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January 5, 2010

Have you Experienced: Sexual Harassment in Yoga Class?

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.

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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