From Jonny Kest to Jawahar Bangera: Yoga Bad Men in Minnesota

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2022: In light of some recent teacher training footage of Life Time National Director of Yoga, Jonny Kest, I wanted to update this post. Clearly, the issue of inappropriate touch hasn’t gone away and isn’t limited to Indian men. While there is a historical precedent for rather intrusive hands-on assists by Mr. Kest’s supposed guru, most of Kest’s high-profile contemporaries have updated their priors for a post #metoo world. For the video of the now infamous “diaper change assist” and accompanying article, click HERE.

It should be noted, there is a historical precedent in classical yoga, going back generations for these kind of intrusive assists, as well as slapping and shaming.  That said, there are historical precedents for lots of things (think foot binding) that should clearly be left in the archives. Imagine if I, as a female yoga teacher were to give this assist to a man in class without permission? 

Pattabhi Jois and Karen Rain.

Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga, (Kest’s lineage). 

The question is, who at LifeTime Fitness thought it was a good idea to bring that kind of misogyny into a Western, mass market, 21st Century yoga program? Mr. Kest is responsible for training legions of yoga teachers who are mostly women–about 800 per year to the tune of almost $2.5 million in revenue for LifeTime according to another New York Times article HERE

More troubling to me than the assist was Kest’s dismissiveness toward the woman who had the courage (and the only healthy boundaries in the room) to raise the obvious question: shouldn’t permission be asked before attempting such a maneuver? 

Kest answers as if “the rules” do not apply to him and that #metoo never happened (you can read his response in the previous link). He exudes a level of confidence that must spring from a big title, a big brand (Spiritual Gangster), and a big brother yoga celebrity (Bryan Kest).  As is predictable in these groupthink situations, the questioner finds no allies in the room–just enablers trying to gloss over the apparent discomfort she caused The Guru.  

Turns out there is no shortage of people buying in to this version of  yoga. Jonny’s Sept ’22 class at LifeTime Fitness in White Bear Lake, MN was booked/overbooked within minutes of its launch online– in spite of the New York Times article and others being out for over 2 years. Does he know he’s coming into a sub-culture springing from Scandinavian stoicism–where some families barely hug? Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s upfront and his brand says it all: Spiritual Gangster.  


Now, onward to #ewjawahar…

I first posted this several years ago still reeling from an unfortunate #metoo incident at a Minneapolis yoga studio.  After keeping it up on my blog for several months, I decided to take it down. Why? Primarily out of respect for two local male Iyengar teachers who I greatly admire–both have decades of experience and both have been nothing but respectful and supportive to me in my practice. One does teacher trainings and I continue to recommend him wholeheartedly.  

At the time, I didn’t want to hurt their feelings or harm their brand.  When criticizing a guru of a certain tradition, it’s almost unavoidable that the followers and teachers of that style feel somehow insulted or attacked.  I am grateful to the people who pointed that out to me.

In retrospect, I wish I had made clear at the beginning of that post my intention was not to launch any kind of general attack against  Iyengar practitioners or instructors. I don’t think the situation I experienced is unique to Iyengar Yoga or even Indian Yoga.  I do think it is common, however, in unchecked male hierarchies across multiple disciplines (religion, business, sports etc.)  which are often sustained by some level of complicity (conscious or unconscious) of the women around them. Thanks to the person in the comments section for modeling this complicit behavior; clearly I offended her style/guru so she took me to task on grammar.  

My own style of Kripalu Yoga certainly had its “demons” (one in particular, named Amrit Desai)  to exorcise in this regard and did so very publicly, painfully and ultimately successfully in the 1990’s. Now, in the post #metoo era, I look back and realize that my self-censoring just plays right into the hands of these yoga bad-boy harrassers, predators and even rapists.  With the release of the Netflix documentary, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator, I felt this a timely republish but wanted to do so with the benefit of hindsight and perspective.  My comments in red are my present self reflecting on my past self, in hopes of building a better, more aware future self–get it? So, here goes…


I’ve been planning a trip to India for the last year. As yoga has become a full-time vocation for me, I figured it was time to take the plunge and go to The Source.   I have had opportunities to travel to India before, mostly when I worked in Tokyo where I was the Branch Manager for a  US software company.  Why didn’t I do it? Maybe I felt I needed a break from societies where inequality between men and women is so palpable–not the stuff from which dream vacations are made.  Should have gone with your gut here.  You know how soul-crushing it can be as a competent woman in these kind of environments. Guilty of “orientalism,” or assuming that somehow Asian males have answers and access to “wisdom” that must elude me as a Western woman.  Thank you Kristine at Subtle Yoga for that keen analysis!