#694: How do I get out of mandatory corporate yoga retreat and keep my career intact?

Comments closed as of 4/27.

Dear Captain Awkward, So, if I tell you that when I was in high school, a teacher of mine called off class for a session of “yoga in the dark where no one can see what the teacher is doing” that left me very upset, I probably don’t need to give you more details, right? And I see a therapist now (not just for that, but the therapist feels that part is important), but I am not serenely at peace with the past here, and I do really, really badly with yoga. I have problems with rage and tears just from being told to “focus on my breathing.” So I avoid going to yoga. (I also don’t do well with meditation, Alexander Technique, etc. — basically, being pressured to “relax” makes me panic.)

My problem is that many people, in both my personal and professional life, very strongly believe in the universal healing powers of yoga. They refuse to believe that I could find it anything other than relaxing and empowering. I try to explain that having someone dictate how I ought to move and breathe does not make me feel relaxed or empowered, but multiple staff retreats at multiple offices have left me in the superfun position of explaining that I really can’t do yoga, and being pushed about it until I cry, because they refuse to believe that anyone could have a good reason not to like yoga. I say I’ve had bad experiences, and they insist that this will be different, and I say, no, really kind of traumatic experiences, and they say, “But yoga helps traumatized people!” And there I’m back with the tears and rage. One year I tried to do it; I had to run out of the room and apparently the teacher said that some people aren’t brave enough to get in touch with their bodies. When my coworker told me that I think I literally bared my teeth like a dog and snarled. This does not make me look like a competent professional. And it makes me feel like shit. They’re my coworkers, my job has nothing to do with yoga, and I guess I don’t think I should have to bare my soul and expose my vulnerabilities because somebody else thinks their favorite form of exercise would make me a better worker/person.

I’ve just started a new job in a high-stress workplace. My boss is very excited about a yoga-focused health-and-centeredness retreat. I’m still in my probation period. How do I not look unstable, or like a bad team player? Please don’t tell me I just haven’t found the right yoga instructor yet. I hear that a lot. And, thank you.

Dear Letter Writer:

Not only am I going to not tell you that you just haven’t found the right yoga instructor, I am going to put a pre-emptive ban on yoga evangelism (which includes personal stories about how commenters personally stopped worrying and learned to eventually love yoga) in this comment thread.

A boss who thinks that it’s fun and normal for people to strenuously breathe in unison with their coworkers in their free time is unlikely to be dissuaded from having the upcoming retreat altogether. There’s no great approach here, but one possible way involves a) formally invoking Human Resources and b) a vague medical excuse for missing the retreat. Lay the groundwork by asking your therapist to agree to write a doctor’s note should it be necessary, and then speak to your HR person. “Hi (Nice HR Person), I can’t do yoga for medical reasons, and at my doctor’s recommendation I am going to have to miss the upcoming staff retreat. What’s the best way to let Boss and the rest of the team know that I can’t be there, without disclosing my private medical information?

Key Elements:

1) Start with a verbal conversation rather than an email. I know (I know) you’re worried about betraying a lot of emotion and looking unprofessional, so practice the request with a friend and your therapist ahead of time if you need to. If you can make it come out smoothly and project a relaxed demeanor, you will feel more confident and less exposed. I know email is easier in some ways, but you want to be able to feel the situation out before making (& documenting) things more officially. You can always follow up with email if need be.

2) Go ahead and invoke the authority of absent medical professionals. You don’t have to mention how much you personally hate yoga at all – Corporate You is yoga-agnostic – “I agree it can really help many people deal with stress, sadly, I’m not one of them!” You just simply can’t do it.

3) Anxiety and PTSD are legit medical issues, by the way, so you’re not lying about why you can’t, but there’s also no reason to disclose those things specifically. The medical note itself should be very vague, “At my recommendation, my patient, Letter Writer, should be excused from company activities involving yoga or other group exercise. Signed, Medical Professional X,” and you should not volunteer it. It’s something to have in reserve if HR asks for it, and it’s something to put on file if you think there might be negative consequences.

4) Experiment with presenting the fact that you’ll miss the upcoming retreat as a fait accompli rather than as asking permission to skip it. “Medically, I’m going to have to miss it” > “Is it okay if I miss it.” If they want you to be there but just skip the yoga parts, let them be the ones to suggest that compromise, to which you can magnanimously agree. If you’re feeling really magnanimous, you could offer to lead some alternative thing during some of the yoga sessions (thereby planting the seed that the yoga parts should be optional…for everyone.)

5) Ask the HR person’s help in a specific way – “Can you notify the boss?

6) If the HR person handles this gracefully and seems to be on your side about things, ask if future retreats could alternate yoga and other activities, because you very much want to participate in team-building that you can do.

7) Have the conversation at the end of the day if you can, or right before lunch, so you can leave right afterwards and do something nice for yourself.

8) You can’t be the only person in the office who is secretly dreading this shitshow, so pat yourself on the back for being a superhero in protecting your own safety and comfort and in making this easier for someone else in the future.

Since your corporate culture is “Yay for yoga!” and because most corporate cultures are profoundly ableist, this is going to mark you as an outlier and you probably will encounter *some* weirdness, but I think people will mostly (not perfectly, but mostly) take their cues from you on how big a deal this is. You’re no doubt making sure that your professional game is tight already, but pay attention to cosmetic issues like dress and grooming, keeping your workspace neat, getting to work a few minutes early each day, responding promptly to emails, saving old-to-do lists so you are visually documenting for yourself how much you are getting accomplished. If you have the energy, go to occasional happy hours or lunches with your coworkers, make an effort to get to know them as people, try to remember their kids’ names or hobbies. Don’t turtle away from them; be a team player in the ways that actually matter to the work. And have responses, or rather non responses, ready for when yoga evangelism* happens.

Since trying to explain or convince your coworkers of the reasons why you can’t do yoga has not served you well in the past, stop explaining or convincing or giving reasons. If this blog post serves no other purpose, I hope you take this away from it: Your reasons for not wanting to ever do yoga are perfectly sound, and you are not the one being weird if you don’t want to do it and if you don’t really want to discuss it. You don’t have to convince your coworkers that yoga sucks or that it isn’t right for you, you just have to change the patterns of the interactions enough so that they will leave you alone about it. For HR and Boss, that means a “confidential medical issue,” as in, if the HR person asks specifically “why can’t you” or “what’s wrong with you,” respond with “I’m happy to provide a doctor’s note” and don’t elaborate further. For coworkers, it’s “I’m sure you’re right about that! I hope the retreat is great, we’ll have to have lunch when you get back and you can fill me in.” See also: “So sad to miss it, but I’ve cleared it with boss and HR. Maybe next time we’ll do something non-yoga-based and I will be able to join you all.

