All posts by Cori Wright

The Shadows of Yoga & Spirituality: I was raped by my Yoga teacher in India.

In writing this I hope to spark a flame in my fellow practitioners, teachers, potential seekers, women, and men in this world to be open to the possibility that everything has a shadow. I believe we have the responsibility to turn into, rather than away, from these more challenging aspects and hold all members of a spiritual community accountable for their actions, teachers and students alike. Specifically, our teachers are human like ourselves and are just as capable of inflicting wounds as they are to evoking healing.

This is a demand for Yoga Alliance to seriously invest time and money into creating a task force that can thoroughly investigate previous and current accusations of sexual assault in the industry, and to be transparent about these investigations with the general public to ensure a safer environment.

This is a plea to teachers that they require of themselves ongoing self-reflection and welcome outside measures of accountability knowing that they too can be deluded by these less “spiritual” parts of themselves and by projections others place on them, especially when in a role of “expert”. Though our levels of experience with the practice vary, I believe we are all students, and we are all teachers to one another. As a young woman seeking teachings for my own growth and healing I fell prey to a man who prescribed to this power dynamic, and even once told me, “I’m going to make you famous.” I looked at him in confusion because I had come back to India only to help teach the practice at his Yoga Shala. In my innocence, and perhaps blindness, I was taken advantage of in a very damaging way.  My body was invaded to the fullest extent; in the fall of 2013, I was raped by my own Yoga teacher, and owner of a major school in India that is in full operation still to this day.

I will never forget the sleepless days leading up to leaving India… the all night bus ride that took me to Mumbai…my traumatized body trying to make sense of what happened. I could not go to the police. I had witnessed the man who raped me pay them off on a weekly basis to ensure his illegal activities were covered. I was terrified of what worse things might happen to me if I did report him.

Heading down the crowded Indian streets in Goa I had a panic attack right before a scheduled meeting with my teacher (the owner of the school) and the other instructors for what we were going to teach in the courses coming. I turned my scooter around, called my husband at the time and told him I had to come home NOW. After returning to the United States I went to Planned Parenthood and reported the rape in a private room.  I had my frail body examined in fear I had been given a permanent marking of disease. Later I would learn from lawyers that because it wasn’t reported in India there would be no chance for justice, no matter how many reports made in the United States.

So I will say it again, and please pay attention. This is the voice of a woman who was raped by her own Yoga teacher; by a man who [still] owns a well-known school in India, Sampoorna Yoga School. Very few have wanted to face my trauma; nobody seems to want to dethrone the man who owns such a large school or disturb the romantic idea of Yoga only for healing. Instead, most want to avoid these dark truths, spiritually bypass the pain and focus solely on the “sunshine and rainbow” essence of Yoga. There are, however, a few who have left the school since I told them and witnessed inexcusable behavior, and for that I am eternally grateful.

This is the voice of a woman who has cried, yelled, hid herself in shame, and made repeated attempts to serve justice. This is not a call for sympathy; this is a call for action and a call for others to join with me in putting a stop to this happening again. A call to those within the legal world to investigate how this man, Deepak Sharma, could be brought to justice, and a call to help me hold the organization Yoga Alliance accountable for turning a blind eye to the allegations made back in 2015.

They [Yoga Alliance] are a multi million-dollar company paid to provide oversight. In their code of ethics they state that they hold schools and teachers accountable to “Avoid words and actions that constitute sexual harassment or harassment based on other legal protected characteristics” (Yoga Alliance Code of Conduct, 2016). They clearly are in violation of this moral and legal imperative. I wrote and contacted them several times. They responded on February 19, 2015, that they would “look into the matter,” but I never heard back from them. It has been over a year and I refuse to wait any longer and demand action be taken immediately.

Sampoorna Yoga School is still in good standing with Yoga Alliance. I am afraid other women similar to myself continue to visit the aforementioned school, and perhaps other questionable schools within the Alliance, and continue to be taken advantage of.

I recently spoke at a Jungian conference and told my other story of molestation and recovery in the wilderness, as this [speaking up about my assaults] is one of my commitments I have made as an adult woman to change what is happening in this world. After the presentation I had eight of 50 women come up to me over the next two days and whisper with tears in their eyes, “Me too.” 

