I am no longer offering classes at Integral Yoga Institute. After 6 years of dedicated service to the Institute, over 350 teaching hours, unpaid in the spirit of karma yoga, I’ve determined that Integral NY is not aligned, and has never been aligned, with the practices of non-violence and right action that our global communities need in order to heal and evolve.
At the core of my dissent is abuse of power and sexual misconduct, which have long plagued Integral Yoga as an organization. Women have been coming forward with credible claims of abuse and sexual coercion by the founder, Swami Satchidananda, which the Integral organization has been covering up since the 1970s.
The facts and stories of these events have resurfaced internally several times over the last 50 years, most recently in fall of 2022, after a period of dormancy. When asked for action, the leadership refers to it as “a family matter,” and claims that it must be handled internally.
Late this summer, I finished teaching my level 2 class and said the words “I’m Michelle and I’m here every week in this time slot.”
It came out of my mouth on autopilot, as it had closing yoga classes for the past 6 years. I immediately felt a wave of heat flash through my spine. My body was telling me that it was no longer true - I could no longer be associated with this organization. It has been very hard for me to accept that it is time to go, and I have been grieving the loss over these few months. Integral Yoga Institute was a place where I once felt a deep sense of belonging, and it is difficult to lose a space where you felt you belonged.
You’re receiving this message because you are part of my sangha, my spiritual community. IYINY brought me closer to you. Maybe even in a very large way. These teachings helped me to remember who I am, and in that, this yogic system brought me closer to every person in my life.
If this revelation is new or resurfacing, I have great compassion for anything that may be arising in you as you read my words. The lack of wider community acknowledgement of the harm done has caused me great anguish since I first learned of the history in November 2022, when I was sent this statement from Integral leadership in Yogaville titled “Facts and Allegations Concerning the Late Sri Swami Satchidananda,” which was addressed to all certified Integral teachers attending the global teachers conference. I was shocked. The reveal hung over the conference like a black cloud. Shortly thereafter, sparse teacher’s meetings were held where we were told that everyone was allowed to believe and say whatever they wanted about the history of sexual abuse, including holding space for those with doubts that any of the “allegations” were true. I’d assumed that the leadership needed time to organize their action steps, in late 2022 it truly never occurred to me that there may not be any action steps at all.
For many months I felt complicit in this cover-up as a teacher who’s been informed, sharing the teachings with a student population who is not aware. Although I left my teaching time slot in July 2023, I was in close contact with dozens of peers, and had an active role in an independent IYINY teacher’s movement that encouraged in me a great sense of hope. We gathered as teaching peers to process, mourn, organize and articulate the power imbalance that this legacy of silencing has marked on our spiritual community. We spent weeks drafting a letter to the NY Board of Directors asking for actions that would acknowledge the history of harm and lay the foundation for a more equitable and trauma-informed approach going forward.
We crafted and sent a letter to the board of directors on August 10th, 2023, which can be read HERE. It was signed by over 30 current or recently active teachers at IYINY.
The board responded with clarity that no action would be taken aside from conspicuously posting IYINY’s sexual harassment policy in studios and reception area, a lesser item/impact of the seven actions we’d requested. Teachers were told that we could accept the organization’s inaction indefinitely, or leave the community.
The official stance from leadership today is the same as it was decades ago. They are not willing to act publicly, and they are not willing to work with anyone internally who is hurting.
The IYI leadership has never admitted that this happened. They won’t admit that power was abused, that harm was done. They can not say that the founder had sex with his young female acolytes. They can not say that he lied.
Integral leadership has dismissed their responsibility by saying that we can’t know the truth.
When several women come forward, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, by detailing their sexual trauma with their trusted spiritual teacher, I believe that we know the truth. I believe women. I support victims of sexual abuse. As a community, we can not heal a wound if we can not admit that a wound exists.
I don’t feel safe offering classes at Integral NY. I will not invite yoga students to experience healing in the walls of an institution that is so profoundly unhealed. I'm grateful for the good that I received, which I will carry with me forever, and I am grateful for you. Integral Yoga was never my spiritual home. You are. I am. We’re already home. Thank you for reading my testimony and for your support on my spiritual journey.
OM shanti, OM peace,
Michelle ‘Meesh’ Brandt
NOTE: This letter, with some slight modifications, was sent to sixty students and peer teachers on September 28th, 2023. I am posting this on my blog for continued community transparency.