If people won’t let it drop, it’s okay to say “I’m sure you understand, this is a sensitive topic and I’d rather let it drop. So, how is [OBVIOUS SUBJECT CHANGE?]” If the person won’t let it drop and keeps going past a subject change, remember that there is power in the unvarnished truth, like when someone won’t stop harping on “So, when are you going to have kids?” and the non-parent finally snaps and says “When and if my uterus stops deleting all of them in horrible miscarriages I guess, thanks for ignoring all of my attempts at politely changing the subject btw.” Maybe it will give you power to imagine sayingTo be clear, I should not have to and do not have to disclose this, but I was sexually assaulted by a teacher during a yoga session, and I’d prefer not to have screaming flashbacks in front of my coworkers in the name of ‘teambuilding.’ So, shall we go with ‘medical excuse’ rather than spreading deeply private and uncomfortable information to my colleagues? Here is my doctor’s note, I will not be at the retreat, thanks for all your help.Then imagine yourself flipping over the table and leaving dramatically, like you’ve suddenly developed the ability to teleport or you are Angel or The Justice League and they are “doors.”

While you imagine all of that, practice a making a fake smile and holding it silently for a long, awkward silence. No need to bare your teeth and snarl (though I simultaneously love that you did that and hate that you were pushed to that point), just, pick a “WTF smile” and hold it until they change the subject or slink away. For example:

Naomi Campbell with a fake smile.
Bow before the queen of the “You really just said that out loud, didn’t you” face.
Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II from The Queen, looking annoyed.
There can be more than one queen of “How amusing it is that you are still talking” face.
Michelle Obama with a fake smile.
“I would dearly like to give you the home training that you so clearly missed out on, but who even has the time?”
In summary.

Your coworkers may spread tales like “I kept asking Letter Writer about yoga, but they just weirdly smiled at me…well…not a smile exactly, but they gave me this *look* for a long time and changed the subject, so, anyway, don’t bring up yoga with LW unless you want it to get weird” and that is okay. In fact, that is victory. *See also: diet evangelism, actual evangelism

477 thoughts on “#694: How do I get out of mandatory corporate yoga retreat and keep my career intact?

  1. LW, I don’t think I can add anything much to the Captain’s excellent scripts, except to point out that I think for busy-body co-workers, “I can’t do yoga for medical reasons” + (in response to the inevitable “but whyyyyyy?” that will follow at least some of the time) a calm, friendly “I’d rather not talk about it, thanks.”

    It’s completely understandable that even the mention of “mandatory yoga” would drive you into panic mode (And seriously, who is planning this? How do they not realize how screamingly able-ist this is?), but if you can convey “nope, can’t attend, let’s talk about something that is else” in a tone that’s no different than the one you’d use to say “nope, can’t make lunch today, I’m on deadline,” in my experience, it usually signals “nothing to see here, move along” to the busy-bodies and you’ll (hopefully) have to deal with less flack from them.

    1. A calm, friendly “I’d rather not talk about it, thanks” is a very powerful social tool, especially at co-worker/acquaintance level where most people recognize and respect it as a boundary not to be crossed. (See also: “Actually, that’s personal/private” and “I’m sorry, but that’s none of your business.”) If you deploy it and the person you are talking to continues to badger you about it, they immediately take on the role of the asshole in that interaction. Because they’ve so blatantly broken the social contract, this leaves you free to do a “Wow, rude” or “Are you serious right now?” or glare-and-turn-on-heel, or whatever you feel like you need to do to effectively shut them down.

      1. I totally agree with this but I just want to say that I think “that’s none of your business” is slightly ruder/more abrupt than the other two options. Its better to keep that in reserve in case they keep pushing. Because “I don’t want to talk about it” is about you and what you’re comfortable with where “that’s none of your business” is about them, like, wtf why would you ask me that. Which is fine if that’s what you want to convey but sometimes you just want to change the subject and don’t need to invoke that.

        1. Fair point! “It’s none of your business” is probably not suitable for a work situation anyway, and definitely one to keep in reserve in the face of persistent badgering.

      2. How about an exclaimed “Holy personal questions, Batman?!” It’s light-hearted yet also says, “Wow, you’re totally asking about private things that are way out of bounds.”

        1. We read Scary Go Round, which is why I just cackled loudly enough to startle my husband and probably hurt his ears a little.

    2. Mandatory yoga would drive ME into panic mode and I have absolutely no yoga-related experiences or relevant disabilities. I just would really prefer not to attempt my body into unusual shapes, particularly not in front of the people who have to take me seriously, uh, ever again.

      That just sounds like a horrible idea all around.

      1. Yep, same with me. This kind of forced corporate fun is something I push back on on the regular, when I feel I have the authority to do so. It’s clueless, ableist, and intrusive, and places of business should do better at making their retreat activities inclusive and business-oriented. Best wishes, LW.

      2. That was my first thought too! I don’t work out at our on-site gym because I’m self conscious about it, and everyone should have the right to control how they present themselves to their coworkers. There are just SO MANY ISSUES with this.

        Also it reminds me of a time when I was working a really stressful job, and management came down with a proclamation of “mandatory 10 minute deep breathing meditation sessions during lunch to reduce stress”. A fellow coworker stood up and said, “How about instead of MANDATING a 10 minute relaxation session, you start running the business in a way that allows your workers to work in a less stressful fashion overall?”

        1. That coworker is my hero and I wanna be just like them when I grow up. That is, like, Jedi master levels of standing up for yourself.

    3. (I haven’t been able to read all of the comments yet, so this might have been suggested by someone already.)

      An alternative to “I’d rather not talk about it” is “I don’t have to give you that information,” said in a calm tone that implies the asker should know better than to try to get personal medical information. That also lets you segue into how they’re violating HIPAA if they try to find out more. 🙂

      LW, I totally wish you the best of luck. I’ve been blessed to have co-workers who weren’t too keen on forced smiley togetherness, either — they do exist! I hope that your co-workers either transform into people who actually get it and leave you alone, or you get fantastic new co-workers who get it and let you be.

      1. how they’re violating HIPAA

        Only medical professionals can violate HIPAA. It doesn’t apply to nosy co-workers.

        1. That. Doesn’t (unfortunately) apply to nosy bosses, either, although something else might — employment law is complicated and not my field. But HIPAA is specifically a set of regulations about what information your medical team can give out… not what information other people can pester you for.

          1. Medical information is private — your job cannot require you to disclose it unless it actually affects your ability to perform your job and/or requires accommodations. Presenting a non-specific doctor’s note should be sufficient.

    4. “I can’t do yoga for medical reasons”
      “but whyyyyyy?”
      “For medical reasons. I believe I just said that.”

  2. +1 on the medical note route. For all they know you have wicked back problems…from the tension caused by all of this bs pressure.

    1. For serious. This is just as much of a legitimate medical issue preventing you from doing yoga (not that you want to) as a spinal injury would be.

