Have you Experienced: Sexual Harassment in Yoga Class?

Via elephant journal
on Jan 4, 2010
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Have you or a friend experienced sexual harassment in yoga class?

@elephantjournal: Longtime yogini friend just told me re ongoing sexual harassment in yoga class. No 1s backg her up. http://bit.ly/5TWgO3 #yogadork

Yoga class is a luxury, perhaps, and an essential one. It’s when we come back to square one, sink beneath our thoughts and merge, join, yoke ourselves to our breath, and the present moment. Our bodies free up from their laptopsanas, and our life opens up to possibilities again.

So it’s particularly painful and troubling when we find that sanctuary violated.

yoga sexual harassment pattabhi jois

Look: we all love the community, whether single or not, at yoga kulas offer. Sometimes, we have crushes. Sometimes, marriages or relationships are born out of a meeting that happens at class.

But it’s all about motivation: if we’re going to yoga class to hook up, we need to refocus our drishti, and thevagn some. Yoga can give you what you want: happiness—in a fundamental, ecstatic, and lastingly unconditional way. Let it. Breathe. Forget the babe across the room.

But what if you’re the object of unwanted, distracting, distracting attention? A friend of mine back East, a longtime student, is an attractive, stylish middle-aged woman who’s a longtime, devoted yogini. She’s told to maintain a daily practice, and does so. She generally practices in one corner of her yoga studio. Over the past year or so, according to her, an older gentlemen (well…) has taken to practicing next to her. Staring at her. Talking to her before or after. His own practice includes very little drishti. He arrives late, skips shavasana, wiggles around. But his drishti, his focus, is impressive in one regard—despite being told off, which is uncomfortable to do, by my friend, he keeps coming back for more.

She’s talked to the teachers, mostly friends, and received little support (even though most of the teachers are women, and two experienced similar hassle from the older gentleman). She’s even been told not to come to the studio, if she can’t deal. As if it’s her responsibility. She doesn’t want to sue for a restraining order—that takes money and time. What is she to do? She’s tried moving her mat to the opposite end, only to be followed. She can’t get friends to practice by her, they don’t want to get involved. This is all her telling, of course, one side of the story—but in the telling it all sounded honest and full plausible to me. She didn’t want the situation.

She just wants to practice in peace.

So how do we fight asana predators? We can’t punch ’em all out, and many of them, like this gentleman, are “good guys” who have strong reputations in their communites. We have to educate. Bring this issue to light. Spread the word that this is not acceptable. We have to protect our students, and their practice. And the best way to do so is make it known that this happens, more frequently that is acknowledged, and that it’s incumbent on yoga studio owners and teachers to protect the space.

To look deeply is to understand. Anyone who has made us suffer is undoubtedly suffering too. —Thich Nhat Hanh

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Comments

30 Responses to “Have you Experienced: Sexual Harassment in Yoga Class?”

  1. If everything is being exhasted then it needs to be taken to the manager of the studio. If the teachers weren't putting a stop to it and everything is exhausted she may need to *really* tell the fella to leave her alone.

    I like the phrase "protect the space", perhaps studio space for silent, uninterrupted practice. With the idea that if you are working here then you are NOT interested in conversation or pick-up lines.

    Or a yoga outfit that just says "F%$K OFF"

  2. LindaSama says:

    "So how do we fight asana predators?…many of them, like this gentleman, are “good guys” who have strong reputations in their communites."

    are you kidding me? what difference does it make if some guy has a "strong reputation" in the community? what does that mean? that nothing is to be said to him?

    if the words of your friend do nothing to deter this guy, then it is the studio owner's responsibility to say something and if it comes to it, tell him not to come back.

  3. I'm with those who say it's the teacher's or studio's responsibility to solve this problem by talking directly to the offender and making it clear that he will be not be allowed in class if he doesn't change his behavior.

    This is not just their obligation to this woman, but to the next woman and the next woman after that.

    This is the only solution. There is no conceivable legal case here unless he is following her around outside the studio, too. But something doesn't have to rise to the level of a crime to make it a serious problem that needs to be solved by the studio on behalf of all its students.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  4. I'm with those who say it's the teacher's or studio's responsibility to solve this problem by talking directly to the offender and making it clear that he will be not be allowed in class if he doesn't change his behavior.

    This is not just their obligation to this woman, but to the next woman and the next woman after that.

