In Solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives,
We Call for the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States to Acknowledge and Make Reparations for Its Anti-Black Racism
*This Letter Has Received No Response from the Iyengar National Association of the United States.
June 11, 2020
To: Randy Just, Scott Hobbs, Nina Pileggi, Susan Bullington, Susan Goulet, Michelle Pontrelli, Stephen Weiss, Michele Galen, Paige Noon, David Carpenter, Denise Rowe, Holly Walck Kostura, Amita Bhagat, Jean Stawarz, Gwendolyn Derk, and the IYNAUS Board and Staff:
As members of the yoga and mindfulness communities, we write to you today to urge you to address the longstanding history of anti-Blackness and racism in the Iyengar Association of the United States of America and its regional chapters.
For more than a decade, concerned members of Iyengar National Association of the United States have communicated their serious concerns to you about the organization’s history of racist and oppressive practices. IYNAUS members have written articles for Yoga Samachar and the regional chapter newsletters. They have organized events and trainings, and created working papers on racial justice. In response, IYNAUS has ignored, demeaned, and silenced Black members and directly instructed them not to share their recommendations. Many of these racialized interactions have been documented in writing and witnessed by Board members and senior teachers who have chosen to remain silent. You have made a practice of not inviting Black members to participate at the planning or leadership level of IYNAUS, even as they represent the embodied intelligence that IYNAUS most needs. Additionally, the Iyengar teacher training manual features one recently added and derivative section drawn from common diversity templates.
IYNAUS's anti-Blackness and ongoing disavowal of its responsibility to address white privilege and to provide equitable instruction and support to all its students and teachers, regardless of race, ethnicity, or background, has been itself a repeatedly reaffirmed and re-enacted choice.
Only when an institution can honestly and transparently reflect on its historical and current lack of inclusivity do insight and change become possible. Collectively, we ask IYNAUS to:
Hire an external auditor with situated and embodied knowledge of anti-Blackness and its traumatic effects to examine IYNAUS and all its chapters with respect to its record of implicit and explicit racism and its failure to set and attain meaningful inclusivity and equity goals
Release audit results with complete transparency to its members and make the results publicly accessible on your website. Information should include but not be limited to:
How many IYNAUS Board Members and Committee Members are Black, and what percentage of the total does this constitute?
How many identify as non-Black POC (and percentage)?
How many are white (and percentage)?
How many senior teachers of the Iyengar method in the United States are Black? How many are non-Black POC? How many are white?
How many IYNAUS members are Black, and what percentage of the total does this constitute?
What are the motives and benefits for IYNAUS’s near-exclusive whiteness?
How many times have Black or non-Black People of Color raised, in voice or in writing, the issue of IYNAUS’s lack of inclusivity and equity and how have you responded to their concerns?
What experiences of racism, marginalization, and exclusion do Black and non-Black People of Color report about their engagements with Iyengar yoga in the USA?
We call for the resignation of all members of the IYNAUS leadership, including at the level of the regional chapters, who have made inflammatory or racist responses to Black teachers laboring on committees for free and endeavoring to express directly their concerns about systemic racism within the structure of IYNAUS. We also call for the resignation of IYNAUS leadership who have avoided direct action to correct the organization’s history of racial injustice, and who have not sought to minimize the harm they have caused.
We call for you to lay out a plan to abolish the IYNAUS leadership, certification, and “grooming” structures that reinforce anti-Blackness and racism in IYNAUS.
We ask that you examine and openly acknowledge the specific ways that IYNAUS, its teaching practices, and studio culture exacerbate the racial trauma that Black and non-Black People of Color experience.
We ask that you begin the process of restorative justice and reparative action. Restorative justice includes a plan for how IYNAUS and its chapters will redress the harm it has caused, and devote significant resources to prevent the racial traumatization of Black and POC students and teachers in the future. Restorative justice requires immediate structural changes that show your commitment to racial justice in measurable ways that Black and non-Black People of Color and their communities can tangibly feel.
This would include but not be limited to the following:
Detailed apology to Black and non-Black People of Color communities that IYNAUS has harmed, excluded, dismissed, exploited for free labor, and demeaned explicitly and implicitly.
Written acknowledgment (permanently installed on the IYNAUS and chapter websites) of the history of yoga and cultural appropriation in the West
Written acknowledgment (permanently installed on the IYNAUS and chapter websites) indicating IYNAUS’s commitment to ongoing anti-racism work
Carry out a full review of how Iyengar yoga’s teaching methods and materials, fee structures, and “grooming” culture promote white privilege, anti-Black racism, and the traumatization and exclusion of Black and non-Black People of Color.
