Abuse in Yoga and Beyond: Cultural Logics and Pathways for the Future

woman holding her hands against her chest with the prayer beads



  • In recent years, abuse scandals have shaken the yoga world once again, overturning previously held conceptions of yoga gurus, their teachings, and the individuals and organizations that have enabled their abuse. Most importantly, these abuse scenarios – whether they have involved sexual assault, cruelty, financial exploitation, etc. – have left individuals and communities disoriented, deeply traumatized, and desperately searching for answers.

    More broadly conceived, “abuse” extends beyond individual yoga communities and is often performed through unacknowledged race, gender, and class privilege. Unbeknownst to those who produce it, neoliberal yoga discourse reinforces these forms of privilege and in doing so inhibits the much-needed structural change that might make the world a more equitable place for women, minorities, and those at the margins of middle- and upper-class society. Finally, beyond the human world, countless yoga practitioners participate in oft-overlooked patterns of consumption that involve the abuse of both animals and the environment.

    In light of these issues and recent events, this online conference hosted by Graduate Yoga Studies at Loyola Marymount University brings together leading scholars whose work directly addresses the histories and logics of these forms of abuse in both contemporary yoga as well as other religious, spiritual, and athletic communities. We include voices from other traditions that have and continue to struggle with their own abuse crises according to their own internal logics in order to help the public understand the intricacies and distinctions of particular abuse dynamics and how they might also overlap with yoga abuse dynamics.

    Ultimately, this conference is held in the spirit of helping the public understand how abuse has occurred within particular traditions as well as in contemporary yoga more broadly. In doing so, it aspires to empower individuals to identify perpetrator tactics and common abuse rhetoric, as well as to expand our definition of abuse to include how we may ourselves be unwittingly implicated in or perhaps even enabling various systems of abuse in both human and non-human worlds.

    There is no cost to attend this international conference, as it is being offered as a service to yoga communities and beyond on behalf of Loyola Marymount University Graduate Yoga Studies. However, the Zoom webinar has limited space, so be sure to reserve your spot now by following the registration link on this page. For those who are unable to register once the Zoom registrations run out, this event will also be live streamed on YouTube and recorded for future viewing.

    Questions about the conference? Please contact Christopher Patrick Miller, Bhagwan Mallinath Assistant Professor of Jainism and Yoga Studies, Loyola Marymount University.

  • Saturday, June 13
    9 a.m - 5:30 p.m.
    Zoom Webinar

    9:00 a.m. | Welcome and Keynote

    Introduction to Conference: Christopher Miller, Loyola Marymount University (5 min)

    Keynote: Andrea Jain, Indiana University "Self Love Club: Yoga, Abuse, and Neoliberal Feminism" (45 min)

    The ascent of the global yoga industry is no doubt in part about some women’s pursuit of empowerment; yet it is also a site of rampant sexual violence. In this talk, Andrea Jain analyzes the following aspects of the industry in order to complicate our understanding of its relationship to sexual violence: a pervasive neoliberal logic whereby control over one’s body is valued, but is defined as an individual achievement; policing of deviant bodies or bodies that resist the wellness ideal; and capitalist strategies of commodification that contain dissent against neoliberal individualism.

    Q&A (10 min)

    10:00 a.m. | Abuse in Modern Yoga

    Amanda Lucia, University of California-Riverside "Manufacturing Consent: Persuasion, Coercion, and Conformity in Guru-Disciple Relationships" (20 min)

    This talk considers social structures and power dynamics generated in the hierarchical teacher-student dynamics between guru and disciple. Not all yogic teacher-student relationships follow the traditional South Asian guru-disciple model, but they are often generated from within that symbolic context. Further, in a subculture ruled by social influencers, celebrity yoga teachers accrue outstanding social capital (power), which generates similar forms of deference, submission, and attempted mimesis among their students.

    Matthew Remski, yoga teacher, author, and researcher "From Somatic Dominance to Cultic Dynamics in Modern Yoga" (20 min)

    Somatic dominance is an under-researched feature of the Mysore Asana Revival and other movements in modern yoga evangelism. More than confounding the principles of non-violence, it can groom global practitioners into cognitive dissonance and compliance patterns, making them vulnerable to more organized forms of control, up to and including the cultic. Somatic dominance is a primal, nonverbal deception that frames control as care. This same deception is perfected by the abusive charismatic leader and their enablers, and in the worst cases obscures the lines between lineage and intergenerational abuse, between devotion and trauma bonding.

