We exist as a sanctuary for the pursuit of wellness through yoga and meditation, and this weekend, we were stopped in that pursuit by news of the three lives taken at Hot Yoga Tallahassee.
We first wish to express our sadness at the loss of Dr. Nancy Van Vessem and Maura Binkley, as well as the person who felt this was his best option in life. In an effort to reduce the appeal of fame through violence, we will not state his name.
I’ve worked in yoga studios for the better part of a decade, and each studio has been home to some valuable relationships, as well as some uncomfortable ones. Our open door policy and friendliness can invite people in who may take advantage of us.
As a yoga studio owner, I’ve noticed some student-teacher interactions that feel problematic. I’ve seen men offer to walk female teachers to their cars, alone, at night. I’ve seen students hang around a studio long after class, violating the personal space and time of our teachers and staff. I’ve seen students appear in teachers’ lives outside of the studio, often uninvited.
Because yoga teachers want to treat others—especially students—kindly and openly, their internal alarms are rarely triggered. I’ve seen teachers expose themselves to potentially dangerous situations in efforts to be “yogic.”
I’ve also seen people come to yoga seeking help for mental and emotional disorders far too severe to be handled by yoga alone. I’ve seen teachers and studios advertise “yoga for depression” or “yoga for anxiety” without questioning scope of practice, safety protocols, or mental health first aid training. It’s time to take these issues seriously. Yoga is not a replacement for quality medical care; we are taking the lives of these individuals into our own hands when we treat it this way.
Because of the unique factors in the operation of a yoga studio, I believe it is prudent to take serious steps to keep teachers, students, and communities safe. I know these steps may not be enough, especially in cases of extreme violence, but I think there is more we can do to prevent and address smaller acts of violence or aggression.
Here is what our studio is doing, and what I encourage other studios to do as well:
First, we will host a group meditation to honor the lives lost and provide an opportunity to experience the trauma and grief of such a blow to the safety of our yoga communities. If you are a studio owner or manager, I encourage you to do the same.
Second, we will host a mental health training at our studio. It is our goal to identify those people who may be at risk to themselves or others because of poor mental health. We know that yoga is no substitute for proper medical care, and through training, we hope to arm our staff with their own weapons: education and awareness of when medical care is needed.
Yogis are often characterized as odd or free spirited. It’s our job to encourage individuality and oddness where we can, but also to be alert and aware for those times when something more serious is occurring. I encourage all yoga teachers and studios to address scope of practice and take it seriously.
Third, we will develop a clear, written policy on handling uncomfortable interactions. In my years teaching yoga, I took concerns to a few studio managers I was working with. I wasn’t happy with how those concerns were handled, and I was often asked to continually be in the presence of individuals who made me uncomfortable or, in some cases, scared. If we had a clearer policy on addressing these concerns, I feel we could have kept everyone safer. I encourage all studios to develop such a policy so no one is working in a hostile environment.
While we can work on policy change, I believe the most important work we do is that which immediately impacts our friends, family, students, coworkers and communities through direct action. At times when we feel at a loss for preventing random acts of extreme violence, let’s remember all we can do to make the workplace an everyday sanctuary.
Author: Bethany Eanes
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
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