A danger of being a celebrity yoga teacher?

Every now and again, my Google “yoga” news alert will become overwhelmed for a few days with one story: Russell Brand, naked yoga, etc.

Usually, but not always, I let them pass. But one this weekend seems to have a lesson behind it, I’m guessing:

Alex Baldwin’s wife, Hilaria Thomas, has been sued by a student who claims he suffered “serious” and “severe” physical injuries and “emotional upset” after a class with her.

Newspapers like the New York Post and web sites like Gawker are treating it pretty much as entertainment. Gawker did post a comment from someone claiming to be a friend of the plaintiff’s, though. The claim is that the guy, Spencer Wolff, was forced due to crowded conditions to perform a “dangerous” activity by a wall — or, really, a window. According to this friend, it sounds like while doing handstands he fell through that window, cutting his leg.

So why pass this on? Well, I’m not the only one who thinks that Thomas’ celebrity status may have made her a target of this suit. (It sounds like her husband does, too, as do most of the stories I’ve read.) While I’m sure this isn’t the first time this has happened, it seems to be the first big time it’s happening (at least while I’ve been paying attention).

And we’ve been talking about celebrity and Ashtanga lately, right? This may be a lesson in being careful what you wish for. Being famous (and sometimes, at least, righ) can have its downsides.

I think there also is the perhaps more legitimate discussion about how popular yoga teachers should handle classes that are, perhaps, overfilled. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a class — back in the dark flow class days — that turned away students; they just squeezed more in. Are there popular teachers who have to say, “Sorry, we’re full”? Anyone experience that in New York, LA or elsewhere?

And is it a teacher’s responsibility — there I go bringing that up again — to figure out when there are too many students in a class for either the students’ safety or just the teachers’ ability to teach effectively? How might that work in a yoga chain business?

In other news, we are now headed, as a last-second decision, down to Tim Miller’s. Maybe there will be something to report back on from our trip.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “A danger of being a celebrity yoga teacher?”

  1. I live in NYC and have seen people turned away from a class one time. I went to check out Elena Brower’s well known Saturday morning class at her studio by my apartment about 1.5 years ago. Its an enormous space, and we were literally on top of each other, with people also practicing in the changing areas. It was physically impossible to squeeze in any more mats, so about 10-15 people didn’t make it in. Apparently its like that every week, but I only went that once.

    Other than that, I have witnessed other studios pack ’em in like sardines in order to avoid turning people away. Its usually a big factor in me not venturing outside of my regular shala on occasion to take a different class with someone.

    I have never taken a regular class at the studio where Hilaria teaches, though I did take a workshop there with a visiting teacher. It was also over-crowded and, ironically, I was so close to the window that I skipped some of the advanced inversions that were being taught out of fear of going though it…though we were definitely not being encouraged to be using them as a wall, as alleged in the story.

  2. I turn people away when my class is full. Yes, this person is sue happy. If they thought the class was too packed, they should have left or modified their practice accordingly. I practiced a few years back with a popular certified Ashtanga teacher and was put in a weird funky corner and I made my practice fit the space and had a great time.

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