Yoga Bully.

Via Heather Dawn
on Feb 20, 2012
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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.


About Heather Dawn

Heather Dawn is a life coach, meditation and yoga therapist. She specializes in self-empowerment and personal transformation with her clients and students. She is the co-host of a weekly sex, love and relationship show and podcast called, “Getting it On with James and Heather.”


29 Responses to “Yoga Bully.”

  1. yogi henry says:

    the line; “My inner yogi reminded me like a caring mom about restraint.”

    how true! yoga helps me too with finding a calmer, more poised response to situations that could easily lead to ‘more drama’….thanks for sharing……bullies suck!

  2. heather says:

    Hi there Yogi Henry.

    Amen to yoga. and bullies do suck and so over seeing it in the yoga world. ESP with teachers!

    peace to you!

  3. Great article, Heather! Bullying in its many forms causes untold – and told, as in your story here – suffering. I am so grateful for my personal experiences as a victim of bullying, because they have taught me how it feels to be a social outcast. As a result, I am ever-mindful that even small gestures toward inclusiveness and random acts of kindness can make a big difference in an individual's genuine need for a deserved sense of social status and human interaction. I am more empathic and more apt to be socially virtuous as a direct result of having experienced social neglect, and I get from your story that you, also, hold personal values of compassion and social virtue as a direct result of having experienced what it feels like to be a victim of bullying. My point is: never regret personal pain; walking that path it is what gives us the strength and character of the Bodhisattva: a person of ultimate compassion. The path leads to now, and now is perfect, so the path was perfect!

  4. heather says:

    Beautifully said Gregory!

  5. Allyson says:

    Hi, I am so glad you posted this. I am a yoga teacher and I recently experienced a form of bullying by another teacher from a different studio. Bizarre when a professional adult acts like an idiot. The yoga community should be positive,helpful, healing, loving etc….Why can't we all just get along. Thank you for the post.

  6. heather says:

    Hey Allyson. Thanks for the support. Im am BEYOND over the bullying in the yoga world. What was scary was i had to choose which stories I was going to share. There is way too much of it. And its time we all put a stop to it. I hope you said something to that teacher!!

  7. iloas says:

    It just sad that some of us simply "don't get it",,, you would think that someone that does Yoga would. Your article is another reminder to "think", and I really like the fact that you made the back row switch with the front row. IG

  8. Michelle says:

    Holy cow! Remind me never to practice in NYC.

  9. agurvey says:

    I was a victim of bullying throughout my younger years. I got picked on for so many different things, it's hard to even quantify. Because of this, I have no tolerance for bullying or elitism. This article was great. Thank you!

  10. Vision_Quest2 says:

    The yoga world is full of "Heathers" … referring only to the movie by that name. Not referring to this author, who does not live up to that sense of the name Heather.

  11. heather says:

    LOL…good reference…

  12. heather says:

    I am so sorry to hear of that. Most of have been through this or done it to others ( with awareness and often without). No one should have to go through it. But I'm happy to intervene if i see bullying occur! Sadly i had to choose just one or two stories to share in this article, but there are in fact more. On another occasion I walked out of a teachers class, But not unitl I made her aware of her behavior. I'm not as passive either when Im not working( aka teaching)…As my new friend Matt Reyes said " I don't mind being a karmic regulator" when it comes to bullies.

  13. heather says:

    Michelle, These incidents ALL occurred in L.A. The majority of them at a particular studio chain. ( minus my childhood experiences of course! lol)

  14. agurvey says:

    Nowadays, I'm a yoga teacher and someone who has risen above it, much like you, so I have great sympathy and understanding for the story you outlayed. I have a multitude of stories as well, many with which I'm sure you could sympathize. It has inspired to teach my classes with equanimity and inspire EVERY student that walks through the door by teaching them not to take themselves SO seriously. After all, it is just yoga, and the practice is for everyone. I like your style, Heather.

  15. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Front row reservation?? I've never heard of that before!! Yikes.

