#MeToo in the Yoga World
Lately, there have been many news reports and tweets about sexual harassment. One after another, both men and women have built up the courage to speak up about their experiences.
Luckily for me, I was never seriously hurt but I want to share my experience with you, because I believe that any type of harassment is unacceptable. My experience of harassment took place in India when I went there for a yoga retreat. I extended my holiday and stayed there longer than everyone else in the retreat group. I met a lovely woman who told me about sunrise yoga on a rooftop so I decided to join her one morning for a class. There were only 5 of us including the teacher and the teacher turned out to be the local tour guide for our yoga retreat. He seemed pleasant enough as our tour guide.
The yoga asanas were quite dynamic and challenging. It turns out that he was also a hands-on teacher which I have never really experienced before. My practice had been Bikram-based up until that point and Bikram teachers very rarely adjust with their hands. If they did, they would be subtle and careful on where they touched the students to help them with their alignment. During that class, we followed his dialogue and I had trouble keeping up. He helped one of the advance students a lot in her postures so I could see that he was hands-on in helping her stretch.
Towards the end of the class, I was the only one left with him and he wanted to help me stretch, which was a bit awkward at first but I thought I should be more open-minded. Somehow he became very serious and I no longer found him kind or pleasant. I felt that he could turn angry very quickly.
It was ok until I was lying down and he was on top of me to help me stretch. I felt very nervous and uncomfortable and from what I remember, I think I stopped being able to breathe at that point. He was very close to me and in fact, too close in the wrong way in which I felt I was in danger. I won’t elaborate more on how close he was but honestly, it was wrong. I kept thinking that he could help me stretch without being that close and whether I could somehow get out of this situation without it getting worse. I honestly felt that it could have gone either way and I mustn’t offend or anger him to get out safely. I tried to look calm and still, remain calm and not give eye contact. I was hoping this stretch would be over very soon. Perhaps that closeness lasted for about a minute but it felt like a long time. I knew that there was no way I was strong enough to fight him off if I had to. Was I feeling the stretch? I am not sure, as all my energy and focus was on the parts of him which were physically against me. Thank goodness, it was over and in the end, I left safely, unscathed and felt that I had a lucky escape.
Afterwards, I felt that I should have said something straight away when that happened because that was clearly unacceptable, but there was no one around on the roof, it was very early in the morning and all I could hear were the waves of the ocean and birds looking for their food. I should have stood up for myself but what would the outcome have been? Was the risk worth taking?
The biggest lesson I learned from that was to not be in a yoga class anywhere with just one other male yoga teacher and no one else around. It seems almost silly to say it because I am sure that more than 99% of male yoga teachers wouldn’t behave that way but I never want to feel so vulnerable again. I never want to feel in danger again.
In my last IT job, there was an external consultant who was bullying and throwing sexual harassment comments towards me on a daily basis. He never dared touch me and in the end, it got so bad that I reported it to my line manager and told him that it’s either him or me that stayed as I would not put up with that behaviour any longer. Other people had witnessed it and there was more than enough evidence. To the testament of that wonderful company, they fired him the next day when I gave that ultimatum. There are rules and regulations in the workplace. Employers can choose whether to act upon them and if not, you have a choice whether to live with it or leave.
What would you have done if you were in my shoes on the rooftop of that building when the yoga teacher got that close? Is there a right answer? I would love to hear your comments.