Yoga as a wet t-shirt contest? Fail, Planet Yoga. Plus, her Bow Pose is really not that well done. Not that I’m judging other people’s yoga practice but I figure if you’re going to be modeling yoga for Planet Yoga you should probably at least try and get your knees together? Although this was my first time ever photoshopping pasties – so, that’s fun.
There was a tempest in the proverbial chai herbal-infused detox teapot a couple of weeks ago when famed yoga guru and self-confessed perv Cameron Shayne put up a post about why it’s not only hot for yoga teachers to have sex with their students but it’s also very cool because it’s, like, relaxing and athletic and a natural bodily function and part of the whole yoga experience and a bunch of other garbage that I couldn’t read because I was too busy pearl-clutching over his atrocious grammar. (Lesson #1: Never trust a dude with two first names.) He argued that the power dynamic between teacher and student that normally makes such relationships verboten isn’t the same in yoga because… yoga.
Have you done yoga? Moreover, have you done hot yoga? Between the teeeeny little outfits and the glistening cleav (both ends!) and heavy breathing it’s a wonder that naked yoga didn’t take off before. Not to mention that yoga guru-guree sexcapades have been causing scandal for the better part of a century. Have you ever read up on Bikram’s history? Yeah. And while Shayne’s (can that seriously be his real name? Or did he adopt it after answering one of those find-your-stripper-name quizzes?) opinion may be a little on the extreme end, he is not the only one attracted to the meditative discipline for all the sexy sexiness.
Take, for instance, today at my kid’s school pickup. As I waited outside I stood next to a mom in teeny Lululemon shorts and a bra top. Did I mention it was an elementary school? At 2 in the afternoon? And 50 degrees outside? But I immediately realized what a judgy mcjudgerson I was being in my seasonally appropriate sweater-scarf-and-jeans combo (ah the mom uniform!) and so I smiled and asked, “Oh did you just come from working out?” Heaven knows I’ve shown up plenty of places in random sweaty workout gear because I didn’t have time to change. Sure I’d probably have thrown a jacket on before going out to a place full of children but… STOP JUDGING, CHARLOTTE, OKAY? Okay.
The woman, interrupting my idiotic inner monologue, winked at me and said, “Oh, I had yoga this morning but I just stayed in my clothes because they’re so comfy. And for all the daddy double takes.” Heaven help me I wish I were making this up. As I snuck a glance around to see how many “daddies” there actually were available to do the ogling, she added, “Yoga just makes me feel so sexy, you know?”
I… don’t know, actually.
On one hand, I get how yoga can be sexy. I even get how it can make you feel sexier. (All that core control’s got to be good for something beyond holding yourself up in a Crow Pose that looks nothing like an actual crow!) And yet I do not want my yoga to be sexy. At all. And I really don’t like how the yoga culture is moving from one of body acceptance, meditation and world peace to one of expensive showy clothes, bored rich ladies and gurus who feel it’s part of the “yoga experience” to “give up your power” to your teacher by having sex with him. (Shayne actually euphemistically wrote in his defense for why he sleeps with his students, “I believe it is necessary [for the student] to relinquish their power, in order to co-create and co-occupy a space for learning. Someone must concede power to the other, in some way shape or form, in order to become the student, employee or underling of the other.” UNDERLING?! See, it’s good for you! Anyone else need a shower?)
I’ll take dirty-footed hippies rolled in incense and talking about my third eye any day over a lady who got a fresh pedi for the class so she can look appropriately bang-able.
I think my main beef with this mentality is that I, personally, don’t use yoga to feel sexual. Of course sometimes I’ve been in a random pose and giggled like a 12-year-old boy because… down dog. But most of the time I’m there because I need (NEED) to chill out, stretch and release some pent up emotion by doing a moving meditation. All of this makes me feel, well, more vulnerable in yoga than I do in other fitness classes. There’s a huge difference for me between kick boxing and yoga and it’s not just that one encourages yelling while the other will get you ejected for yelling. For one, there’s the very hands-on nature of yoga. Between close mats, wobbly balance and teachers adjusting poses there can be a lot of stranger-touching.
