Who we are

We are the yoga students who attended the Northwest Yoga Conference (NWYC) and were asked to leave the opening ceremony along with our Heartfull ™ Meditation teacher, Savitri. Many of us stood outside the conference all weekend long. We bore witness to a deep violation of respect, one that continues to be unresolved by the NWYC leadership to date. Over the last three months, we have watched the yoga community respond to this incident and have had powerful conversations within our community and outside it. After reflection, meditation, and integration, we are choosing to speak now.

Most of us are yoga and meditation teachers; we are all women, who range in age from 33 to 72. We have consciously avoided using Sanskrit or yoga jargon in this article to make it as accessible, respectful, and as universal as possible. We are white, Indian, South American; we are mothers, professionals in real estate and tech, art teachers, web designers, producers, managers. Between the 11 of us, there are over 175 years of devoted yoga practice. Yoga is not a hobby for any of us; it is a lifestyle and central principle around which our lives are built. Each of us chose individually to attend the opening ceremony of the Northwest Yoga Conference to honor and celebrate our beloved teachers. Aadil Palkhivala, the yoga asana master and our teacher, was voted as a “Luminary” by the yoga community at large. His wife, a master of meditation and our teacher, Savitri, was accepting this honor on his behalf.

Why we’re speaking

Yoga is a practice of constant evolution towards greater levels of awareness. To just “get over it” and stay silent about misconduct is completely counter to the message of Yoga; it ensures that nothing will change, and it keeps people in power who do not deserve to be in power. This is happening all over the world, but this is a local example that we are committed to healing.

Are there two sides to every story? We believe that there is just one story, but there are thousands of lenses through which people choose to see the story. We recently came together to share our experiences, first with each other to understand our own lenses, and now with you. We were physically the closest to the stage; we could hear every interaction that was inaudible on film. We saw Melissa and Savitri interact before the ceremony, hugging and saying hello. We were the ones behind the cameras, we walked out with Savitri, and we were on the sidewalk all weekend long. We’ve also witnessed the impact this has had on our teachers and community in daily ways.

We meditated together before writing this with a prayer of seeing and expressing truth, removing any veils that keep us from seeing clearly. Our intention here is to speak, as honestly as we can, to the heart of the matter.

This is about respect

Respect is the foundation of yoga, of the word namaste, of social justice, and of basic morality. The lack of respect shown to Savitri on stage, to all of us as her students, and to our entire community following the event is not acceptable. There is no nuanced complexity here, unless it is in your self-interest to obscure the issue. No matter how narrowly or widely you contextualize this incident, what showed up in that room was disrespect.

What would respect have looked like? Here is a video of Bob Smith (another Luminary) giving his 10-minute speech after Savitri was kicked out. Notice that he exceeds the time limit without interruptions or mic-grabs. He is afforded time to share his message; that is what respect would have looked like.

It would have been enormously edifying to have a simple, sincere apology afterwards. Instead, what we witnessed following the event (and now, three months later) is a lack of acknowledgement by Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn and the NWYC that this was deeply disrespectful – not just at the ceremony, but all the actions following. Accountability is the first crucial step in resolution. Respect breeds more respect, and unrepentant disrespect breeds more disrespect.

The many manifestations of disrespect in our world – war, poverty, sexism, sizeism, racism, etc. – can overwhelm us to a point of numbness. But this is our home – the beautiful, alive Northwest – and this is an opportunity for us to act differently and hold those in positions of power accountable. We advocate for respectful, compassionate resolution and reparation. And we will not rest until this issue is resolved.

This is about Truth

Nothing can heal without truth. We believe that bringing awareness to situations that are wrong is not “creating division;” it is the only way to heal division. It was clear that the conference leadership wanted to erase all evidence of wrongdoing – our teachers were kicked out, our studio’s booth was taken down, and they deleted any comments about the incident on social media. This is anti-truth and anti-yoga. We shared our very amateur iPhone videos and our voices because this incident needed to be seen; the videos were not edited or clipped at all (half of us barely know how to use our phones.) We thought we’d be filming an inspiring speech to share with Aadil and Savitri’s students and, well, it didn’t turn out that way.

