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#MeToo Within the Yoga Community (Video Q&A)

After #MeToo went viral last week, we’ve all been reminded that we live among men like Harvey Weinstein. Not that this is “news” to any of us, but it’s always unsettling to see. And naturally, women are a little on edge. Okay, I know I said “women” but honestly, I think everyone is on edge— men included. It’s not only women who experience sexual assault or harassment, AND I think a lot of men are just as disturbed by these stories as women are.

Plus, let’s be real— stories like the ones that have come out about this guy recently are hardly rare in the yoga world. We’ve all heard the news of gurus abusing their power and subsequent lawsuits for misconduct. The parameters around what’s appropriate and what isn’t depends on who you ask, too. I’m not talking about straight up assault and rape, but I mean the areas where the lines are blurred.

I mean, as teachers and yogis within the yoga community, physical touch is really commonplace. It’s in adjustments inside the classroom, familiar hugs outside the classroom, and friendly touches in casual conversation. It’s a very tactile community. And usually this isn’t a problem… until, of course, it is.

So, how can we be more careful without feeling like we’re walking on egg shells? How can we be better allies to those who may be uncomfortable with some of the touchy-feely stuff the yoga community is so used to?

Here’s 2 small things I personally am going to do to be a better ally…

1. Set better precedents at the beginning of my workshops.
It’s easy for me to forget to announce a way for people to tell me if they prefer not to be touched. I guess I assume that people already feel like they know me, so I generally assume no one minds getting adjusted, especially since my adjustments are mild. I’m never going to lay my body across yours or lean my weight into you. Thank god I’ve never had a problem up to this point, but I do want to be better about that.

2. Speak up.
This one is always challenging for me because I’m pretty shy, but I’m working on being more vocal when it matters. I remember going to a yoga class in NY at a popular yoga studio chain. The instructor was a guy and he was SO crass it made me uncomfortable. He was making jokes about some of the women in the room because he obviously had “rapport” with them (if you can call it that). At one point he literally smacked a woman on the butt while in dancer pose and said, “what the fck is that?” because her posture was off. I was with a friend of a friend whose life had been transformed by this class, so I didn’t want to embarrass her by making a fuss. But looking back on it, I wish I would have anyway.

And I do feel like I’m more confident today than I was at that point. Whenever you feel a little uncomfortable or unsure, I think it’s fine to say so while also speaking your mind. Saying something is better than saying NOTHING, even if your vernacular is a little off. What matters is your intention.

This is such a delicate subject and how each of us express our support is going to be different. So really I’m answering a Q a lot of us probably have. How can we support survivors of assault in constructive ways? We can ensure out actions say We’re here. We’re listening. We won’t judge you. We’ll believe you. We’ll support you.

So my Q for you today is how can you be a better ally? Have you ever reacted one way to a situation and then immediately wished you’d acted differently? In a yoga class, especially?

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    October 25, 2017 at 7:07 am

    My yogateacher came onto me, and not only me. His gilrfriend was pregnant with their second child when he slept with 2 other students. He now calls himself Yogacharya and claims he is enlightened. What a creep! Since then I haver never trusted anyone anymore who calls themselves guru, taken on a spiritual name or has an extra large (spiritual) ego.
    In my classes I never touch students without me asking them first, even if it’s only for a simple hands on adjustment. Any student who looks up to me, I gently steer them to tune in to their own inner wisdom. I will gladly answer all of their questions, but I am not their guru.

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      Erin Motz

      October 25, 2017 at 7:40 am

      I hate that this happens… so sickening. I’m right there with you and have equal distrust for anyone who claims they’re “enlightened” or want to be someone else’s “guru.”

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    Rebecca M.

    October 25, 2017 at 8:52 am

    “We can ensure out actions say We’re here. We’re listening. We won’t judge you. We’ll believe you. We’ll support you.” Yasssssssss!

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    Melanie Gibson

    October 25, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Kudos to you, Erin, for having the guts to speak up about something you see that makes you squirm. Chances are whatever the situation is, a lot of other women feel the same way but for one reason or another do not feel brave enough to say anything out loud. For myself, I was in a few relationships where there was a lot of verbal and emotional abuse, and even though it was a couple of decades ago, it has never really gone away – I always think inside that it would be less of a hassle if I keep my thoughts to myself, because someone might attack me for something I say and make me feel worse. I bet I’m not the only one who deals with an inner demon like that. Somebody has to speak for the women who can’t or won’t.

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    Erin Moore

    October 25, 2017 at 9:02 am

    I too struggle with what I should have said way after the moment has passed. Yes, absolutely speak up! There are ways to respectfully point out when something appears inappropriate or makes you uncomfortable. We should be careful, though, of qualifying our complaint with “I may be overstepping” or “I think what he did was…” or “I feel he should not have….” If it’s clearly wrong, do not hesitate to say so, without softening the message with “I feel, I think.” If you’re firmly behind your opinion, it will be taken more seriously. Awesome and timely Q & A!