    2. I know multiple people who can’t do anything that involves sitting on the floor because it gives them such serious vertigo. There are quite a lot of medical problems that would keep a person from doing yoga unless it was a practice especially designed around their limitations.

      Not that “I’d rather not” is not a completely good enough reason.

      1. I honestly wonder why a person being medically unable to do this hasn’t come up yet. There’s so many reasons a person might have trouble with yoga. I wonder how many people have just been soldiering through it and maybe hurting themselves because of this bullshit idea?

        Maybe being the one to say “sorry, no, doctor’s orders” will be a good thing for other people, too. Not that it wouldn’t be OK even if it wasn’t. Your reason is way more than enough.

        For the record, I love yoga. But it’s also hard. It’s hard when you’re first learning, and it’s hard when you’ve been doing it forever and you’re still trying to do new things. I don’t get why anyone would think this is a good workplace bonding activity.

        Oh, unless they think it’s going to be awful and traumatic and you’re going to come out of it like war buddies. But hopefully that’s not it, because that would be incredibly fucked up.

        1. re: Why this hasn’t come up yet – I of course have no idea what the LW’s profession is, but my mind instantly leaped to software start-ups because of the sheer number of WE HAVE TEAM YOGA! lines I see in job ads for software developers. Start-ups can have a ton of problems with bosses who have no real management training or experiences and tiny groups of young and healthy people who are not used to the idea that some people’s health needs might be different than others. I used to work at a start-up where my fellow employees AND MY BOSS constantly gave me a hard time about not drinking alcohol and pressured me to do so – I still don’t understand how anyone can not understand how inappropriate that is. The moral is, small insular groups of people can develop really odd subcultures, no matter what the LW’s profession is, and I like the Captain’s advice for trying to deal with this.

          One thing I’d be interested in if anyone has any advice – what do you think the LW should do if there isn’t an HR department she can go to? (My terrible alcohol-at-work company did not have one, so, yeah, this can be an issue.)

          And just to add to the medical reasons why people might not do yoga: I’m not able to do yoga because of hypermobile joints. There are definitely a wide variety of reasons why yoga might not be an option for people!

          1. If there is no HR and you are in the USA, then your manager or manager’s manager is the person to go to (from what I understand of US law, and I’m not a lawyer so take that with a lot of salt). This is a less ideal option, because they’ll probably lack the training that HR people have and be emotionally closer to whatever issue you raise and be in more of a position to cause direct consequences for you (by accident or intent). But, they are in the position to fix your problem and as obligated to fix it as HR would be.

            I have no idea what do to outside the USA. Sorry for that. 😦

          2. Dear lovely Vorsoisson — I adore your name (and Ekaterin!)

            And, interestingly enough, my negative experiences with yoga evangelism have to do with hypermobility, too — I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and the LAST thing you want to do with stretchy, fragile, damaged, hypermobile joints is . . . contort yourself in random positions that push your range of motion.

            I’ve had to actually raise my voice and argue with people who think that I’m “not trying to get better” or “not managing my disease/disability properly” because I politely demurred the first, second, or third time they tried to push yoga on me as a cure-all panacea.

            The idea of *corporate* group yoga gives me the eegs so much — team-building activities tend to be awkward and uncomfortable anyway, but there’s nothing like being mandated to risk permanent injury (or PTSD/flashbacks/anxiety, in the case of the LW) to avoid being told that you don’t “fit in” at work!

            Corporate physical-activity “challenges” and “activities” are deeply ableist at their heart — and there’s nothing like having to reveal an invisible disability to your boss and coworkers. (Mine is no longer invisible because I need to use a wheelchair these days, but when I was well enough to work, no one knew about my specific medical issues, although I did get a fair amount of shit for having to work my schedule around PT when recovering from injuries.)

            And, wow — your former workplace and alcohol, that is ugly and unfortunate. I drink minimally, if at all, and have gotten a middling amount of grief about it at times, but thankfully never from my bosses, and only rarely from my coworkers.

            As the Captain says, “No” is a complete sentence — and “No, thank you” should be taken as “And now this topic gets dropped, preferably forever, into a bottomless pit.”

            [sorry if this double-posts, but my other comments had all shown up, and this one never manifested]

          3. Ugh yes tech start ups. I work for a smallish tech company that still has a startup mentality, and there are many many assumptions of everyone being a young white guy who drinks alcohol. The founding managers are constantly being reminded by the HR person that actually the company has a high number of Muslim employees now who don’t drink alcohol and aren’t super into BBQs with meat of unknown origin. And the average age is young enough that when people talk about turning 30 I yell “Renew! Renew!” and then say “I’m 29 I swear!” (I am not 29).

            Anyway, yes, cultures like that can be very homogenous and it can be hard to go against the flow. In a larger company there’s usually more awareness of there being a range of needs and preferences among staff.

            Anyway, yeah – LW I wouldn’t be cool with enforced yoga either and that’s only because the first and last time I tried it I injured my neck – let alone a more serious reason like yours. Tell them you can’t, for medical reasons, and don’t get sucked into a debate about how the yoga teacher can maybe accomodate your medical issues if you’ll only tell them what they are. Private medical reasons, repeat as necessary.

        2. As it’s theoretically possible to adapt yoga for a range of conditions/abilities/mobility ranges, and they’ve probably heard the instructor say “if you can’t do x do y, don’t push yourself,” the idea that there might be problems that won’t cover doesn’t occur to them.

          I find yoga helpful — when I can be bothered –but I would HATE it if I were forced to do it.

    3. And if that does not work, being vague, I mean, all you need to do is engage them in the “reasonable accommodation” section of the ADA. Which is basically “for medical reasons I cannot. This is an accommodation request, you have to obey the bloody law.” And then get your doctor to tell them where to head in and what to do in port.

      1. Yeah no. Don’t invoke the ADA unless you have to. You can *request* an accommodation under the ADA but your employer can also declare it unreasonable and refuse it and make your life hell until you quit or they can document other reasons to fire you.

        Enforcement of the ADA is by lawsuit; you either hope like hell the Justice Department will go to bat for you, or you hire a lawyer. You are not at all guaranteed to win the resulting lawsuit.

        1. You don’t have to have a lawsuit waiting in the wings to invoke the ADA — or for that matter, EEOC. Or raise the possibility of worker’s comp, for that matter.

          Also, your employer doesn’t just get to declare things unreasonable. They do have to be able to provide some kind of support for this. And a lawsuit is not your only backup. The EEOC and NLRB are both there as resources as well.

        2. Ehhhhh, I have mixed feelings on this, Goat Lady. I had to invoke the ADA in a workplace, because I have a connective-tissue disorder and the ergonomic setup of my desk/computer/keyboard was causing repetitive-motion injuries.

          I let them know that I was incurring work-related injuries due to my desk setup, and was allowed to bring in the recommendations from my Occupational Therapist, and I did get a keyboard tray/mouse rest/footrest/more supportive chair, without a lot of hassle.

