It’s time to say our farewells to the Northwest Yoga Conference.
Why you ask? Here’s why.
The Northwest Yoga Conference (NWYC) is in it’s 7th operating year with it’s theme being “Be the Light.” On February 22nd, 2018, Melissa Phillips-Hagerdorn, the NWYC’s Director, Owner and Coordinator, KICKED OUT a 30+ year Meditation Master, Savitri from the Alive & Shine Center in Eastside Seattle. The incident was recorded and from the video you can see it was anything but fucking light. It was #notyoga. A lot of people felt it was racism/white oppression or battle of the egos. Because it was ALL of that.
Here is the video, and it’s awkward AF. If you didn’t know either of the people in the video, what you can see is a white woman kicking out a woman of color (WOC). Whether Melissa (red yoga pants) was in the right or wrong, it’s hard to watch and justify someone be verbally abusive and aggressive towards another human being. It’s especially hard to fathom how that could happen in a public place where acceptance, love, inclusiveness, etc. is preached.
Savitri was receiving the award on behalf of the yoga and meditation work that her and her husband Aadil Palkhivala have established in Seattle. She was literally explaining the history of yoga and how they came to be recipients of the award for promoting true yoga in the Seattle community. Savitri understands that she is given 10 minutes to talk and before 5 minutes is up, you can see Melissa walk up to the Master of Meditation and tell her to leave.
In the video you can her Melissa saying, “You need to leave” to Savitri after she receives an award on behalf of her husband Aadil. Melissa is seen grabbing the microphone to halt Savitri from further talking, but it doesn’t work. Savitri is standing her ground and demanding an explanation for Melissa’s behavior. I am glad she did. Melissa follows her aggressive attack by adding “They’ve not heard the whole side of the conversation.” and then “I’ve put a lot of time and energy into this event…please leave.” Put a lot of time and energy into this for what? For a WOC of to not sabotage it??? Get the hell out of here. [Melissa then exits the room to avoid further confrontation and probably realizing that this is all going to be on the interwebs] The amount of disrespect from Melissa’s end throughout the entire exchange makes my blood boil. All I see is someone on a power trip and not thinking of the consequences of her actions. Someone who thinks they’re invincible. Remind you of someone? Hmmm.
Savitri returns the award after the incident (and thank the heavens she does). Leave that dishonorable feng shui far away from the home.
For the remainder of the event, the Alive and Shine booth is taken down and their products and merchandise thrown onto the side of the street. Their class offering was also taken down from the schedule and replaced immediately without ANY EXPLANATION. You can click on the post below by Zenia Lumeria, Savitri and Aadil’s daughter, and read updates on what transpired after the conference.
I’ve read posts from people saying that we have to see both sides of this and to lead with love. I should practice ahimsa but it’s “yoga” like this that pisses me off. Yes, I teach mostly a physical form of yoga that’s far from the real deal, but when yoga is used in a platform like this to disrespect others, we cannot excuse this behavior by others and especially within ourselves. If you are still making excuses for what happened, you’re complicit in spiritual bypassing and suppression. I’ve been raised to know that love isn’t about making excuses for people’s bad behavior. It’s about helping others realize their bullshit by calling it out and putting an end to it. That is when change happens. No more fucking excuses.
The statement from Savitri’s husband Aadil Palkhivala, via Lumeria:
“To make it clear, I was given the honor and 10 minutes to speak. I asked Savitri, meditation master and my wife, to accept the honor on my behalf and speak in my place as I had bronchitis and pneumonia and could not attend. She very graciously agreed. It was a blessing to the conference to have a true master of light in their presence. No, there was no time issue. Because she did not even get the time of 10 minutes allotted to me but, the event started on time and the previous person who was also honored, humble and precious Bob Smith, simply accepted the honor and did not speak which meant that they had 10 extra minutes. It is sad that someone who claims to do yoga cannot even recognize a living master of light.” – Aadil Palkhivala, co-owner of Alive & Shine Center and co-founder of Purna Yoga.
I’ve been attending the past three years in different capacities (as both attendee and vendor). From all the years I have always felt a weird vibe interacting with Melissa. She probably doesn’t even remember me. Last year when I worked there as a vendor, she never once said hi or visit our booth to inquire if we needed anything. Thanks for taking our money and and offering nothing but a square on your floor for us. It lacked community and simple gratitude that others are showing up for you and an event you created. Without the attendees, vendors, participants, presenters, the NWYC would be nothing.
Here’s What Went WRONG
#1 Melissa has been deleting comments as quickly as they are being posted on all their social media accounts. This shows a lack in SATYA (truth) about the situation. People are upset and their requests, which soon turned into demands, were being swept under the rug. There are over 300+ comments on the Facebook page posts that have been hidden. Comments have also been disabled. I imagine the flood of messages, emails and comments are piercing her conscience like emotional daggers. Her lack of response also caused the yoga community to reach out to conference sponsors, making them revoke sponsorships and resulting in further damages to the brand.
The Carter Subaru Sponsored Ads ALL OVER a YOGA conference page were weird. If the conference wasn’t already awkward enough, they post sponsored ads probably as part of their contractual agreement with the dealership makes the page seem like a big advertisement for the company and not one about yoga no matter how they wanna spin it. This one isn’t a major issue, but I hope Carter Subaru learns from this event and never sponsors the NWYC again.
Update: Carter Subaru has already announced they will not be supporting the NWYC in the future. Other sponsors are following suit.
