February 20, 2012

Yoga Bully.

Bullied. I was 11-years-old. I was in sleep away camp as my so-called friends marched down the pathway alongside my bunk.I could hear the mob of adolescent boys and girls shouting my name in anger through the window screen I was hiding under. They corralled at the bottom of my bunk’s stairs. Their fists waived in the air.

I felt like Joan of Arc at the Salem Witch trials or worse yet, Frankenstein being chased by the angry villagers.

Image uploaded by Pere Ubu

I grabbed a broomstick for protection and tore out of the bunk. I ran past the bullying mob of 12-year-olds, but they pursued. I ran up to the docks at the serene lake upon which the camp prided itself. There was nowhere to go but in the water.

I wanted to drown myself.

Finally, an adult at the waterfront saw what was happening and intervened. The attention-starved girl who began this mess with her web of lies apologized to us all. How I looked at people and the world was forever changed.

I was 17 when I discovered yoga and meditation. Once again, the way I looked at people and the world was forever changed, but this time in a more positive and loving way.

I still have zero tolerance for bullying. But Yoga Bullies (students or teachers) are inexcusable forms of behavior. Asteya (non stealing) is one of the Yamas (ethics) of yoga. Stealing another’s power is never okay.

Image by Ron Sombilon Gallery

The Yoga Bully Comes in Many Forms.

Group Yoga Bullies can be found while waiting in long lines to get into their favorite yoga class. They are tightly packed yogis who are like shoppers waiting outside Wal-mart on Black Friday.

They use their mats like battering rams, which contrast their calm and serene faces. As soon as the gates of the yoga classroom open, Group Yoga Bullies cut in front of others who are patiently waiting in line. Their next tactic is to push and shove their way inside the room and capture their favorite spot, devoutly defending their territory.

The panicked look on the last student’s face, who unknowingly walks into this lion’s den for their class, is priceless.

Group Yoga Bullies can also be found among the staff who work for yoga studios. As a student, I have personally been hung up on over the phone when asking for directions, condescendingly spoken to when inquiring about classes, and utterly dismissed when I interrupted a personal call a worker was having with her friend. By the time I got into the classroom of these various studios and met the Yoga Nazi in charge, it became clear they were just following orders as proven in the famous Stanley Milgram Experiment.

Yoga Bully. I watched a new student place her mat down in the front of the class. Suddenly, an “experienced” front row student stopped her. He reprimanded her and said the front row was reserved for the better students only! My grandmother would have called that “Chutzpah.”

Was this student really being told to go to the “back of the bus”? Where was Rosa Parks when you needed her!?

Rosa Parks. By Beechwood Photography

I quickly intervened to inform the student she was welcome to practice wherever she felt comfortable. I addressed the class,  “Will the back row and front row students please switch places today? Thank you.

Yoga Bully Teacher. I stood naked in the locker room getting dressed. I just finished taking a yoga class when the confrontational teacher approached me.

She stood centimeters from my face. Her aggression and close proximity reminded me of riding a subway in New York City during rush hour, except I was nude. First, she reprimanded me for drinking water. (Silly me, I always assumed drinking water was a basic human right to survival). Secondly, I was chastised for doing a few Sun Salutations before her class began.

And I thought Bikram was the only bully in town!

Images of Braveheart ran through my mind as the surge of adrenaline ignited the uppity New Yorker in me. I took a breath. My inner yogi reminded me like a caring mom about restraint.

I replied, “Thank you for sharing.” Then, I reached around her and grabbed my underwear.

With the advent of Superstar Yogi practitioners there have been a lot of Superstar egos. At some point in our lives, each one of us has either been bullied or has bullied another. Yoga should be a place to heal and learn from these bad behaviors. Yoga bullying must not be tolerated or promoted by teachers or students.

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