Commit to seeking and contracting ongoing social justice supervision from Black and non-Black People of Color
Amend the standards for certification and teacher training to include anti-racism work
Commit to an ongoing and non-ending process of repair that includes the following actions:
Establish an Inclusion and Equity Officer position as part of the national board, to be filled by a member from the BIPOC community, with a proven track record of social justice, and with power to audit the organization and implement structural change
Make ongoing monthly donations in perpetuity to organizations that combat anti-Blackness and racism (such as the BLM movement) and that support the well-being of Black communities
Invest a portion of monthly income from dues to support Black-owned businesses
Give scholarships to students from BIPOC communities
Create a mentoring network for students from BIPOC communities that is paid and resourced by IYNAUS
Open regular feedback forums in which IYNAUS can be held accountable for making concrete progress in racial justice and restorative justice
Establish a Grievance Committee with an outside overseer
We believe that this is an opportunity for rapprochement between IYNAUS, its chapters, its membership, its students, and the world at large. Moreover, we know that without the work of truth and redress there can be no reconciliation. We remain hopeful that at this time in history, IYNAUS will honor its moral, ethical, and practical obligations.
We request your timely response outlining the actions IYNAUS pledges to undertake.
Kris Manjapra, Ph.D., CIYT
Bo Forbes, Psy.D., E-RYT500, YACEP, Boston, MA.
Zeenat Potia, M.A., mindfulness teacher, Cambridge Insight Meditation Center
Zabie Yamasaki, M.Ed., RYT, Founder, Transcending Sexual Trauma Through Yoga
Annie Hoffman, CIYT, IYANE Committee Member
Nicole Quibodeaux, E-RYT500, Orange County
Jess Z Hicks, E-RYT200, M.Ed., Boston
Niyati Shah, E-RYT500, Washington, D.C.
Taylor White Moffitt
Christie Roe, E-RYT500, New York City
Charlotte Sahyoun, RYT500, Wellesley, MA.
Anuradha Bhagwati, RYT500, MPP, author and activist
Stephanie Leger, E-RYT, Orange County, CA
Kristen Fabiszewski, RYT, Torrance, CA
Kathryn Boland, MA, CYT-500, R-DMT
Cora Geroux, E-RYT500, YACEP, Sydney, Australia
Giusep Michelle Vitale, M.S., RYT-200, Providence, Rhode Island
Sandra Nicht, M.S. Yoga Therapy, C-IAYT, AYT-NAMA, E-RYT500, Baltimore, Maryland
Jacoby Ballard, RYT500, YACEP, Salt Lake City
Katherine Hartsell, PTA, Boston, MA
Mariah-Muriel Dee Appleton
Jill Edwards Minye
Leslie Ellis, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, YACEP, Bend, Oregon
Matthew Remski, RYT-500, YACEP, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Melissa Alexis, MFA, CYT, Boston, MA.
Elizabeth Gallo, E-RYT, YACEP, MFA, Evanston, IL.
Jamie Hanson, E-RYT500, YACEP, San Clemente, CA
Carolyn Little, M.A., E-RYT500, Boston, MA.
Julia Ruth Dillon, RYT5, Westfield, NJ
Marena Jones, RYT, Maine, U.S.
Stephanie Rogers, RYT, RPE, RCST
Ann Tapsell West
Winter Skyberg, RYT200, Newberg, Oregon
Kasey Stewart, RYT200, CYT500, Portland, OR
Ashly Fox, B.S., CADC-1A, RYT500, YTRx, San Clemente, CA
Cynthia Buenzli Gertz, Amery, WI.
Liv Gold, PT, DPT, RYT200, Boston, MA.
Sandy Kalik, E-RYT500, Boston, MA.
Liz Eisman, LMT, E-RYT200, Portland, Oregon
Vittoria Frua, RYT, Milan, Italy
Christine Wushke, C-IAYT, RYT, RYS500, YACEP< Okotoks, Canada
Claire Kelley, M.A., MPH, E-RYT500, Tucson, AZ
Trina Altman, E-RYT500, YACEP, Los Angeles, CA.
Chris Clancy, E-RYT500, Vancouver, Canada
Maria Luisa Basualdo
K. Moo King-Curtis
Patricia K. Holder
Elisa La Strega
Roberta McCarty DellAnno
Yasmin Lambat, Somatic Educator and Yoga Therapist
Anna Kelchlin, CIYT
Anne O'Connor, CIYT, Williamstown, MA