          Yes, employers can declare an accommodation unreasonable, but they can’t do it without proving that the accommodation would cause them to experience “undue hardship.” Skipping out on a corporate yoga retreat, or getting a new chair, is not going to cause actual hardship to their business.

          Not saying that HR and/or bosses/coworkers can’t attempt to retaliate, and in the end, if you suffer an unjust termination or workplace discrimination because you requested a reasonable accommodation, your main form of recourse is a civil lawsuit and/or EEOC complaint . . . but it doesn’t go straight from “request reasonable accommodation” to “get fired/demoted and file a lawsuit,” at least not in every workplace.

          <– former legal secretary and office manager

          1. Totally agree with you here – I don’t think that invoking the ADA is an automatic trip to being ostracized and forced out at all – not in most workplaces.

            IMO, the thing about the ADA is that often, particularly at small companies and/or companies without HR departments, the people who can grant accommodations are truly ignorant about what the law requires and even what constitutes a disability and what accommodations are important. Many of these people are not actively malicious, and once they realize what’s going on – either legally or morally – they’ll find a way to get you reasonable accommodations.

            There are good and bad ways to do it, of course – storming in saying “I HAVE A DISABILITY ACCOMMODATE ME NOW” is unlikely to go over well because it’s needlessly combative.

            But what about something like, “I think I haven’t been clear before [even if you have been], but this actually isn’t just a preference – yoga is something that my doctors have explicitly told me to avoid because it will exacerbate a medical condition and do a lot more harm than good. This just isn’t possible.” Then, if they push back, you can say, “I’m really happy for people who find yoga helpful, but this is a medical need. It’s my understanding that we’re legally required to make reasonable accommodations based on medical conditions.”

            I don’t think that in most sane workplaces, that will get you forced out.

        3. Your employer can claim that the thing you are requesting an accommodation for is an essential job function, which it just might be, in some cases. For example, I’ve had jobs where some variation of “teamwork” is part of my annual review. If I requested accommodations to get out of company retreats, my employer could argue that company retreats are part of team building and are part of the essential job function of teamwork. And they would win. This I know.

          1. I don’t know about your employer specifically, but in general, your employer doesn’t get to just unilaterally claim that what you’re requesting an accommodation for is an essential job function without any potential legal ramifications, whether or not it’s part of your annual review. They don’t get to determine whether an accommodation poses an undue hardship on their own.

            Now, in practical terms, not everyone is going to have the standing to fight something like this, and there are certainly situations where the employer is acting within the law. But it’s not as simple as you’re making it out to be.

    4. Yup, I love yoga but I’m so medically fucked up that it’s unsafe for me to do an average yoga class, and I have to be really careful about where I go and what I do. People who talk about “living without boundaries” and “pushing yourself” in the yoga community give me hives and visions of torn tendons.

      1. Everyone has SOME boundaries, so when people who talk about “living without boundaries”, I tend to hear that as “living without YOUR boundaries, MY boundaries are so natural and expected that we don’t even have to call them boundaries”.

        1. Thanks for this!!! In various relationships people have asked me to renegotiate boundaries, but it had not (until now) occurred to me that this means ‘my boundaries should be negotiable, but of course theirs are sacrosanct.’!

          Definitely it’s been ‘living without YOUR boundaries’ for those folks.

        2. I really like the way you articulated that! I feel like it’s especially relevant for the situations the LW has faced where hinting at the fact that yoga brings up trauma things produces a “but yoga HELPS with trauma healing!” reaction. The implication that even a painful and violent experience isn’t enough reason to sit out of an activity makes it clear that coworkers’ motives for pushing the point aren’t about creating a great healing environment, they’re about policing what kind of social and professional boundaries the LW is allowed to have.

      2. I love yoga but because of various physical stuff, my practice involves a lot of modifications. The idea of a yoga class with some corporate retreat hippy who adjusts without asking? Yeah, they better have some bloody good insurance.

        1. I am someone who loves yoga and have never had much of an issue, until I sprained my MCL a month ago (this yogi is also a derby girl and sometimes when you take out the pesky jammer, she falls like a sack of potatoes instead of fighting you on it). I had always thought of yoga as a fairly low-risk sport, until I had an instructor last week try to straighten out my leg that I can’t straighten just yet, and I yelped and practically kicked him. He’s a very nice man, just a bit thoughtless, and I’m pretty sure he won’t ever adjust anyone without asking ever ever ever again. I can’t imagine if that kind of pain was chronic, though, and I would probably have far less patience with him if it were.

          1. I can’t do any pose that involves being on the blades of my feet, or any poses that arch my back in specific ways, or any poses that require my short arms reach anywhere long, particularly to the ends of my long legs. (I am built a little funny.) I have a “don’t adjust me” death glare, but I once had an instructor pester the living fuck out of me in the middle of class about bow pose, which is like a perfect storm of weird foot compression from the grip, if my short arms manage to actually reach my feet, and arched back and neck. If the class involves bow (or locust, or camel, or…), I just take child’s pose until it’s over, but this one woman kept telling me “No, grab your feet! just grab your feet!” until I finally snapped and said “I CAN’T.”

        2. I can’t do yoga due to severe fibromyalgia. Am just imagining being forced into a corporate retreat of it… where I spend the first day doing yoga, the second day in bed delirious with pain; the third through fifth days still at the hotel incurring room charges while everyone else goes home, because I cannot be moved yet; and the sixth through fourtheenth days off work, recuperating from the flare.

          Yeah, good insurance is the least of it.

      3. In my experience, only the sorts of people who don’t have serious problems say shit like that.

      4. I can do yoga, but I can’t do *hot* yoga (heart condition). Which of course is the most popular kind and just try and find a regular class that isn’t hot or prenatal.

        1. My yoga teacher is rabidly anti-hot yoga. She thinks it probably benefits only a tiny sub-set of people and can be wildly dangerous for pretty much anyone not in tip-top physical condition. She’s the only yoga teacher I’ve ever met who seems to think that way.

          1. She isn’t alone. I teach, and I hate Bikram with the fires of a thousand burning suns, and am not a particular fan of the super-hot classes in other styles, either. I kind of like 85 degree classes, and can live with 95, but I agree that 105 (and even 95) are too dangerous for most. Add in the nitwits that do hot yoga with weights and ugh. Accident waiting to happen.

            And as an instructor, I hate the thought of people being forced into yoga. You don’t want to do it, fine by me, but it puts the teacher in an awkward position if they end up with a class full of people that want to be anywhere else. For ANY reason.

    5. Or serious circulation problems. Yoga exacerbates my issues and is very much NOT recommended for what I have.

    6. I know someone who got tossed out of a yoga class 10 min in after disclosing to the instructor the extent of their back problems. The instructor was like “kay no this is super unsafe for you please leave”.

