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The Yoga Thief

Recently, a thief has visited several yoga centers across Manhattan and Brooklyn, pilfering electronic devices and cash. The thief’s characteristics are thus: tall, burly, black, tattooed, and polite. He wears a pair of diamond earrings and carries a Louis Vuitton satchel.

Currently, eleven studios have received visits, that we know of. Seven places have had things lifted; three of them declined to participate in this article.

‘He came early, signed up for the Lunch Express, and said he was waiting for his friend,’ said Stephanie Tang of Sacred Sounds Yoga on Bleecker Street. ‘I asked him if he practiced yoga, and he mentioned several names of different styles…he clearly had done his homework.’

A routine new-student-orientation evolved into a dismaying situation. After using the restroom, the thief informed Tang that his friend was running late. Then he left, saying he would return. When class ended, a Mac laptop and three hundred dollars were missing from the changing rooms.

Yoga Vida’s location at 666 Broadway had a similar experience and the thief was caught on camera. ‘So many people were working the desk that day and he still managed to sneak by,’ said administrator Amanda Amorim. ‘He was very upfront and polite with us, and he didn’t avoid us…even if you wanted to think that something was suspicious, you couldn’t.’ He took off with two iPhones and some cash. Down at Stanton Street Yoga, he snatched three cellphones and three credit cards. An iPhone from House of Jai; a computer and cell phone from the OM Factory.

At Yoga Union on 28th Street, the thief actually took class. ‘I got a really weird vibe right away…something was off,’ said instructor Lou Asselin. He informed Asselin of a bad ankle, and did, present her with a swollen joint. In class, ‘he was looking around a lot and wasn’t paying attention, nor was he following instructions…he left the room at least three times, for extended periods.’ He then left Asselin’s class early, but waited in the foyer, where Patricia Maples was luckily manning the front desk.

‘He seemed nervous, but I attributed that to him being in a yoga studio for the first time,’ said Maples. After showing her his ankle, Maples advised him on methods for handling his injury, including exercises, and yoga classes he should take. Luckily, he left without taking anything. ‘I was completely clueless...but then I read the email thread.’

The thread, warning of a thief, was freshly deposited into Maples’ inbox and ‘it all clicked,’ she said. The emails, which had already been shared by several yoga spaces across the City, were about to become viral.

‘Thank god for the thread,’ said the front desk administrator at The Shala on Broadway. She too had received it and was prepared. ‘He just seemed like a regular guy...I wouldn’t have known otherwise.’ Over at Kula Williamsburg ‘we were already on the lookout for him so he was watched the whole time and nothing was stolen,’ Nikki Vilella said. ‘I’m happy that we, as yoga studios, look out for one another and can share information that helps us to be more aware of our surroundings.’ And yet, some studios declined sharing their experiences for fear of negative publicity.

However, students seemed understanding. Robin Tripp had her iPhone stolen and was satisfied with how Yoga Vida handled the situation. ‘It was my mistake to leave my phone in my coat pocket instead of bringing it into the room…I don’t blame the studio,’ she said.

According to NYC lawyer, Norah Hart, ‘this is not a burglary, but petty larceny…the cops don’t have much time for that.’ Stephanie Tang was given a stack of ‘NYPD Safety Tips’ fliers to post and distribute at Sacred Sounds. Lou Asselin also noted that ‘they recommend we now ID new students…studios can refuse business to people who refuse to provide valid ID.’ Patricia Maples lamented that ‘unfortunately from now on, the check-in process at yoga studios may need to be a bit more formalized.’

If the police can’t do much, then what should studios do? YogaCity NYC’s Editor-in-Chief Cynthia Kling grabbed the inside scoop from inmates at a New York maximum-security prison who were incarcerated for burglary, robbery, arson, etc. They recommended that studios start taking security seriously – even if they can't do it all at once. They should install security cameras and post obvious surveillance signs saying the cameras are running 24/7. Even if the cameras are off, the signs will intimidate potential robbers. Also, be sure to employ a capable, on-the-ball, front desk person who is extremely attentive to everyone who walks in. ‘This guy’s probably a low-level drug dealer who cased the studios in advance…someone wasn’t watching when hevisited the first time,’ the inmates said. Studios need to get serious about security. ‘Basically, they told me that this is New York City, and if you don’t want to get hit, then start acting like it,’ Kling said.

Ironically, a certain amount of mindlessness has been cultivated from this mindful practice. Maybe this is why these businesses are easy targets. Perhaps yogis are a little too trusting towards everyone walking in - maybe some people aren't just looking for peace and equanimity, as they are.

How can yogis find the right balance - between welcoming trust and suspicion? To quote an oldie but a goodie: ‘not too tight, and not too loose.’ It will take some practice.

-- Michael Laskaris

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