This situation brought to the surface the many ways we distort the truth with our own biases. Bob Smith’s distorted version of the events, for example, was shocking to all of us who were in the room. It would be irresponsible and dishonest not to clear up some of this misleading information from the first article (link to article by Natalie Cielle) and respond to his second article (link to article by Arti Kumar). We also want to transparently share our knowledge of any “backstory” (link to article by Sandra Storwick).

Read Natalie Cielle's Response to Bob's Smith's perspective on the NWYC Incident

Scenario 1:
Bob Smith, a white male American-born yoga teacher there to accept a Luminary award, was driven to the event by students, sat to the side of the stage, and gave a speech that was recorded by his wife and yoga partner for many years as a memento of this honor.

A video of his speech shows that he goes well beyond the 10 minutes allotted to him (by about 3.5 minutes) and – as one would expect – nothing happens to him.

He later makes money writing articles about this conference.

Scenario 2:
Savitri, an Indian-born woman of color meditation master there to accept a Luminary award on behalf of her husband and yoga partner for many years, was driven to the event by students, sat to the side of the stage, and gave a speech that was recorded by her students as a memento of this honor.

I am pretty sure you’ve seen the video of her speech. If not, spoiler alert: she is cut off at the 5-minute mark, had the mic grabbed from her hand, and was escorted out of the building along with her students (I was one of them.)

She, her husband, and their family business are kicked out of the conference, resulting in lost income and reputation.

I was at the Northwest Yoga Conference opening ceremony and I’ll be honest: when I read Bob’s first article retelling the event, I couldn’t sleep. I sat up in bed next to my young, sleeping daughter shaking with anger. How can a man who has devoted his life to yoga, a respected former teacher of mine, have seen through such a clearly distorted lens? Anger in my life flows most ferociously when there is a violation of truth. Like Laura Humpf beautifully expressed in her article, beneath this anger was deep grief and sadness.

I’m ashamed to say that after the initial anger and sadness came a desire to just have it all go away; I didn’t want to read about it, think about, or feel about it. I avoided writing this article for probably too long while sitting in that numb space. And, to be fully transparent, I was also afraid to speak out and correct an older, white, male – and former teacher of mine. I was afraid that I would look petty and get somehow sullied by diving into this situation.

But I’m calling myself out. A cosmic voice in my heart finally shook me out of my white-privilege-avoidance stupor and said, quite simply: “NO.”

No. The voice of an older white man carries thousands of years of authoritative association, but it is not objective truth.

No. I can see so clearly that this is how history has always been rewritten: a white cis-gendered man rewrites a story of blatant wrongdoing in a way that discredits and diminishes the voices of women and/or people of color, and then urges everyone to just MOVE ON.

No. We cannot – as individuals or as a community – ever truly move forward unless we acknowledge and make right the harm we have caused and incurred. Avoid the urge to look away.

Nothing can heal without truth. And though I do not claim to be an objective authority on Truth, I was in that room, awkwardly close to the stage at the ceremony, and feel responsible to correct some important misinformation:

  1. Bob’s article states:“…it was written that there would be an allotment of 10 minutes total for introductions for all three luminaries… I asked [Melissa] if this was the time for me to give my short prepared talk. She said, “no”, that this would come later, at the end.”

The truth: Just to be super crystal clear: each Luminary (Aadil Palkhivala, Bob Smith, Theresa Elliot) was asked to prepare a 10 minute speech. There is an email that shows this, and both Bob and Theresa spoke for at least 10 minutes later in the ceremony. At the ceremony, Bob was confused about whether he was supposed to speak during the “introduction of all three luminaries” or if he was supposed to give his 10-minute speech later on. Melissa told him “No, that comes later.” Savitri was too far away to hear the exchange.

