Thieves in the Temple

While teaching a class not too long ago, a robbery was averted. But the sanctity of the studio space was violated.

Maybe you’ve heard the chatter in the Washington, D.C. yoga community: there are two young women stealing wallets from students’ bags during yoga classes at D.C. Metro Area studios. They’ve struck in Tenleytown, Bethesda, and Kensington. They entered the studio while I was teaching.

I was on to them instantly. My intuition triggered the sympathetic nervous system response to high alert. Adrenaline coursed through my bloodstream. My heart pounded. Eyes wide open, acutely focused to make quick decisions while appearing calm. My instinct signaled that something was way off about these two women. They were not wearing yoga clothes. One attempted to use her iPhone after class started. They whispered to each other and talked to me during class. They tried several ruses to distract me so that they could raid the students’ bags.

cubbies in studioFrustrated, they faced my final ultimatum: you can both stay and practice through the end of the class, or you can both go and not come back. They made one last ditch attempt to distract me in the process of donning their sneakers: one took her shoes outside into the unsupervised retail space, while the other stayed by the students’ belongings. I stood close by the latter woman. It was easy to choose: as a yoga teacher, the students are my responsibility. They put themselves in a vulnerable situation. It is up to the teacher to ensure their safety – and not only on a physical level.

Seeing that I was not going to avert my watch over her, this woman paused for a long time over her purse, which hung on top of two other students’ (despite there having been unoccupied hooks and cubbies). She realized there was no chance, took her purse, and joined her accomplice in the retail space. I escorted them out.

I faced the students and took a deep breath. My body was trembling. Another deep breath. To conceal my shaking palms, I rested them on my thighs. Carefully choosing my words, I shared a mid-class dharma talk on the Buddhist concept that all beings have an inner core of basic goodness:

Pema Chödrön explains that at our very core, we have an open mind and heart. Deep inside, we are worthy and good. Fear, uncertainty, aggression, and similar thoughts and emotions can impede access to our basic goodness. The two women who just left were very much out of touch with their inner core of basic goodness.

Some of the students then went to their bags to ensure their valuables were safe. They agreed that I would text the studio manager to contact the police while continuing the class.

The ambience, however, had changed. None of us could relax. Those two women in street clothes were thieves in the temple who, by rudely whispering and using an iPhone during class, who attempted to steal from yoga practitioners who trusted that they and their belongings were in a safe space…

Those two women robbed these students of the serenity of a yoga practice. For this class, these two women flagrantly violated the sanctity of the studio space for the students and for me, the teacher.

At the end of the day, I thought about these students. To them, to the pair of intruders, and to myself, I murmured the loving kindness mantra:

  • May you be safe.
  • May you be healthy.
  • May you be happy.
  • May you be at ease.

The Washington, D.C. metro area yoga studios and teachers have taken measures to prevent any further incidents. Always bring your valuables into the studio with you, where they will be safe during our practice. May you all be safe, healthy, happy, and at ease.

© 2014 Amy Dara Hochberg. All rights reserved.
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Yoga with Amy Dara by Amy Dara Hochberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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Image: http://www.yelp.com/biz/yoga-to-the-people-new-york. Captured 26 July 2014.