Picketing protestors clash with teacher’s supporters outside local yoga studio
The calm of an overcast December morning on the Westside was interrupted on Saturday, Dec. 11 as about a dozen protestors picketed in front of Santa Cruz Yoga off Ingalls Street. The protest was over the studio’s owner, Mark Stephens, who, protestors claim, inappropriately touched several students. The picketers’ signs read things such as “Honor Women,” “No More Victims” and “Groping is not Yoga.”
“We’re essentially trying to let the community know that we’re concerned about his behavior during classes touching women inappropriately,” says local Ann Simonton, a leading feminist in the country and one of the organizers of the protest. “He tends to pick on vulnerable women, so we’re here to stand up for the vulnerable women. That’s what a community is about.”
Students continued to come to and from Stephens’ classes throughout the morning despite the protest, some even stopping to confront the protestors.
“Have any of you actually been groped by Stephens?” asked one student. Then, apparently receiving no satisfactory answer, he walked away muttering, “you people are bizarre.”
Such sentiments seemed to reflect the general consensus among Stephens’ students, but there were just as many people in support of the protestors in the crowd outside Kelly’s Bakery, which sits between the parking lot and the yoga studio.
“I think it would be better directed [to] talk to the owners [of the building],” said one bystander who wished to remain anonymous.
Stephens himself was inside the building teaching classes during the protest, but commented on the events in an interview with GT later in the day.
“It’s nothing new,” he says. “There are a few people who orchestrated this … they’ve been tenacious. No one has ever stepped forward directly to me.”
Stephens, who attributes the continuing allegations against him to petty revenge and jealousies on the part of his detractors, is one of the most successful yoga instructors in Santa Cruz. His book, “Teaching Yoga,” is ranked third in sales of yoga books on Amazon.com.
The protests and allegations have not affected his success. “My classes are packed,” says Stephens. “I had over 100 students [the morning of the protest].”
Protestors argue that popularity doesn’t necessarily suggest innocence.
“Too many women have come forward,” says Simonton. “That’s why we’re here … we’re not here to close him down, but we do want there to be much more awareness.” Simonton and the other organizers, while not claiming to be victims themselves, say they have heard from at least five women who claim Stephens mistreated them. However, the organizers say they have had a difficult time convincing the victims to come forward.
After a half hour or so, the owners of Kelly’s Bakery kindly asked the protestors to move to Swift Street (close by, but out of sight) as they were impeding the flow of business.
Read “Yogis Behaving Badly,” an August 2010 GT article that revolved around mistreatment between yoga teachers and students.
written by Kathy fontana, December 18, 2010
written by R Cummings, December 13, 2010
written by Carl Adams, December 13, 2010
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