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      Erin Motz

      October 25, 2017 at 10:13 am

      Yes yes yes to THIS: ” without softening the message with “I feel, I think.” ” That’s HUGE.

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    October 25, 2017 at 9:06 am

    I appreciate teachers who ask if it’s okay to adjust students, not because I’ve been personally touched in a way that seemed sexually inappropriately by a yoga teacher, but because it prepares me to relax into the adjustment. I once had a female teacher come up to me while I was in a lunge in a power yoga class and just force me way further into the pose than felt right–I literally heard my joints kind of crunching/ popping… It was so sudden and painful, that I tensed up in reaction and ended up in lots of pain after as well. It took me a while to not freak out after that when someone would adjust me, because my body had this weird fear about it. I have one teacher I’ve worked with for years, and she never asked me before adjustments, but hers are so gentle–it feels like she intuits exactly when your body is at a good level and doesn’t push past resistance into pain, so that never worried me. Now I’m generally fine with them, but I still like knowing what is happening so I can kind of “accept” the adjustment. I’ve also been in a hot yoga class led by a male teacher who was really macho, so I get the potential for discomfort there as well.

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      Erin Motz

      October 25, 2017 at 10:13 am

      Really good point about yet another reason to ask before adjusting! That’s horrible that you got adjusted so aggressively… I never understood teachers who felt that kind of thing was necessary.

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        October 26, 2017 at 7:09 am

        It was pretty shocking to me. I was only fifteen and it was my first power yoga class, too, so I thought maybe that was just standard for that style of yoga! Fortunately, it didn’t dissuade me from yoga in general, but I can imagine if that was your first yoga experience, you might freak out and not go near it again. 🙁 I’ve had some friends tell me they tried a yoga class, and it was too painful and not for them. When I hear that, I remember that experience, and I always make sure to point out that they maybe just had a teacher who had an incompatible style, and to consider giving it another try with someone else plus not going past where they are starting to feel pain.

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    Anne S

    October 25, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Thank you for transcribing the video. I how you listened to people’s needs/wants and made such a simple, yet considerate adjustment.

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    Rebecca Johnson

    October 25, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Thank you for transcribing the video! I don’t always have time to watch the video, so the transcription was awesome this time. Such an important message. I just opened my own yoga studio and it is very important to me that I make it a safe space, physically and emotionally.

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    October 25, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    I apologize this is off topic, but I appreciate very much that you’ve transcribed the video b/c it will make your videos more accessible to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. I am a sign-language interpreter (so not Deaf myself) but hear from many in the community that they wish they had more access (and who love following your videos 🙂 ). Your videos have captioning (which is great, a lot of people on YouTube still don’t have that figured out) but it makes very frequent and confusing mistakes.

    I have been fortunate that in any class I’ve taken live (honestly do 90% of my practice at home) I’ve always had teachers who were very respectful and only made physical adjustments after asking permission.

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    October 26, 2017 at 5:58 am

    Haven’t had any bad experiences in the classes I have taken, nor has anyone I know said anything or had any negative issues that I’m aware of. I guess in larger groups there maybe, but not in our small group. I have always had great classes & our teacher whether male or female has always asked if you want to be helped with an adjustment just let me know while or before starting that pose. I know issues like the #metoo are out there, but thank goodness not in any I’ve personally experienced. Luv the video’s best!!

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    November 5, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    I got into yoga about 12 years ago when I was in an emotionally vulnerable place following a bad breakup. Since then, I have seen too many bad actor yoga/meditation teachers and they seem to get away with it year after year for decades on end. I didn’t see violent assaults. What I saw over and over again is the classic grooming techniques used by pedophiles when targeting a vulnerable child victim. The male teacher assumes an omnipotent/patriarchal role and gently befriends vulnerable women with the explicit, premeditated intent of sexual grooming. And as women, we feel stupid for believing it, or are trying so hard to be “positive” that we willfully ignore warning signs from predators and verbal warnings from other women in the community. This is who I’ve seen do this: Harijiwan at Goldenbridge in LA, John Friend and a protege, Mitchel Bleir, and Thom Knoles a meditation teacher with bases in LA and NYC. We would never allow our therapists and psychiatrists or professors to sleep with students. Yoga teachers assume all of these roles and there is zero accountability. Speak up.

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      June 16, 2018 at 9:21 pm

      Kathryn, I’m passionate about this issue and I’m trying to be a change agent within my spiritual community. I’m particularly interested in hearing more about your experience with one of the teachers you mentioned in your post. Hoping we might connect. Please reach out if you’re open to sharing — m. 925.408.2907. Warmly Xx

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    August 19, 2019 at 10:38 am

    Excellent – thank you x

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