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news_yogaPicketing 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.

Comments (16)Add Comment
...
written by Trainings in Oregon, August 31, 2012
FYI---- he is now leading trainings in Oregon because of his misconduct. California kicked him (LA & Santa Cruz) and now he is at Eugene Yoga doing trainings. YIKES!
Accusations?
written by Another former student, April 23, 2011
I'd heard about this before, when I lived in Santa Cruz, but I think too much blame is placed on the man himself. I'm a young female and I attended his classes... he never "groped" me or tried anything that I thought a yoga instructor shouldn't be doing. Furthermore, I read in another article on this site that people complained he "started affairs with married women". Look, it takes two people to start an affair. How can you really blame Mark for that? If a married woman is actually raped - let's say Mark shows up at her house and forcefully took off her clothes - then I'd say there's a good case. But from what I'm reading, it sounds like a smooth-talker and/or knows how to please a woman. There are plenty of men in Santa Cruz (and in the world!) like that. And furthermore, I don't see what's so wrong about touching other people during yoga. If you're uncomfortable with that, don't go to their class again. Traditional forms of yoga encourage closeness and touching and sensuality and spirituality, and if you're the type who can't imagine anyone at all "invading your private space" by simply helping you adjust a pose, then go elsewhere.
Landscaper and Yoga Student
written by Adrian, January 05, 2011
I have spoken with other yoga teachers who worked with Mark a Vets Hall in Santa Cruz. Right before the Vets hall closed due to structural damage on the building, Mark Stephens lost his right to teach there because of accusations of sexual misconduct against him and because of his aggressive behavior towards other yoga teachers. He has a history of being fired from his past employment because of his inappropriate sexual behavior. That is why he moved to Santa Cruz, because his reputation in Los Angeles was smeared. Now he is doing the same thing here. I do not know any of the ladies personally, and I would be open to the accusations against him being false, but I would be very surprised. I have taken yoga classes here my whole life and have never heard of this happening before.
...
written by a former student, December 22, 2010
I felt that Mark paid attention to those students that were young and attractive. . .he also seemed to use his pool of students as his personal dating ground which I find unethical. He does exude a very sexual energy and at the same time these people are going through incredibly transformative experiences in yoga which makes a person feel conflicted.
Unfortunately Mark has a lot of knowledge to share but he doesn't seem to know how to impart it without getting into sexual relationships with his students or worse.
Some real truth about Mark Stephens
written by D. Derkacz, December 21, 2010
You say that you are a dreamer but your are not the only one. Santa Cruz shame on you! As a new comer to this community I have never been so openly received by the professional approach that Mark Stevens gives. As in the art of ballet, the art of yoga demands adjustment and alignment. Take a deep breathe Santa Cruz, it must feel great to profess such false accusations. If you do not appreciate this style of yoga why do you continue to take his class? As a 57 year old medical professional, it was with great relief to find such an instructor! He has never presented to me the ridicules accusations that you make. My daughter as an instructor and student, travels from Venice to take his classes not for wanting to be groped but to obtain the wisdom and professional training Mr. Stevens has to offer. As for the so called yoga community of Santa Cruz, what is that? Please, just breathe and stop this horrific slander. Please, just stop. Try to find better news commentary for Santa Cruz than what you are depicting. As for Mr. Stevens, his classes are packed! It is obvious that these women who claimed to have had groping occur, need to grow up! It does not take a medical professional to see what a sick bunch of people you really are, jealous and desperate! Blessings. D. Derkacz, BSRN, PHN, Est.
Mark Stephens Scary
written by Allison Adler, December 20, 2010
Has anyone ever heard of a protest against a yoga teacher. Mark have you stopped and reflected on your actions that obviously have countless people questioning your integrity. Mark get help, stop teaching yoga. Your inability to acknowledge in any way that you have hurt anyone proves that you only care about yourself and your Yoga "Business"
Countless women come forward vs. Mass denial by Mark Stephens
written by Kathy fontana, December 18, 2010
It's hard to believe that 5 - 10 women all telling the same type of story of being violated by the same person could all be false. Either Mark Stephens is in total denial or a complete liar. Actually he's probably alot of Both.