#2 Their blanket statement issued by the NWYC regarding the event is total BS and lacks an honest response that is warranted to all attendees and participants at the NWYC. No apology to anyone and lacks details of what actually transpired. How anyone can continue to support this conference (unless contractually obligated to) for the remaining three days of the conference is beyond me.
If Melissa had even had a one to one with Savitri to further discuss the situation behind closed doors, we could have respected that. Her lack of response, deleting requests for a concise answer and even blocking commenters is reflective of how much she cares about the PNW yoga community.
It would have been appreciable if she wrote an apology anything remotely close to this:
UPDATE: You can read Melissa’s statement here (posted on February 27, 2018).
Again, Melissa omits Savitri and Aadil’s name from the “apology” which further negates their identities and their humanness. She mentions that it was not racially motivated, but whether it was or wasn’t, the impact felt racially motivated and that was not addressed or even acknowledged. Was she completely unaware of the impact of her actions? She lacked how this affected the Seattle yoga community. Melissa is lacking spiritual awareness and remorse for inflicting emotional pain onto the Seattle yoga community.
Melissa mentions wanting to participate in the dialogue regarding injustices within yoga, but continues to block people from commenting and deleting comments if they’re deemed “violent” or against the tenets of yoga on the NWYC Facebook page. She essentially will FILTER what she deems as SATYA, AHIMSA, APARIGRAHA, etc. The hypocrisy is seething through her actions. It makes me sick to my stomach.
Here’s an excerpt from her statement:
“I encourage each and every one of you to be a willing participant of this dialogue and I hope that we may learn and grow together in a way that acknowledges our humanness. I hope that each participant will bring mindfulness into the way that they engage in this discussion and, in particular, apply these four yamas, or ethical guidelines, while doing so: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing) and aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Please note, any comments on our social media forums that do not apply these principles will be removed. We encourage comments that aim to engage in open, honest, sincere and respectful dialogue.”
The most appalling part is the letter is how Melissa CONTINUES TO LACK A SINCERE APOLOGY and RESPONSIBILITY of her actions. She also does not explain much of what actually happened, leaving us, again to fill in the gaps and speculate for her upsetting behavior. Why did she have to eject the entire Alive & Shine family from the conference? Why did she leave their belongings on the side of the road? Why she cancelled their class and immediately replaced it? Why hasn’t she been in touch with them since the incident? Why did it take her 5 days to write this? If it was truly an issue regarding time constraints, why did her behavior show otherwise? She never explains the nasty behavior towards other human beings because she doesn’t see any wrongdoing. She is not reflecting deep enough and the letter is deflecting all responsibility to the community at large on what we need to fix? No, this is an opportunity for Melissa to fix Melissa.
The statement was released without Melissa ever contacting Savitri, Aadil or the Alive & Shine Center to discuss the incident. This is a prime example of spiritual bypassing.
#3 As her lack of responsiveness kept on, people began to dig around to find out just WHY she felt the need to dismiss a WOC so aggressively. When you don’t give people an answer, they will create one. I found Melissa and her husband’s crowd funding page where they’re asking for money to keep their RV. Why this even exists baffles me. Is it because they can’t afford to maintain it by only running one conference a year? It was purely a money making tool for them. My inkling that they were scam artists were confirmed. This is #NOTYOGA.
From the start I already felt the conference was a scam. It lacked soul, community, representation, and most importantly love from the top down. I love going to conferences because of the teachers and students you connect with, but when you have a weak string tying all these pieces together, it will eventually crumble from within.
What you can do to fight against this BS and BE THE LIGHT
#1 UNLIKE the following pages and Accounts
OK you don’t have to. I recommend doing it to get away from all the negativity caused by Melissa and the NWYC.
#2 Join a Local Group to Discuss Racism and Appropriation in Yoga
If you’re in the Seattle area, 8 Limbs Yoga Centers have been long-time advocates in supporting, promoting and including people of color (POC) in the yoga community. Join one of their meetings or workshops to discuss ways to take action against racism and appropriation in yoga.
#3 Read and Sign this Open Letter by Aadil Plkhivala and Savitri
#4 NEVER Support the NWYC Again
Either as a sponsor, vendor, attendee, presenter, etc., we need to honor our yoga community and boycott the NWYC from this point on. There are other conferences that are inclusive, more AFFORDABLE and are a truer reflection of what yoga means in our Western world.
In a chart where the NWYC touts being affordable, they are only $1 LESS than the Wanderlust Yoga Conferences (which are an epitome of white washing yoga, but hey, at least they aren’t dicks about it). $1 is some major savings! Not really.
There is no coming back from this experience. People can see through Melissa’s true intentions and lack of awareness. She is #NOTYOGA and not sure if she ever will acknowledge that Satya.
Just like any teacher training or yoga class, what I’ve learned is to trust your intuition, don’t go for the best deals, do your research and make informed decisions when investing in your health. Sometimes it’s astroturf on the other side that makes the grass greener.
I am hoping that someone recreates a inclusive yoga conference for the PNW area. The NWYC conference brought world renown teachers to the area and Seattle does not have to be without that opportunity. Anyone want to get together and make this happen? Hit me up! **Looking for inclusive AF people and respectful allies.**
What are your thoughts about this incident? I’d love to hear them.
I am posting this on my blog so that we can keep the conversation going. When people search for the Northwest Yoga Conference (NWYC), they will find the true colors and intention of the coordinators and their mission.
<3 + Light,