Well, not a contortionist as such, more a yoga teacher. Technically, I am not altogether sure exactly what extortion means either, but along with her accomplice, a west-coast American gentleman, they robbed their clients blind. Whilst scandalous, the real scandal is I never reported them to the police or to the yogi high commission, I just left the sessions and blocked her text alerts and emails. I still see the emails sometimes, resting in my junk folder. Usually invoices, for expensive weekend retreats I have never been on.
The most bare-faced liberty would occur towards the end of a yoga session, the part where we were all ‘warming down’. Everybody is laid on their backs, some people lay a blanket over themselves and tuck a cushion under their heads. When everyone is settled, Josephine initiates a guided, mindfulness-based meditation with focus on our own breathing for the first ten minutes.
Her voice is soft and kind, soothing and sensual. She asks us to create a state of awareness around the big toe of our left foot, asking that we concentrate and process the sensation. It might be, she tells us, we feel nothing. Perhaps our toe is numb, or maybe we can feel it tingling. What temperature is it, she asks. Is it cold, or warm? Can we feel the air around it or the material of our socks touching our skin? And so she goes on, from big toe to little toe, the soles and top surface of our feet, the ankles, lower legs, knees and onwards. By the time she’s reached the hips and pelvis, many people have zonked-out, are fast asleep, dead to the world. Those people who are left, including myself, have reached a deep meditative state, not too far behind the sleepers.
Until on one day, due to the ingestion of three sugary cups of espresso earlier in the morning, I found myself unable to settle during the session. Instead, I wrote a long to-do list in my head, with many of the items mentally noted of little significance and quickly forgotten. Just as I had tried to picture the lawn mower in my thoughts and how to change the blunted blade on the confounded contraption, my heightened senses picked up a slight movement to the left of me, coming from a direction I knew no one had chosen to settle down in.
Slowly letting my head fall to one side, I utilised the muscles around my eyes to form a tiny slot through which I could see, without giving away my wakefulness. What I saw, gave me an unpleasant surprise. From my position, I could make out a leopard print patterned leotard stretched across a backside belonging to Michael, Josephine’s assistant friend. Allowing my focus to adjust, the image cleared and I came to see Michael’s figure crouched over where everyone had left their clothes folded. He was going through pockets, removing some coins from purses and a taking a few bank notes from people’s wallets. Jewelled brooches were being unhooked from the outside of coats and I am certain I could see him sorting through various mobile telephones. There were also moments when he paused for a while, appearing to read people’s private correspondence, letters and prescriptions they’d carried with them in their handbags.
Due to its age, my phone remained safe and I only ever brought in money enough to pay for the class, which I kept hidden in a sock. Despite continuing with the sessions for several more weeks, I suffered no personal loss. However, I continued to watch him each week. I kept myself buoyed and alert with the habitual consumption of three or more cups of espresso before each class, to remain awake during his shenanigans, while the others drifted off.
Nimble was his second name, his ability to move about quietly and with speed impressed me greatly. On occasion, when a yogi stirred during the meditation period, Michael would spring into a ‘down dog’ pose until he was sure it was safe to continue with his pilfering. Shockingly, when a client discovered they hadn’t brought enough money with them to pay, Josephine played the injured party all too well. These people were left to think it was their own embarrassing mistake. She would lay it on thick, saying she’d have to go and ‘shake the magic money tree’ to make her rent. Frequently, other clients would settle any outstanding sums in response to her hard luck stories. Incredulous as it seems, this wouldn’t stop Josephine unashamedly pursuing the robbed client of the money they ‘owed’, the following week.
In the end, I wanted nothing more to do with it. As I wrote at the beginning, I cut off all communications. The experience dented my belief in yoga teachers and any facilitator of a meditation group. How little trust we place in people nowadays, is this really where we are now in modern day life? Has anything similar ever happened to you?