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Rape and bullying’: investigation reveals problems at Sivananda multinational yoga school

A woman named Julie Salter had written that Vishnudevananda had sexually abused her for three years

Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual abuse.

BBC journalist Ishleen Kaur was a dedicated yoga teacher at Sivananda, one of the biggest yoga movements in the world, until a baffling social network post led her to uncover several allegations of sexual abuse that had occurred for decades to the present day. This is her account:

Since I discovered yoga in my early 20s, it has become a big part of my world. As with many devout yogis, it was not just a gym class for me, but a way of life. Not only did I teach at the local Sivananda center, I volunteered to cook and clean. Sivananda’s teachings influenced every aspect of my existence.

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But in December 2019, I received a notification on my cell phone. It was a post on my Sivananda Facebook group about the movement’s revered founder, Swami Vishnudevananda, now deceased.

A woman named Julie Salter had written that Vishnudevananda had sexually abused her for three years at Sivananda’s headquarters in Canada.

She wrote that when she finally found the strength — decades later — to report the episode to Sivananda’s board of directors, “reactions ranged from silence to trying to silence.”

I’ve interviewed 14 women who accuse veteran Sivananda teachers of committing abuse, many of whom haven’t shared it with family or friends, let alone disclosed it publicly. I also spoke with a former employee who said her concerns were not taken into account by Sivananda’s board.

My investigation revealed allegations of abuse of power and influence within the organization I held dear.

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I clearly remember my first day at Sivananda’s ashram (meditation and religious teaching center) in Kerala, South India, where I graduated as a yoga teacher in 2014. On the wall was a magnificent photo of Swami Vishnudevananda, the late founder Sivananda, and the man Julie would denounce.

His teachings were so powerful that many yogis renounced all worldly connections and dedicated their lives to the organization.

I could understand why. I was going through a very challenging time, and Sivananda brought me back to peace. The asanas—or postures—gave me physical strength; Sivananda’s principles of karma, positive thinking, and meditation nourished my soul.

Ishleen at Sivananda’s ashram in Kerala, India
Ishleen at Sivananda’s ashram in Kerala, India
In 2015, I married a man who lived in London. I was startled by the idea of ​​moving to be with him, until I found out that there was a Sivananda center in Putney, not far from our new home. My husband used to joke that the center was my first love, not him.

Ishleen on stage in a demonstration by Sivananda
Ishleen on stage giving a demonstration of Sivananda
Two months after Julie Salter’s Facebook post, two Sivananda board members came from Europe to chat with Putney’s team. I hoped they would answer at least some of the many questions I had in my head. But their response was vague, and they looked defensive during the question-and-answer session that followed.

I knew I would have to talk to Julie myself.

Born in New Zealand, Julie was 20 years old and was on a trip to Israel when she learned about Sivananda’s teachings. She quickly joined the movement and, in 1978, moved to its headquarters in Canada.

Vishnudevananda was based there, and Julie was asked to be her personal assistant, something she initially considered a privilege.

But she tells her that her journey was cruel. She worked from 5 am until almost midnight, seven days a week — all without pay. And she says that Swami Vishnudevananda became unpredictable, often shouting at her.

“So, of course, my own boundaries were getting more and more fragile,” he says.

Until events took a darker turn.

One day, when Julie was working at Vishnudevananda’s house, she found him lying down listening to devotion tapes. He asked her to lie down beside him. When Julie said she didn’t understand what he wanted, he told her, “Tantra yoga”—a yoga practice that has become associated with spiritual sex but simply means working on spiritual enlightenment through deep relaxation. However, Julie says that Vishnudevananda had only referred to this in theoretical terms during a lecture.

“I said

and: ‘I don’t understand’ and despite everything in my body and mind saying ‘no’, I lay down. And then there was sexual contact. And then I was down there again, working, very embarrassed—and all that—anguish, blaming myself, guilty. “

Julie says she has been coerced into various sexual acts, including penetrative sex, for over three years.

know more
– Sivananda, which is also present in Brazil, is a classical form of yoga that emphasizes physical and spiritual well-being;

– Founded by Swami Vishnudevananda in 1959, in Montreal, Canada, named after its guru Swami Sivananda;

– There are around 60 Sivananda ashrams and centers in 35 countries around the world and around 50,000 trained Sivananda teachers;

– Several other renowned yoga gurus have been accused of abusing their position in recent years, including Bikram Chaudhry, Pattabhi Jois and Bhagwan Rajneesh;

“Guru” is a BBC investigation conducted by Ishleen Kaur and produced by Louise Adamou. Listen to the podcast (in English).

