No Means No, Even in Yoga

Not too long ago, in what was supposed to be a Meditation class, a friend and I were in an uncomfortable situation.  Flanked by women of various ages, we were instructed by the man leading class to roll around on the floor and moan.  When he commanded us to do it ‘louder’, ‘harder’, and ‘more’, and shamed us by suggesting we ‘notice our sexual repression’, the women followed suit by re-enacting orgasms for him.  A little suspicious, and unfamiliar with his technique, I lay on the floor and breathed - at which point, he knelt down beside me and whispered that I had ‘small energy’.  Stunned, I looked to the friend I’d come to class with, who was red-faced and fighting back tears, yet following along.  At the end, when this teacher announced it was his first time teaching Meditation and had thoroughly enjoyed it, I half expected him to tell us we'd been Punked. 

After class, I set out to share the story with some friends.  And every time I did, I was told an equally horrifying story about a woman (and even some guys) who felt taken advantage of or shamed into doing something outside their comfort zone by a ‘healer’.  For instance, a friend on an Ayurvedic retreat had to fight off a masseuse trying to penetrate her 1st chakra with his thumb.  Several of the women in her group had allowed it, assuming it was part of the technique.  However, so many of them felt bad about it later that they brought it up with a manager who then fired the practitioner for malpractice, but only after it had happened to 20+ women.

Another friend had been asked to sit in a corner at a mindfulness seminar when she told the woman leading the group that she didn’t feel comfortable hugging strangers and then humming against them in order to 'vibrate together'.  This friend said ‘I’m just no good at this mindfulness stuff.  I was so embarrassed to have to sit in the corner,’ as if she was being punished for having done something wrong when all she needed was some support.  She hasn’t gone back to anything of the sort since.

When we’re in need of healing, we can be more vulnerable than we’d be otherwise.  But just because we feel lacking, doesn’t mean someone else has all the answers.  While there are many incredible practitioners out there with extensive training and good intentions,  it's important to remember that we're all just human and to judge each situation accordingly.

Photo: Roberto Tumini
Post written for SFYogaMag.com