With Bikram in the news again after losing a civil law suit awarding $7.4 million in damages for sexual harassment, the question in my mind is why he got away with so much for so long and why the yoga community tolerates such behavior from its leaders. Sadly, it no longer surprises me. Yoga loves it gurus and cebebri-yogis. Criticizing leaders' behavior is dismissed as 'negativity' and there is no profit in that.
One mechanism of groupthink at work here is normalizing deviance, where group members become accustomed to problems until they are treated as normal occurrences. This results in otherwise smart people doing stupid destructive things. This example is from a crash report from the NTSB.
In the Yoga world, teacher trainings are our rituals where senior teachers pass on to new teachers our community standards and values, ethics and worldview.
When the leaders behavior is harassing, bullying, exploitative - that sets a tone for community ethics. Newcomers can either leave or tolerate it. The more the leadership gets away with, the more it is considered normal and the more entitled they feel to continue.
My AcroYoga teacher training, AYTT8, was for me, more of a hazing experience than a training. What broke my heart was not the squalid conditions or the bullying that accompanied them - it was the reaction afterwards. When I described the bullying to senior teachers the responses ranged from:
- Silence or "Not my problem"
- Denial - "I never saw anything like that."
- Blame - "You just have to know how to stand up to her."
- Dismissal - "That's between you and them. Talk to them privately about it."
- Normalizing - "Every training has issues. You must 'pay your dues' to be a teacher."
- Ostracism - "If you don't like it you can leave."
If people in a position of power can treat people with contempt with impunity, all the talk of community, compassion, trust and communication is just so much empty hypocrisy. My unasked-for advice for everyone running trainings: When you fuck up, and you probably will at some point: Own it. Admit it. Apologize and make it right as soon as you can. If you are tempted to think "Let's pretend that never happened" - that just makes it worse.
To the community at large: tolerating shitty behavior is not 'paying your dues', it represents your real community values.
The AcroYoga Curmudgeon
Groupthink: the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in dysfunction. Group members try to minimize conflict by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.