So here’s a story I’ve never told anyone. (Except Gym Buddy Allison.) Some time ago, I was taking a yoga class from a very popular male instructor. It was hot yoga in the evening and the room was packed. The yoga guru walked around the room, stopping every few people to adjust a pose – sometimes pushing back on hips to deepen a pose or moving a limb to adjust an angle. Standard stuff. Stuff I’m used to and am not bothered by. But when he got to me – and you have no idea what this is taking me to write right now – he took my hand and put it on his crotch. Not brushing it. Like ON his junk. I was facing away from him so he couldn’t see my face but even if he could have the insane blush probably wouldn’t have shown through all the sweat. After an awkward half-breath where I was still trying to register what was happening, I jerked my hand away. And that was it. Nothing else happened. I spent the rest of the class trying to decide if it was one of those awkward gym moments that just sometimes happens when you get a bunch of people in close proximity and then tell them to do spastic things with their bodies – if you recall, I once accidentally smacked a fellow bootcamper in the crotch when we were running laps and he jumped to avoid something on the ground and ran into me and I wasn’t paying attention and I flailed to avoid falling and … yeah. SUPER AWKWARD. We spent the next mile vigorously apologizing to each other and turning different shades of embarrassed.
But this time? I wasn’t so sure it was an accident. It had felt very deliberate. I’m not dumb. Or am I? By the end of the class, I just didn’t want to think about it. I was completely embarrassed and was wondering if I’d done something to make that happen. I mean, I was friendly with him in class but never more than socially friendly. Was I? We’d never hung out or even had a conversation that went beyond yoga or “How’s your day?” Did I? I wasn’t wearing anything revealing. And yet, had I given him some signal that…? No. Just no. It had to be an accident. I thanked him at the end of class and left telling myself not to be so darn sensitive.
Maybe I should just be glad it wasn’t this.
The next week, however, found me circling the parking lot with a sick feeling in my stomach. Where I had previously adored that class the truth was, accident or not (and I may never know which it honestly was), I no longer felt safe there. All my physical vulnerabilities felt exposed and raw and I just couldn’t do yoga comfortably in a place where I was constantly going to have to be on guard for another “accident.” Because if it wasn’t him then that meant it had to be me, right? And I have long had issues with not being good at enforcing my own boundaries – one of the major factors that made a prime target for being sexually assaulted in college. Could I lie* on my back in Savasana and close my eyes without worrying what he was thinking? Nope. I drove out of the parking lot and went home.
Since that day I’ve never gone to a yoga class with a male teacher. Ever.
And I never wrote about it until my conversation with the yoga mom at the school today. Because I still have a great deal of shame about it. I worry what my friends will think. What my husband will think. Heaven help me, what my dad will think. But I didn’t do anything wrong! I swear I didn’t!! (Maybe more exclamation points will make you believe me? !!1!) Anyhow, the point of this is not to have a Charlotte-is-a-sad-panda/victim moment. Other than some lingering embarrassment, I’m fine. Nothing else ever happened. I ran into that yoga teacher a couple of times afterward in the gym and he asked me why I didn’t come to class anymore and I said I was too busy and we laughed about how life is like that and went on our ways. I took care of myself and kept myself safe. (To be honest I’m really proud of honoring my own discomfort and trusting my own feelings around the event enough to allow myself to quit the class. There have been times in my life where I would not have done that.)
No, I’m writing this because this is exactly why I think it’s dangerous to make yoga about the sex. At its best, it’s a place of intense healing, trust and meditation. It can be very spiritual. But to feel all that, you have to allow yourself to be really open which can make the student very vulnerable. For a teacher to use that to his/her advantage is not only morally reprehensible but I think it should also be against the yoga teacher code of ethics. (There’s got to be one somewhere, right?) And if a student does start to have sexual feelings for their teacher? It’s still their job to recognize the student is in a vulnerable place and that it’s not the same as being approached in a bar.
And yet, not everyone feels this way. In response to Shayne’s post, lots of people commented along the lines of “Hey, you do you!” and “Yoga butts are the only reason I go!” and “Two consenting adults? What’s the problem?” The problem is when those of us who don’t use yoga as a singles mixer get caught in the crossed signals. I’m there to relax, unwind, breathe and be in my own head, not get you off. And say what you will about everyone there being adults but I still think there is a huge power differential between teacher and student – especially in yoga where popular teachers are revered as “gurus” and “healers.”
What do you think – should yoga be sexy? Am I missing an important part of what yoga is because I’m weird about stuff like this? Has anyone else ever had a, um, awkward experience like mine??
*I used the right verb this time!