How to Spot a Predator in Your Yoga Studio & What to Do About It.

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Yup, predator: perpetrator of violence, coercion, sexual assault, and power games, sweating into their stretchy pants on the cork floor right there next to you.

Yoga communities like to think they are immune to this sort of thing. Because we share values that include trust, opening your heart, and prioritizing community over ego, we think no one could ever be so non-yogic as to rape someone. Same as in churches: the point is to love Jesus, right? Not rape people. It’s hard to wrap your brain around. We want to believe our communities are safe. We want to believe violence against women is a thing of the past, and violence against men is a pure impossibility.

Well, it is time to begin wrapping our brains around it. Because it happens all the time.

Amrit Desai, or Gurudev, who resigned as leader of Kripalu after sexual misconduct was identified


The Maharishi even took advantage of the Beatles

Unfortunately, the problem isn’t just the specific humans who perpetrate violence. It’s the culture of silence and shame that surrounds these incidents, and we are all complicit in that.

If you’ve ever been a survivor of sexual assault, you will probably find this pattern of thought familiar:

I shouldn’t have worn that outfit. I shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. I shouldn’t have let him/her come in. I don’t think I said ‘No’ loud enough or enough times. Maybe it wasn’t assault. He/she probably didn’t mean it that way. If I say something, I’ll be called a liar and thrown out of the community/fired. If I say something, he/she will be thrown out of the community/fired and I’ll have to carry that guilt for the rest of my life. Better keep quiet. Yup. Keep quiet.

I’ve done this. Several times.

Here’s an example: I worked behind the desk at a yoga studio for a while. When the studio director sexually assaulted me, I told no one except a couple of other girls at the desk, who either had the same story or who had heard many other girls who had the same story with the same person. We all did nothing, hoping someone would speak up.

He was eventually fired, but not for sexually assaulting his employees: he was fired for some vague mistake having to do with the studio newsletter. If any of us had spoken up publicly or gone to his boss, we could have prevented it from happening again. I was new in my job, and I didn’t know the power dynamics yet. I didn’t know that I had any power at all, and I feared getting fired if I said anything.

I was the perfect person to sexually assault. I kept quiet, and other people got hurt.

Two friends of mine, Mindy Netiffee and Rachel McKibbens, created a pamphlet specifically for the poetry slam community entitled HOW TO IDENTIFY A PREDATOR AT YOUR HIGH TEA: (Click below to download the PDF).

In it, they identify several definite red flags that you should look out for. They are:

They have a history of being an abuser. They may have had a restraining order placed on them in the past, or have been arrested for violent behaviour or sexual crimes.

They have a history of fraud or theft.

They are callous about risky sexual behavior, and may pressure or intimidate you into doing thing you are not comfortable doing.

They attempt to isolate you from your family and friends, and may cause rifts with those who care about you.

They verbally abuse you, including cruel jokes and purposeful degradation. They may stalk you physically or online, or via email, text, or phone.

They have ever used force or violence or the threat of force against you. This also includes the breaking of objects.

“Did you know?” The pamphlet cheerfully asks, “the same qualities that make a great performance poet or politician or preacher can also make for a great con artist?”

I’m going to go ahead and add “yoga guru” to that list.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Arnie Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver


John Friend

Check out more possible red flags here:

They are extraordinarily charismatic. They make friends instantly. However, many or all of their other relationships haven’t endured or have ended sourly.

They may drink or take drugs excessively. They usually brag about it. They want you to be excessive with them. They are eager to buy you drinks and get you in an impaired state.

Frantic appearance! They are always on edge and have a lot of nervous energy.

They are easily angered or jealous. They are controlling. They are hypersensitive to perceived insults or setbacks.

They are unpredictable. They may be extremely self-deprecating one minute, then egotistical the next.

They have a history of lying, and being caught in lies. They consistently rationalize their dishonesty or bad behaviour when caught. They do not exhibit remorse.

Sound familiar? Take a breath. There are whole humans behind these red flags—and it’s complicated—but we have to stop ignoring that this stuff exists.

I would love to believe we live in a ‘post-feminist’ world. I would love to believe, even, that the things that happened to me only happened to me. We want to believe in a just world where good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. When bad things happen to good people, we look for flaws in the survivor, whether it is ourselves our someone else, so that the world can continue to seem just and make sense.

I also read this article this week, which is a terrifying look at how all men are wired to hate women.

Though this article rings true in some ways, I have three problems with it:

1. It identifies the problem to be all men, not the rape culture that we live in and constantly participate in. Women can have just as many of these red flags, and are just as capable of being perpetrators of violence.

2. It assumes heterosexuality.

3. It gives no solution, at all.

So we need a solution, folks.

The solution is not a witch hunt, though the rage and frustration this all brings up certainly stirs the urge to get our torches out. We need to break the silence and yes, sometimes identify possible repeat offenders, but the problem is not the people, necessarily, but the culture of silence around these incidents. We need explicitly safer spaces, clear boundaries, non-tolerance of violence, and policies for accountability when it does happen.