    This is the only solution. There is no conceivable legal case here unless he is following her around outside the studio, too. But something doesn't have to rise to the level of a crime to make it a serious problem that needs to be solved by the studio on behalf of all its students.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  5. […] at work sipping my tea and thinking about some of the recent blogs concerning women in Buddhism and sexual harassment in Yoga and though that it was getting rather serious (which is a good thing) but I wanted to take it […]

  6. Linda Jacobson says:

    To me, the most telling information of the harassed yogini was that she moved her mat and he followed. This suggests that the motive is more akin the motives for more severe forms of sexual predation: power. If she leaves the studio, he has achieved his end. Predators get their kicks from forcing a person to change his/her behavior.

    Here's a low impact suggestion. I often have to move in the middle of class to get away from fragrances. She could go up to two people and just say, "Excuse me, can I slip in here, please?" Or choose to practice in the middle of the room for awhile. In either case, the only way he can follow is if she is willing to move her mat.

  7. Pam Rubin says:

    I'm glad Elephant is looking at the issue of sexual harassment, and I agree with posters who say we have a collective responsibility for making practice places hospitable to women.
    Some of your phrasing does though remind me of harmful myths and stereotypes that women encounter when disclosing harassment or assault: "…it all sounded honest and full plausible to me. She didn’t want the situation."

    One myth that is still operative in our culture and justice system is that women commonly lie about men's sexually aggressive behaviours, and that women require some sort of special scrutiny of their truthfulness in such situations. The reality is that most targets of sexually aggressive behaviours never disclose this to others, for social reasons especially the fear of not being believed. Another myth implicit in the above phrasing is that although women might protest, they still may "want the situation."

    I am sure the promulgation of these myths is not your intention, and again, I am glad you are drawing attention to persistent sexually aggressive behaviours, which cause people, especially women, to circumscribe their activities in many contexts.

  8. Ideally studios would come up with clear policies and enforce them. I hope articles like this can help build enough awareness.

  9. I woke up this morning thinking about this situation.

    At some point, it is totally appropriate to directly and boldly confront someone like this–ideally with the support of one or two others–in front of the class, in the moment of the offense.

    To prepare for such an event, work with your own emotions of anger until they are more clear and less violently reactive. One can visualize the aggressor as a child, and imagine what might have caused this unhelpful behavior, in order to gain some compassion–*not* idiot compassion, but compassionate strength. This kind of compassion is a union of opposites, like the union of opposites found in a perfectly held yoga pose.

    Wait for your moment, and be willing to risk everything for the cause. When he commits what you believe to be an instance of the offense–right in the middle of class, with your one or two support people ready–stand up, in a booming, somewhat slow, and confident voice say something direct like "{Name}, I have repeatedly told you to stop harassing me in class, to practice in another spot, and to LEAVE ME ALONE. I am asking you now to ROLL UP YOUR MAT, LEAVE THE CLASS, and GO AWAY." Then stare him directly in the eye and say nothing. If he argues, simply interrupt him gently but firmly saying "No. I want you to LEAVE NOW."

    Bold? Yes. Needed? Yes. This is a "warrior pose" that requires a lot of strength in the spine, and the willingness to risk everything, but it can be very effective no matter which way things fall.

    There do exist people who won't get the message any other way, sometimes called "Borderline Personality Disorder." What you and these folks need most is clear, strong boundary setting, without violence but with clear, strong communication.

  10. mletag says:

    I think it is important for teachers and fellow students to keep an eye out for the comfort and safety of students. I think it is the responsibility of the teachers and the students – students, if you see a repeat offender, bring it up with a teacher! If you see someone in an awkward situation, make a stand. Two recent experiences: A class was pretty empty and a guy came really late. He unrolled his mat right behind mine – his mat was touching mine. I made it part of my practice to stay in my space and not let his energy cross the line…until In warrior II, he leaned forward and tapped my hand. I looked back and he was grinning at me. I had nowhere to go – there were people close all around me but other areas of the room were wide open. The teacher immediately came over and tactfully suggested he move – she saw how freaked out I was. My love for that teacher doubled from that seemingly small act. Also – Look out for creepy tattoo guy (as in creepiest back tattoo ever – it involves a warrior and a baby) who seems to only loose ujjayi breath in Warrior II, extended side angle, or any twist that gives him access to blow on my back under the guise of active breath. Gross!

  11. Leigha Butler says:

    I've heard that the icky-looking Pattabhi Jois FAIL photo is a fake. Has anyone found a link to the real pic?

  12. […] shadowed one of Deer Path Middle School’s Student Resource Officers reported that Steinert had sexually harassed her over the course of the internship. In the initial report, the victim informed authorities that […]

  13. Jean Deansson says:

    Separate the yoga classes. Men teaches only men and Women teaches only women. Any problems will be solved by adopting this simple idea.

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