      1. That doesn’t sound like being tossed out, which implies misbehavior of some sort to me. Anyway, good on that yoga instructor for being safe.

        1. ‘Tossed out’ in the sense that the instructor was very brusque about it and didn’t do it quietly or diplomatically. She was like “yep, this isn’t for you, you need to leave” in front of the whole class. My friend cried and found it really shame-y and upsetting. But it still was the right call for her (physical) health – just should have been handed better. 🙂

  3. No matter what, mandatory ‘fun’ never is.

    Especially in a case like yours.

    Your feelings are entirely legitimate.

    Try to get your therapist (or your psychiatrist if you are seeing one of those as well) on board.

    A reasonable boss doesn’t make attendance of staff retreats mandatory. And doesn’t demand reasons for why not when someone doesn’t come.

    If your boss insists he’s a jerk.

    1. I don’t know about how much insisting staff retreats are mandatory is jerk behavior. Making certain activities mandatory? Absolutely shouldn’t be required! But staff retreats are actually for the benefit of the business in terms of team-building and it’s pretty common to need a good reason to miss them. I think the Captain’s script about joining in everything BUT the yoga is great for that though. It makes it look a lot less like “I have no interest in being near you people outside of what I’m required to do for work” and more like “I would love to join! But I physically can’t partake in this aspect of it, is there something else I can do to participate?”.

      My office definitely tracks who shows up and who doesn’t and why because events like holiday parties and staff BBQs and retreats aren’t thrown just out of the benevolence of the company, they have a work-related purpose. It gets more complicated if you’re adding in factors like giving up evening or weekends for these sorts of things, but most corporate environments will still want you to have a reason beyond “I just don’t feel like it” for skipping since it’s still technically a work obligation. Which is why the phrase “family obligation” can be seriously useful.

      1. But staff retreats are purportedly for the benefit of the business in terms of team-building.

    2. Are employees being paid for this retreat? I assume it’s not during the work day (though if it is, how do the people on the higher levels of the organization feel about this?), so they should be getting time-and-a-half for it, really.

    3. My friend “Tom” is a very new father who’d negotiated flexible working hours for his upcoming life change. He missed a corporate sponsored cruise and was later told off by his managers for not meeting xyz standards involving hours, meetings, BS made up after his work negotiations. I believe the phrase they used was that he needs to be “on the boat”. Lol
      He quit and was hired by new, better corporation the very next day. He’s a hard working, honest man with much integrity. I’m glad SOMEONE recognized that and offered him new job. Especially given his wife and new baby life situation.

  4. I love the Captain’s suggestions for how to approach this at work.

    I spent years training to teach others in…hmm, specifics not relevant…a body-based approach to mindfulness, and I am entirely on your side. I personally had massive emotional stuff come up in that training and had times that I could barely hold myself together. I saw classmates struggle as well, and learned when we were finished about struggles I didn’t perceive when they were happening. Years before that when I trained in massage I witnessed and experienced similar things.

    I think people who believe yoga and so forth are universally helpful are either unaware of these not-uncommon experiences or are filtering out the people who experience them, believing they don’t count for some reason or other. Not supporting people who decide to leave, or dismissing them either internally or to the class (wow, that’s egregious) is a very obvious way of putting people into the “doesn’t count” category. The somatic teachers and bodyworkers I trust are those who have deep respect for their students/clients’ experiences, in their entirety, not just the experiences that fit their model for what “should” happen.

    (btw, meditation is also not harmless — it’s too powerful not to have the potential for bad effects as well as good)

    1. That’s a really good point about bodywork bringing up old memories and emotions. I wouldn’t want to do anything that’s supposed to be therapeutic or healing around professional contacts. At best it would just be a waste of time and money.

      1. Yeah, I have cried during yoga for good reasons, but I would not have wanted that to happen around my coworkers.

        1. Yeah, exactly. I enjoy yoga a lot, but there is a lot of Stuff* that happens during yoga practice that I really don’t want to happen around my colleagues.

          *Emotional stuff; also farting.

          1. Emotional stuff; also farting.


            Also bellies flopping out over pant waistbands and T-shirts flopping up over the face.

            Why can’t we bond with our co-workers by, like, working?

          2. Seriously, that and if you have a vag, positions making it go “Thhbbbbppppppttt,” which is totally not awkward at all and obviously something you want to share with everyone.

          3. I’m enjoying this thread so much, because YES to all of these things. I feel the same way about the gym/working out. My face gets tomato-red when I go on long-distance runs and I begin sweating profusely within the first 5-10 minutes of any physical exertion, and that’s not something I want my coworkers to know about me. Hell, I only JUST became comfortable enough to begin going on my weekend runs with my partner.

          4. I have visions of tipping over and landing on my head. My balance is pretty bad and sometimes, especially when I am not upright, my inner ear likes to tell the rest of me VICIOUS LIES about what way I am actually oriented and I end up falling over in a heap. I’m pretty sure yoga would end up looking like I was trying to play Twister with myself and lost.

      2. The first year or so of my martial arts practice – I was as emotionally labile as when I was first in therapy. Amazing experience. Not one I’d share with co-workers.

    2. [i](btw, meditation is also not harmless — it’s too powerful not to have the potential for bad effects as well as good)[/i]

      This is actually a pretty powerful thought.

      Any drug or treatment has side effects and downsides; it’s a given. Anything powerful enough to be a force for good also -has- to be powerful enough that if things don’t go right, or the “fit” isn’t good, they can actually damage.

      Physical therapy exercises have to be done right, or they’ll create injury to -other- soft tissue (ask the back side of my elbow).
      Chemicals have side effects.

      That might be a thing to say when you’re pressured, OP:
      “Yoga can be pretty powerful force for good to many people; it’s only logical that it can have unintended side effects that are actually detrimental for other people. The very things that make it work well are going to have a downside.”

      But I’m usually a fan of just not engaging. You don’t have to make them agree with you; you just want them to shut up. So, “I’d really rather not talk about this,” over and over again, is really useful. Feel free to sound less patient as you repeat the exact same words.

      1. A bit of a derail coming up. I think it’s R.C. Lewontin who says there’s no such thing as a side-effect, there are desirable and undesirable effects. By calling some effects “side-effects” we pretend that those aren’t “real” and set ourselves up for medical and other disasters.

        It’s in Not in our genes. Highly recommended

        1. Oh, yes, and also – side effects are usually supposed to be “mild,” IE if they exist they’re not supposed to override the supposed good whatever is going to do to/for you. I listen to commercials about psychotropic drugs that have things like suicidal ideation as side effects – um scuse me if you’re so depressed you’re suicidal, taking a med with that as a side effect has the potential of being lethal. Side effect my Aunt Fanny.

