IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Had an Affair with My Yoga Teacher

Getting naked with a ponytailed, flexible, older man sounds like something from a romance novel, but it was more damaging than sexy.
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Getting naked with a ponytailed, flexible, older man sounds like something from a romance novel, but it was more damaging than sexy.

Having an affair with your yoga teacher is a cliché for a reason. I'm one of those reasons, and let me tell you, it was a bad idea. It destroyed my self-esteem and almost ruined my marriage.

Sixteen weeks before my wedding, I got close to John*, the yoga teacher who taught me the Ashtanga yoga system from the ground up. I’d been practicing with him at least three days a week for three months. Ashtanga is taught one-on-one, with lots of hands-on guidance, so the teacher-student bond grows quickly. I’d begun to discover strength and stamina that I didn’t know I had.

John is a professor, so he knew how to talk to people. He seemed genuinely interested in me. He listened to my questions and offered advice on yoga and life, taking his black-framed glasses off to look me in the eye. He threw his head back and laughed at my jokes. 

We became friends on Facebook, his favorite method of social media, and I hung on every word of his rants about astrology and emotions, riddled with buzzwords straight out of a 300-level Postmodern Theory course. I wasn’t the only one.

John had what he affectionately called “his cult,” a following of students from the university and yoga studios, mostly young women, who liked and commented on all of his posts. He was popular then, and remains a well-loved professor today according to ratemyprofessor.com.

I knew it wasn’t quite right, but I wanted John’s attention. As much as I could get. All of it. His classes were the highlight of my week. I didn’t miss a single one. I pursued him like a sixth grader with her first crush. When I talked to him, my insides got squinchy. He made me feel special. He seemed to understand my fears and frustrations in a way that Ben, my then-fiancé, now-husband, didn’t. In the middle of the stress of wedding planning, my own partner had become emotionally distant. I was getting cold feet. I was afraid of getting married. Not that it excuses my behavior, but I felt alone in my fear.

John was really into astrology, and he offered to read my chart. He printed off a personalized graph of concentric circles, symbols, and zagging red lines, and gave me an explanation that included moons and Pluto returns. I barely understood it, but I was glowing. I had his attention. 

“You have a lot of darkness,” he said. That statement started a two-month long Facebook messenger conversation that went from astrological to orgasmic.

“You’re interesting to me, Emma,” he said, “I want to know how you became this person.”

I replied with my life history, which includes more than its fair share of emotional trauma, suicide attempts, teenage promiscuity, alcohol and drug abuse, and sexual assault. It turned out that he’d been emotionally traumatized, too. 

He gave me the link to his secret blog and confided that his partner, the mother of his son, didn’t have sex with him anymore. I told him that I had a hard time reaching Ben, too.

One comment about sex led to another until either he or I said something like, “It’s a good thing you and I aren’t a couple. We’d never get out of bed.”

I don’t remember who said it, and the transcript of the conversation has long been deleted, but with those lines, we were off. We started sexting, messaging each other whenever we could. I’d spend hours of my workday chatting with him. Our conversations were thousands of lines long. 

They weren’t always about sex. They were sometimes about emotional concerns or our troubled pasts. A few times, he led me through written exercises that probably should have been performed with a licensed therapist, then one of us would mention something sexual, and the sexting marathon began again.

To be fair, I pursued him more than he pursued me. I dropped hints like, “I have the whole office to myself today. No one would notice what I’m doing at my desk.” He picked up what I was putting down, and 30 minutes later we would be talking about cocks and clits, occasionally with pictures for emphasis. When I raised concern about our relationship, he reassured me. We were healing each other’s past wounds through sex and language. Other people wouldn’t understand.

“You’re important to me, Emma. Karmically important.”

That was all I needed. I’d never been “karmically important” to someone before. When John asked me if I was interested in acting out some of what we’d talked about, I was more than game. 

Because we were both in relationships, we decided that there would be no actual touching. We would only get naked and masturbate in front of each other. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.

We did it three times. Twice in the bathroom of the yoga studio, once in my car. I tried to make it happen again, but it never did. Weeks of sexting, three weird sexual encounters, and it was over. Other than the occasional racy text, he stopped taking my bait.

I felt rejected, exactly like I did when I was a teenager and none of my fuck-buddies would be my boyfriend. I didn’t understand why John didn’t want me anymore. We’d been careful to erase evidence of our sexting, so I couldn’t even look back to suss out why I was discarded.

Then I was swept up in the final month of planning, the wedding, and my honeymoon. I realized that ending the affair was for the best and I tried to put it behind me. Ben and I came home from 10 days in Santa Fe, adopted a new dog, and settled in as happy newlyweds.

Then Ben found a suspicious email while using my computer. John and I were caught. To make matters worse, we were both out of town at a yoga workshop the weekend that my husband found out. We were in separate rooms and never said anything I wouldn’t say in front of my mother, but it sure didn’t look good.

How my husband and I dealt with the affair discovery and worked through it to find a stronger and better marriage is another story, but I’m proud to say that we’re now one of the happiest couples I know. It wasn’t easy, but we healed, and we’re better for it.

As for John, he was fired from the yoga studio after Ben told the owner what had happened. John lost a good portion of his “cult” and he wasn’t happy about it. Ben also tried to get John fired from his day job as a professor and even see that he never taught yoga again, but he wasn’t successful. John eventually threatened that he would call the police if he ever heard from us again. I’m not proud of that, but it was more important to save my marriage than worry about John’s feelings.

Yoga teachers learn ethics during their training and one cardinal rule is, "Don't sleep with your students." I know because I went through yoga teacher training 12 months after the affair began. It helped me understand. Student-teacher boundaries exist for a reason. The teacher will always hold power over the student, and that power differential, however unconscious, will affect the sexual relationship in unhealthy ways.

No matter how much I pursued John, he should have pushed me away. What I felt for him wasn’t attraction or love, it was adoration. I loved him the way teenage girls love One Direction. When John taught, he was on stage. He commanded attention. He wasn’t being himself, he was being a projection of himself. He was performing.

In class, John physically moved my body with his hands and told me what to do with his voice. That stuff is powerful. He used techniques he had learned to help me find those inner reserves of strength. Our teachers change us on all levels—physical, emotional, and yes, sometimes spiritual.

Now that I’ve been in the role of teacher for about a year, I get it. I perform, too. When I tell my class to, “Exhale and hinge out of the hips, fold forward, belly to thighs,” I’m using a script. I’ve said those words hundreds of times. 

When I wrap my hands around a student’s waist to help them feel the hinge from the hips, I’m using what I learned from other teachers. It’s me talking, adjusting, and moving, but it’s not really me. It’s someone whose power I drawn from generations of teachers. 

For the 60 to 90 minutes that I’m teaching, I’m “on.” I’m a different person from the me that you’d run into at the grocery store, staring at dark chocolate bars like deciding which one to buy is more important than the presidential election.

I don’t see myself as a victim of sexual harassment or assault, like in the Bikram Choudhury case, but I do think that my former teacher should take the brunt of the blame for what happened. I was a willing participant, but as the teacher, he had the upper hand. It was his responsibility to nip the relationship in the bud long before any nips or buds were exposed. The fact that he didn’t shows that his education as a teacher wasn’t done.

*The teacher’s name has been changed to protect his anonymity