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  • Writer's pictureMaria Daversa

Book Review: The Secret Practice: Eighteen Years on the Dark Side of Yoga, by Joelle Tamraz

Updated: Jan 10

Book Review: The Secret Practice: Eighteen Years on the Dark Side of Yoga, by Joelle Tamraz

“I was an easy target. My beliefs in…the potential of enlightenment formed the mental chains with which he held me.”

Joelle Tamraz’s debut memoir, The Secret Practice: Eighteen Years on the Dark Side of Yoga, is the story of not only the way she fell under the influence of an older and charismatic leader established in the practice of yoga, but it’s also about the journey she undertook to break those chains and regain her freedom. While Tamraz weaves a tale about new-age spirituality, her story is so much more than this. It’s a reminder how there are men who prey on younger women for their own physical and material gain—and there are women who will suffer the pain of this betrayal in the name of what they had hoped would be true love.

Tamraz begins her journey soon after graduating from college when she travels to India and meets Arun, who says he will teach her the secretive yet powerful ways of yoga and meditation. Although he promises Tamraz a life of love and peace with links to reincarnation and past lives, Arun soon betrays her trust, asserting his power and control over her and keeping Tamraz locked in a vicious cycle of abuse.

How does this happen to an intelligent and staunchly independent young woman?

It’s called coercion. And when paired with control in the hands of an abuser, it takes the form of gradual brainwashing that will undermine everything the victim believes about her life and her sense of self.

A form of intimate partner violence (IPV), coercive control is reported more often than physical, emotional, or sexual violence in spouses who report abuse and consists of an ongoing pattern of emotional and psychological abuse based on control, manipulation, and oppression. Simply put, it’s how men assert their need for dominance and authority over the women in their lives.

While coercive control is not new, how the world recognizes—and criminalizes—the men who engage in these behaviors is. Acts such as isolating someone from their family and friends, intimidating them, monitoring their activity, denying them their freedom and autonomy, constantly criticizing them, making them feel guilty, limiting their access to money, making jealous accusations, gaslighting, or blackmailing and threatening them are now considered illegal in many parts of the world.

This is why Tamraz’s memoir is so timely and so significant. As she lays out the multitude of ways Arun usurped her power, she also shines a much-needed light into the chasm of this sector of relational abuse and shows the reader what it took to transform herself, escape her marriage, and rediscover her true identity.

While it takes courage to reveal our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, especially the ones that expose the darker aspects of ourselves, Tamraz shows she’s willing to take that risk if the result prevents other women from suffering at the hands of another abuser. So, with much grace and humility, Tamraz ends her journey by openly facing her fears, accepting her mistakes, and forgiving her younger self for the path she chose. She provides the reader with this poignant visual of her strength:

“I take this girl’s shoulders, pull her away from him, and hold her in my arms. Tears wet my face.”

Kudos to Tamraz for telling a much-needed story about such an insidious form of abuse. I recommend The Secret Practice to anyone looking for an honest and unputdownable read, and I look forward to seeing more from this fresh and inspiring author.

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