          1. Oh tell me about it. As a fat person I have been given a sales pitch for so many drugs that will make me thin oh and possibly make me crap myself like a baby or erode the valves of my heart or damage my liver BUT ANYWAY THEY WILL MAKE ME THIN WHO CARES ABOUT THE SIDE EFFECTS RIGHT? Because THIN.

            No thanks.

          2. Suicidal ideation is not necessarily “being suicidal”. This irks me because I have suicidal ideations pretty frequently, but no suicidal impulses. Ideations are intrusive thoughts about it, impulses are moments of being moved to actually try it. Conflating the two makes it difficult for me to talk to people who I want to know what’s going on with me — family, friends — without terrifying them and get them thinking I should be committed whether I will or no.

            If someone isn’t accustomed to suicidal ideation, it’s terrifying, and can of course lead to impulses and attempts, but they still aren’t the same thing. I’ve had suicidal ideations on and off for twenty years, and have spent much of that time in therapy. I have a whole range of coping mechanisms for preventing intrusive thoughts from becoming impulses, I have a support network in place, I have meds. My pdoc knows I have this, and knows I have coping mechanisms, and is not very worried about it. If I took a med that caused my suicidal ideations to increase, I’d call him up and tell him I needed to get back off it, and that would be it.

          3. @madgastronomer – oh, thank you so much for this explanation. I had no idea of the distinction either but I actually have experienced suicidal ideation… Pretty much since I was a child tbh, and especially through high school. I never told anyone because I knew I wasn’t going to follow through on the thoughts and it didn’t… Seem like a big deal idk. But they still freaked me out sometimes and idk idk because they were so low grade and constant it wasn’t until recently when I stopped experiencing it every time something went wrong that I realized not everyone felt that way. After a personal crisis they’ve started coming back again, though less frequently, but now I realize maybe it is something I could talk to my psychologist about. I know this is a bit off topic and I’m sorry but I just really wanted to thank you for giving a name to this for me.

          4. Reply at Madgastronom: that’s actually really good info, I didn’t realize there WAS a difference. I Equated Ideation with intent, I think, because it had never been clarified for me before.

            That reminds me of a post I saw somewhere where someone said that a way they dealt with their intrusive thoughts was to reply as if it was a kind of annoying friend suggesting them. “And how about we NOT do that, Timothy.”

          5. @allya – Yeah, intrusive thoughts/suicidal ideation is totally something you can talk with your counselor about. I’ve had it come and go depending on what else is happening in my life, at this point it actually makes a fairly good marker for how stressed I’m feeling. Having the thought flash through your head doesn’t mean you’re likely to act on it, but it can still be upsetting.

          6. Not sure if we’re talking about the same thing, but some antidepressants have to have on their label that there may be increased suicidality amongst some users within the first two months or so. Apparently it’s because people who had previously been feeling suicidal now, if the drugs are working, have greater energy, focus and ability to put plans into actions … which can lead to them putting into action suicide plans that they’ve previously not been able to tackle because depression.

            Yeah, it’s a messed-up irony,

          7. @homeruncommitment That is exactly how my doctor explained it to me when I went on medication. Like MadGastronomer I have suicidal ideation but I’ve never been actually suicidal so it wasn’t a massive concern for me but my doctor still impressed upon me the importance of calling him right away if that changed at all.

          8. Bodywork connects with the mind, because our bodies and our minds are connected – the brain is a physical organ, after all (plus, of course, we don’t actually know what causes the phenomenon we call “mind” in the first place; we suspect it’s the brain, because brain damage alters the way our mind and mental state manifests to others, but that’s not definite proof). If one can affect the other, the effect is never one-way. Which is why I get as cranky as all hell let loose when I haven’t eaten for a while, and calm down remarkably once I’ve had a meal.

            PS: my nickname for suicidal ideation is having a “sales-demon for suicide” in my brain. On a good day, I won’t be tempted by his product. On a bad day… well, on a bad day I might listen to the pitch for longer than usual, and start figuring out whether or not I can organise a test drive, so to speak. Oh, and my sales-demon, Charlie, looks like a cross between a Mormon Missionary and a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman – blond curly hair, and a suit which is about a half-a-size too big for him. I’ve cost him so many promotions already…

          9. I think one of the problems is that in US clinical trials, every single thing, from an itchy nose to dandruff to suicidal ideation to weight gain, that a person might experience while taking the drug, must be reported as a “potential effect”. Even if the effect is in no way related to the drug. It’s something that is a LOT more prevalent where it’s legal to advertise drugs on TV where they’re essentially asking the average person to self-prescribe themselves a medication and hence, have to cover their arse legally. It’s illegal to advertise drugs in Australia (and other countries too I think) so the first time you’ll hear about side effects is from your doctor when they’re recommending something to you and they’re never as extensive as the ones you hear about in US commercials. This isn’t to say that a lot of these “side effects” aren’t connected to the drug; the suicidal ideation is pretty well-known as a stupidly ironic potential side-effect to anti-depressants, just that not all of them are.

        2. In the pharma industry these would be called related adverse events. Not “side effects” and any minimizing of harm is done in the marketing of the drug to the consumer, not during the approval process.

          In other words, when studying a new drug we study everything that happens (from a mild headache to itchiness to bad dreams to fatal cardiac infarction) to the person exposed to the drug and these are all tallied and gone over very carefully and in the USA and EU have very strict reporting requirements so that developing cancers or fatalities or other serious adverse events get reported to an oversight board and the FDA.

    3. Absolutely this – I don’t think you can have both ‘this is sooo powerful that it’s amazingly healing’ and ‘this is completely risk-free for everyone – it just doesn’t work like that.

      LW, for the record, I love yoga – and I would never go on a mandatory staff yoga retreat, because I don’t trust anyone other than me to select a teacher whom I trust to teach the yoga stuff that I can do and not ‘encourage’ me to do the stuff that I (for physical-medical reasons which I choose not to share with all my colleagues) can’t do. I’m absolutely sure that you’re not alone.

      The only thing I would add to the captain’s excellent advice is maybe to think through, in advance, the fact that a lot of people might assume that ‘medical reasons’ means back pain or similar. I think there’s a (small) risk that someone will try to ‘solve the problem for you’ by suggesting that you only do the relaxation classes. I would suggest that the simplest response to that is ‘actually, the breathing aspect is what’s problematic for me’ – because that’s at least half true, very simple, and doesn’t really leave them much wiggle room in terms of trying to persuade you.

      1. Or you can go with, “Thanks, but my doctor and I have a treatment plan and I’m happy with it.” or “I appreciate that you want to help, but this is between me and my doctor and that’s all the medical support I need. Don’t let it trouble you.” Best to let people know the advice is 100% unwelcome or they will keep trying to find different solutions.

        1. That’s a good point – more information can be seen as an invitation to offer more solutions. I was thinking about ‘helpful’ colleagues trying to find a way for the LW to participate in the retreat though, rather than a solution to their unspecified medical condition.

