March 7, 2011

Yoga Teachers, Students & Facebook: Are We Safe? ~ Anne Falkowski

Teach From Love and Not Fear.

In this age of Facebook, Twitter, and Blogging, I am a Facebook fogie. What does this mean exactly? It means I am over 30.

It also means that I am not as wise in the ways of cyber safety as my tween and teen who have had numerous inservices on the subject. I admit to having checked their Facebook pages for possible predators but never thought it would be necessary to check my own.

As a yogini who has been teaching for over a decade, adores yoga, is constantly reinventing herself as a teacher and tries to stay as current as possible on the yoga scene (because she believes that the practice of yoga is evolving and there is always more to learn), I recently embraced the whole social networking thing as a marketing tool to put my “yoga self”out there. I had been at a workshop where the presenter enthusiastically stated that a Facebook page is as essential to the yoga teacher as email—if not air and water.

In an effort to build my yoga clientele and my online presence, I took these words of wisdom to heart and began to reach out on Facebook and post my yoga wit alongside my teaching schedule. I also began to accept Facebook requests from my yoga students. Soon my Facebook friends went from 100 (mostly friends and family) to over 400 (yogis, yoga teachers, workshop presenters, etc.). My Facebook account became a mixed bag of personal and professional relationships.

Last week I was shocked when two police detectives showed up at my studio door and informed me that I was being stalked by a Facebook predator. I take false comfort in the fact that I was not alone. This creepy guy “collects” hundreds of women. What was most chilling is that this predator created a Facebook page with a  profile picture of an attractive, healthy, 40 year old female wearing yoga clothes, in a tree pose who had similar interests to me. When I confirmed the friend request, I automatically assumed that she was a yoga student of mine. Wrong. I should have looked at her profile more closely.

If I had taken a better look at it, I would have seen that she had a shallow profile. She had only one photo, her information was limited and all of her Facebook friends (with the exception of me) were either completely made up with no information or had thousands of friends that they collected without scrutiny. The detectives explained that the stalker had created this false Facebook page in hopes to lure me into conversation. Yep, he created “fake” conversations on his Facebook wall amongst his phony friends. Scary.

Even though the stalker had gone through such complexity to meet me, the detectives assured me that I was probably safe. He most likely limits his creepiness to voyeurism, although they cannot be 100 % sure. They could not arrest him because what he did was not illegal. I can’t even put a restraining order on him because I was not verbally or physically threatened. So he is still out there ”collecting” unsuspecting women. They sent an officer to my home to make sure it was secure from break-ins and peeping toms. They asked me to not leave the studio alone at night and to take a Rape Defense Course. “Right away,” they said, “don’t wait.”

I can’t say I was feeling completely safe.

What is safety? As yoga teachers, we strive to create safety as the foundation for all of our classes but can we guarantee it?

In the twelve years that I have been teaching yoga (almost daily), I have never had any reason to feel unsafe and many of my students have been complete strangers. Like many yoga teachers, I come into close contact with students. I do my best to share the passion of yoga and hope that my students will leave my classes feeling grounded, opened up and alive.

To deepen a connection with my students and add as many dimensions to teaching as I can, I do hands-on assists, massage my students necks and shoulders during savasana (relaxation) and sometimes break out into poetry or song. I regularly share personal snippets of my life and relate it back to yoga. I let my students see that I am a human being who is navigating this life on and off of the yoga mat the best I can—just like they are.

Every time I get the privilege to roll out my yoga mat and teach, I remind myself to let go of any doubt, fear or self absorption that might get in the way and teach the best class I can from a place of openness and trust.

Teach from love and not fear.

This is my motto these days. The Facebook incident was super scary but I made a decision to not dump social networking because of one incident. I still have an active Facebook account that I update daily. I still “friend” my students. What I did do was tighten up the privacy settings on my Facebook and am more discerning about what I post, careful to not reveal any information that could make me vulnerable. I do look at my friend requests more carefully and make sure that their profile is not “shallow” and is legitimate with mutual friends.

Do I still have fear?

My yoga teacher, Michael Carroll (Yoganand), teaches that the ancient yogis would purposely create circumstances to experience the animal energy of fear. They saw fear as powerful raw material to work with. They would sit with the fear and witness it, watch it rise and watch it dissolve. Fear is not good or bad. It is not something to be ignored, denied or stuffed down in our bodies. Fear is powerful. I am personally seeing fear as a gift. I see fear as a way to empower myself and make changes where I need to. Fear is another way to live my yoga off the mat.

For more on the dance of openness and privacy between teacher and student, see the recent excellent article by Nancy Alder.

Anne Falkowski is a tantric hatha yogini, yoga studio owner and freelance writer. She has completed 200 hour trainings with Kripalu, Ana Forrest and Damon Honeycutt. She will graduate with a 500 hour certificate from Pranakria (Yoganand Michael Carroll) in March 2011. She founded Samadhi Yoga Studio in Connecticut in 2001. She co-teaches a 200 hour Samadhi Yoga Teacher Training with the best yogi she knows and her partner of 22 years, Matthew Falkowski. She is a homeschooling (unschooler) momma to Emily (14), Sparky (12) and Sadie Jai (4). For more from Anne, visit her blog.

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