The Shape of Openness

Openness is an overarching concept or philosophy that is characterized by an emphasis on transparency and free, unrestricted access to knowledge and information, as well as collaborative or cooperative management and decision-making rather than a central authority. Openness can be said to be the opposite of secrecy. Wikipedia

I have been highly critical of a number of organizations over the years connected to yoga trainings. My most popular publication was a report into the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY), but I have also written critically about Dru Yoga, Independent Yoga Network, Yoga Alliance, Sport England, Modern Yoga Studies, the United Nations and a few privately run training franchises too.

In general, my work has not been welcomed by the organizations involved, or the people affiliated to them.

Occasionally, the response has been immediate aggression, with threatening phone calls and emails. The next line of defence is more measured, but just as insistent. The idea here is that my findings are so unfair, I may be motivated by some deep seated psychological trauma, thus letting the target organization off the hook, so to speak as an innocent victim at the hands of a vengeful troublemaker hell-bent on harassment.

The final step, (which is always the same) is usually some form of blocking which can vary from simply abandoning email conversations, to deleting accounts right up to threats of being reported to the police, or some other authority and threats of legal action like being sued for libel.

This behaviour is in marked contrast to how each organization likes to see themselves, which is that they are ‘open’.

What ‘open’ often means for corporates is about a trade-off between influence and control, it is something like ‘anyone can join subject to our sole discretion’.

Thankfully, many people involved in yoga are kind, sensitive and well intentioned which makes yoga groups fairly amenable to a variety of people with different life experiences. The problem is that when the conditions become more hostile, as is the case when an organization faces public criticism, those intentions and virtues can go missing quite quickly.

I completed all my work into training provision, which I began around 2008 in 2018.

As an experiment, to see if the culture was changing at all, I attempted to join the Independent Yoga Network Facebook group. I selected it because the 'Facebook Groups' format and the general ethos of the IYN are both designed to facilitate openness.

The results?

On three separate occasions, each time my request was silently refused.

What does this tell us about the way some of the most ‘open’ groups are actually run?

It tells us that openness is not an absolute standard, and it is the people running these groups who get to decide for themselves what openness means for everyone else.

That interests me, because it suggests that yoga practitioners who are in positions of control are having to manage competing ideas like 'control' and 'transparency' but have only been given one word to use by the brand owners: ‘openness’.

Openness to most people means ‘transparency’ and ‘fairness’ but in many situations it means negotiating problematic cultures of ‘secrecy’ and ‘power’.


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