Q&A: I'm Uncomfortable with My Coworker in Yoga. Help?

YogaWorks' Julie Kleinman has advice for addressing tough topics with a coworker.
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YogaWorks' Julie Kleinman has advice for addressing tough topics with a coworker.
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Q: I recently suggested that a co-worker begin yoga at my studio, but now I'm sorry I did. He makes remarks about women in class that make me uncomfortable. The upside is I've begun a home practice. I study the Yoga Sutra and want to respond with a nurturing attitude. How should I handle this?

— Elizabeth F., Richmond, Virginia

This is a sticky situation. And your impulse to turn to the Yoga Sutra for guidance is perfect. Yoga's principles eschew pat solutions and instead provide a framework that can help us approach complicated ethical questions, achieve a measure of clarity, and take skillful action.

A consistent yoga practice tends to make us glow with health and exuberance, so it's no surprise that you're magnetic. Encouraging a co-worker to begin a practice was generous (everyone should have the chance to benefit from yoga's transformative power), but his behavior, particularly suggestive comments about women, is clearly inappropriate. I would guess that as his practice deepens, he may begin to change—but since metamorphosis tends to be a gradual process, you needn't wait it out.

Although I doubt your co-worker is familiar with the Yoga Sutra, he is violating one of its tenets: asteya, or prohibition against stealing. He is, albeit unconsciously, stealing your peace of mind. Luckily you have the benefit of Patanjali's wisdom. You've discovered a positive aspect of the situation, a deeper home practice, and thus achieved a variant of Pratipaksha Bhavana, the transformation of a negative into a positive through a shifting of perspective. Yet you are still suffering. The principles of satya, truthfulness, and ahimsa, nonharming, might lessen your suffering.

Consider addressing your co-worker directly to express your feelings. I realize this is not easy; it's scary to confront people on uncomfortable topics, but this isn't going to go away on its own. By talking to your co-worker, you will have a chance to return to your classes free of apprehension, stretch your own limits, and offer him an opportunity for self-observation that he may not be capable of without your reflecting his behavior back to him.

If your approach is guided by an intention not to do harm and a commitment to be truthful, it is likely you will be able to speak to him in a way that he will respond to and the two of you can come to some acceptable resolution.

Julie Kleinman, Yoga Works' director of program development and West Coast teacher training, has been teaching yoga for more than 13 years.