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

Yoga Australia

Details of Yoga Australia’s Response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Case Study 21: Satyananda Yoga Ashram.

The Nature of the Struggle for Change

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (RCIRCSA) was a response to allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated within organisations in Australia over many years. The Commission listened to thousands of testimonies and read many written accounts involving 4,000 institutions. Case Study 21 investigated allegations pertaining to the Satyananda Yoga Ashram.

On 1 February 2018, Dr Josna Pankhania contacted Yoga Australia to raise concerns about their inclusion of a senior Satyananda Yoga teacher, and Director of Anahata Yoga Retreat, New Zealand, as part of their platform at the Yoga Australia Conference, Melbourne, 16-18 March 2018. This speaker, in her role as a Director of a Yoga Retreat, was expounding Satyananda Yoga without having formally responded to Case Study 21: Satyananda Yoga Ashram of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (RCIRCSA), and without publicly acknowledging the survivors of this abuse.

Through lengthy communication, Pankhania attempted to explain that a presentation of a Satyananda Yoga practice – Yoga Nidra – at a national yoga conference in Australia by a leading teacher of Satyananda Yoga, who had not addressed the findings of CS21 of RCIRCSA set a dangerous precedence, not only undermining the work of the Royal Commission but also impeding the struggle for justice.

Although many people, some of them survivors, wrote to Yoga Australia expressing their concerns about the Director of Anahata Yoga Retreat presenting at their conference, Yoga Australia enabled the presentation of a workshop on Yoga Nidra, as developed by Satyananda Saraswati, founder of Satyananda Yoga.

It is important to note that as at the 25 August 2021, Anahata Yoga Retreat has not formally responded to CS21 of RCIRCSA or to the survivors of abuse within their yoga sangha.

On 10 May 2018, after the Yoga Australia conference, Pankhania lodged a grievance against Yoga Australia for failing to respond adequately to CS21 of the RCIRCSA.

On 6 November 2018, Yoga Australia produced this statement.

This is an important statement from Australia’s peak body for yoga. Yoga Australia made the following recommendation that all teachers should:

  1. Be transparent about the abuse that occurred within Satyananda Yoga; and
  2. Acknowledge the multiple testimonies, findings and recommendations of the RCIRCSA as they relate to Satyananda Yoga.

The process undertaken by Pankhania in 2018 took nine months, during which time she repeatedly attempted to convey the sense of betrayal felt by survivors, not only had their leaders let them down, but also the peak yoga body in Australia. She urged Yoga Australia to take action.

Between 2018 and 2019, Yoga Australia addressed a further grievance submitted by Pankhania, this time in relation to Yoga Australia’s registered teachers who have failed to acknowledge the findings of the commission.

In response, Yoga Australia released this statement in October 2019.

In August 2020, Yoga Australia followed this up with a significant Member Statement of Acknowledgement (MAS), an additional tool that reinforces awareness of the potential for harm to occur as well as the importance of ethical conduct.

Yoga Australia has built on their Code of Professional Conduct and Statement of Ethics, continuing to engage with survivors and the In Good Faith Foundation to support this important work in order to move forward.

Yoga Australia is committed to ongoing review of its ethical standards and member engagement, to support positive cultural change through an educational campaign for members with the support of the In Good Faith Foundation.