The guru-disciple relationship, known in yoga as the guru shishya parampara, is a tacit agreement that the follower will surrender to the guru’s desires.

She now regards Vishnudevananda’s actions as rape, as he was in a fragile position to consent given the “power dynamics” at play.

Julie with Vishnudevananda
Julie with Vishnudevananda, founder of Sivananda
“I was quite isolated, living on the other side of the world, from my family, from everything I knew in the past. It depended financially on the organization.”

I then spoke to two women who responded within minutes to Julie’s Facebook post, claiming that Vishnudevananda had abused them too.

Pamela told me that Vishnudevananda raped her during a retreat in 1978 at Windsor Castle, UK, when she was lying in a deep state of relaxation, known in yoga as the corpse pose.

Lucille reports that he raped her three times in the mid-1970s at the Canadian ashram. She says that the first two times she naively justified the act as tantric yoga, but the third time he gave her money, and she felt “like a whore.”

Vishnudevananda died in 1993, but it took Julie another six years to find the strength to leave the organization.

Her only hope is that by speaking out publicly now, she can save others from the suffering she went through. Because, as I would discover, Vishnudevananda may have died, but the abuse of Sivananda devotees did not die with him. Julie’s Facebook post opened the door.

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Since then, I have spoken with 11 women who have made serious accusations against two other Sivananda teachers, one of whom the BBC believes is still active in the organization.

Among the shocking accusations is the account of Marie (not her real name), who says she was coaxed by a teacher — whom we cannot identify for legal reasons — for several years.

She says she was very confused when their relationship became sexual, but felt she had no choice but to move on. After more than a year without any sexual contact with him, she remembers an occasion when he entered her room uninvited. Silently, she climbed on top of her, entered her, ejaculated, and left without a word.

Five other women told me that this same man sexually abused them. They don’t know each other, but all of their stories follow a similar pattern of grooming and abuse.

Catherine (not her real name) said that she was only 12 years old and was attending a children’s camp at Sivananda in Canada, in the 1980s, when the teacher began to be interested in her. She says the man massaged and touched her ass. When she turned 15, he started touching her more explicitly, taking her between her legs and touching her breasts. She claims that the last time she was abused by him was 17 years old. She was taking a nap and woke up with him on top of her. She left the organization that day.

Another woman claims she was abused by the same man in 2019.

We got in touch with this man, but he didn’t respond to the charges we filed. The BBC understands that he is still actively involved with Sivananda in India, although the organization denies this.

The other teacher accused of abuse is Maurizio Finocchi, also known as Swami Mahadevananda. I talked to eight women who filed charges against him. One of them, Wendy, worked as a personal assistant to Mahadevananda at the Canada branch in 2006.

One of her tasks was to print her emails and take them to her cabin. On the day in question, he asked her to bring his emails and breakfast to his room, where he was sitting on the bed. When she handed over the tray, she says he grabbed her arm and pulled the sheet, and she realized he was masturbating. She says he ejaculated on her arm.

“I just read myself

I remember feeling that I was practically not human to him. I was really a means to an end.”

Wendy says that if women approached their superiors to report troubling—and in some cases, criminal—behavior, the team would place it within the scope of a spiritual teaching called “guru grace.”

“If something were problematic or confusing — and I’m talking administrative stuff … but certainly questionable sexual relationships and relationships — you’d be told, ‘No, the fact that you’re having a problem is actually ‘guru grace ‘.”

“Like you’re learning some kind of valuable lesson.”

We contacted Mahadevananda to offer him the opportunity to respond to the allegations, but our request was not answered.

The BBC, however, saw a copy of an email he sent to a lawyer who had received crowdfunding from a Sivananda community group on Facebook called Project Satya, of which I became a member. In the email, he apologizes for what he calls his “mistakes” and promises to “make an effort not to do this again.”

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Another thing I wanted to understand was: how much of this did Sivananda’s management already know?

Julie told me that she finally found the strength to report her abuse in 2003, when she attended a meeting with a member of the Executive Members Council (EBM) — the council created by Vishnudevananda to look after Sivananda after his death . She says the council member was Swami Mahadevananda.

“We were there for a while, but basically he recognized that he had known this for years.”

Swami Mahadevananda is one of the other teachers targeted for sexual abuse allegations—but at the time Julie didn’t know that.

Julie says she shared the accusations with four other board members in the following weeks.

The advisers deny that Julie discussed her allegations with them in 2003. However, the BBC did see an email from Mahadevananda in which he confirms that he met Julie at that time. He describes the meeting as informal, but says that after that meeting the allegations became “widely known”.