My prayer is that women, men, and children who endure this abuse do not have to whisper anymore, and that these practices and teachings lead us to inhabit and empower our body rather than vacate it in search of something “better” outside of us.

This is the story of a woman who is speaking because I believe we can face this. This is most importantly a story of us… standing together in solidarity and restoring not only balance to the scales of justice, but also restoring the balance of shadow with sun. For there to be rainbows, we need both.

Thank you.

Cori Wright

**TO TAKE ACTION**

@YogaAlliance #IDemandACTION #ProtectWomenWorldwide

  1. Share this post in your community to help encourage others to speak up, or simply know they are not alone.
  2. If you have a personal story in regards to any YTTC, or Deepak, write a personal email with as many details and dates as you can. We must speak to be heard. Contact:

Leigh Evans
Senior Compliance Coordinator
levans@yogaalliance.org
(571) 319-0824

3. Write, tweet, call, etc. (whatever your social media platform is…) Yoga Alliance and demand action for this case. If you mention my name and the school they will have my complaints, and also others on file.

4. If you are a lawyer who thinks you may be able to help me in pro-bono work, please contact me at SalutationsForWomen@gmail.com. I am a graduate student who has expended all of my resources trying to make my case.

5. Donate time or money to your local resources for other women like me, such as; SASO, Planned Parenthood, or one of these organizations listed on this website: http://greatist.com/happiness/stop-domestic-violence-organizations.

6. If you are interested in helping me create a non-profit that will work to build refugees and help centers for women who are not as fortunate as me to leave the place where the attack occurred, please contact me personally.

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Cori Wright is currently living in New Mexico and pursuing her masters of science in Somatic Psychology in order to help other victims of sexual assault and chronic illness in wilderness based settings.

The Silent Walk

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The Silent Walk

We work in a world that is not tangible to most. It is a world that makes those who come in contact with it question themselves and the world around them. Things come clear that we cannot see with the busy eye. It is a world completely undiscovered by those who have not ventured into the wild. The wild of themselves. It is not a biodegradable chemical that a chemist can create in a lab and touch on gross level. It is not the counseling you receive from the average college graduate in psychology.

It is the deep psychology of the part of you that is fearful of yourself.
It is the psychology of the ecosystem of your body, reflected in nature.
It is a woman, who has been raped, and faces her demons in the dark of the night and returns victorious sobbing with tears of power.
It is a boy who has deep wounds from his mother who returns a man.
It is a child who has never been seen, be seen.
It is an addict who see’s the sunrise sober for the first time in 10 years, and is changed forever.
It is these wounds that are healed one by one that make this world a better place as a one being, connected.

Remember that, the greatest people in history have been the ones who were made a joke when they spoke about their outrageous ideas that nobody could see. It is the visionaries that have the boldness to set forth a path that is not yet accepted or seen by others. Galileo was ridiculed for years about his geocentric model, for saying we rotated around the sun. George Mendel was ignored for decades about his discovery of genetic inheritance. Scientists now try to change humans by manipulating these very genes before we are even born.

This is not a traditional education, this is an experiential education. Imagine, how absurd fire must have seemed to the humans paving the way for us and our microwaves. Know, how absurd it seems to jump and sing and give thanks for the harvest in this modern American society, and also know that all over the world there is still singing and dancing in celebration of food, seeds, and soil that nourishes their soul and gives them life. They are giving thanks to the silent symphony always singing, they give the symphony a human voice. We give the symphony a human voice.

Our work is not well known, it is not admirable to many, and it is not for those who like the spotlight. Those lucky enough to receive the teachings of the plants, the sun, our ancestors, the unseen force of love and healing, it is a blessing and an obligation to fulfill, in my opinion.

Keep singing, sing loud, for your voice is indeed carried on through time, through valleys, through the creeks and rivers. You are the symphony being conducted by the great mother, father sky, and the wind of the spirits all around you.

