Yoga and #MeToo: A story about taking responsibility

MeToo and yoga

Another perspective on #MeToo.

In another life, I taught corporate yoga classes.  I would go into an office and teach colleagues over their lunch hour or after work. I taught so many corporate classes over the years it’s difficult to remember them all but certain ones do stand out.  I will never forget one group in particular.  It was organized by a forward-thinking business owner of a home building company which shall remain nameless.  He had the wherewithal to give his team yoga at the office.  The group had asked him for it and he delivered. Bravo, Sir.

The class ended up as an all-female group with the exception of one man, God bless him.  Unbeknownst to him, that gentleman earned the distinction of the corporate student that I will forever remember the most.  I use the term gentleman here because, at this point in the story, that’s how I considered him. Hold that thought.

During our first class together, while I was demoing a version of Downward-facing Dog using a boardroom table, the man happily shared his opinion on the pose.  As I placed my hands on the desk, stepped my feet back, and bent over he said, “Now that’s an angle I can get used to.”

Awkward silence.

As often happens in situations like this I was stunned speechless.  I questioned whether I had heard him correctly.  I had heard him correctly.  The hush in the room confirmed to me that I had heard him correctly.  I did my best to brush off the comment and wipe the shell-shocked look off my face to continue “like a professional”.

He was not a gentleman.

I was silent.

I very badly want to have that moment back.  Every time I think of that class I wish I had reacted differently to his crude and disrespectful comment.  I had the power in that situation and did nothing.  I had the chance to act differently but did nothing.  To keep the peace I opted to ignore the guy.

Here is a list of things I could have said, in no particular order:

  • Please leave.
  • Pardon me? I don’t think I heard you correctly.
  • It’s an angle you’ll never see again. You’re lucky you saw it the first time.
  • This is an adult class.  You’re in the wrong place.
  • I used to work for mobsters in Montréal*.  One simple call is all it would take to make you eat your words and your balls. (Too much?)
  • Please leave.

Instead, I said none of those things.  Emotional self-regulation for the win.

L’esprit de l’escalier

Staircase wit.  This is the name for the phenomenon for when you think of a witty retort after it’s too late.  It was coined by French philosopher Denis Diderot.  I fell prey to it that day.

A yoga class can be a vulnerable place especially when you’re taking one for the first time.  I had a responsibility to protect my students.  By saying nothing I failed the other women in that class.  By saying nothing, I failed other women.  By saying nothing, I failed myself.  I need to take responsibility for that failure.

Another perspective

A yoga class can be a vulnerable place especially when you’re taking one for the first time. I wonder if the man blurted out his comment out of insecurity. I wondered if he embarrassed himself.  I wonder if the silence gave him a clue that he was way out of line.  He was in a yoga class all with women, after all, so perhaps in an attempt to deal with his discomfort, he thought he’d say something funny as a coping mechanism.  We all say things we wish we could take back as much as we don’t say things we wish we had said.

Perhaps he learned his lesson.  Perhaps by me not saying anything I saved him further embarrassment, something that would have carried over into his work and interactions with those women. No one deserves to be shamed.

I know what you’re thinking: Perhaps he was just an asshole.

Final thoughts on #MeToo:

My wish is for men and women alike to take responsibility for the roles they’ve played in creating today’s gender dynamics.  I wish for women to feel empowered to push back against sexism.  I wish for men to be safe from a witch hunt of false accusations and for not knowing any better because no one told them otherwise.  I hope we can have empathy for one another because we understand our experiences shape our actions and attitudes.  I hope we can learn to stop at the top of the staircase, to take a deep breath to reflect, and to speak up, or not.

To read the story that started it all, go here.

For a story about what the Wonder Woman movie meant to me, go here

To read Kristin Neff’s take on the two sides of self-compassion and on what that means for #MeToo, go here.  

*True story.  It often came with the territory when you lived and worked in Montréal.  No, I didn’t realize it when I took the job.  Yes, the family reminded me of The Sopranos.  Yes, I worked with legitimate and wonderful people outside La Famiglia.  No, I can’t really call them on a moment’s notice, sorry.

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