When Savitri did come up to accept the award after Bob, she was confused about whether to speak for the allotted 10 minutes, so she asked Melissa, “Is this my time to speak?” Melissa said, “Yes. Would you like a chair?” Savitri said, “No thank you, I can stand.” And Melissa gave her the microphone. This was super confusing to me, since I had just heard her tell Bob not to speak and then encourage Savitri to speak.

  1. Bob’s article states: “After a few minutes, Melissa politely asked her to please finish up and step down.  Savitri kept speaking, with no let up.  Savitri was asked by Melissa on three more occasions, less polite each time, to wrap it up and please sit down.  Savitri refused each time and continued to give her story.”

The truth: The entire exchange is on camera. Bob wasn’t close enough to hear the words, but I was right there. Melissa said “your time is up” in the middle of Savitri’s speech, and Savitri said “Just a minute, this is important.” Instead of giving an “Okay, one more minute” or anything reasonable, Melissa kept tapping her wrist saying “you had 5 minutes.” And Savitri, who was completely confused, said “Aadil told me that I had 10 minutes.” At this point Melissa grabbed the mic.

  1. Bob’s article states: “And then, to the surprise of all who were there, Melissa got very angry, and Savitri also got very angry and a verbal shouting match occurred between the two of them over who had control over the microphone.”

The truth: There was no shouting match at all. As you can see, Melissa took the microphone almost immediately, something even she admitted wasn’t a good choice. Savitri was shocked and just wanted to finish the speech she had been invited to give.

  1. Bob’s article states: “Savitri shoved the award back into Melissa’s hands and angrily shouted out to the crowd that this was not a yoga conference that had any merit to it and that all should boycott the conference and follow her out of the hall and out of the conference.”

The truth: This is total fabrication, which you can see on the video. Savitri did not shout and certainly didn’t ‘shove’ the award anywhere. She spoke with clarity and confidence and returned the award saying, “Aadil would not want to accept this,” and Melissa said, “GOOD.” Savitri did not include a single word about boycotting the festival at any point in time – not there at the ceremony and not at any point afterwards.

  1. Bob’s article states: “Savitri, her entourage, and approximately 1/3rd of the audience left the hall.  Those remaining were completely stunned by the events that had just occurred.”

The truth: A group of 10 people left the room with Savitri because Melissa asked “her people” all to leave; they (I was one of them) were there to see their teacher honored. An additional 2 or 3 people walked out in solidarity. If more left afterwards, we weren’t there to see it. Theresa Eliot’s husband came out of the room after us and said, “Please come back in; my wife has put so much into preparing this speech!” and someone replied, “I’m sorry, but we were all kicked out and told to leave by Melissa.”

  1. Bob’s article states: “Aadil Palkhivala and Savitri left the conference.”

The truth: Nope. Aadil got a telephone call from Melissa’s assistant at 8:30pm, the same evening of the incident, and was told that they were no longer invited to participate and that their business could no longer keep their pre-paid booth at the conference.

  1. Bob’s article states: “The Aadil – Savitri team immediately hit social media with a video that showed only part of the confrontation, with accusations of racial discrimination as being the main issue that was behind the whole thing.”

The truth: There is no cropping of the video – two videos on Zenia’s page show all the interactions between the two women, and it ends only because the student filming was being kicked out of the room. It is clear to anyone with even a basic understanding of racial justice that race was involved. Please read Terilyn’s excellent article on the topic.

  1. Bob’s article states: “I know that I, also, would have been booted out if I had acted anything at all like Savitri acted.”

The truth: Bob did speak over his allotted 10 minutes time by 3.5 minutes, (as seen on a YouTube video) and you can clearly see that he was not treated the way Savitri was treated AT ALL.

  1. Bob’s article states: “Huge pressure was immediately put upon the northwest yoga community by the Aadil – Savitri camp to boycott the Northwest Yoga Conference.”