    Philip Deslippe, University of California-Santa Barbara "Bob Roberts Singh Khalsa: Understanding Abuse within the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization of Yogi Bhajan Through Money Laundering" (20 min)

    While mentioned in affidavits, newspaper articles, and online forums for decades, only in recent months with the publication of the memoir Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage, has the scope and nature of abuse and fraud perpetrated by Yogi Bhajan (1929-2004) and his Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) been brought to light to large numbers of its current and former members. This presentation will attempt to answer a series of simple, yet difficult questions—What was 3HO? How did abuse within the organization go on for so long? How can the disparate experience of current and former members of the organization be understood and reconciled? —through the model of money laundering and the history of fraud and illegal activities within 3HO.

    Q&A (20 min)

    11:30 a.m. | Break 

    12:00 p.m. | Abuse in Buddhism

    Amy Langenberg, Eckerd College (20 min)
    Ann Gleig, University of Central Florida (20 min)
    "From Sudinna to the Sangha Sutra: Classical and Contemporary Buddhist Responses to Sexual Misconduct"

    Since the 1980s, American Buddhist convert communities have been the site of reoccurring cases of sexual abuse and misconduct. This two-part presentation will first canvas what the classical or so-called "canonical" tradition has to offer in terms of ethical concepts, institutional structures, and sexual cultures to Buddhist communities wishing to respond to situations of abuse. Next, it will reflect on how some contemporary practitioners have actually responded, in particular identifying "generative responses" that combine Buddhist and non-Buddhist frameworks to generate new forms of Buddhist thought, community, and practice.

    Q&A (20 min)

    1:00 p.m. | Break

    1:20 p.m. | Abuse in Other Traditions

    Michael Horan, Loyola Marymount University "Clericalism as a Cultural Pattern: Aiding and Abetting Abuse" (20 min)

    Clericalism, like racism or sexism, festers within cultures and inside individual imaginations. Clericalism is both imagined and practiced, subtly or overtly, based on social location in the Catholic church’s cultural system developed a millennium ago. Just as sexism or racism privileges some over others, clericalism privileges ordained men, some of whom acknowledge their privilege, and some of whom do not. Just as racism and sexism become internalized, some lay Catholics think and behave as if lies about our moral and spiritual inferiority were true.

    Layla Karst, Loyola Marymount University "Broken Bodies and Broken Symbols: Liturgy and Clerical Abuse in the Catholic Church" (20 min)

    Clerical sexual abuse within the Catholic Church has been inextricably intertwined with the sacramental and liturgical celebrations of the faith community. The ritual and symbolic logics of the church’s sacramental system have developed over centuries to mediate a saving relationship between humanity and God. Survivor accounts of clerical sexual abuse have described how these symbols have also been adopted by clerics to mediate an encounter between abuser and victim. These encounters break both bodies and symbols, leaving the victims traumatized and carrying that trauma back with them into the church’s sacramental liturgies.

    Cristina Rosetti, independent scholar "The Presence of One Man Rule in FLDS Mormonism: Contextualizing an American Religion that Became Synonymous with Abuse" (20 min)

    During the 1980s, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) underwent a hierarchical transformation that shifted power away from a multi-person council and toward the sole leadership of a single man; a doctrine referred to as “One Man Rule.” This presentation analyzes the context of isolation and social ostracization within which One Man Rule emerged as a structure of presence in the FLDS and the way it became a system that enabled abuse. At the same time, this paper seeks to recognize how scholars and journalists perpetuate the structures of the doctrine in their own way by talking around history to narrate an American religion that became synonymous with the abuses perpetuated by Warren Jeffs, the One Man.

    Chuck Rosenthal, Loyola Marymount University "The Institution of Grooming and the Grooming of Institutions" (20 min)

    An atheist and molester of adolescent boys became the president of a Catholic University and the most powerful man in a small, majority Catholic, city. I was groomed and molested by him and the community and institutions around us permitted it. 

    Q&A (20 min)

    3:00 p.m. | Break

    3:15 p.m. | Animal and Environmental Abuse in Modern Yoga

    Jonathan Dickstein, University of California-Santa Barbara "Their body, Their voice: Animal abuse in modern yoga gastropolitics" (20 min)

    Progressive yoga practitioners commonly regard, and discard, dietary prohibitions as yet another form of abuse perpetrated by dogmatic texts, gurus, and communities. Omitted is a serious reflection on “food animals” as victims of abuse themselves, and whether an abuse-conscious yoga culture can justifiably halt its concern at the "species barrier." This presentation asserts that avoiding the topic and implications of participation in animal abuse directly conflicts with the professed values of a progressive and inclusive yoga culture.

