Have you Experienced: Sexual Harassment in Yoga Class?

Via on Jan 4, 2010

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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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"

    • I have a shirt that says "No Means No" she loves it.

      She has taken to management, and some have been helpful but not enough. She has told the guy to leave her alone and stop with the touching and placing mat beside her…

  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.

    • Wow, Linda, you need to breathe before attacking me for posting this post.

      My point is the opposite of what you took it to be—my point is that the guy is not getting pushed out because he has a strong reputation as a good guy…thus "good guy" is in quotes.

  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

    • nancy a says:

      bob.. you said what i tried to say only much more gracefully. kudos

      • Thanks, nancy, but I think you said it pretty well, too.

        • Elize says:

          (just saw ele's comment that he had appeared at other venues, not just yoga… which sounds a little disconcerting… I wish her much strength & hope this guy leaves her alone)

          I will address something else, though: I am disturbed by the apparent attitude of the yoga studio itself… what a cheap, blaming response to her concerns! Bob & Nancy, you said it. Even if a teacher disagreed with her about the situation, that seems to be a cold & unsupportive answer. As a teacher, it is one's duty to maintain safe-space for students… teachers are leaders of "mini communities" (or not so mini in some instances!) and as such hold some responsibility for keeping the peace….

    • Apparently he has appeared at a few post-yoga-class locations where she's gone…Target, cafe, that sort of thing.

  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.

    • My concern was more that the above doesn't represent good journalism. Without looking at both sides of the story, interviewing the gent, it was only fair for us to put something out there re our belief in her story, or lack thereof. If the shoe were on the other foot, we'd probably put a statement out there about believing, or not believing, his side of the story.

  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.

    • cathy says:

      wow I was thinking almost the same- a carefully thought out mid class loud w/ support demand.. it has to be stopped.

  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 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?

    • Shanna says:

      I don't know if it is real or not. I do know that adjustments can be pretty intimate and easily misconstrued when taken out of context. The teacher student relationship is the judge. I have had male teachers get on me for adjustments and I felt totally comfortable because I knew their intent.

  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.

  14. Another lady at the studio who's a teacher and was (married, but) getting unwanted attention from same gent did switch times, and that worked. Still, I think the sitch is there's specific classes that are more advanced that my friend goes to, so not many options.

  15. I agree fully. Changing classes should not be her responsibility. It's the responsibility of the guy himself to listen. If he can't, then the studio needs to step in. Problem is, that doesn't seem to be happening—one senior teacher, as I mentioned, apparently told my friend that she should stop coming if she can't "deal."

  16. If the situation gets to the point where she is considering legal options then it may be past that point. You make it sound like it is easy to change a person's behavior. I don't think it is but in a situation that is getting this uncomfortable you need to do what you need to do.

    Bottom line is that the studio needs to have RULES about this sort of thing. It would give the person who is being harrassed an "easy out" of a pervasive situation.

    cheers,

    John

  17. John Pappas john says:

    You just need some basic rules of etiquette are all thats needed. A list positively phrased list of proper behavior is simple to put together and make them aware to people as they sign up and post them in the studio. Simple as that. A friendly reminder given.

    Cheers,

    John
    http://www.zendirtzendust.com

  18. "If private politeness fails, that's the time to employ public shame."

    I totally agree. See my reply below.

  19. Oh, whew, glad we're on same page. Thanks for followup, Linda.

  20. Jaime says:

    I agree with Nancy…this is exactly what I ended up doing when someone wouldn't leave me alone at the Yoga Workshop. Sad to leave such an amazing community, but there are tons of studios in this town and being comfortable is certainly worth the sacrifice.

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