“I was on my mat, in shavasana, and I was doing the exercise where you have to raise your legs up with the help of a rope. He was addressing the class and to explain the asana to them, he came and stood in front of me; he took my leg and pressed it onto his crotch,” shares Kavya,* a student of The Practice Room, a yoga studio located in Bengaluru, whose owner Mohan Polamar has been accused of inappropriate behaviour and sexual misconduct by several women.
Around 10 women have come together and created a comic describing the ordeal and harassment they allegedly faced at the studio. The comic strip describes how in the beginning, the studio was a peaceful and safe place, but then, their yoga teacher began to touch them inappropriately under the garb of ‘adjusting their asanas.’
‘Pressed my leg onto his crotch’
“Right from the start, I felt as though he gave me additional attention. He would brush past me, touch my hand, lean on me while addressing the class (looking away). For example, once while adjusting my posture in Upavistha Konasana, where he meant to ‘rotate my inner thigh outward from groin’, he grabbed my thigh way higher than I thought necessary. It definitely felt dodgy. I know what dodgy feels like. I know there are other ways to have applied that ‘adjustment’,” shares Saba*, who attended his classes.
"He always exuded an overt sexuality that was usually laughed at in the class, looks exchanged, eyes rolled. He’d usually be dressed in yoga briefs and nothing else, which was unsightly, to say the least and imposing, more so because he had no sense of boundary. All of this was problematic because it was a yoga teacher-student relationship above all and somehow that seemed to mean it was legit or something. This sort of stuff happened every now and then, and the truth is I always let it go, brushed it away. That was my folly. Just because I wasn’t threatened didn’t mean it was ok. I didn’t speak up. I am to blame for that. It was an implicit power dynamic that I too succumbed to, however, empowered I am as a woman," she adds.
Mohan would be discreet about his advances, Kavya shares. He would make a move while addressing the class but also when people were lying down or faced away from him.
“Another time, I was in an asana where I had to raise my legs, and he pressed his butt into my leg. Once I was in shavasana, my knees were raised. The lights were dim, as they usually were at the end of the session, and he placed his entire body onto me, pressing against me and his face was just inches away from mine,” Kavya says.
Kavya adds that he would message her after classes, sending her texts stating, “Hey gorgeous,” and he would make comments like, “I will take you out someday.” Kavya quit soon after.
The classes are helmed by Mohan Polamar and his wife Jaya at Bengaluru’s Wheeler Road. Both held yoga classes and were in charge of different batches. TNM spoke to women who attended the classes and they describe the difference in the behaviour of the two.
“The general culture of the classes was problematic,” says Supriya*, who attended the classes from 2016 to 2018. “Jaya was quite aggressive, she humiliated people and often said nasty things; often borderline bullying. But Mohan, he was polite, he was friendly, and thus women often found him more approachable than Jaya.”
Gradually, women began to drop out after Mohan’s behaviour pushed them out of their comfort zones. When they realised there was a common pattern to such a behaviour, they decided to confront the couple. When they complained, The Practice Room formed a committee to probe the charges, in which Jaya was a member.
“Mohan stepped down for a month, some probe was conducted. We were not informed, we were not apologised to. There was no grace, no empathy, no wisdom. Mohan came back to teaching yoga after a month,” Saba shares.
Mohan’s wife Jaya has been accused of gaslighting and aggressively denying her husband’s behaviour. “She behaved badly, whenever we spoke to her,” says Saba. “When we approached her, she asked us to leave the classes and not come back. The environment was just toxic.”
Jaya and Mohan have also been accused of appropriating the comic created by the women to level charges against Mohan. In a screenshot of a WhatsApp chat shared on Twitter by journalist Sandhya Menon, Jaya is seen sharing the comic “on the back of the #MeToo movement in India.”
"In the wake of the #metoo movement sweeping across the world, received this very nicely done comic strip on how it can play out in a yoga centre," Jaya is seen saying in the chat. "This comic strip is a great tool and we intend to share it with everyone at the time of admissions."
See the screenshot below:
The studio’s response
Speaking to TNM, Jaya Chakravarthy stated that she was not in a position to answer since an investigation is underway.
“There is an internal committee that has been set up, it has both internal and external members. The internal members are the student members from all our batches. The external member is from Enfold India. I am not part of the investigation,” Jaya said.
When asked whether Mohan continues to teach at TPR, Jaya said she was not in a position to answer that question since an inquiry was underway. A link to TPR’s blog post was also forwarded to TNM, which includes a statement from Mohan, wherein he has denied all the allegations.
“This I want to make clear: I have not deliberately touched a man or woman inappropriately in the last 5 years of teaching. The allegations and rumours have deeply impacted me and my relationship with you my students,” the blog post states.