Episode 19: ‘Hands On’
Producer Jamila Wignot
When sweaty, barely covered bodies bend and twist in tight space in a yoga class, boundaries can get blurry. What one person may consider a well-intentioned hands-on adjustment to a yoga pose can seem inappropriate to someone else. The combination of physical touch, spirituality and power dynamics have made the contemporary yoga studio a complicated place at a time when there’s heightened sensitivity around issues of consent.
On the latest episode of “The Weekly,” we explore why some of us are willing to go along with things in a yoga studio that we might question outside of one. And why many of these methods have gone unexamined for so long.
Our reporter Katherine Rosman, an avid yogi herself, talks with women who have accused Krishna Pattabhi Jois, the renowned guru of Ashtanga yoga, of humping them, grinding against them and fingering them through their yoga pants under the guise of instruction.
Though Jois died in 2009, his influence in the yoga community remains. And the practice of hands-on adjustments in contemporary yoga can create confusion between teachers and students — especially when there hasn’t been a discussion about consent.
Katherine Rosman is a features reporter at The New York Times, where she covers media, social media, the culture of fitness and celebrity. She has practiced yoga four or five times a week for more than nine years.
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Pattabhi Jois, the man credited by many with popularizing yoga in the West, died in 2009 at 93. But he remained the face of yoga in America, and many instructors still invoke his name and use his likeness to lend an air of authenticity to their practice.
Since yoga entered the mainstream in the United States, it’s become a billion-dollar pillar of the wellness-fitness-cultural industry, spawning its own behemoth fashion brands, celebrity instructors and social media influencers.
A yoga teacher placing his or her hands on your lower back or tugging at your hips can help you refine a pose or turn some people away from yoga altogether; it’s delicate.
An annual daylong yoga event in Times Square in New York to coincide with the summer solstice attracts about 12,000 people and innumerable Instagram posts, Katie reported from last year’s event.
Yoga’s growth in popularity in the United States, helped by social media, has led to “a new subset of professional instructors: the yogalebrity,” which include the 98-year-old yoga instructor whom Katie profiled for The Times.
Some have lamented or decried “the commodification of yoga,” like the “yoga auteur” who uses her own Instagram feed to puncture the glossy veneer of wellness on social media.
Senior Story Editors Dan Barry, Liz O. Baylen, and Liz Day
Directors of Photography Jaron Berman and Vanessa Carr
Video Editor Marlon Singleton
Associate Producers Madeline Rosenberg and Abdulai Bah