The truth: There was literally zero call from anyone to boycott the conference. I personally chose to boycott the festival, and wrote about it on my personal FB page, but I didn’t ask anyone to join me.

  1. Bob’s article states:  “Picketers stood outside the entry doors to the conference for the next three days.  A threatening letter and petition were put out by the Aadil and Savitri social media team asking all to leave the conference on their behalf.”

The truth: The protesters were passing out a letter stating the truth from Aadil and Savitri to the students who were there to study with them. The letter had some social media reactions from their community of students (that had been kicked out) on the back. Protesters were also answering questions and having very rich and loving conversations. The only “call to action” was that people call for accountability and transparency from conference organizers. Bob did not interact with a single protester. The main reason for the letter was to explain to students that Savitri and Aadil were kicked out of the conference and that is why they were not teaching. (Melissa’s staff had been erroneously telling conference participants that Aadil was not able to teach.)

  1. Bob’s article states: “Certainly, it was an extremely uncomfortable situation for all of us who witnessed it, whether in person at the event, or by watching a video of the edited escalated moments of it.”

The truth: The video was not edited in any way. It was a video meant to capture Savitri’s speech for posterity so it started as she was being introduced and ended when she and her students were kicked out of the room.

  1. Bob’s article states: “..framing the incident as racially motivated clouds the reality that the Palkhivala’s abused their own significant power at the ceremony and after this a social media war was started as the community, presenters and vendors were harassed; all this predicated on something that was not true – that the incident itself was racially motivated.”

The truth: Physically and economically removing an Indian family and their entire student community from a conference meant to unite the Northwest yoga world has tragically perpetuated institutional racism. Speaking up against injustice is not harassment, it is love and respect.

Each one of our perspectives is shaped by the bodies we live in; our race, our gender, our conscious and unconscious beliefs. And though it was a cosmic NO that made me jump up from bed and finally write this article, it stems from an even greater YES.

Yes, we have the power to keep our eyes open and make this situation right; it’s never too late.

Yes, the details – in our practices and our world – matter.

Yes, Yoga is for healing bodies, and perhaps more importantly, it is for healing our communities and planet.

Thank you for the amazing and heartening responses to this incident from Yoga Behind Bars, Street Yoga, 8 Limbs Yoga Centers, Rainier Beach Yoga and Satmato Yoga Therapy, Heartfull World, Terilyn Wyre, Samantha Brown, and many amazing teachers and studios. Thank you Savitri for knowing that your voice matters. You all give me hope.

Read Arti Kumar's Response to Bob's Smith's article on the Future of Yoga Communities in America

This letter is in response to Bob Smith’s article published in Seattle Yoga News about The Past and Future of Yoga Communities in America.

It is with sadness that I am writing today. By way of introduction, I have studied yoga with my teachers Aadil Palkhivala and Savitri for over fifteen years. I have been challenged to grow, to understand, to be more of who I truly am daily. Not only as a teacher of yoga, but in every moment of my life. For it is in being who we truly are that we can be instruments of the Divine and its work on this earthly planet.

Let us all step back and try to understand what yoga truly is and what its purpose is, for in so doing we begin to understand ourselves. Aadil writes in the preface to his book Fire of Love, “Its purpose is to reveal and restore the lost essence of yoga, to infuse the practice and teaching of contemporary yoga with its ancient and future message – the message of the heart, the message of Light.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are luminaries in yoga even today, a half century or more after their passing. To those who they appear and talk with, they are a living presence. Much of their wisdom is in their books. But to one who contacts their living presence, they are a fierce call for casting away delusion and bringing more Light onto this suffering Earth. Such a person is Savitri, my meditation teacher of fifteen years. When I first met her, I was astonished by the palpable Light around her. As I continued meditation with her, I was again astonished by how simply, elegantly and powerfully the techniques and meditations she shares embody the essence of the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and of the yoga they brought. Aadil and Savitri deserve the highest honors for creating Purna Yoga and Heartfull Meditation which hold the tools to bring more love, light and joy into our lives and to uplift humanity to the next stage in its evolution.

