Last week, Yoga teacher Christie Roe wrote an article about her abuse at the hands of teacher Mark Whitwell, and I was floored. While I have never studied with Mark personally, I became aware of him through workshops and podcasts by a teacher I have met personally: J. Brown. While Christie’s courageous piece is about the abusive behavior of Mark Whitwell, it does mention some highly problematic comments by J. J. had knowledge of Whitwell’s behavior and continued to make excuses for, explain away, and even promote him on his podcast and host him at his Brooklyn yoga studio, all the while dedicating his podcast to questioning to several Ashtanga teachers about their problematic behavior in regards to the abuse of Pattabhi Jois.
I have hesitated making any statement at all because Christie’s article was about Mark and the horrible things he said and did. And I don’t want those facts to get lost. I keep thinking about that 2016 Access Hollywood tape. Where the man who laughed was fired, and the man who actually did and described heinous deeds got the most powerful job in the country. But I think that this is important. Abuse of power is often not just one person by an entire system of people who either willingly or unwillingly perpetuate a cycle. Like the famous quote says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
This week, J. posted a response podcast that I found to be disappointing. I support his decision to remove podcasts of Mark. Although at this point in time he has not removed all mentions of him on his website. I am also deeply troubled that he says in his most recent podcast that he will always consider Mark a friend. I completely agree with Karen Rain when she posted on Facebook:
Aren’t friends people we trust? How can you trust Mark Whitwell? A friend is someone who we can hold accountable because they will own accountability. You admit that Whitwell has never owned any of his abusive behavior, which is also exploitation.
In his podcast, J. apologizes for anyone who may have learned about Mark through him which I think is a step toward accountability. Although, I’m not too quick to commend him on making a statement, when it is the baseline of decent human behavior. I truly believe if we want to make a change with these abusive yoga power dynamics, we have to be willing to own up to mistakes. We have to actually be as good as we are asking other people to be.
If I had any knowledge of these events, I would not have taken part in J.’s Gentle is the New Advanced course. I would not have given my likeness and image for his profit so that he could continue to cover for his teacher and knowingly present him falsely to other people. I would not have recommended his workshops and courses. I would not have put my own safety or the potential safety of others at risk. But I did not have this knowledge, and I did all of these things. I have chosen not to remove blog posts where I talk about my workshops with J., because those things happened, but I am adding this post as an addendum to reflect my current beliefs. From this moment on, I cannot comfortably support him financially, with my time, or with word of mouth recommendations as a yoga teacher unless I see any evidence of true contrition along with willingness and ability to change.
What would be evidence of that? J. addressing his own complicity in Mark’s abuse, learning more about his own role in maintaining and profiting from toxic power dynamics, and not centering his own pain over the women that Mark has hurt.
Words will never be sufficient. We have to ask people to do the work. I apologize for any harm I may have caused by recommending J or Mark. I have also been deeply critical of Ashtanga teachers, John Friend, Jonny Kest, and other yoga teachers who have been abusive or complicit in abuse; all the while, I was praising Mark and J because I truly believed they were different. It is only right for me to look at my own tendencies to seek out a “perfect teacher,” rather than finding my own understanding, and trusting my own guidance. I am feeling immense empathy for those who have suffered at the hands of a teacher whom they have trusted. I simply did not know, but now that I know better, I can do better.