Be strong, be truthful to yourself in this beckoning call. “It can be a very lonely path”, a teacher once said said to me, “it is a path of service.”

Hari Om Tat Sat 

Cori

Spandex, flexibility, and Instagram. A lesson learned as a Yoga teacher.

I hit a wall of frustration yesterday with the uber-flexible spandex trend on Instagram and Facebook. The trend of photographing yourself in an advanced posture, whether that’s a padmasana handstand, or legs behind the head. What has happened to Yoga? What about the meditation? The kriya’s? The mantras? All of these parts of practice that transform people in a way that isn’t attractive or sexual or amazing looking? What message are we giving as yogi’s if all we do is post images of ourselves accomplishing something that most other’s can’t, and anatomically may never be able to?

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I also hit a huge place of clarity in the “I” of it. I am actually frustrated with myself for creating an image that has become “me.”

I sat this morning, feeling my belly, full of way worse food than I would normally eat in a time of consistent practice. I felt my inability to do postures I have been able to do in the past when I was more fit, more skinny. I felt my self-critic come into the room and say, “Well, you can’t even post a photo of you doing Kurmasana because your belly fat will be hanging over your pants.” “Maybe you can just do one of a kriya..?” The truth was, I was too full and disgusted with myself to even do my kriya’s (internal cleanses which involve intense abdominal movement).

I realized pretty quickly that my anger had little to do with the rest of the yogi’s in the world, and more towards myself for creating an image in the first place. I am completely guilty of using my most difficult postures as a showcase of who “I am”, and I am now suffering from operating out of this image that I had created about being flexible and strong.

The reality of yoga is this: it is a journey that will rock your world if you stick with it, because there comes a point where you will have to practice on a deeper level than asana’s. Yoga is an ebb and flow process that will take you to the deepest and darkest parts of yourself and make you face them, like me today. My practice has lead me to a place right now of deep inner contemplation, what is my image, and why did I create this? Why am I not respecting my body and what I put into it?

I had created an image of myself that I cannot always maintain, and such is life. As much as I would love to sit here and say I am diligent about my practice every single day, and my photos are a means to inspire myself and others… this is simply not realistic for myself and most people who now come to Yoga. Can it be realistic? Sure. Is it what we want to be spraying out there consistently as Yoga? Probably not.

As one of my mentors says, “it’s all part of the ceremony.” This is true, and I am grateful for the reflection and contemplation this has given me.

Now let me switch from me, to us as a community.

With all of that said, as teachers and leaders in a multi-billion dollar industry growing very quickly, it is our responsibility to create a practice (whatever lineage that is from) that is not an image of our body for others to aspire to be, but rather a way to attain peace within ourselves, as we are along our journey. The practice inherently contains the discipline of eating well, treating your body as a holy vessel, exercising, and breathing. If all of the other parts of the practice are encouraged, people will find good health and inspiration without the need to feel like they  “can’t do” Yoga because of some of the images they think are Yoga.

I can’t tell you how many times I have somebody come up to me and say, “I can’t do Yoga, I’m not flexible.” And I have to then say, “Perfect! really flexible people are pretty boring to teach anyways, they can already do all of the asana’s. You came to exactly the right place.” Hatha Yoga is meant to be the first step in all of the Yoga’s. It is meant to be the starting place to clean, cleanse, and purify the body. Let’s keep that in mind. Most people come to this practice not flexible, not in super great shape, and not able to do a handstand, and that is beautiful and OK.

I think we need to ask ourselves really honestly how much of our Yoga magazine cover’s, Instagram photo’s, and videos of us in intermediate/advanced asana’s creates this image around Yoga.

When I travel to India to teach or practice, the people on the street ask me what my Yoga mat is. That is how extreme we have taken this small part of the practice here in the west compared to the mother land of Yoga.

I humbly offer this set of questions to inquire into before we post our next pretzel photo/lotus handstand:

    1.What is my true intention for posting this photo? 

    2. In the past when I have posted photo’s like this one, how do I receive the reaction and comments? 

    3. Do I get my self-love from others seeing the physical part of me? 

A rule that I have set for myself is to wait a couple of hours before posting a photo, so that I can get out of the excitement of it and really see the truth behind it. Maybe that is a good place to start?