Yoga begins with respect. And that is what was sorely lacking at the Northwest Yoga Conference. Even as a luminary voted for by the community, being given an award for his commitment and work for yoga in the Northwest, Aadil and Savitri were not accorded even basic etiquette and common civility. The Mother said, “There is no greater courage than that of recognizing one’s own mistakes.” It would be an act of courage to admit that Melissa’s actions were not in accord with the occasion. She verbally attacked the wife of the award recipient and with great arrogance asked security to take her and their students out of the room and the conference venue. It would be courageous to say that more mistakes were made after the award ceremony not only by Melissa in canceling Aadil and Savitri’s classes and packing up their booth, but by Bob Smith and eleven other teachers in the letter they put out taking Savitri to task for a situation that was not of her making, in which she and Aadil were being disrespected and mistreated. This was not yogic by any stretch of the imagination. It is fine to speak the language of yoga, but one must walk the talk.

Instead of the honor he so justly deserved, Aadil was grossly disrespected at the Northwest Yoga Conference. Instead of love and appreciation, he and Savitri received abuse. It is perhaps this way for all Masters. Sri Aurobindo did his work in isolation for many, many years. It is time for the Seattle yoga community to offer respect to the country of India which is the birthplace of the yoga that is being misrepresented and abused here. How can respect be offered? By understanding with our hearts what yoga is, who Savitri and Aadil are, what they offer through Purna Yoga.

I have been honored to have meditated and been in the presence of many Masters, of several different nationalities, in my life. It is with Savitri and Aadil and Purna Yoga that my personal journey has culminated. In Purna Yoga I have found the help I have needed in every aspect of my outer and inner life. Why do we do any yoga? To discover tools to deal with our lives, with the social context we live in. No society is perfect, no human being is perfect. There are always levels of truth available to one. To discover the peaks of one’s consciousness, one has to be in a state of great humility. Yoga begins with humility and respect. Whether one is a teacher or student, whatever knowledge, power or means one has must be offered at the feet of the Divine. Where is this Divine? Only one’s own heart can lead one to it. It is not through books or talks that one can find the Divine – they are only a guide, signposts along the journey. It is by going into one’s heart. That is the role of the Master – to show by their own example first, and their teachings after – this sacred path into the center of one’s being.

It is because we are in our minds, separated from our own Light and Love that we have the world we do today. For the world to change, we must be open to change so that the transformation the Mother and Sri Aurobindo spoke of can happen. Receptivity to the Divine Light and Love is needed so that we may feel it in every cell of our being. The mind cannot lead us there. Books and talks, although helpful guides, cannot lead us there. Writers and speakers are helpful, but only if they speak from Truth, from their inner connection with the Divine.

Bob mentions the international community of Auroville as a model for spiritual and yoga communities. Aadil and Savitri have been members of the Auroville community since their youth. They never faced such disrespect in Auroville. They have also grown the worldwide community of Purna Yoga along the same lines. It is located in the hearts, minds and bodies of practitioners in many nations, including America. The dream of human unity held by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo must first be realized in our own being and in our communities before it becomes a reality on a larger scale.

To have a healing of the yoga community in Seattle as Bob suggests in his article, I propose we have a community meditation with several luminaries including Savitri and Aadil. Those who stand for Truth always join hands, no matter the differences in their paths. That is the reason for a yoga conference. For understanding and sisterhood and brotherhood to flower amongst the many different streams of yoga that flow separately only to merge in the ocean of Divine Love. Let us join hands together for humility, respect, truth, for sisterhood and brotherhood, for true yoga to blossom here. It is by experiencing oneness in our own body-mind-spirit that we can truly live yoga, and become instruments of the Divine Light to bring oneness and healing to this suffering planet.

Please comment below this article if you feel this step will be helpful.