        2. I love the equivalent of “Don’t worry about it” with a smile and a subject change. It’s really hard for someone to say ‘But I AM worried about it” or something.

      2. Yes, you want to make whatever explanation you give as “help proof” as possible and as “argue proof” as you can. Because seriously give them an inch and they will tell you “well you can do x, or y is very good for that.” In a word, NO. Period. Full stop.

      3. I wouldn’t want to go to work-sponsored yoga even if I did trust them to find a great instructor. There are things I simply.do.not.do. with coworkers, and group exercise of any kind is part of that. I am short, fat, clumsy, easily embarrassed, and do not have access to athletic wear that looks anywhere near “corporate” or “professional.” If I happen to run into someone from work at a yoga class or the gym, that is one thing, but you cannot tell me that showing up at a corporate-sponsored exercise event wearing knit pants from WallyWorld when everyone else is wearing things at a North Face price point isn’t going to impact my career.

        1. Absolutely this! Person who matches popculture’s version of attractive + exercise clothes = athletic. Fat person + exercise clothes = disgusting and lazy, didn’t even bother to “get dressed”.

      4. I am currently imagining my department chair at school being asked to do a yoga retreat. The kids have nicknamed her “Edna” because she looks almost exactly like Edna from The Incredibles, and she’s about that amazingly, wonderfully terrifying. I love her so much. And my imagined reaction to her being asked to go on a faculty yoga retreat is so unbelievably fantastic and snarky. I wish I could send it via psychic link to the LW so she could channel Edna as a way to tell people she isn’t going.

          1. It would likely go something like:

            ::gives lava-freezing stare to offending administrator:: You want me to do *what* exactly?…Did you just say………….YOGA? I’m so glad…SO GLAD!!!! that I got a masters degree and spent thirty years in a classroom so that I could sit in a room with a bunch of assholes who don’t know how to shower, and ask my department to sit in a room with a bunch of assholes, and do some, I don’t know, chant-y, kumbaya bullshit…because it will, of course, make all those assholes better teachers. I don’t need *better* teachers. My teachers are amazing. I tell you what, we’ll be here, in our classrooms, doing our damn jobs – you know, the thing you pay us to do – while the rest of the fuckulty learns how to teach through better fucking breathing. And you? You can fuck right off.”

            She is my favorite. She does this for me on a regular basis to keep me from having to deal with public school beaureaucratic bullshit. And btw, she gave me fuckulty. I gave her “you can fuck right off.”

            We’re currently dealing with this end-of-year field day for teens that the admin is trying to sell us on and keeps telling us that if we just buy in, the kids will buy in. Except the reason the kids aren’t buying in is the same reason we aren’t, and they’d do it independently of us: it’s dumb. And Edna has scheduled a field trip for the department that day.

            Have I mentioned that I adore her?

          2. Could she be convinced to start a video blog and just rant about things? I would watch that. I would pass it around to everyone I know.

        1. Bowing down in awe to your Inner Edna (and to her real-life inspiration) . . . she sounds like a delight to work with, and to have in your brain as an available stimulant to your Snark Gland 😉

          I am giggling so hard at your impression of her 😀

          1. She’s pretty much the best. She told an administrator just this morning that she wouldn’t hurt him….today….

      5. “LW, for the record, I love yoga – and I would never go on a mandatory staff yoga retreat, because I don’t trust anyone other than me to select a teacher whom I trust to teach the yoga stuff that I can do and not ‘encourage’ me to do the stuff that I (for physical-medical reasons which I choose not to share with all my colleagues) can’t do. I’m absolutely sure that you’re not alone.”

        I agree with this so, so much. I love yoga and it is a really important part of my life, largely because I have taken literal years to find a studio that works for me with teachers that work for me, especially because it is so emotional for me. I have confronted a lot of scary emotions and some of the darker places in my head through yoga, but not through a teacher that I know nothing about who also knows nothing about me, who is working to facilitate *workplace bonding* instead of personal progress.

        (I think that’s what really weirds me out about this entire thing. Yoga is not (for me, at least) a team activity, so who the hell thought this was a good idea in the first place? Or that it has ever been a one-size-fits-all kind of activity?)

    4. RIGHT?!! It’s almost unbelievable that a *teacher* would say something like that. Though to be 100% clear, I believe the LW fully. It’s just, seriously, wtf, that a teacher would say that. I have been sobbing on the mat, and, uh, I would not want that to be a work experience. I don’t even want wearing yoga pants to be a work experience.

    5. I was a mental health counsellor at a place where a big cohort of people had a mandatory bodywork exercise. How do I know? Because my office got flooded with people from that cohort whose traumatic memories had been woken up by the bodywork exercise and now had to deal with feeling freaked out and skinless in what was supposed to be a demanding, professional environment. I was SO NOT PLEASED.

    6. Re: meditation is not harmless —

      It drives me fucking bonkers that people act like meditation/yoga/etc is just fine for everyone, in all circumstances, because, as you pointed out, ACTUAL EXPERIENCED PRACTIONERS know that this bodywork stuff actually brings up SERIOUS SHIT, and if you are not in a place where you are prepared for dealing with that shit, it is dangerous.

      The writers of “The Mindful Way Through Depression” (written by a bunch of people who research using meditation for health purposes, I’ve found it pretty useful) , actually specifically suggest NOT starting a meditation program for the first time when you are in the middle of a severe episode, SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE the practice can do more harm than good if you are in the wrong state of mind.

      Also, from my personal experience, when I’ve been working through tough things in therapy or just not doing great mental-health-wise in general, there is about a 10-20% chance that any given yoga class will result in me having a mini breakdown (as in, sobbing uncontrollably on my mat and being forced to leave or spend the rest of the class in restorative poses). Now, I know this, and I’ve talked through it in therapy, and I know now that if I’m going to go when I’m in that state of mind, I plan for it–only going to classes where I trust the teacher to handle it well, and planning cool-down time afterwards in case I need it.

      …all of which means that though I’m a person who fucking loves yoga and feel it is an essential part of my self-care regimen, I STILL wouldn’t be cool with a mandatory yoga/meditation retreat for work at all times.

    7. Emotional stuff coming up in yoga … yes, this.

      I voluntarily went to a couple of yoga classes to see if yoga was for me. During the first session, whilst we were holding some pose or another, I started feeling kinda sad that the other women in the beginner’s class were so much better at this than me, and it brought back memories of sucking at aerobics in PE, and … suddenly there was a tear rolling down my face. Which surprised me. I mean, I wasn’t *that* sad.

      People I asked later told me this was completely normal, no big deal. I’m just glad the only person in the class who noticed was the instructor, who pretended not to notice. It would have been ungood in front of coworkers, even coworkers I like.