Lastly, as someone who teaches about the human body and has studied bones extensively, I feel obligated to also put out there that Yoga asana’s stem from 12 year old boys studying under teachers from the time they are children. Their bones were literally being formed while learning asanas that we do today, just as gymnasts are (I was a gymnast). Your unique and beautiful manifestation of your body is completely unique from those 12 year old Indian boys or that woman who can easily float into padmasana while doing a headstand.

Take this all with a grain of salt, as I am sure you will. I am also on the ride with you as a teacher and student of how Yoga evolves in the west. All I ask, is that we all practice reflection, contemplation, and compassion as we move forward. Not judgement.

 

Hari Om Tat Sat

You are that.

Coming off retreat; Loving all that is.

I came to the most beautiful place yesterday. It was the most beautiful space I have witnessed in my Self since being on Yoga retreat and coming back to the “world.” It is, I think, the hardest part about coming off of retreat – to love and accept your life and the people in it while also making discriminating and difficult decisions upon the return. There is a contraction when I leave. I retreat from the physical surroundings and people that create the need to retreat in the first place, and in all honesty, it is really to accept all that it is all part of the giant ceremony we call life. The hard part is incorporating this acceptance and clarity.

In Yoga, we learn that can can get out of our cycle of suffering (clean our Karma up), which is what we are all trying to do, Yogi or not… we want out of suffering. So we ask ourself with the hope of ridding future suffering – What does this mean? Am I ever going to recover from this huge life change? Will I be able to to make a living doing what I love? In Buddhism, life is suffering, and we will always be in and out of this cycle. But there are chances to liberate the mind – this, both practices agree on.

The fact of the matter is, for most of us, we don’t really want to know everything. We have all made a pact with one another pretending that we won’t all die one day, because deep down, our true nature is to be in the moment. I realized this morning upon waking up, wait a minute, I just want to sit on the porch and watch the snow fall, and I’m just going to allow myself that joy, instead of figuring anything out.

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I found in this place of love and acceptance all of my ‘needing’ to know  and ‘wanting’ resolution went away. There was a kindness and gentleness for everyone in my life, including myself.

There is this burning question we think we need to answer: What is my Dharma? How can I rid my bad Karma? 

Something else that I was able to really let go of was the need to even address these questions. There is a great teaching from the magazine BuddhaDharma named, “Who’s Pulling the Strings?”, and it addresses the western view of Karma as being mechanistic and deterministic. For example, “I am sick because of something that happened in the past life.” In this way of thinking, everything becomes mechanical and needs an answer or has a reason; while it may be true that everything has a reason… our minds are much too small to figure it out.

There is a fear in many people that if we don’t address these questions then we won’t see our path, or we will lose ourselves and not enjoy the things we love like kinds of music, people, and friends. That we will become some person that just says “Yeah man, it’s all good, all the time, peace and love.” My belief here is that all that is true is never lost. If you truly love and come alive to a certain kind of music, it will remain.

My conclusion? If we start trying to figure out and name everything that is challenging or even good in life, it creates a separation from joy, and life is joyful. What I will say, too, is that there are times for personal inquiry. There is a need for discrimination and discipline… but if your need for discrimination or answers rules your life, you might just want to start feeling the things you are feeling with love for them. 

“I want to beg you

as much as I can, to be patient

toward all that is unsolved in your heart

and try to love the questions themselves 

like locked rooms and like books

that are written in a very foreign tongue.

Do not now seek the answers,

Which cannot be given you

because you would not be able to live them.

and the point is, to live everything

live the questions now.

perhaps you will then gradually,

without noticing it,

live along some distant day

into the answer.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke-

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My child, your fear will kill you before I do.

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This last couple of days has been incredibly challenging with the AVM opening on my tongue, bringing up my fears of dying and recurring nightmares that have occurred in my past about bleeding to death. It was a bit of a “slap in the face”, a wake up call. I have felt so positive, like, I have beat this thing (HHT)… with my nose bleeds completely under control, this was as if it was God’s way of affirming that I must make friends with this dragon, rather than think that it does not exist anymore as a part of my being.

