Spiritual Mansplaining – Part 1

This post is not about hating men, but it is meant to make people uncomfortable.

 It needs to make you uncomfortable.

 We don’t seek change if we’re contented so you may begin to feel defensive.

 I would remind readers an emotional reaction is not proof of a personal attack.
How you behave in response to an emotion is a choice.

 I encourage you to dedicate some time reflecting on the entirety of what is being shared, not just one or two excerpts.

 Recoiling from problematic information about a long-held belief is counterintuitive to personal growth. 

 Is our aspiration comfort or illumination?



“By a girl, a woman, or an elderly woman, nothing must be done independently
even in her own house.”
~ The Laws of Manu or Manusmritti

Sipping a warm morning cuppa and yet another scathing news headline scrolls onto my screen – more allegations of sexual abuse within the yoga community, but this one about Sivananda made BBC headlines.  I shake my head, roll my eyes, and keep scrolling.  How many reports of abuse does this make now?

I worry we are acclimating to such news; that it is disappointing, but not nearly as surprising as we might profess.  With so many victims coming forward year after year from different schools of thought, how many hundreds – thousands even – knew what was happening the entire time, but chose to ignore it?  How often do we ourselves brush aside niggles of discomfort?

‘He’s such a nice guy and everyone respects him.
He couldn’t possibly have meant it that way.’

‘It’s a sacred text, I’m sure it has my best interests at heart.
I must not be wise enough to understand it yet.’

We’re confused by how such horrific events of abuse could possibly happen in our beloved institutions and yet it’s like building our home next to a fish market and then wondering where the odour is coming from.  It’s not a mystery.

Let’s stop ignoring the episodes of doubt we experience and gather them close for a moment –

  • Would looking at them as a whole begin to make them less inoffensive?
  • Would a pattern emerge?
  • What if there were warning signs in front of us every.. single.. day.. that helped make the big things, like institutionalised abuse, possible?
  • What if we were part of the problem?


“The mind of woman cannot be disciplined; she has very little intelligence.”
~ Rig Veda

Let’s begin with the bones of yoga – Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

These are three unrepentant patriarchal religions.  Their core values stipulate ultimately men are the final voice of authority, that women are weak, impure and must acquiesce to their inferior position, and they should never be autonomous.  There are a few token comments in texts to be nice to some women and there is a suggestion of enlightenment coming to all, but with the caveat that reincarnation would eventually lead one to being born a man (a.k.a. “pure”) in order to attain said transcendence.

To be fair, no organised religion is free from patriarchy.  All of them, no matter the creed, eventually assign the final mandate to a male, but our focus here is yoga which necessitates the limited scope.

When stanzas are discussed for their disturbing misogyny, often vehement followers will defend the chauvinism claiming we as a modern society are unable to fully grasp the teachings or misinterpret them.  They tout we should all learn to overlook our concerns, ignore our discomfort, and accept our ignorance.  These blinkered believers pour out a toxic brew of gendered muzzling which many are eager to imbibe as a show of well-intended solidarity.  If one fully comprehends sexism and patriarchy are deeply embedded throughout the spiritual teachings, why would one wilfully choose their own oppression?

  • We’re careful to condemn ‘white’ privilege when we encounter it, but are we as attentive about gender and caste privilege?

Brahmin is a caste.  Our projections of virtue upon them are our own, though we’re often unwittingly informed by biased texts and teachers.  When we do so, technically we are participating in casteism.  As Wandana Sonalkar points out, “Brahminism… was confined to a small elite.  Brahmins, by the first millennium CE, gained political authority and were granted land which made them major landowners, but they had to negotiate with local sects in order to maintain their authority…. by the end of the first millennium, Brahminism had established its dominance.”  What this implies is that the Brahmins were not the most spiritually enlightened as the teachings would have us believe.

You know, the doctrine by Brahmins, for Brahmins. 

They were just the most politically powerful so their influence on spiritual beliefs and social customs, nevermind the local economy – read access to social mobility, security, and recourse – cannot be overestimated.  How many times across history and cultures have we seen landownership (i.e. wealth) equate power, privilege, and influence?  Residing in such a position of affluent authority, annals and religious texts across the globe have been written in accordance with the elite’s preferred depictions of truth, justice, and piety.  Yes, even within yoga.

I am concerned by the liberty with which male despots are allowed to brazenly place themselves as leaders in the wellness community, and I’m disturbed by the women who defend them.

  • Is no one else tired of the men in yoga who presume it is their right to position themselves as the natural voices of wisdom and authority even when they’re a complete novice?
  • Does no one else notice the men who ask leading questions in group forums couched to appear innocent, but fundamentally intended to regulate the behaviour of others, particularly of women, through condescension and ‘correction’?
  • Who else notices when one opposes these self-appointed sages, said individuals are often then verbally attacked, silenced with shame or intimidation by the group, especially if it’s a woman?
  • Has it come to your attention when a woman posts a statement in a forum about her observations, she is more likely to be rebuked than if a man posts a statement about his observations? As though the group unconsciously assumes he must be correct while she must be mistaken.
  • Why are we comfortable supporting misogyny in yoga communities?