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  16. heather says:

    Cheers to your great work! Yes, I also remind my students this isn't the "yoga Olympics", investigate but chill…it's Just Yoga.

  17. heather says:

    Thanks Tanya! xo

  18. missbernklau says:

    Yes, there are plenty of wonderful, friendly and loving teachers abound here in NYC and Long Island, so if you're ever here, don't be shy 🙂 I don't think anyone would do yoga in NYC if it was that bad everywhere (and we have as many studios as there are Starbucks probably)!

    No matter where you live there are going to be inconsiderate and just flat out nasty people…sometimes they find their way into yoga classes, sometimes they get themselves certified to teach yoga, it's our own Karma how we deal with that. 🙂

  19. heather says:

    I love Dharma Mittra in NYC. he is one of the pioneers of Yoga. Worth going to if you haven't been. He's like 80 now. Just recently visited my family in NYC and the Island. Took some affordable classes from Yoga for the People. They weren't very inspiring classes but they were affordable and the staff, students were friendly! So that alone is worth it. Be Well!

  20. no more yoga secrets, please…. what is the yoga chain?

  21. heather says:

    LOL Maureen. Don't you worry i have ZERO issues calling bullies on their behaviors. No need to publicly humiliate when it's been dealt with at least on my end.

  22. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Me, too. As a student of yoga that is. But I could tell you it is a major studio chain that originated in a borough of New York and mostly New Jersey and came to New York City at the tail end of the "yoga boom" (and NOT a Bikram or hot yoga studio). The name is evocative of what an Oriental outcall massage place might be called). Its main founder is now big in a famous yoga retreat. One of its chain in Bronx, New York will no longer go by that outcall massage-like name. (and won't pay royalties, due to a changed system) (Going by hints is enough … sometimes the marketplace is enough vengeance!). Truth is, now that the Anusara picture comes to light, people who actually have money for this yoga stuff (live classes, workshops and eco-tourism) will think twice ….

  23. and now yoga says:

    Dear Heather,
    I was laughing all along… thinking you had stolen MY story:-)
    As a teacher, I am still refining this : how do I , even in very subtle ways create an atmosphere of competition or that very welcoming, inclusive place, shala or sharanam that, we all, as practionners look for?
    It may be really subtle… sometimes, demonstrating the full spectrum of variations around eka pada raj kapotasana can create that urge in some people, to do it "as perfectly" as they think I have shown it . For more challenging asanas in an all-level class, demonstrating the easiest option while verbally and/or with hands-on adjust teaching more advanced variations can help…or not. It is subtle. I feel being a sattvic teacher, really at the service for all, is something I will keep learning and refining myself, every time, every day in all situations ( being an human living with a cat, a mother, a sister, a partner, a student and a teacher). Indeed what we give is what we get… that pain (of being bullied) can be a great teacher and reminder. Thank you for your blog post!

  24. […] But sometimes…ugh. We’ve all met someone who can be the bitchiest of the sanctimonious yoga bullies and then tack a little namaste “Love ‘n Light” on the end to soften the blow. […]

  25. […] build any kind of friendship. The laid-back attitude of the yoga community has been diluted to one full of self-righteous egos who are decked out in $150 mala beads, outfits that cost a car payment, and mats with a matching […]

  26. Sue says:

    OMG…you wrote this a year ago…and I had my encounter.. Thank you for this…I feel validated.

  27. Suri says:

    First thank you for this article.. I thought bully didn’t exist in the YOGA world.. Recently, I encountered yoga bully too.. unfortunately, it came in an email format from the yoga studio owner herself.. I reckon she could have done it in another way such as talk to me face to face about issues that concern her.. I was taken aback .. I’ve to say, I don’t really go to the studio often or regularly like others that regularly go to that studio.. But to gang up and said hurtful remarks towards another person is really bad behavior of a yoga teacher.. Furthermore, I do pay for all those classes and they are not cheap..