Trigger alert: The following includes discussion of abuse and betrayal in Satyananda Yoga.

The Academy of Yoga Science


The Academy of Yoga Science (AYS), previously Satyananda Yoga Ashram Australia and then Satyananda Yoga Ashram Mangrove Mountain, is the last entity of Satyananda Yoga Ashram, with net assets in excess of $4.1 million, the legacy of those who gave service, labour, money, houses, their life savings, and who, betrayed by the Satyananda tradition, were often left with nothing.

The AYS has launched the AYS Wellbeing Foundation to create “opportunities for people to live their best life through yoga”, and the Yoga for Good Foundation to create further “opportunities for people to live their best life through yoga”.

This strategy to divest funds through their Foundations raises serious ethical questions about the purpose for which they have been devised, and issues surrounding those who have been harmed – primary survivors and victims of institutional betrayal. Since the RCIRCSA, it would appear that survivor-centred reform has not been the intention of the AYS, and survivors do not appear to be involved in any future planning.

It is important to remember that the funds for the Foundations were acquired through the hard labour of many who gave their service freely with their devotion. Nor should it be forgotten that some of these people were survivors of abuse. Others sold their houses, donated their life savings, and gave their children’s inheritances; and single parents gave everything, in the belief that they were contributing towards a greater good. Many of these people are left with scars of betrayal.

In October 2017, the AYS made the following statement:

We hereby would like to inform you that Satyananda Ashram has reached a confidential settlement agreement with a group of more than a dozen survivors of the sexual abuse which occurred in the ashram in the 1970s and 1980s.

We are pleased to be able to close the chapter on a particularly difficult period in the history of our organisation.

The following is an extract from a letter that Hetty Johnston AM, Founder & Executive Chair, Bravehearts (Australia’s leading child protection organisation) sent to the AYS after they had written to the yoga community declaring that the time had come to “close the chapter”:

Whilst we appreciate that Satyananda Yoga has made attempts to address past wrongs through this Settlement Agreement, we share concerns that the process used was not survivor focused. We have been advised that many survivors have expressed their disappointment and anger at both the adversarial process adopted by Satyananda Yoga and the outcome.As an organisation with many years of experience in responding to child sexual assault concerns, including within institutional contexts, we consider an effective reparation process is one that:

    • is survivor focused – it is about providing justice to the survivor and not about protecting the institutions interests;
    • minimises the likelihood of re-traumatisation for the victim/survivor;
    • is impartial and transparent; and
    • has regard to what is known about the nature and impact of child sexual assault, and institutional child sexual abuse in particular.

It is clear that there is a strong desire to close the chapter on this particularly difficult period in the history of your organisation. We are concerned, however, that this has left many things not addressed. Particularly, as many of the cultural and systemic issues identified by the Royal Commission continue to be unresolved and the testimony against others within Satyananda Yoga, who were accused of abuse, have been ignored.

20 December 2017

At this time Ms Johnston also put forward to the AYS Board Dr Josna Pankhania’s offer of support in implementing a reparation process and evaluating the teachings, considering the RCIRCSA’s report. This offer has been reiterated to the present time but to no avail.

As the end of 2021 approaches, the AYS is “Springing into a new chapter” through the launch of their latest Foundation – Yoga for Good, but matters related to CS21 of the RCIRCSA remain unresolved, as outlined by In Good Faith Foundation and Bravehearts.

The CEO of In Good Faith Foundation has made the point that whilst the harm experienced by survivors of Satyananda Yoga Ashram, Mangrove Mountain has been recognised by Case Study 21 of the Royal Commission, for many, these wrongs have not received the same recognition from within their own community.

The CEO of Bravehearts and the Director of Research, Bravehearts, appeals to the Academy of Yoga Science, to listen, engage with, and learn from the lived experiences of those who suffered harm, and to respond with integrity, authenticity, generosity, kindness, compassion and transparency.

It is true the AYS did reach a settlement with the survivors’ who gave testimonies to the Royal Commission, but as has been stated this was adversarial rather than survivor focused.

It is also true that they have joined the National Redress Scheme but, for the record, until June 2020, the AYS stated they had no intention of joining. They finally did so at the last minute (before the government deadline), we believe, under pressure from the authorities and a community-led campaign.

It is also true that the AYS has ceased its “affiliation with a Guru Lineage.” It was, however, the head of this yoga movement who cut his ties with the Australian entities long before the AYS ceased this “affiliation with a Guru Lineage.” (Pankhania, J. Hargreaves, J. (2017). “A Culture of silence: Satyananda Yoga”.)

“Closing a chapter” on abuse or “springing into a new chapter” without talking in a humane and caring way to those who have been harmed and psychologically hurt by the wounds of betrayal is not a yogic way. It is laudable that the AYS wants to do “good”. Indeed, it states that, “Yoga for Good Foundation has one sole mission: create opportunities to do good for others through yoga”. It begs the question though, of when the AYS will do good for members of their own suffering community, many of whom find yoga triggering and no longer wish to have anything whatsoever to do with it.

It is with good grace that the AYS are urged to undertake a healing reparation process for all members of the Australian Satyananda Yoga community who were, and continue to be, impacted by the history of abuse and the revelations of the RCIRCSA.

The following suggestions are the first steps in that healing process:

  1. Appoint an independent advocacy service to undertake a thorough healing, transformative reparation process for primary and secondary victim survivors of abuse and institutional betrayal.
  2. Appoint, in conjunction with the survivors, an independent review of compensation paid, given that the finances of AYS have changed.
  3. Establish a benevolent fund for those harmed during the 45 years of operation.
  4. Offer leadership, and assistance to those teachers trained in the organisation AYS has assumed, to address properly the findings of CS21.
  5. Ensure that the governance of all AYS Foundations is democratic, inclusive, and transparent, with no secret deals or policies; and that any grievance policies, and protocols around recruitment, are clearly articulated.

This is an invitation to the AYS to change the legacy of harm in the country where the RCIRCSA sat. It is never too late to make proper amends for the past and to heal the wounds of abuse and spiritual betrayal.

The Royal Commission has shown that alongside the history of perpetrators of abuse, there is a history of enablers, bystanders and beneficiaries. Those who accept grants and free yoga lessons from an organisation that many perceive to be betraying primary and secondary victims, could be seen as playing an active role as enablers, bystanders and beneficiaries. Guiora, A.N., (2020). Armies of Enablers: Survivor Stories of Complicity and Betrayal in Sexual Assaults, American Bar Association. Clare Leaney’s (CEO of In Good Faith Foundation) excellent interview of the author.

Today’s actions contribute to tomorrow’s history, and each individual has the power to choose whether it will be a history of hiṃsā (harm) or a history of satya (truth) and ahiṃsā (non-harm).

Until the AYS undertakes full and complete healing reparation yoga teachers, students, and organisations, are encouraged to stand in solidarity with those harmed in the organisation for which the AYS has assumed leadership.

Behind every high-profile sexual assault scandal, there’s an army of people whose decisions helped perpetuate the abuse.”
(Guiora, 2020).