Read Sandra Storwick's Perspective on the backstory of the incident

I found Bob Smith’s recent article about the Northwest Yoga Conference incident deeply disturbing. Initially, I felt sad that someone who calls himself a yoga teacher, after 43 years of practice, still sees from the mind and not the heart; the heart sees truth, the mind fabricates what it wants to believe. However, the more I studied this article, the more I thought, wow! This article beautifully demonstrates the core of the problem with western appropriated yoga. Lack of Truth. Truth of course is one of the sacred tenets of yoga.

There is a consciousness in the body, the soul, that tells the truth, and another consciousness, the ego, that lies to us. It lies to us about who we are, about our full potential and it has no idea why we are here so it makes up lots of stories, which it then believes. This part feels all kinds of feelings, or nothing, but it does not feel love, real Divine Love, the Truth essence, the energy that gives us life.

The part of us that lies, the ego, is very tricky. It wears many hats, but one of the roles it loves the most is the role of the spiritual teacher. It has mastered covering up its miserable state of separateness with lovely spiritual words, complicated concepts, obscure vocabulary, appropriate attire and has memorized enough spiritual behavior to appear spiritual. It is a master manipulator.

True yoga was designed to bring this part, the ego, home to the light in the heart chakra, where Truth, Love and Light, the True you lives. The consciousness in the heart will always tell you the Truth.  This happens to be what Savitri teaches – techniques to bring the ego home to the Light in the heart and live from Truth.

I thank Bob for writing this article, that does a magnificent job of highlighting a core problem in yoga today.  Truth is not showing up.

I was also present at the event at the Northwest Yoga Conference, sitting 10 feet from Melissa. I feel I need to clear the record and bring clarity into Bob Smith’s confusing assertions and cloudy recollections (otherwise known as “gaslighting”). However I really should not have to say this as it is all very clear in the video.   So, in the pursuit of Truth, I have a few questions.

  1. I would like to know more about “the timekeeper in the audience who was showing time to all presenters”. This is the first time I have heard that story. There was no timekeeper in the audience that Savitri was aware of. You can see on the video that Melissa, sitting behind Savitri the whole time, checks her watch and then decides she has had enough. Savitri was about to deliver a beautiful message about the theme of the conference, “Be the Light.” (The irony of the situation is that if the organizer was truly “being the Light”, she would have realized that Savitri was amply qualified to talk on this theme.)
  2. The next question – the “10 minutes total for introductions for all three luminaries” – this was Melissa’s error in communicating with Savitri. When Bob Smith came up and asked if he should speak now, she said “No.” When Savitri asked Melissa, “May I speak now?” Melissa said “yes,” handed her the mike, and asked if she wanted a chair. That was Melissa’s error entirely; it is her responsibility to communicate event flow and time keepers beforehand. Even Bob Smith admits that he was confused about when to speak! Then when it was Bob’s turn, Bob’s speech, which was posted on You Tube was a whopping 13.42 minutes. No one stopped Bob or snatched the mike out of his hands!
  3. The next question – Bob’s perception of Savitri getting “very angry and a verbal shouting match occurring.” Bob Smith, please re-watch the video. Savitri was rudely interrupted. She and her students were told to leave the conference. Even if Savitri exceeded her allotted time (she was not even close), YOU JUST DON’T TREAT PEOPLE THAT WAY. Not anyone, not an honored guest, not anyone. All this focus on the time just seems to be a strategy to obscure the obvious: Melissa interrupted Savitri, mid-sentence, grabbed the mike, and proceeded to have her removed from the stage and the room along with those who had come to hear her speak, then proceeded to cancel their classes. It was all quickly wrapped up by 8:30pm Thursday evening. I can’t imagine anyone being more graceful when they are in the process of being interrupted and thrown off stage for no apparent reason. Again, watch the video. The only parts that did not make it on camera were the sweet hug between Melissa and Savitri before the event and the aftermath of Savitri and all her students leaving the room, along with a few others who said that they just couldn’t stay in there after what they had just witnessed.
  4. I question the legitimacy of Bob Smith’s comment on the behavior of the people who were standing peacefully in front of the conference in the cold. The truth is, Aadil did not cancel his classes. Yet that untruth was what his students were being told by Melissa’s staff. He was thrown out of the conference with no explanation, no apology, no refund (still no refund). That is why he wrote the letter – for his students to know the truth about what happened. I don’t believe Bob Smith ventured outside to hear the protesters perspective. Did Bob Smith actually read the letter? Neither Aadil nor Savitri at any point asked for people to boycott the festival. The letter was not “threatening”. There was no “petition asking all to leave the conference on their behalf.” This is just a lie made up by Bob Smith.

