Does Having Sex With A Yoga Student Make You A Pervert?

Joanna Schroeder argues that recognizing the sexuality of yoga does not necessarily mean that yoga teachers who sleep with their students are abusive.

She bends over, all the way, sweat dripping from her cleavage up her chin, into her mouth. She exhales deeply, her face flushed. He steps behind her and pulls at her hips with both hands… Back, back, and even further back. She moans a little.

Later, she is on her back. He leans over her, pressing her knee against her chest. “Relax,” he commands, “breathe deeply.” She abides.

Hot scenario, right? That’s not a flower-and-Fabio-covered romance novel, that’s day-to-day practice in many yoga classes, and it’s not necessarily sexual.

But there is an intimacy to yoga, between a teacher and a student. Most yoginis I know—and I live in Los Angeles, so I know a lot—find one or two instructors they’re comfortable with and stick with them. Right now I have two whom I’m completely obsessed with. One reason I like them (a man and a woman) is that they don’t do a lot of that intimate touching… But they do adjust your position when needed. I’ve always had a good sense of when the touch has some sexual energy behind it. I can’t quite name the distinction, but it’s very real and I trust my instincts, and don’t return to that instructor’s class.

The inherent sexuality of yoga practice is receiving a lot of attention, due to a scandal wherein John Friend, the founder of the Anasura method—a method sometimes ridiculed by other yoga practitioners as being “melty”, calling Friend “King Melty Heart Mogul”—was found to be engaging in not just deeply amoral but also illegal activities, such as involving innocent people in buying/transporting drugs, or illegally freezing his employees’ pensions.

So all that may be true, in fact it probably is true.

But I want to speak to the sexual angle of John Friend’s behavior. YogaDork (who, despite the stupid name, is a leading voice in yoga on the Internet) calls Friend a “sexual deviant”. I’m not saying Friend isn’t a deviant, but I always wonder about that term. I mean, what exactly makes a person’s sexuality “deviant”? He allegedly sent kinky messages via Skype to married women. Okay, I see that this is an amoral thing to do, but is it “deviant”? It’s hard to say without knowing what the exact phrases were, but to me it isn’t deviant unless the receiver of the messages has made clear that she or he does not want this attention. Pursuing married women indicates a possibility of insecurity, sex or love addiction, or just loosey-goosey boundaries. But does that make him a deviant?

Maybe it does. But I don’t think so.

In Tom Matlack’s Good Feed Blog post, “Why Are So Many Male Yoga Students Really Perverts”, he contends that there are a lot of male yoga teachers and gurus who abuse the sexual nature of yoga and the power imbalance of guru-to-student. It’s almost like a woman is going to get into a downward dog, he’s going to touch her hips, and she’ll be rendered helpless to his desires because he’s the teacher and because yoga is some how inherently sexual, and give herself to him in a sort of vagina-brain stupor wherein her ability to consent is diminished.

See, I question that there truly is a definable power imbalance to this relationship. She isn’t required to take the course (as she would be at a university), she isn’t being graded, she can walk out of the room at any moment, and she can never return. She could even ask for her money back, and would most likely get it. She is not a child. She has agency, both sexually and with her spending dollars.

Of course there’s an imbalance if said student is also an employee or otherwise dependant upon the guru/teacher for his or her career. But is the basic teacher/student relationship, wherein a woman fully consents to have sex with her teacher, abuse? No. To imply that an adult woman somehow couldn’t make that choice is to compare women to babies.

Where I agree with Tom is that just because hot chicks are putting their lycra-covered asses in the air in a sweaty room doesn’t mean that a male teacher is rendered helpless to his sexual desires. That’s the basic tenant of the Myth of Male Weakness. You guys aren’t so weak that you’ll follow a boner straight into the slammer. You men have as much sexual agency as we do, and you can red-light your sexual behavior just as well as women. Good men control their sexual behavior every day, all around us.

It seems to me that it’s up to both the teacher and the student to “keep it on the mat”, as Tom says (Unless you’re both on the mat. That could get confusing… and uncomfortable). We must ask ourselves if we’d be this hard on a yoga teacher having sex with a student if the teacher were female and the student were male. My feeling is that almost nobody would have a problem with this scenario, as somehow, because the teacher is a woman and the student is an adult male, he would have enough sexual agency to resist her supposed sexual yoga-teacher prowess.

But I say this: if you’re gonna call teacher-student sex in the yoga community amoral or abuse, you gotta accept that power imbalance can go either way. The commenters on Tom’s piece offered a link to a piece in The Elephant Journal by a female instructor who admitted to the power imbalance inherent in dating her students. It’s a compelling argument, that the students were attracted to her because of her power, that they kept her on a pedestal, and that it was unhealthy.

But is that abuse? Kelly Morris, teacher and author of the Elephant Journal piece, says this about the power dynamic:

“There is no such thing as consensual in a relationship predicated on a power inequity. Period. Whether it’s your boss, your shrink, your guru, political leader, your rabbi or your priest, each one has a sacred duty to say “Tom/Sally, put your clothes back on. Now.”

But is your yoga instructor the same as your boss, your shrink or your rabbi? I’d argue that she isn’t.