    Patrick McCartney, anthropologist of religion "The Environmental and Linguistic Consequences of the Imaginative Consumption of Yoga and Sanskrit" (20 min)

    This presentation discusses the unintended consequences of consuming yoga-inflected and Sanskrit-inspired lifestyles, particularly as this relates to the environment and linguistic ecology of India.

    Q&A (20 min)

    4:15 p.m. | Break

    4:30 p.m. | How Do We Proceed? Providing Resources for the Abused

    Nirinjan Khalsa, Loyola Marymount University "Healthy, Happy, Holy (n)ever after?" (20 min)

    In January 2020, women came forward detailing sexual misconduct and other abuses by Yogi Bhajan (b.1929-d.2004), the spiritual teacher of the "Healthy Happy Holy" (3HO) community of Kundalini Yoga/Sikh Dharma practitioners. Using my own experience raised in this community, this talk will address the ways in which members are now grappling with the contradictions between "the teacher" and "the teachings." At the same time, current and former members are sharing their stories in Facebook groups addressing the wider systems of abuse, with the second generation now confronting their own traumatic experiences being sent away at young ages to live with other families and to boarding school in India. This talk examines the path forward for the people, communities and institutions by looking to the varied responses within this community and by other communities who have gone through their own processes of reconciliation and restorative justice.

    Sharon Suh, Seattle University "Trauma-Informed Mindfulness and Yoga: Tools for Cultivating Resilience" (20 min)

    In this talk, Suh will provide an overview of useful tips on Trauma-Informed Mindfulness and Trauma-Informed Yoga for Teachers and Practitioners.

  • Jain 

    Keynote Speaker

    Andrea Jain, Indiana University

    Andrea R. Jain, Ph.D. is associate professor of religious studies at the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts in Indianapolis, editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and author of Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture (Oxford University Press, 2014). Her areas of research include religion and capital; global yoga; South Asian religions; the intersections of gender, sexuality, and religion; and theories of religion. Her second monograph, Peace Love Yoga: The Politics of Global Spirituality, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.

    Deslippe headshot 

    Philip Deslippe, University of California-Santa Barbara

    Philip Deslippe is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies and a teaching associate in the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he is writing a dissertation on the early history of yoga in the United States. He has published articles in the academic journals including Sikh Formations, Contemporary Buddhism, Amerasia, and the Journal of Yoga Studies, and pieces for popular venues including Yoga Journal, Tricycle, the History Channel, and the Indian news site Scroll.



    Jonathan Dickstein, University of California-Santa Barbara

    Jonathan Dickstein is a PhD candidate in Religious Studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara. His research spans South Asian Religious Traditions, Animals and Religion, and Comparative Ethics. Jonathan's previous work focused on questions of theism and atheism in Sāṃkhya-Yoga, with an emphasis on the Yogaśāstra of Patañjali. His current dissertation project explores Hindu cosmologies, ethics, and dietary practices insofar as they relate to human-animal relations.


    Ann Gleig, University of Central Florida

    Ann Gleig is an associate professor of Religion and Cultural Studies at the University of Central Florida. She is author of American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity (Yale University Press, 2019) and is currently working on a co-written book project with Amy Langenberg on sexual violations in American convert Buddhism, which is under advance contract with Yale University Press.


    Michael Horan, Loyola Marymount University

    Michael Horan is Professor of Theological Studies (Religious Education and Pastoral Theology) at Loyola Marymount University, where he has directed the Master’s degree program, chaired the Department of Theological Studies, and served as Associate Dean of Liberal Arts. His research interests lie in practices that promote lay ministries in Catholic parishes.


    Layla Karst, Loyola Marymount University

    Layla Karst is an Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University where she studies liturgical practice, sacramental theology, and ritual studies. Her recent projects have explored the practice and theology of Christian pilgrimage and the failure of symbol and ritual in the context of Catholic sacramental liturgies.


    Nirinjan Kaur Khalsa-Baker, Loyola Marymount University

    Nirinjan Kaur Khalsa-Baker, Ph.D. is Senior Instructor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. She served as Acting Director of Graduate Yoga Studies (2019-2020) and Clinical Professor of Sikh & Jain Studies (2015-2018). Nirinjan Khalsa-Baker became a student of the Amritsari baaj (Punjabi percussion lineage) on the jori-pakhawaj in 2000 and was honored as its first female exponent. In 2014 she received her Ph.D in Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Michigan with a dissertation on “The Renaissance of Sikh Devotional Music: Memory, Identity, Orthopraxy.” Her scholarship and teaching examine Sikhi, Yoga, the Dharma traditions and Comparative Theology through the lenses of scripture, history, philosophy, embodied practice, pedagogy, identity, gender, ethics, mysticism, and post-colonial studies. Nirinjan currently serves as co-chair of the Sikh Studies Unit at AAR and as an editor for the Routledge journal Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture, Theory.