The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram said, “O to be the pure flawless crystal which lets thy Divine ray pass without obscuring, colouring or distorting it!”

  1. Yes, this very situation reveals that there are indeed “old wounds.” They are the wounds we create all too easily when we live in ego. But yoga is about bringing the ego back to light and “being the Light”. What really would have brought this situation towards healing? A prompt, sincere apology – demonstrating that Melissa realized that what she did was not only not yogic, but wrong.

Instead, to my astonishment, what began to unfold were mutterings about a back story. Not from Melissa, who had left the stage by then, but from those who attempted to rally to her defense. This elusive “backstory” became the justification for her behavior.  The conclusion was that there must be some hidden interaction that will explain everything, as though this secret, undisclosed story would make that moment somehow justified.

The assumption seems to be that “Savitri and Aadil did something awful” to deserve that treatment. It would be interesting to look into why that’s the assumption.

So let’s talk about the backstory. First, how far back do you want to go? The day before the conference? The years before? The migration of yoga to America? The colonization of India? The big bang? No matter how narrowly or widely you contextualize this story, what showed up in that room was disrespect.

What we know from the last 7 years of the conference is that Melissa has not been particularly receptive to having Aadil or Savitri teach at the conference. This is something we have noticed peripherally as students and teachers. Why? Unknown, but it is likely at least informed by cultural and racial illiteracy. The Northwest Yoga Conference is an incredibly white-washed festival, and does not represent the diverse Seattle Yoga world. It is very skewed towards white, asana-based, high Instagram-follower-having teachers. Why? That requires more backstory.

Through this whole experience it has become evident that Melissa is truly a bad example of leadership in any scenario, much less on the path of yoga.

I’ve been teaching yoga for 25 years. Notice how I did not need to use any fancy Sanskrit words?

On the sidewalk that weekend, we were not there to boycott the conference. We were not there to encourage other people to boycott either. We were there to share truth, ask for accountability, and engage with our diverse community; this was some of the most important yoga that was happening that weekend. We handed out a letter from Aadil explaining to any of his students the reason he was not teaching. Many students thanked us and said they had been told “he was sick.”

We had fascinating, loving conversations with people who have worked for the conference for many years – ambassadors, marketing volunteers, vendors, participants. Many shared their discomfort with the direction the conference was going, that it felt very elitist and non-inclusive. These are conversations that we need to have. Are we, as a yoga community, being honest about our own biases? Can we listen to other perspectives in order to widen our own? What voice within us is trustworthy and honest? Do we listen to truth when it speaks, or suppress it?

This is about empowerment

A woman who speaks from a place of strength and clarity, who feels that she belongs in the room and deserves to be heard, is an empowered woman. This was a major message of Savitri’s speech, and she was not just saying the words, but embodying the message. That is the mark of a master teacher. Unfortunately, empowered women are seen as “aggressive,” “angry,” or “bullying” by the bias-ridden mind. The power Savitri held in that room wasn’t power over anyone else; it was empowerment. She spent two hours prior to the ceremony praying to be an instrument of truth. She spent the 30 years prior to this day devoting her life to “being the light” (the theme, as it happens, of the conference)! The energy in the room as she spoke was palpable; we felt the whole environment enlivened, felt the beautiful potential of the yoga conference coming together, and then – the other kind of power showed up and grabbed the mic: power OVER another.

