When Thieves Come Knocking

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When thieves come knocking

Trust, acceptance, and community are the hallmarks of many yoga studios. But in the absence of healthy boundaries, the very environment that nurtures practice can be an open invitation to thieves.

When Kim Weeks, founder of Boundless Yoga Studio in Washington, D.C., first realized that two thieves posing as potential clients were targeting her studio, she was unsure of how to respond.

"It's my job to create a safe and enjoyable learning environment for my students," says Weeks. "But I didn't want to respond out of fear and immediately rush out to buy security cameras."

Esther Geiger, longtime administrator of Unity Woods Yoga Center in the D.C. metropolitan area, was confronted with a similar challenge involving the same two thieves when one of her instructors reported a stolen credit card with unauthorized charges totaling $4,000.

It would have been easy to give in to exasperation or stress. But fortunately the two instructors chose to pause and ask, "Here's what we're confronted with. What should we do?"

Organize a Response

As an administrator, Geiger naturally gravitated toward taking action by getting organized. She instructed teachers never to allow students leave anything in the dressing room and to lock the door whenever they were teaching.

She also sent an email to local yoga studios warning them of increased incidents of theft. Thanks to Geiger's proactive approach, studios like Boundless Yoga were able to pick up on the severity of the situation.

"Networking among owners and sharing information has been invaluable," says Lt. Erich Miller, a detective at the D.C. police department. "It clarified the picture as the situation evolved and provided a more accurate description of the [suspects]."

Weeks responded in a similar manner. In addition to asking students to bring valuables into the classroom, she encouraged instructors to avoid over dramatizing the situation. It was an important step that prevented unhealthy and unnecessary levels of fear from settling into the studio atmosphere.

Secure Your Community

While Adam Guttentag, vice president of development and operations at Yoga Works in Santa Monica, California, thinks it's important to respond to theft in a non-alarmist manner, he has an alternative perspective on bringing valuables into the classroom.

Since a typical studio gets anywhere from 350 to 400 visits every day, Yoga Works offers free lockers for students to use during class.

"Not only is it convenient and secure, but it also removes a lot of the clutter," explains Guttentag. "It's an added sense of security, and they don't have to worry about it while they're practicing."

Lt. Miller agrees. However, he acknowledges the space constraints present at many smaller yoga studios. "If lockers aren't possible, smaller studios can provide a secure room where people can put their personal property," Miller says. He also recommends having a front desk staffed by an employee who can monitor access to storage areas.

Guttentag offers yet another solution. Yoga Works' smaller studios are equipped with storage cubbies inside the classroom. Cubbies just large enough to hold keys and other valuables can be a practical way to neatly contain clutter.

Practice Forgiveness

Despite your best efforts to protect your students and your studio, there will be times when you can't control the occurrence of theft. But it doesn't have to be the end of the world—or the end of your business. If it happens to you, approach it with yogic awareness, learn from the challenge, and strive to have compassion.

"Instructors are telling me that students are really rallying together to support the teachers, each other, and the studio," Geiger says.

Weeks says theft also presents an opportunity to practice forgiveness. "Work on forgiveness towards yourself for getting angry and towards the thieves," she says. "Just breathe and forgive."

Tips for Theft Prevention

Protect your students and reduce your chances of becoming a victim of theft with the following commonsense tips:

  • Avoid distractions. One tactic yoga studio thieves use is distracting studio workers with bold questions. "Turn suspects away politely by responding to difficult questions," Geiger suggests, "for example, by saying, 'No, we don't let the public use our restrooms.'"
  • Escort new customers. "You can't be discriminatory and deny random people access to your studio," warns Lt. Miller. "However, it is very reasonable for an employee to escort someone who wants to look around and is not a client."
  • Consider interventions. Choose what works best for your budget and your community. Consider installing electronic locks that allow instructors to lock the studio door from inside the classroom or purchase security cameras as a deterrent.
  • Don't accuse. Physical confrontation is never worth the risk, says Lt. Miller. If you suspect a thief or feel threatened by someone, call the police immediately.
  • Meditate on trust. "Don't immediately go into fear response when you consider what could happen," says Weeks. Trust your ability to stay in the present and to respond with grace to difficult situations.

Melissa Garvey is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. You can read more of her thoughts on yoga and daily life at YogaPulse.