It has been an incredibly hard journey much like when nobody could help me with my nose bleeds, going through a whirlwind of emotions; fear, sadness, defeat, and loneliness. I shed many tears.

After finding a doctor who had gone to medical school at University of Utah, where one of few HHT clinics are, I got some relief and was welcomed into his office to have my tongue cauterized to stop the bleeding, leaving a hole and scar in my tongue. As the emotions cleared today and I felt the support of my community and family, I begin to think rationally again, and remembered what had happened on my vision quest just a few weeks ago…. which I would like to share.

My vision quest was a time a facing my fears; my fear of death, and my fear of trauma taking over my life and never leaving my body… it was facing my biggest demons. As I laid on a rock facing the sky, hungry and fully exposed to the desert, I screamed and asked The Great Mother (earth), “Why? Why do I have to die earlier than everyone else and suffer?” I realize it’s a somewhat benign question, being that it is what it is, but it’s what came into my heart. She answered,

 “My child, your fears will kill you before I do, for I am kind. You came from me, and you will  return to me, just like every other creature.”

Not only is this profound and applicable to everyone’s life, in terms of stress literally killing us (especially in the United States), but also in the way that we do not live in the present and so our lives escape us, they pass us by and we never fully live.

So there are two choices that I have, one, I can live in a false reality of fears, doubts, and fantasies, or I can live in the present moment, in true reality. As I was spitting out mouthfuls of blood at times all I could think about was the amount of suffering which might occur in five years, ten years, twenty years, and rarely did I sit with the feeling of just being scared. So you might ask, what’s the difference? Being scared out of your mind doesn’t sound much better than thinking of the future? Well it is, because I do not know what will happen tomorrow, or in an hour, or in ten years.

All we have is now. Now was scared, next to a warm fire with a garden that feeds me outside my door, a shelter over my head, and a man who allows me to be the fullest woman that I can be and accepts me for all that I am. That was now, and really, it wasn’t so bad if I took a moment to be present with what I presently had.

I encourage you to practice being in the now, even when you are in excruciating pain, or sadness, because if you don’t, your life will pass you by and you may not see all that is calling to you and in your life.

For many people reading this blog, this will be preaching to the choir, but even the most practiced people need reminders, teachers, wake up calls. I know I did, so this is my medicine I am offering to you from my most recent struggle with being present.

 

Blessings.

LIVING with HHT: how Yoga saved my life

I want to make clear that this posting is not about trying to get anyone to do Yoga, although that would be a plus, for I don’t believe we could have any greater failure in our health care system than to apply one method of healing to all humans. It is to share my story, and reach out to my human nation in hopes of inspiring and healing.

I have debated heavily in the past about “coming out” with my disease (in yoga, any disease is described as dis-ease), HHT, which has taken over my life in times in detrimental ways, mentally and physically. I never wanted it to define me. What I have come to realize recently is that; it does define me in a certain way, and that’s ok. I have recently had to leave my job being a full time wilderness therapy guide due to my symptoms creeping back up steadily to the point where I got ten nose bleeds in one day; my body is being called back to practice and teaching, and I must listen. In this time I have come to realize I have something very special I can share and help others with, so here is my beginning on that path.

A little about it, HHT (Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia) is a genetic mutation that 1.2 million people in the world suffer from. Those who have it create more blood vessels than capillaries, which are the little things that keep the veins connected, therefore, we bleed internally and externally to varying amounts depending on the severity that the person has it. I found out I had it when I was 23 years old, when I ended up in the hospital for a nose bleed that wouldn’t stop for a week, and a bunch of red spots (open veins) appeared on my skin. For most, it doesn’t show up until adolescent or young adulthood. Those who have it usually end up on blood transfusions their last couple years of life, or die suddenly of an aneurism at any point in life. It is also so rare that very little research has been done, and there is no way to diagnose in the United States other than if two family members have it, and you have symptoms.