We are deeply grateful that Melissa and Savitri were willing to play this out for us all to witness and reflect: where am I holding authentic power and where am I just pretending? Which part of me gets the mic? Who deserves power? What kind of power do I want? It has been rich fodder for our own spiritual growth.

This is about Yoga

Yoga evolved embedded in Indian culture, the birthplace of both Savitri and Aadil. It has been both offensive and ironic to see the words, stories, and concepts of Indian culture used to defend the disrespect of their family and lineage. In the words of Aadil, “In order for it to be called true yoga, its essence must be embodied.” You may be able to recite the entire Mahabharata by heart, but if you can’t respect the person in front you, you’re not embodying yoga.

In the process of making yoga more palatable to the west, it has come dangerously close to losing its soul. We can’t afford to lose the gift of true yoga – which, to be clear, is multifaceted and owned by no single lineage – to its misappropriated commercial version. This is an opportunity for all of us practicing yoga to look deep into our hearts: how do we reclaim its essence? Who and what are we supporting with our money, devotion, and time? How can we bring the vibration of respect back into our own lives, our interactions with others, and our planet?

This is about Love

Ultimately, we were there because we love our teachers. Savitri and Aadil have supported us through serious illnesses, helped us raise our children, and guided us again and again back to our own inner wisdom; they have devoted their lives to sharing the powerful teachings of Yoga with us, and many others, for decades. Love and respect are necessary for an authentic transmission and expression of Yoga; without that, it is empty.

We also love this sacred practice of Yoga, the purpose of the conference, and deeply respect those throughout the ages who have lived its message and trusted the next generation to hold it, live it, and share it. The ceremony we attended was intended to be one of honoring the lives and gifts of our senior most teachers. To witness the exact opposite was enormously disturbing for us all. To see our teachers denied the right to teach or participate in the conference was inexcusable, and speaking up about this has been an act of love.

Love is not pitying or making excuses for people; that is enabling. Love holds people accountable, it has boundaries, and it says: “That was out of line. You are better than that, and you can make this right.” We also hold love for Melissa and those surrounding her; we are all one large dysfunctional family called humanity. We need to love each other enough to not look away, dehumanize one another, or give up on each other. We believe this can be made right, and we believe that part of making this right is us, as a community, saying: “I am still paying attention. This matters, and we care.”

As highlighted in the petition to support yogic values following the incident, these are the actions we are requesting from the conference leadership:

  1. Establish clear and direct communication with Aadil and Savitri to extend an apology for Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn’s disrespectful behavior towards Savitri and to their students who were asked to vacate the room along with Savitri.
  2. Apologize to the many presenters, vendors, teachers and students who were disappointed on many fronts via your facebook page and social media – from losing money, to not being able to take classes with Aadil and Savitri, to feeling violated by your unyogic behavior that did not respect even common courtesy, leave alone basic yogic prinicipes of non-violence, truth, kindness, respect or sister/brotherhood.
  3. Apologize to Aadil and his students many of whom had come from far away, who were lied to that he had canceled his classes.
  4. Make monetary compensation to Aadil and Savitri for the loss of their booth which was dismantled and loss of students who would have attended workshops and classes at their studio after the conference.
  5. Apologize via your facebook page to the yoga community for censoring and deleting the many comments that came in from all over the world on the northwest conference facebook page. You promise not to censor or block any comments in the future or at any future conference.
  6. Promise to make the NWYC a truly inclusive yoga conference by picking POC (people of color) as well to teach at future conferences.


We are committed to hearing and answering any questions for further clarity. Thank you for reading our words, and for being a part of this healing.


Natalie Cielle
Rose Coleman
Grace Deluz
Bella Fleur
Stephanie Hillyard
Nitika Kohli
Emily Palmer
Odessa Rae
Mona Renner
Sandra Storwick
Cleo Voreades