#Metoo Seattle Yoga: The Stories

We want to start by acknowledging and honoring every single person who shares, doesn’t share, speaks, doesn’t speak, reports and doesn’t report. There is no right way to go through the trauma of sexual harassment and violence, and each person gets to choose the way they process, heal and move forward with their lives. You are not alone, we believe you and we are with you in solidarity and love wherever you find yourself in the process.

This google form opened in July offering a space where people in the Seattle yoga community could report #metoo Seattle yoga stories, and we want to acknowledge that not everyone will report. There may be people who did not see this form because they have left the yoga world completely, others may not be ready to share their story publicly knowing the Seattle yoga community is small and the risk is high, others may only want to tell close friends and loved ones, and others may not be ready to share at all. The form was also inherently flawed in that it only gave one way to share, through a form and through writing.

With the stories we are publishing we went through a process of redacting information to make the stories as anonymous as possible. We had to make judgement calls with editing, and we had lawyers read them as well in order to protect the people sharing as much as possible.

We received 16 responses and we are publishing the 6 responses that reported saying yes to experiencing sexual harassment and/or violence in the Seattle Yoga community. Of the 10 responses reporting no sexual harassment and/or violence there was a theme of reporting instructors yelling at students, being hurt by a “very rough adjustment,” and the instructor saying the adjustment was supposed to be that way. There may be a need for a broader forum that addresses all the ways that violence appears in the Seattle Yoga community.

Trigger warning: Here are the stories of people who reported sexual harassment and/or violence (exact quotes with identifying information removed):

At [studio] in [neighborhood] a man who was [a student teacher], approached me from behind in down dog, grabbed me around the front of my legs, and pulled me toward his pelvis. I dropped to my knees and sat on my heels, but didn’t feel it appropriate to discuss or confront as it was in the middle of the class. I also let it slide after class and in hindsight would have had a discussion with both him and his teachers about physical assisting. I find that tradition [lineage] very hands on in an inappropriate and potentially injurious way. ALWAYS ask permission for touch, do not ever do this adjustment!

I used to go to [lineage] studio. While I definitely benefitted from the exercise an dloved the heat I felt the instructors- both men an dwomen – used demeaning language to people consistently and also often exhorted people to go past their saf elimits. One particularly loud yelling day I left the class. I did leave a phone message regarding my beliefs abotu over-the -top yelling. My voicemail was responded to with an explanation that this was the way [lineage-leader] taught and it was appropriate. I never went back.

I was asked to write about this topic by one of the founders of this project and so here I am. I acknowledge the privilege I carry as a strong able bodied cis gendered man, and I am still victim of harassment of a sexual nature.

As a young black man teaching yoga in Seattle I have found myself in several situations where sexual harassment/abuse have taken place. The forms albeit subtle when mixed with racism can cut a bit deeper than they might say for my white male bodied counter parts, from a studio owner eyeing me up and down and then publicly speaking about their level of attraction to me on one end of the spectrum to a woman saying “I see why black guys wear baggy pants” while looking at the dick print in my yoga pants. as a pretty cis hetero dude it could have been laughed away and even joked about as I’m privileged in my sex/gender and orientation however being a black man spoken to by a white women, surrounded by white people in a white institution this was quite uncomfortable.

For me I’m more frustrated by the mental pathology I have to check because my blackness is sexualized and eroticized, this tends to leave me battling within my head is it ok assist my students, to use terms of endearment, to give them hugs after class etc.

I was working with a private client and we were checking in before starting our session. I remember wearing a new Lululemon shirt that I really liked. I asked the client how his body was doing today, and instead of answering he asked me how my body was. He then said, “you have a great body.” I made a joke back to him and said our session was about his body, not mine and laughed. We started our session and I noticed that he continued to look at my breasts throughout the session. I felt uncomfortable, nervous and disgusted. I never wore a Lululemon shirt in session with him again, and I eventually stopped wearing shirts that showed any cleavage at all when teaching or working with private clients.

I took an [particular style] yoga class last night and there was an older man who attended and made me feel very uncomfortable–he sat or stood too close and didn’t seem to actually be doing any yoga. Rather, he was just watching everybody else (mostly women) and walking around the room. I struggled with whether to say anything, because he wasn’t actually doing anything “wrong” and it was my first time at that studio whereas it seemed like he was a regular. In the end, I kept my mouth shut, but it definitely colored my experience. I would think twice about going back to that particular studio.

Our Process and Next Steps

Stories included both teacher to student and student to teacher harm. Even though there were no student to student stories reported we hypothesize that type of harm also occurs in the community.

We received next steps from 8 of the participants who responded, and we are choosing to center the voices of people who have been directly impacted by sexual harassment and/or violence. Here are their suggestions for next steps:

5 people suggested Trainings for teachers around misuse/abuse of power

4 people suggested Trainings for male-identified folks on toxic masculinity and Consent trainings

2 people suggested Trainings on the intersection of racism and sexism for the Seattle Yoga Community

Other ideas included:

Trainings re saying no in yoga, in life

Restorative justice opportunities

Our next steps include deleting the google form and ending the formal process of collecting stories. We also feel a responsibility to keep the email open and available for anyone who wants to share. The email address metooseatlteyoga@gmail.com will remain open indefinitely, and if another forum needs to happen we are committed to that.

Other Resources

We want to honor a local teacher, Jubilee Cooke, who shared her experience of sexual abuse from Pattabhi Jois. With her permission, we are including her story here: http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/why-didnt-somebody-warn-me-a-pattabhi-jois-metoo-story-jubilee-cooke/

There is a #metoo Healers Circle scheduled for November 17. Go here to read more and register: http://www.michelledesmondcounseling.com/workshops.html

Theresa Elliot also wrote a piece about How to Spot a Yoga Predator, which can be found here:

In the original blog post we named Rachel Brathen’s blog post that inspired our action, and since then she has also shared a Part Two of stories that continued to come in reporting abuse in the national and international yoga world. You can read part one and part two here:

Thank yous

We want to thank several studios who were able to get the word out about this forum. We could not do it alone, and we are grateful for your commitment to transparency and healing.

Three Moon Collective: https://threemooncollective.com/
Seattle Yoga Arts: http://www.seattleyogaarts.com/
Om Culture: https://www.facebook.com/groups/omculture
Eka Studio: http://ekayogaandayurveda.com/
Be Yoga Burien: http://www.beyogaburien.com/
Sweatbox: http://sweatboxyoga.com/
Yoga Tree: http://www.yogatree.com/
Seattle Yoga News: https://seattleyoganews.com/
Hopelandic Yoga: https://hopelandicyoga.com/
Yoga Behind Bars: https://yogabehindbars.org/
Ritual House: http://ritualhouseseattle.com/

With love and solidarity,
Laura Humpf, Maggie Karshner, Katie Spataro, Michelle Desmond and Emma Shandy Anway