Response to IYNAUS Ethics Committee re: Complaint
May 15, 2018
Dear National Ethics Committee,
Let me say first how much I value the work you do and to thank you for that service.
Let me also express my sadness over Ms. West’s complaint. I do not wish to hurt anyone in word or deed even by accident or misunderstanding. I have devoted 42 years of my life to teaching and educating tens of thousands of students in a professional and ethical manner. I categorically deny Ms. West’s allegations, but still feel horrible that a student of mine has these feelings.
I am shocked that any adjustment I may have provided to Ms. West in a classroom filled with 50 students has been characterized by her as an “assault” of a sexual nature. That is a very serious accusation and one I do not take lightly. It is clear from the complaint that Ms. West has animosity toward me based on her subjective beliefs, but I assure you the conduct she describes never occurred.
I did not recognize Ms. West’s name from the complaint, but she was indeed my student in several classes through many years. I had no reason to believe she had any complaint given she returned to my class on numerous occasions and the first time I am hearing of her complaint is more than six years later. It does not make sense to me why she would continue to take my classes if she supposedly felt uncomfortable.
The workshop Ms. West took was attended by about 50 students in each class. The class would have lasted anywhere from 2-4 hours. Roughly 20-30% of my time teaching a class involves adjustments. I have no memory of any interaction with Ms. West. Before I place my hands on any student to make an adjustment I generally ask the student if it is ok.
It is my understanding that the Ethics Committee only wants me to respond to the four specified allegations in the “Complaint in Summary” portion of its April 4, 2018 letter. So, while I disagree and contest other comments by Ms. West in her complaint, my response will be limited to the four items.
1.“He began to teach Sarvangasana and spent the entire demo staring and speaking directly at my chest.”
I deny this allegation. It also doesn’t make logical sense. Usually when I provide a demonstration, I am at the front the classroom - not next to any one particular student. The entire demo would have lasted no more than a few minutes out of a several hour program. If I was doing the demo, my head would be straight as I always teach beginners never to turn their head in Sarvangasana. Even in her complaint Ms. West recognizes this – she says that when she was in full shoulder stand she “could neither shake no [or] nod my head.” So, it would have been
impossible for me to stare or speak at Ms. West’s chest while in the pose.
2. “The whole class went up into Sarvangasana. At this point Manos came over, knelt down by my head and quietly told me that I should not wear a bra to the next class. He gave some kind of bogus yoga reason, which sounded purposefully vague.”
I have never told a student what to wear or not wear to class. I have on occasion suggested to students struggling with Sarvangasana to practice the pose at home without a bra. This information has never been conveyed in a sexual manner. The reason for the teaching suggestion is that in inversions such as Sarvangasana, large-breasted women will have difficulty breathing and a man or less well-endowed woman will not. Practicing the pose in the privacy of one’s home without a bra allows the chest to naturally fall and separate allowing for easier breathing in
3. “In November 2013 when I was in another Manos weekend workshop in San Diego. After the Q and A he taught a class centered on chest opening. At one point he taught Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana over the chair. He came over and gave me an adjustment using his hands to encourage my chest to coil deeper over the edge of chair. It's not a unique adjustment, I've had similar before from other teachers and use it on students myself, but this time my alarm bells went off. Something didn't feel quite right about the way he was touching me. His hands were pressing too far up on the sides of my breast tissue and his general demeanor felt odd and agitated.”
I deny this allegation. I would never intentionally press my hands to far up the sides of a woman’s breast tissue while making an adjustment. Her claim is also unclear to me. It appears she recognized my adjustment in dwi pada viparita dandasana having received adjustments from other teachers and using it on her students, but she had some unspecified subjective issue with my “general demeanor” for this brief period of adjustment, which would have lasted no more than a few seconds.
4. “The class continued on and at some point he taught Ganda Bherundasana, the variation where you roll back and forth over the crown of the skull (Light on Yoga plate 583) to coil the thoracic spine and open the chest even more deeply. Everyone in the room was rolling over the top of their skull. It was an extreme movement and somewhat chaotic in the classroom. In the middle of the movement he came over and put his hands on my chest again. This time he actually stroked his hands down over my breasts and nipples. It was not an adjustment; it was a lightly touched caress.”
I do not recall this particular class in its entirety since it was so long ago, but I do recall that Gloria Goldberg asked about gandha bherandasana. It is a pose I rarely teach and my focus would have been on Ms. Goldberg. I deny that I touched Ms. West in any inappropriate manner in the pose. Again, the allegation does not make sense. In Plates 571-583 Light on Yoga, I’ve never observed a variation where a hand could touch the breast in the manner claimed by Ms. West.
The accusations that Ms. West has made against me are hurtful. I have been married for 40 years, have two grown children, and three young grandkids. I believe firmly in kindness and respect toward all, including my students. If you need any further information or witnesses who will support my position, I am happy to provide. Again, thank you for your service and consideration of my response.