If you’re in search of (consciously or sub-consciously) a power imbalance in a relationship, you’re going to find one. Whether it’s with your yoga teacher, the guy who helps you at the Geek Squad desk, or the girl you met in a coffee shop who seems to know way more than you about absolutely everything and isn’t afraid of telling you how wrong you are, you’ll seek and play out the role of the weak, dependant member of the pair in almost any relationship you have. That is, until you address what’s at the root of your personal dysfunction. (Caveat: When I talk about power imbalances, I’m not implying that consensual BDSM relationships are necessarily dysfunctional.)

In the case of John Friend, there clearly was an abuse of power, as he did have these relationships with his staff and students who depended upon his teachings in order to further their careers.

But in the case of your day-to-day yoga instructor, or even guru? Nah. Asking out an adult student, having sex with a student, or complimenting a student is not power abuse. It may be bad for a teacher’s career, however, as students like me will leave that class and not come back.

 

Photo Courtesy of lululemon athletica

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About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is the type of working mom who opens her car door and junk spills out all over the ground. She serves as Executive Editor of The Good Men Project and is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on sites like xoJane, hlntv.com, and The Huffington Post. Joanna loves playing with her sons, skateboarding with her husband, and hanging out with friends. Her dream is to someday finish her almost-done novel and get some sleep. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Most likely the student is the pervert who enjoys the “illusion” of the instructors’ power. As you have outlined… no grades… etc

    How do I know this? A student who is also tutor has no real power over his female peers, but boy did I enjoy the perks of being seen as “powerful”.

  2. Copyleft says:

    There’s nothing deviant about adultery, and there’s nothing immoral about a teacher-student relationship unless conditions are attached or favoritism shown. Absent those abuses, it’s consenting adults and nobody else’s business.

  3. Nick, mostly says:

    See, I question that there truly is a definable power imbalance to this relationship. She isn’t required to take the course (as she would be at a university), she isn’t being graded, she can walk out of the room at any moment, and she can never return. She could even ask for her money back, and would most likely get it. She is not a child. She has agency, both sexually and with her spending dollars.

    Thank you for this, Joanna! This is precisely the problem I had with Tom’s piece: it completely denies the women of any agency and culpability in entering into these relationships. It presents the women as so emotionally fragile, so socially naïve, that they are helpless once under the spell of their mentor. These poor, gullible women need someone to protect them from the unscrupulous wolves hiding in lululemon clothing.

    I have found that charisma is the essence of a good leader, whether that be of the free world or your local Bikram studio. Take two parts charisma, one part other-centeredness, and add in a dash of a fit yoga body and I’m nearly ready to switch teams. But as intoxicating as charisma can be, someone had to make a decision to remove their yoga pants before entering that downward dog pose.

    And what discussion of yoga is complete without referencing Yoga Girl?

    • OMG NIck, I hadn’t seen Yoga Girl!!!

      It’s so about LA, too, as was Whole Foods. Killer. And I have taken Vinny’s class (he’s the most famously crowded instructor at YogaWorks, no coincidence to the reference, and it is so croweded.

      I’m always the one stuck next to Mr. DreadlocksPonytail, who smells like Patchouli and does a handstand before every chataraunga.

  4. Peter Houlihan says:

    “There is no such thing as consensual in a relationship predicated on a power inequity. Period. Whether it’s your boss, your shrink, your guru, political leader, your rabbi or your priest, each one has a sacred duty to say “Tom/Sally, put your clothes back on. Now.”

    I don’t agree, at all. My political leader/shrink/priest isn’t my parent. They fulfill a specific function in my life and have a degree of power, but its not their place to take responsibility for my sex life. If I’ve put them on so high a pedestal that I can’t say no to them… whose fault is that?

    Obviously the above doesn’t go for minors.

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      Actually, I’d make an exception in the case of boss if there was an element of genuine coercion (that I might get fired if I say no). But if the “coercion” is purely emotional (I really look up to them and want to please them) then the responsibility is mine.

  5. Janet Dell says:

    How can we (women) ever be considered equal until we are allowed to do stupid things that have real world results and that we (women) are held are fully responsibile. IMHO, that is the main difference between and adult and a child. We don’t hold children responsible for their actions and it seems that some don’t want to hold women responsibile for their actions either, iow, they are treating them like children. Maybe there really is something to this whole “Women and children” thing, some really do believe that women never grow up.

  6. Don’t put yourself in a situation you can’t control that’s a pretty good consensus in general.
    Saying this the first time I went to yoga I was hit on by my female intern teacher. I never forgot that moment. After that i consisently went with my girlfriend.
    So these things go both ways.

  7. Rowan Silverberg says:

    “I question that there truly is a definable power imbalance to this relationship. She isn’t required to take the course (as she would be at a university), she isn’t being graded, she can walk out of the room at any moment, and she can never return.” The same is true for a psychotherapist and patient, yet I doubt that you would view a sexual relationship in this context as ethical. There is a reason for a taboo on sex within a therapeutic relationship, which is true of the yoga teacher/student relationship.

  8. No, but a woman who sleeps with her older yoga instructor is definitely a pervert who has no respect for older men.

    She is a creep who gets off when she is instructed to bend in certain positions. I would never let my son become a yoga instructor and be taken advantage of by young lusty desperate babes out their to steal his man juice.

    *Shudders* yes its rapismm and objectifickasmm and abusism

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