In 2006, Julie participated in a mediated meeting with EBM, where discussions took place about some type of financial support for her. Allegations of abuse were also raised.

Advisers told the BBC that both sides were pleased with the results at the time, but Julie says nothing materialized. Therefore, the following year, Julie’s attorney wrote to the board asking for compensation and threatening to file a damages suit.

In response, she received a letter from the EBM attorney questioning why Julie was raising the issue so long after the alleged abuse.

Sivananda says that after meeting Julie, they began to implement protocols for members and guests designed to provide everyone with a safe environment to talk about such complaints.

We ask why they continue to revere the man who sexually abused her. “The Sivananda Organization honors its lineage and its teachings,” was their response.

Peter Sellers and Swami Vishnudevananda at a peace mission in Belfast, September 1971
Vishnudevananda, photographed here with actor Peter Sellers, used to make ‘peace flights’ to places of conflict
As for Mahadevananda, our investigation found evidence that the council knew of her alleged sexual impropriety as far back as 1999. Because he himself admitted it to them.

Swami Saradananda, an American woman who was part of the EBM at the time, said that in 1998/99 she received a phone call from the director of the ashram in New Delhi (India) in tears. The headmistress told her that Mahadevananda was walking around without pants—which Saradananda interpreted as wearing underwear.

When she called to question Mahadevananda, he explained that it wasn’t true. He wasn’t in his underwear—he was naked. And that wasn’t his only revelation.

“He told me he wore nothing below the waist and walked into the office where [the headmistress of Delhi] was working and masturbated in front of her.”

Swami Saradananda, deeply bewildered, says she raised this issue at the next EBM meeting.

She says that all recording devices have been turned off, and the secretary removed from the room.

Mahadevananda was present and, according to her, confirmed that her account was true.

“And he said, ‘But if she doesn’t want me to do it, that’s fine, big deal. I won’t do it anymore.’”

When she interrupted to ask how they were going to handle Mahadevananda’s confession, one of the council members replied, “Well, he already said he’s not going to do that anymore. What you want? His blood?”

Within months, Saradananda received a fax informing her that she had been removed by a council vote. We presented this claim to the EBM, but they did not respond.

Saradananda’s revelations may be responsible for the lack of surprise that Wendy test

she emulated in 2006 when she told a senior staff member at Canadian headquarters that Mahadevananda had ejaculated on her.

His answer, she said, was: “Damn it, not again.”

The staff member told her not to worry—the organization had provided therapy for Swami Mahadevananda.

“I didn’t know that in Canada this would be defined as sexual abuse. And I didn’t know at the time that this could have been taken to the police,” says Wendy.

Thirteen years later, the EBM ended up investigating Mahadevananda and Mahadevananda announced his retirement in their monthly magazine — a retirement they admitted they are funding. The note said that the executive board was appreciative of their “dedicated and inspiring service.”

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Carol Merchasin, Project Satya’s crowdfunded lawyer, says she spoke with 25 to 30 women who have reported sexual abuse against Sivananda employees. And she says she found each of the reports believable.

In Catherine’s case, she questions why the incident was not reported to the police after counselors learned of the allegations. When, many years later, her parents found out and confronted them, Carol says they were told that nothing could be done without evidence.

According to the EBM, the professor accused of abusing Catherine and other women was suspended from his duties while they investigated the case. But we were told by various sources that he is still involved in Sivananda’s Indian ashrams, and when I called the Kerala ashram, I was told that he actually taught a full course there earlier this year.

The EBM refused the request for an interview, but sent us a statement which we reproduce in full below:

“The Board of Directors fully sympathizes with those who spoke up and offers anyone who feels they may have been affected by the conduct referred to [in the BBC investigation] a guarantee that they will not tolerate abuse or ignore inappropriate behaviour. And apologizes unreservedly for any historical mistakes made in addressing the allegations detailed in [investigation].

“As a result of these allegations, Sivananda commissioned an independent investigation and appointed legal experts who helped to review and implement protection policies and put in place the appropriate training. The Sivananda Organization has established a confidential reporting system for anyone who is concerned about abuse. It is an absolute priority for the Sivananda Organization that anyone who comes into contact with it, in any role, is protected from abuse or suffering. The Sivananda Organization is a monastic order dedicated to physical, mental and spiritual health and is committed to the safety of all its members. “

I have seen four of the investigation reports on the professor that we cannot identify, all of which conclude that, based on the judgment of probability, the victims are trustworthy and their testimony is true, and that two of them reported their abuse to the EBM.