“I sometimes wonder if this male tendency to position oneself as a purveyor of solutions – as a saviour – isn’t in fact an attempt, however unconscious,
to get me to shut up.”
~ Pauline Harmange

One of the pivotal mistakes many of us in the wellness industry make is assuming that each of our peers and peddlers of wisdom are mentally and emotionally healthy. 

They’re not.

Not all whom we encounter in these communities are individuals we should befriend, follow, or trust.  We tell ourselves and each other not to be judgemental, but too often the results are us also discarding good judgement.

There are charismatic predators in our midst who will toss a metaphysical word salad or use distraction techniques to manipulate the unsuspecting – “there is no such thing as a teacher, only guides and seekers”.  Funny how these mere “guides” are happy to be venerated as spiritual authorities, chuffed to accumulate minions, and gleeful about taking money for their “guidance”.  Do let’s continue with the synonym circus since ‘guide’ is merely a different word for the same notion as teacher – usher, mentor, master, guru, pedagogue, pandit.  You get my point.  Don’t be fooled by flowery words.

Lulling targets into a false sense of intimacy and reassurance is how perpetrators operate.  I’m reminded of the aggressive mimicry found in Nature wherein predators take on an innocuous appearance to lure their prey closer, in this case for money, power, or sex.

  • Would you recognise a covert narcissist if they began with seemingly harmless questions, using mollifying language like synergistic energies, the collective consciousness, or opening to spiritual connections?
  • Would you recognise if you were being groomed?
  • Would you know when your codependency was triggered?
  • Would you ignore your intuitive red flags because of peer pressure?

So many of us do ignore our intuition which leaves one to wonder – how much of our practice is informed by codependent perfectionism?

If we’re going to do asanas, we strive to accomplish the most extreme poses.  If we’re going to follow the religious practices, we’re the most devout.  If we’re going to adhere to the stricter diets, we become militant, trumpeting that our culinary choices are the only moral ones.  If you think about it, the realms of yoga are ideal for the symbiotic relationship between patriarchal narcissists and permissive codependents.

Some self-ordained mentors will try to blame the hierarchical structures within yoga on colonialism, an often misused word these days, however, the informed will recognise this gaslighting technique since the ancient social system, known as the Varnas, was designed specifically to enforce status ranking.

Otherwise known as a hierarchy. 

Varna literally means ‘colour’ in Sanskrit, but can also be understood to mean “race, tribe, species, kind, sort, nature, character, quality, property”.  Did colonialists exploit the Varna system?  Absolutely, but they did not introduce social ranking to India.  If the child of a labourer could not become a priest because of their Varna heritage, that’s casteism.  If the child was a daughter, that’s sexism and casteism.  Don’t get lost in chicanery.  If someone fervently denies the Varna system was applied casteism, find out where and from whom they are gathering their input, which history books they’ve gleaned their information from.  Don’t be afraid to question them.

  • Does any of it have links to the Hindutva, the HSS or RSS, or BJP? If you don’t know who they are, keep reading.

For the sake of argument, even if we did accept the claim that hierarchies were established by colonialism (defined in my blog on cultural appropriation) there’s nothing to prevent institutions and teachers from ending its usage today.  No?  It’s not their fault, but it’s too late now so it looks like we’re stuck with it…

Did you catch the blame-shifting, victim-mentality there?  Is this a race to the bottom to see who is the most forlorn yet righteous sufferer (otherwise known as virtue-signalling), or are we truly interested in changing the world for the better?

  • Are we looking for excuses and distractions from our own casteist choices and behaviours?

All of this is further proof of why it’s important to read about the history of a belief system before deciding to follow it, and before hastily believing a person who claims to be adept regardless of who they are and what they look like.  Never doubt there are wolves in sheep’s clothing mingling amongst the healing communities, and while of course they aren’t all men, the vast majority are.

At the same time, we must be careful to avoid victim-blaming.  As allegations continue to emerge of rapacious leaders and their toadies, some are criticising the victims for following the offenders in the first place and yet these practices are built upon a pyramid of training.  The Hatha Yoga Pradipika stresses that a guru is required to practice the teachings correctly, and obediently at that.  In any craft, there are masters and there are apprentices making stratification a natural part of most healthy learning processes.  Problems arise when the structure is cultivated for exploitative purposes, especially when susceptible demographics are involved.

There are well-meaning souls interspersed amongst us who prefer to look on the sunny side of things and tell us to ‘follow the teachings, not the teacher’…

I wonder, do they adhere to ALL of the doctrine, including female oppression and inferiority?  If not, would it be safe to assume they follow specific teachings according to their own best judgement?  If so, then by that logic we cannot insist others follow the religious teachings as a way to define whether or not they are practising “real” yoga since they are also using their own best judgement.

While it may be one does not follow the archaic teachings which are deficient in egalitarianism, it is imperative to know there are countless others who do, and indeed use them to justify their pathologies, plenty of whom are influential within yoga communities across the globe.

Let’s take a closer look at them in Part II.