It's amazing the con man is leading a teacher training in Santa Cruz in January.
Yikes
written by Ally, December 16, 2010
Not one, not two but several women have made the claim?

I'm glad those people are out there bringing awareness to the situation.

I like to be adjusted in yoga class, it helps me with my postures and makes me feel as though I am participating and being recognized.

However, the teachers I learn from are professional and either whisper to me "Do you mind if I touch you?" Which is wonderful because it prepares me for the touch and is respectful of my body and space. And, they usually only use a few fingers in totally "safe" areas of my body.

This story (And Laura Chesky's blog noted in the article/comments) upsets me because too often vulnerable women in vulnerable situations (read: a newcomer to yoga, someone learning something, etc.) will just take what is given to them without speaking up.

"Teachers" like this shouldn't be allowed to teach with these sorts of claims unless there has been a very detailed look into the matter both by the Yoga community/advisors as well as law enforcement.

I'd keep my younger sisters away from this man's classes until I was entirely certain he was 100% not a creeper.
Mark Stephens needs help
written by Satya, December 14, 2010
Mark, as a spiritual leader that your title elevates you too, you should be proud that people are supporting women and welcome the community investigation of your behavior
Details On Assault Reports
written by Raymond Keller, December 13, 2010
Laurel Chesky, writer for the Good Times, investigated the reports of sexual assault by Mark Stephens. You can see the details here:

http://laurelchesky.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/exposing-the-creepy-yoga-teacher-the-story-behind-the-story-that-dominated-my-life-for-five-months/
Nurse Midwife
written by R Cummings, December 13, 2010
It is far from "bizarre" to protest injustice on behalf of those who retreat to heal and recover. Finding one's voice is a learning curve for most people and perpetrators know this and take great advantage.
I have deep admiration and appreciation for our activists.
Ann Simonton is my Hero..
written by Carl Adams, December 13, 2010
Ann kicked the beauty pageant out of Santa Cruz, now her sights are set on Mark Stephens. It looks like Mark's going to be in the news for a while. From reading this article, if Mark Stephens were innocent he would be welcoming a public investigation of his behavior.
Popularity doesn't equal innocence
written by Jules Hanson, December 13, 2010
People who have opened up and experienced the benefits of Yoga in Marks classes will naturally feel a loyalty to him and not understand others disapproval for his behavior. His large turn out however is not a correct indication of his innocence.
Mark Stephens is talented, slick, charming, and tells people what they want to hear. He is very good at marketing and packages his innocence like a product.The Truth is there are more than just a few people who disapprove of his actions. Many people have had friends or loved ones come to them with painful stories.This is why people are moved to stand against him, not due to jealousy and revenge but to honor the name of Yoga and protect our community.
This blog written by a professional reporter brings clarity to the whole situation. Before you defend Stephens please read, and remember a person having all the right things to say and teaching a good yoga class doesn't mean they are not capable of such things.
He points to his students(especially women) as his shield, don't let your self be used without doing your home work.
Thank you for listening


http://laurelchesky.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/exposing-the-creepy-yoga-teacher-the-story-behind-the-story-that-dominated-my-life-for-five-months/
Yoga is not groping
written by Claire Vanderbuilt, December 13, 2010
I have to agree with this sign that Ann Simonton was holding. Mark Stephens is a superficially charming phony. He is a groper and everyone knows it.

When is the Yoga Alliance going to acknowledge this and strip him of his paid for, cracker jack box teacher certifications?
...
written by Johann Stephenson, December 13, 2010
Word on the street is that Mark Stephens continues to grope 20 year old girls in his classes.
The Truth is starting to be told
written by Carl Adams, December 13, 2010
At least this issue is finally being addressed by the community as Law Enforcement has done nothing. Wow I missed this protest, when's the next one???
I saw this video of Mark Stephens being fired from the Vets Hall by Jasmine Berke, Chair of the Vets Hall.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uuqtBWR8pE

When will Kelley Sanchez kickout Mark Stephens just like Jasmine Berke did!!!!


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