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“Calling In” the Ashtanga Community

Photo by Andrea Killam

“Calling in” is a term coined by Ngoc Loan Tran, a Viet/mixed race disabled queer writer who champions for justice in oppressed communities. “Calling in” is holding members of the community responsible for their actions, not as an act of punishment, but as an act of accountability.

“I start ‘call in’ conversations by identifying the behavior and defining why I am choosing to engage with them. I prioritize my values and invite them to think about theirs and where we share them. And then we talk about it. We talk about it together, like people who genuinely care about each other. We offer patience and compassion to each other and also keep it real, ending the conversation when we need to and know that it wasn’t a loss to give it a try.

Because when I see problematic behavior from someone who is connected to me, who is committed to some of the things I am, I want to believe that it’s possible for us to move through and beyond whatever mistake was committed.”  Ngoc Loan Tran.

Two days ago Sharath Jois, the grandson of Pattabhi Jois, apologized on Instagram for his grandfather sexually assaulting students. He admitted to being aware of it. The sexual assault was not a rumor. It was not a misunderstanding. It was a fact.

Many people accepted this apology and lauded Sharath for his “courage” to speak up. Many chose to ignore the few sentences where he pointed a finger at senior teachers in the Ashtanga community for not speaking up when they saw the assault. For others, this apology was not acceptable. Not only because he threw the blame on other teachers, but because he didn’t really address the effect his silence had on the community. He also didn’t speak on how he planned to make it right.

This should be the beginning of our “calling in” process for our community. If you still practice Ashtanga, it is because you love it. You feel it in your bones and you have witnessed the power of the practice in your life. It has transformed and changed you. For many of you, it saved you. Let us acknowledge our connective love of the practice while also acknowledging the flaws of our community.

Let’s “call in” our brothers and sisters who comfortably stay quiet while others suffer the effects of privilege, ableism, power hoarding, paternalism, and sexual assault. Ask your teachers and fellow practitioners out to coffee and have these uncomfortable conversations. Come up with actionable objectives that change the narrative and hold them accountable for them.

If they won’t’ speak with you, continue to tell your story and invite them to join the conversation.

Call yourself in. Look at all the ways you contribute to the oppression of your fellow yogis by your actions and hold yourself accountable to change.

Stop enabling your brothers and sisters. Practice tough love. Withdraw your support and clearly state why you have down so.

“Calling in” is not the same as tearing down the Ashtanga Community. It is the act of starting conversations from a place of love, not only for yourself but for those who are suffering. You may be enjoying the effects of your privilege. Perhaps you have the money to go to Mysore, Pattabhi Jois never touched you or you live in an extremely able body. Do not let your comfortable position scare you into silence. Take up the cloak of Ahimsa/non harming and speak for those who are not in as fortunate a position as you.

If we act now, we can build an Ashtanga legacy that lives on for generations. We can be an example of how a community comes together and changes from within. Burying hurt and pain will only bury this tradition.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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