So I am asking for a yoga community that refuses silence. I want a community that is informed, rich with resources and options, communicative, and the closest to safe that we can possibly get. I want us to trust each other, not blindly, but because we can communicate, respect clear boundaries, and have policies in place to protect and serve that trust. I want accountability and, ultimately, prevention.

I want us to wrap our brains around this. And then to speak up.


Here are some resources:

If you’ve been assaulted:

1. Get to safety.

2. Tell someone. You have choices.

3. Explore your choices. Google self-defense training in your city, domestic violence centers, and how to file a restraining order.

Choices and information:

Blog on one community’s experience with speaking out (Thanks Jessica Mason Paull):

Resource sheet from Lisa Slater:


Editor: Kate Bartolotta.

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anonymous Aug 12, 2012 9:49am

[…] gazes. It’s likely though that some of these “harmless” observations resulted in the scandalous, predatory relationships we’re reading more and more about every […]

anonymous Apr 14, 2012 11:26am

Thank you for this article. There is such a temptation to rationalize abuse at the best of times, let alone in a community which is supposed to be devoted to spiritual and physical health.

I hope you don't mind – I have shared the article on my blog along with articles by Eve Ensler and Nikki Brown. If there is anything you don't like about the post, please let me know and I will change it/take it down. The article is here:

anonymous Apr 5, 2012 12:20pm

This is such a huge issue—sexual abuse in power situations and the ensuing silence about it. Twenty-five years ago a famous yoga teacher groped me while giving me an adjustment. Because he was famous and highly respected I did not trust my first instincts and instead rationalized his behavior. I never told anyone. Then two years later several women came forward and reported him for violations that were much worse than what he had done to me. I then realized that my silence had enabled him to continue perpetrating. I wish I had had the courage to say something to him at the time, but like so many people in the lesser position in a power differential relationship, I trusted the person in power more than myself. I would not respond the same way now, but of course, this sort of thing is not nearly as likely to happen to a 50-something woman as it is to a 20-something woman.

    anonymous Apr 8, 2012 10:03am

    Hi Charlotte,

    Thanks so much for sharing that. Your words "I trusted the person in power more than myself" have really stuck with me. That's the problem right there isn't it? Thank you.

anonymous Apr 3, 2012 9:54pm

Interesting article, we definitely need to talk about this in studios.
Do you have references for John Friend being predator? I thought that was all consensual ?

    anonymous Apr 3, 2012 10:28pm

    Consent becomes sticky when the person in question is in a lot of power over the people he's having sex with. I understand he was having sex with employees, which is, again, sticky. It's not that it can't be consensual, but it's more complicated. Sometimes people throw themselves or offer themselves up to someone sexually because of their fame or power, and that's not a great thing to take advantage of. I'll just quote you some definitions here:

    "Consent is clear permission between intimate partners that what they are doing is okay and safe. To consent to something–like being sexual–means you confidently agree to do it based on your own free will without any influence or pressure." [Sex with your boss=influence and pressure]

    Different from sexual assault, sexual harrassment is any unwanted sexual advance, comment, attention, gesture, or behavior. […] Often, sexual harassment includes pressure by supervisors on his/her employees to reciprocate sexual advances in order to protect or advance in a job."

    From the National Coalition of Men Against Sexism and Clark University.

      anonymous Apr 4, 2012 6:52am

      Thanks JC, that’s very concise and helpful.
      Here at the university of Guelph there is a very strong anti rape culture presence, but as a white dude there is always so much learning to do.

      And your definitions reminded me of a class I was teaching where I touched a male student that I was attracted to. It was definitely not sexual touch, but once my hands were on him I relalized that he didn’t even need the adjustment and my subconscious must have just drawn me to him because I thought he was cute. I became aware of what I was doing and backed off, now I definitely think twice before adjusting anyone. I’m really thankful I have the awareness to see beyond my hormones and sociocultural bs sometimes.

anonymous Apr 2, 2012 1:57pm

This was a great article. I'm always amazed at how articles of this depth don't receive the readership they deserve. Thanks for writing this article.

    anonymous Apr 2, 2012 2:41pm

    Thanks Andrew. I'd love it if you would share it and pass it on. Thanks.

      anonymous Apr 2, 2012 2:47pm

      JC (or Julie…Whichever you prefer), I posted the article to my personal Facebook Page as well as my business (Balance Fire) page. Hopefully, you catch some more readers there.

        anonymous Apr 2, 2012 3:14pm

        Thanks Andrew, I really appreciate that!

anonymous Apr 2, 2012 1:07am

Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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anonymous Apr 2, 2012 1:04am

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

Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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Julie JC Peters

Julie (JC) Peters has been practicing yoga on and off from the tender age of 12, and it has gotten her through everything from the horrors of teenagedom to a Master’s degree in Canadian Poetry. She is a yoga teacher, spoken word poet, and writer, and teaches workshops on yoga and writing called Creative Flow. Julie also owns East Side Yoga in Vancouver with her mom, Jane.