Indian Yoga entrepreneurs Swami Muktananda (d. 1982), Swami Vishnudevananda (d.1993), Yogi Bhajan (d. 2004), Pattabhi Jois (d. 2009), and Bikram Choudhury (still in business) all stand credibly accused of abusing and raping their students. That’s the short list. Here’s a longer one.
But if there’s a single figure who best embodies the American domestication of the hubris, patriarchal authoritarianism, and somatic dominance of the modern global yoga scene, it’s Manouso Manos, the protégé of B.K.S. Iyengar, known for his creativity and his physical abuse. And if there’s a clearer proof for how cultism has enabled men like Manos to charismatically shout their way into a kind of mystical yoga power, while avoiding oversight and accountability for decades, I don’t know it.
This July, under a cloud of abuse allegations substantiated by his peers, Manos is giving his last intensive in his San Francisco studio. He hasn’t announced his retirement, but it’s clear that his chapter in the abusive history of modern yoga is over.
Manos’s legacy is a matter of public record. In 1991, a journalistic investigation found that he had been sexually assaulting students at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco. After a brief leave of absence, B.K.S. Iyengar himself reinstalled his favoured student, who he likened to a son. In 2013, Manos allegedly assaulted long-time student and teacher Ann West, who disclosed her story in 2018 to KQED. The Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUS), Manos’s trade organization, initially rebuffed West’s initial complaint. Later, they investigated him and found that West’s accusation, and others, going back over years, were substantiated and corroborated.
In the midst of the turmoil, some of Manos’s students lost their damn minds. One wrote an unhinged open letter claiming that West was depriving her of the teacher she relied on “for her life”. Another mocked the survivors as “shrivelled biddies.” A Russian student launched a petition to “restore his image”. It gathered 2K signatures. There’s also this windy defence from a long-time female student of Manos, encouraging those who know him “to distance ourselves from positions of right and wrong.”