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In April, I returned to the Putney Ashram, where I spent the last five years as a teacher and devotee. But this time I didn’t enter.

It occurred to me that the overwhelming nature of Sivananda that attracted me was also what made her so dangerous. All the women I talked to told me it was easy to lose a sense of reality, which made it harder to question what was going on.

And I am aware that during our investigation, the women who spoke out were all Westerners. But it looks like there are Indian victims too—I’ve seen emails from women detailing what happened to them, but they were too scared to talk to me.

For me, Sivananda is over.

Research produced by Louise Adamou

Two dead and several missing in a landslide in Japan
Circulation of the Shinkansen, the Japanese high-speed train, was temporarily suspended between Tokyo and Osaka (west) as a result of heavy rains, and service on other trains was also interrupted, according to the railway companies’ websites.
AFAgência France-Presse posted on 7/3/2021 10:40 AM / updated on 7/3/2021 10:44 AM

(credit: Simon/Flcikr)(credit: Simon/Flcikr)

Two people have died and about 20 are missing due to a landslide that buried several homes in central Japan after several days of heavy rains, local authorities said.
https://b4747aa08c7d7a19487c0ed2300b53ad.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“Due to torrential rains, the land gave way and an avalanche formed (…) In its passage, it swept houses and inhabitants” and cut a national highway, Shizuoka Department Governor Heita Kawakatsu told reporters.

“Two people are in a state of cardiac arrest” – expression used in the country before death was confirmed by a

doctor – and another twenty are still missing due to this landslide, which occurred around 10:30 am local time (10:30 pm on Friday, Brasília time), explained the governor.

According to television footage, a torrent of mud destroyed some houses and buried others in the coastal city of Atami (southwest of Tokyo), from which the inhabitants fled trying to protect themselves.

“I heard a terrible noise and saw an avalanche of mud descending as some workers asked people to evacuate. I also ran to protect myself in the heights”, reported a witness to the public channel NHK.https://b4747aa08c7d7a19487c0ed2300b53ad.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“When I returned, the houses and cars were gone,” he added.

“High alert level”
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that Japanese emergency services and self-defence forces (official name of the Army) have started rescue and evacuation operations, warning that even more torrential rain is expected.

“We have to maintain the maximum level of alert,” he declared after an emergency meeting.

Atami recorded in 48 hours, until dawn this Saturday, precipitation of 313 mm, according to the NHK agency, a value higher than the annual average of 242.5 mm that usually has for the entire month of July.https://b4747aa08c7d7a19487c0ed2300b53ad.safeframe. googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The city, located in rural Shizuoka, is about 90 km from the capital, Tokyo, and is known for its hot springs.

About 2,800 homes remain without power, according to energy company Tepco.

Circulation of the Shinkansen, the Japanese high-speed train, was temporarily suspended between Tokyo and Osaka (west) as a result of heavy rains, and service on other trains was also interrupted, according to the railway companies’ websites.

The landslide took place during the rainy season in Japan, which often causes flooding and landslides.https://b4747aa08c7d7a19487c0ed2300b53ad.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

More than 200 people died in 2018 after devastating floods in western Japan. In 2020, flooding killed dozens of people amidst the coronavirus pandemic, making rescue efforts more difficult.

According to scientists, the phenomenon has been accentuated by climate change, as a warm atmosphere holds more water, increasing the risk and intensity of extreme rains.

Cuba to start mass immunization against Covid-19 with Abdala vaccine
According to the Cuban government, the immunizing agent produced in the country guarantees 92% efficacy after three doses
Cuba will start mass vaccination against Covid-19 with the immunizing agent it has developed. According to the Cuban government, Abdala, as the vaccine was called, must be applied with three doses and guarantees 92% efficacy. To immunize the mass campaign, authorization for emergency use by the State Drug Control Center is still lacking. José Moya, representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the country, said that this is confirmation of the experience of scientific institutions that develop vaccines and of a 30-year history. Cuba has experience in the development of vaccines and for more than 30 decades has produced a large part of the immunization agents used by the population. The president of state-owned BioCubaFarma, Eduardo Martinez, said the vaccine is already being used in 35 countries. However, the immunizing agent has not yet been published in scientific journals and is not endorsed by health agencies, both nationally and internationally. This week, Venezuela began vaccinating its population with Abdala, which generated a lot of controversy, since not even Cuba has authorization for emergency use. Venezuelan medical bodies have expressed concern about what they consider a product of dubious scientific credibility. Nicolás Maduro’s government said it had purchased 12 million doses of the immunizing agent. Cuba also has four vaccines under development, one of which is Sovereign 2, which according to initial results is 62% effective with the application of two of the three doses required.