Suddenly, it all made sense. My grandmother always on blood transfusion cords when I was little, and all of the bloody tissues in the bathroom from my father as I was a child made sense. It is, an ugly, nasty disease that can take over your life and for those who have it, end it sooner.

I went into a very dark place after finding out for a couple of years. Crying on the phone to my mother even saying I wish I wasn’t born. I couldn’t function or go anywhere without getting a nose bleed in the public anytime I bent over. I was a personal trainer and I couldn’t even go to work, let alone pay attention at school.

I found Zen meditation while living in Bakersfield, California, and was able to get back into my university schoolwork and train again. I thought, hmm, is this related? I thought I knew the human body so well, going to school for biological anthropology, nutrition, a masters in health care, and being a personal trainer for eight years! I reluctantly resigned that idea, and had my first true Ego death. Realizing the idea of life being much greater than I, I kept on with life; trying to manage the best I could and hide my fears and insecurities of my disease.

Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana

While at UNM doing forensic research, I committed myself to practicing Yoga every day for about three months, and my symptoms went away completely. There was a deep calling inside of me to pursue this ancient practice and gain deeper knowledge of the profound effects on my mind, body, and soul. I signed up for a Yoga teacher training in India, in Astanga Yoga, and my life was forever changed.

My philosophy teacher, Keshiva, boldly said to me that it was my Karma that I was born with this disease. Naturally, at first, I was appalled and stayed after class to talk about philosophy for an hour hoping to ‘win’, but eventually withdrew to my room in the Ashram to cry for hours. I struggled with this idea for some time, until I was in a class about a year later after Yoga school when a teacher said, “Everyone who is truly drawn to Yoga, is drawn to it as a calling, it is a blessing.” Jai! Bam! Whack! It hit me again.

“Practice, and all is coming.” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915—2009)

This practice, Patanjali Yoga, has made my life livable, loveable, joyous, and also sad and accepting at the times I have needed. It is a practice not only of accepting that everything is Brahman (the source of all knowledge; that is, everyone and everything is Brahman), but also the eight limbs which provide moral codes of kindness, discipline, love, service, physical well being (Asanas, this is the physical practice that most in the USA know as Yoga), pranayama (breath, life force), and the ability to feel whatever is without judgment.

Yoga Sutra 1.4 : Vrtti sarupyam itaratra

At other times, the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness. (More simply said…)

When the seer identifies with consciousness or with the objects seen, he unites with them and forgets his grandeur. The natural tendency of consciousness is to become involved with the object seen, draw the seer towards it, and move the seer to identify with it. Then the seer becomes engrossed in the object. This becomes the seed for diversification of the intelligence, and makes the seer forget his own radiant awareness. When the soul does not radiate its own glory, it is a sign that the thinking faculty has manifested itself in place of the soul. –A translation from Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by B.K.S Iyengar.

When I don’t practice not only does my health fall apart and I cannot function, more so, I forget that there is something at work here much greater than I. I am blessed to have found this practice, this discipline.

I hope this posting finds you well and can help be a guiding light or beacon of hope for you, whether you are just having a bad day, or suffering from a disease yourself. If this article finds anyone with HHT, I know what it’s like to be reminded of a shorter life every time you get a bloody nose or see your red spots in the mirror. I know how dark this can be and intrusive of the life you “want”. Never give up. I hope to see you at a Yoga retreat that I will be offering for those with it.

If I could close on any one word it would be this: trust.

For more on HHT, a heightened awareness, or seeing how you can help, please visit:
http://www.hht.org

Blessings and Namaskar,

Cori

Bringing it home to the village

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And what good are the fruits of travel

If you do not bring them home

To your village.

To the people and the environment

that previously fed your soul.

Adulthood, what does this mean?

Never lose a young heart

Touch a hot stove,

In different ways.

Never stop loving

Be wild, Be free, Be home.

Be fearful,

And be fearless.

Howl like a coyote in the South,

Let the waters of the West take you away,

 In the North, lead others in the currents,

and then fly to the East like an eagle.

 Become an elder.

Serve others from your learning’s,

And do not dwell.

Continue the motion

In body,  heart,  and mind.

Whatever your practice,

Practice.