    Amy Paris Langenberg, Eckerd College

    Amy Paris Langenberg is a specialist in South Asian Buddhism with a focus on gender, sexuality, the body, and monastic law. She also conducts research on contemporary Buddhist feminisms and contemporary female Buddhist monasticism. Her monograph, Birth in Buddhism: The Suffering Fetus and Female Freedom was published by Routledge in 2017. In addition, she has published articles in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, History of Religions, Religions, Religion Compass, and the Oxford Handbook of Buddhist Ethics. Her current project is a collaborative book on sexual abuse in American Buddhism, to be co-written with Ann Gleig (University of Central Florida) and published with Yale University Press. She is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Eckerd College, where she also teaches in the Women's and Gender Studies, Animal Studies, and Environmental Studies programs.


    Amanda Lucia, University of California - Riverside

    Amanda Lucia is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California-Riverside. She is author of White Utopias: The Religious Exoticism of Transformational Festivals (October 2020) and Reflections of Amma: Devotees in a Global Embrace (2014). She is currently crafting a body of research on sexual abuse in guru-led religious communities.



    Patrick McCartney

    Currently based in Kyoto, Japan, Patrick McCartney is an anthropologist of religion and sociologist of spirituality, who is curious about the narrative economics of the biographies Sanskrit and Yoga, and how they relate to the politics of imagination and the economics of desire.



    Matthew Remski

    Matthew Remski is a Toronto-based yoga teacher, critic, cult survivor and independent researcher. Latest articles, books and seminars at:



    Chuck Rosenthal, Loyola Marymount University

    Chuck Rosenthal, a novelist and essayist, has published seventeen books including his memoir, Never Let Me Go (Red Hen Press, 2005), about his sexual abuse by his basketball coach and mentor between the ages 13-19.

    His eighteenth book, The Hammer, the Sickle, and the Heart, a novel, will be published by Letters at 3 a.m. Press in October, 2020. He is a Professor of Narrative Writing and Theory at Loyola Marymount University.


    Cristina Rosetti

    Cristina Rosetti is an independent scholar based in Salt Lake City, UT. Her research examines the history and lived experience of Mormon fundamentalists in the intermountain West.


    Sharon A. Suh, Seattle University

    Sharon A. Suh is Professor of Buddhism in the department of Theology and Religious Studies at Seattle University. She received her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University and is author of: Being Buddhist in a Christian World: Gender and Community (University of Washington Press, 2004); Silver Screen Buddha: Buddhism in Asian and Western Film (Bloomsbury Press, 2015); and Occupy This Body: A Buddhist Memoir (Sumeru Press, 2019). Her academic work explores racialized trauma experienced by people of color and emphasizes the importance of Trauma-Informed embodiment practices such as meditation and yoga that can increase the capacity for resilience. She is interested in somatic awareness and the generative possibilities of mindfulness, neuroscience, and trauma-informed yoga for healing. She serves on the Board of Directors of Yoga Behind Bars and has completed the YBB Trauma-Informed Yoga training; Yoga 4 Trauma certification and extensive work in trauma-informed yoga for transcending sexual assault. She is also a Level 2 Mindful Eating-Conscious Living trained teacher through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness and completed her 200 registered yoga teacher training.


    About Graduate Yoga Studies

    Graduate Yoga Studies Logo 

    The Graduate Yoga Studies Program at Loyola Marymount University provides deep study of the Yoga tradition from multiple perspectives through a Master of Arts degree, offered both in residential and low-residency formats. The graduate program is designed to help students explore Yoga's rich history, its relationship to religion and spirituality, and Yogic philosophy. Students study primary classical texts, learn the Sanskrit language, explore the health benefits of physical practice, and look at the placement of modern Yoga in today's world. A Yoga Therapy Post-Graduate Certificate is also offered as of Fall 2019. The Graduate Yoga Studies program is designed to meet the needs of Yoga students and teachers who are seeking to enhance their knowledge in both theory and application.

    Questions about the program? Please contact Amy Osborne, program associate, Loyola Marymount University.