One or two doses? With the advancement of the Delta variant, experts indicate a booster for Janssen’s vaccine
Pharmaceuticals claims that the immunizing agent neutralizes the Indian strain with a single application; however, the international medical community discusses the need for a second dose combined with another brand.
Amid discussions about the third wave of the pandemic and the emergence of new strains of the coronavirus, experts are beginning to analyze, in practice, the effectiveness of vaccines against Covid-19, as well as possible side effects. In this context, part of the international medical community debates the Janssen vaccine application model, which belongs to the Johnson & Johnson group. Health professionals question the immunization created from the single dosage.

and propose booster vaccination with the combination of a second dose of another immunizing agent. This discussion about the effectiveness of the vaccine “in the real world” arises, especially, because of the advancement of the Delta variant, also known as the Indian variant, which has mutations in the “S” protein of the virus and jeopardizes the ability to protect the immunizing agents, explains immunologist Dr. Lorena Castro. “The variants of concern alter precisely this protein, which links the virus with our cells. Vaccines are designed to keep the virus from entering and multiplying. But with the new variants, vaccines made with the spike protein lost their effectiveness because the virus started to find ways to bypass the immune system.”https://01bec8582953b3a66af3be563200498c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0- 38/html/container.html

On Thursday, 1st, Janssen informed that the vaccine developed by the laboratory neutralizes the Indian strain with a single application. On the same day, the head of the Medical Research Council of South Africa, Glenda Grey, announced that a study carried out in the country also proves the effectiveness of the compound against the Delta variant. “We see amazing durability in the single-dose immune response for up to eight months,” she said. Despite the positive results, doctors continue to advocate the use of a booster. Among the supporters of the proposal is the virologist Angela Rasmussen, from the University of Saskatchewan, in Canada. On social networks, the researcher even claimed that she was vaccinated with Janssen’s immunizing agent in April and received a dose from Pfizer in June. The reason for choosing the vaccine used as a booster, in addition to availability in the country, would be the different methodology. As it is produced from messenger RNA, a Pfizer product would correctly complete the immunization scheme. Although there are still no pharmaceutical recommendations on the matter, the expert says that “it is likely to work, considering that the boosters work for almost all other vaccines.” And she points out the vaccine booster: “We cannot rule out scenarios where it might be beneficial, especially in places where the community is not fully vaccinated,” she said, referring to the study results.

Another specialist who advocates the adoption of an extra dose after immunization with Janssen’s vaccine is infectologist Céline Gounder, a professor at New York University. Like Angela Rasmussen, the doctor says that, considering the advance of the Delta variant, she would recommend a second application with messenger RNA vaccines (such as Pfizer and Moderna) for the elderly, immunosuppressed and people with comorbidities such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. The great concern, according to the expert, is with the advancement of the strain originating from India in places like the United States and the United Kingdom. More infectious, the mutation can “escape the immune response to older variants”, increasing the cases of reinfection and transmission of the disease by individuals already immunized. “The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines remain effective in preventing serious illness and death from the Delta variant, but we see a significant drop in overall efficacy with the J&J vaccine against the Delta variant,” explained the infectious disease specialist.

Military plane with 92 people on board crashes and leaves at least 17 dead in the Philippines
So far, 40 soldiers have been rescued from the wreckage of the aircraft and rescue teams are still searching for other survivors; accident happened this Sunday, 4, when the aircraft was trying to land
The crash of a military aircraft has so far left at least 17 people dead in the Philippines. This case happened this Sunday, 4, when the plane was trying to land on Joló Island, in Sulu province, in the south of the country. The aircraft had 92 people on board, including three pilots and five crew members. So far, 40 soldiers have been rescued from the plane’s wreckage and rescue operations are continuing to search for other survivors, said the country’s Defense Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana. The Lockheed C-130 Hercules was carrying troops for military reinforcement in the Muslim-majority region, which have been fighting armed groups such as those from Abu Sayyaf. There is still no information about the cause of the accident. “The plane lost the runway and was trying to regain power, but it failed and crashed,” said military chief General Cirilito Sobejana. “It’s very unfortunate”, he added. To the Associated Press, an Armed Forces official reported that the runway at Joló airport is shorter, which may have led to the accident.

Information taken from the websites https://www.correiobraziliense.com.br/https://jovempan.com.br/