“Me Too” Doesn’t Have To Be Sexual Harassment

by | Jan 11, 2018 | Yoga Teacher Continuing Education, Yoga Therapy

The Me Too Movement

The Me Too movement highlights the marginalization, harassment, and inappropriate conduct of higher-ups in regards to their respective subordinates, and how this behavior and the gaslighting that reinforces it is not only tolerated but accepted among professionals. Although the movement swept through Hollywood, it’s been going on for decades in every industry from education to fitness. Me too movement in the yoga industry includes more than sexual misconduct; gaslighting, blacklisting, and hurtful gossip are just some of the tactics egocentric teachers use to protect their narcissistic personalities. In this article, I share my personal experience with oppression and misconduct in the yoga industry.

This fall thousands upon thousands of women shared stories about their experience with sexual harassment in an effort to bring it into the forefront and show the world how many women experience this phenomenon. Men started coming forward too, and it seemed like nearly every person on the planet had a story about sexual harassment. I remember the post, the way it made me feel, and ultimately it triggered a seed of my own trauma that I’ve experienced in the yoga world. I sat with the feelings that I had been dealing with for over a year, and I decided there is a bigger conversation that needs to be addressed.

Yoga teachers are notorious for taking students to their edge, and sometimes this practice triggers individuals. I can remember the first time I came into a yoga studio in Austin, TX. I had practiced yoga for over a decade, and mediation since I was 5. At the time, I had three small children and we had just come back from a stint abroad where we spent five years in the Middle East.

I came into a boutique hot yoga studio near the University of Texas and I fell in love with the sense of community and warmth I received from the very gregarious owner. She was bubbly, fun, and outgoing, and she was everything I wanted to be when I grew up. Sparkles, nails, hair, all of it. She played the coolest music that really made me think about my life, my story, and where I wanted to go. She was inspiring and vibrant, and within a few months, I was absolutely sold on her. So much, that I decided to take teacher training from her studio. I wanted to learn from her, and I went to every class she taught.

As time moved on I realized that she and I were not a good fit for a mentor relationship. She and I triggered each other badly, and I thought I could back out and move on with my practice. Many events happened, most of them directly my karma, and at the end of the day, we decided to part ways. I recognized that the studio was not a good fit for me and my past experience of having a severe eating disorder, and we went our separate ways, but not before I met who would soon be my mentor.

I had started working with my mentor, and at the beginning, it was Dharma teachings. I was scared to death; I had just lost my grandmother who had raised me after my mother died, and I had no family in Austin. My experience with yoga teachers was zero to 1, and I was hopeful that she and I would be able to navigate a relationship long enough for me to stop flailing about.

I have lost someone to death in my immediate family every three years for the previous 18 years. My mother died when I was 17, my father when I was 20, my grandfather (whom I was his legal guardian) when I was 32, and my grandmother who I nursed to death when I was 36. I was at the end of my rope! When I found my teacher, all I wanted was someone to trust, to teach me, to love me unconditionally, and to teach me how to do that for myself.

Our parents are the guiding forces in our lives. I had lost mine to illness before I had an opportunity to learn how to love myself, and honestly, my parents might not have done that great a job at teaching me. In retrospect, and since I’ve spent a tremendous amount of effort into truly healing this part of my heart, I am so grateful that they passed on, that they are now in a new experience, and I wish them all the best. Still, I was clueless as to how to care for my children, husband, and home, much less myself from an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual place as well as a physical place.

Over the course of two years, my teacher and mentor worked with me to develop the internal skills needed to achieve balance. She was my best friend, my most trusted confidant, and I loved her so much. She had told me in the beginning that the teacher-student relationship that we were creating would be intense, but I didn’t really understand how intense it would be. It was never sexual, or manipulative. It was pure bliss and unconditional love, in my opinion, or rather, in my perspective and experience.

During this time, I trained with my teacher to become a yoga teacher. I knew that teaching in a studio location wasn’t my end goal. In fact, I remember talking with her the day I wrote the check for training. I was taking all 500 hours with her, paid in advance because I truly trusted her. I knew I wanted to teach yoga teacher training just like she did, and I asked her, “with my 500-hour certificate, will I be able to lead training?” She shrugged it off, saying yes, but not really thinking I was serious.

