January is the time when everyone promises to start a new routine. Some join a gym, or a yoga studio. By sharing that there are yoga predators in the world of yoga isn’t being done to scare you off. However. we can’t sugar coat yoga, by telling you only the good stuff. You should also know the problems that arise when teachers abuse their power.
It is a fact that a few male yoga teachers, who have gained the trust of women, have sexually harassed and abused them. A few years ago, one of the first sexual scandal stories to break was about John Friend, founder of Anusara yoga. Last summer, three women came forth in a civil suit, with allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and racism against Bikram Choudhry, the founder of Bikram yoga. The suit has yet to reach the courts. They were abused were betrayed not only by men, but by the women who worked with them and knew.
While most people might come to the conclusion that these heinous acts are relegated to the “corporate” style yoga teachers, it happens in small towns as well. Recently, I heard unfortunate news of a local yoga teacher/licensed massage therapist. He was a popular teacher, whose classes were full. A following of women who would follow him from studio to studio. He was their sun and moon. One of his students trusted him enough to get a massage. What started off as a relationship of safety and trust turned into a nightmare. His hands wandered, and he used force. At one point, he pushed down on her carotid artery. While she wasn’t raped, she felt violated, humiliated, and scared. She reported it to the police. However, after much consideration, she did not press charges. Under the suggestion of the police, she got a restraining order. He turned in multiple weapons. His massage license has been taken away, and he’s been kicked out of all but one yoga studio. Since then, more women have said they experienced similar treatment, but were too embarrassed to come forth. (Because charges haven’t been filed, and to protect the anonymity of the person to whom this happened, no one is being named on this blog).
Inevitably, he has his defenders. There’s one studio, along with a crop of sycophants, who can’t bring themselves to face the truth. What they don’t realize is this: their support marginalizes all victims of sexual abuse.
We feel obliged to mention this problem to veterans. Especially men and women who have suffered sexual trauma while in the military. We wonder if rape and sexual harassment go underreported in the yoga world. We wish someone in the yoga world would start keeping track of the flock. Given the “celestial fog” many yoga teachers bask in, reporting a popular person for inappropriate and abusive acts is beyond difficult. According to Lucas Rockwood, a teacher in NYC and founder of “Stop Sexual Abuse in Yoga: I Am My Own Guru,” it goes unreported and nothing changes. We can’t ignore the issue, and send anyone blindly into a studio. We’re obligated to send a warning shot over the bow and reassure you that you are your own guru.
The majority of yoga teachers are caring, compassionate individuals. A small minority are the predators as described above. So, what do we tell you? Especially as individuals who have experienced profound stress reduction, and even a bit of magic through yoga? We tell you to be careful, and that no one has a right to touch, oggle, or make comments about you. If you have trauma, and you don’t want the teacher to touch you, just go up to him or her before class –and tell them in no uncertain terms. You do not have to apologize, you do not have to explain why. “Please don’t touch me,” should suffice. If they have an issue with it, walk out the door. If they forget, don’t go back. It’s your mat, your space, your practice. We agree with the great Judy Weaver, founder of Connected Warriors, “If a teacher can’t direct you into a stance without using their hands, they have no business teaching yoga.”
And if it happens to you –go to the police and press charges. Take along your friend when you do –it’ll help a lot. And remember, you are not alone.
Watch this terrific you tube video by a really great yoga teacher who wanted to raise awareness about the problem of sexual assault and abuse in the yoga community. This is Lucas Rockwood, who founded the the movement: “Stop Sexual Abuse in Yoga: I Am My Own Guru.”
Update: Since getting kicked out of the studios, and losing his license he has taken a trip overseas, but plans to return. And yeah, I know who he is. And dude, if you’re reading this: get treatment for your predatory nature. Psychiatric help, not just chanting on a pillow. I would say that if I see you again, I’ll kick your ass, but that would be bad karma. But since I’ve never been perfect, let’s just let that statement sit.