From the moment I started teacher training I was deconstructing the way I was learning it to write training for professional educators. I wanted to ultimately work with my teacher and mentor, and I thought using my MEd in curriculum development to create a scalable product for educators would allow me to work with the people I loved while it enabled me to work and collaborate with my mentor and teacher.

Over the course of the next two and a half years, I worked and studied next to my mentor. I sincerely want to come up with new and different ways to proliferate yoga into the mainstream educational circuit. I could see the potential, and I decided to go for it. I had no idea that my teacher would perceive my actions to be threatening.

I’ll never forget the day that she told me that she was angry with me, and that she would no longer see me as a student. It was a Monday. I had just dropped my brother off at the county jail because of a misdemeanor he needed to report for, and I arrived at her home for our weekly session.

Our sessions had never been 100% yoga. They were more a mixture of cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, coaching, and a little yoga and spiritual psychology. Mostly they were just me gushing about enlightenment and how much I loved and respected her for teaching me everything she had taught me.

This day was different, though. This day was the end of the line. I sat in literal disbelief while she vacillated between her true feelings of jealousy and her projected feeling of violation. I was absolutely floored. I could not believe what I was experiencing.

This whole experience went down on the anniversary of my mother’s death in November. It was followed by a lot of gossip, a lot of triggering communication, a sincere misunderstanding between student and studio (I was always the student in the scenario as I never worked for the same studio where she taught at), and ultimately a complete lack of professionalism across the board. It left me with an amalgam of feelings including, but not limited to feelings of betrayal, vulnerability, lack of community, shame, guilt, and heartbreak.

I sat with those feelings stewing for 9 months. People tried to tell me that I wasn’t the only one. That other teachers in the community had been black-listed for similar reasons, but I just didn’t want to believe that any of what I witnessed was true.

I wanted to wake up to a text from her telling me that I had passed some test, that I had learned to love myself and rise from the ashes on my own, but that was never going to happen. To this day I have no idea what happened, why my writing a program triggered so many events. I am grateful for it; if it hadn’t happened my life purpose would have been to study under my teacher. Now I see my teacher as the experience, not the person, and my teacher has been praising me for the past year with balance, ease, abundance, and compassion.

Today I decided to share my story because I saw how it crippled me. The secreting of hurt, of opening yourself up to someone who is in a place of power and status in the community, only to trigger in them a reaction that causes hurt to multiple parties is the essence of the shame that survivors of harassment and abuse live with every day. I do not usurp the blame on my part. Something in me triggered her, and I knew this was a possibility going into the relationship based on my previous experiences.

The fact that my experience was not sexual doesn’t make it any less vulnerable, violating, or painful. If a woman wears a short dress and is assaulted, society would NOT blame her for the dress. I was a student studying and working for the approval of my teacher. When I overachieved that wasn’t my teacher’s opportunity to drag my name through the dirt and abandon me publicly.

There is a part of me that will always be open to forgiveness: The hardest person to forgive has been myself. This experience gave me the reinforcement from the Universe that I needed to step into my potential, and it gave me an eighteen-month intensive on loving myself and learning to let go of resentment. I found The Soul of Yoga and began my Yoga Therapy journey, and that has brought me to study under some amazing and compassionate teachers. I’m a practicing Yoga Therapist at two treatment facilities working daily with mental and physical health through the lens of integrative yoga therapy. Through this experience I found my home in Black Swan Yoga, I discovered that I can literally do anything I set my mind to, and I recognized so many aspects of my being that have been trying to protect me for so many years.

“Me too” isn’t about sexual harassment, in my opinion. It’s about humans being denied their rights to safety and community, its about humans feeling violated or betrayed by someone they know or do not know, and it’s about someone in power taking advantage of someone who is perceived to be smaller. All beings, everywhere deserve to be welcomed and safe in the collective consciousness.

~Michelle Young

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