      And beyond the emotional stuff — which I suppose I can forgive the corporate higher-ups for not knowing about — I second what other people have said about not wanting coworkers to see me exercise. I’m not good at it. I’m about as bad at it as one can be while not having a medical condition or impairment that would account for being bad at it. I worked at places where the boss wore flip flips and my professional dress was the same jeans and T-shirts I would wear anywhere else, but that didn’t mean I wanted to look ridiculous in front of people who generally considered me competent.

      Eccchhh. And that’s without any emotional or physiological baggage. LW, I am so pissed off on your behalf.

      1. “And beyond the emotional stuff — which I suppose I can forgive the corporate higher-ups for not knowing about”

        You’re more forgiving than me, then. Emotional reactions to yoga are hardly rare and obscure – in fact many instructors would say they’re bound up with the whole point of the practice, the thing that makes yoga more than just a series of warm-up stretches. If managers are going to require their staff undertake an activity, they should do some elementary research on it.

        But more than that I think the move to watered down “mindfulness exercises” at work reflects an instant gratification corporate/Western culture. People hear that yoga, meditation, etc. can help you achieve mindfulness and peace and don’t stop to ask what the PATH is that gets there. There is no easy shortcut to working through the pain you hold in muscle memory. It is going to hurt to heal in that way and many people will need lots of support through it. It’s messy and challenging and long term – if it wasn’t, everyone would be mindful and peaceful already. Asking people to undergo some tiny disconnected snippet of that process at work with a peppy customer service smile on their faces is a massive denial and perversion of what “transformational change” actually *means*.

    8. +1000000 to “meditation is not harmless.” The principal of my school is obsessed with mindfulness meditation and frequently makes us participate in mindfulness sessions during staff meetings or professional development days. It’s the fucking worst. Sitting and being mindful and aware of my body brings up sooooo much shit for me that I inevitably start crying, which is incredibly embarrassing and unprofessional, and just makes me feel like absolute crap for the rest of the day. I’ve started coming up with excuses to miss staff meetings or taking 30-minute bathroom breaks in the middle of PD to avoid it. Even the people who don’t have terrible reactions dislike it, because it uses up our extremely limited planning and PD time, so it just makes everybody cranky. I’m leaving at the end of the year, and I’m starting to think I should say something to my principal before I go, because instead of improving staff morale like I think he hopes it will, it’s just destroying it.

      1. Can you maybe replay Game of Thrones episodes in your head, or make a shopping list, or mentally redecorate your living room? I mean, you totally shouldn’t have to even be there, but if they’re going to make you participate, can you at least pretend to participate and do something else in your head so you don’t have to actually deal with all that stuff?

  5. OMG, LW. I hate this shit. I hate enforced recreation at work. Organizations/offices want to have a work retreat? Great! But they should NOT assume that everyone will be into x or y plan. That goes (especially) for yoga. (And I enjoy yoga, but don’t think it’s a panacea and would rather not shove it down anyone’s throat. I also enjoy thrash metal. I don’t subject my coworkers to it.)

    Even if you didn’t have PTSD, you have every right to not participate in that. I think the Captain’s advice is rock solid; the only thing I’d add to it is when you get the inevitable “But they have modified movements/positions” in response to the medical issue, be the broken record. “My doctor recommends that I not participate in yoga.”

    And if they ask whhyyyy you can just answer, “It’s a personal medical matter. I would rather keep it private.”

    I am so sorry about what happened to you. That just sucks. And I am so sorry that people have been such assholes about this. Just to reiterate, it’s okay to not like yoga, it’s okay to not want to do yoga, and the shaming bullshit from that instructor is just a nuclear-waste level ball of FAIL.

    1. UGH I have the SAME FEELINGS about corporate retreats and workplace recreation. That shit is ridiculous. I want to show up, do my work, go home, get paid. I don’t want retreats and team building and bullshit!! Why does anyone ever think that is a good idea. wtf.

      LW, I sincerely hope this works out to you. This attitude you’ve encountered is enraging. I’m so sorry you went through such horrible trauma, and I’m so sorry you’re being forced to experience it again and again thanks to shitty people. I hope the situation works out for you. You shouldn’t have to go through this.

      1. Agreed. You know what builds strong teams in my experience? Good leadership, clear communication, and constructive feedback WHILE DOING THE WORK. Not sitting around a campfire on days that I’m supposed to have off from work. And not being forced to engage in activities that have nothing to do with work and violate the boundaries I prefer to keep between my work and personal life.

        1. Exactly!
          Its unfortunate that team-building activities are based on the assumption that everyone is the same. It will only alienate introverts who are forced into extravert situations, work-focused persons required to act like people-focused workers, etc. Which is the opposite of building up team spirit.
          Diversity in the workforce is actually a strength. The Captain’s advise about suggesting alternating team-building activities could help turn the tide.
          I hope this works out for you, LW.

      2. I don’t object to retreats and team building in general, assuming that they are focused on professional skills. We just had a team retreat in my current job where we learned about some of the work of the other departments and did some ice breaker exercises and had a chance to talk to other members of the team without the day-to-day work getting in the way, and it was lovely. But it was also focused on the PROFESSIONAL, and we weren’t asked to exercise or share personal secrets or have “fun.” We were working, just in a more social and less structured way than we normally do.

        1. Exactly! I had a “teambuilding” day 2 years ago, which actually made sense. I’m working on a project team made of people from several different companies. The facilitator helped us talk about what each group had to offer the project, what we needed from the other groups, and what our goals were. It was really good, and the only touchy-feely-kumbaya activity was taking a group picture. Also, this took place during normal working hours.

      3. I’m so glad there are other people that don’t feel particularly impelled to bond with all their co-workers…I’d just like to have a respectful, functional, congenial relationship and not feel pressured to want to hear about all your life issues…

    2. I’ll also recommend the phrase “I’d prefer to follow my doctor’s recommendations” it’s pretty argument proof and still sounds professional and polite.


    LW, I love yoga and I am absolutely infuriated that anyone would do this to you. I’m infuriated that anyone would think Mandatory Group Exercise is a thing that will bring a team together rather than cause people anxiety and panic– including people who have NOT had a traumatizing experience with it. Have a corporate retreat and offer free, optional yoga as a part of it? Fine, that’s nice. Pressure everyone to spend days doing yoga together whether they have any previous interest in yoga or not? That is downright sadistic. WHY ARE PEOPLE THE WORST.

  7. LW, I don’t like yoga, and while it’s not traumatizing for me, I would definitely roll my eyes and be incredibly turned off by the idea of a yoga retreat. It’s definitely not for everyone and it shouldn’t be pushed as such.
    You’re not alone or weird for not liking yoga – plenty of people don’t, whatever the reason. And frankly, things like yoga retreats aren’t going to be enjoyed by lots of people – this is not a good management decision. It’s not anything wrong with you.
    (There are some great conversations over at askamanager where all sorts of successful, competent working adults admit to really hating this kind of thing and pushing back on it.)

    1. I’ve never understood that kind of retreat thing, anyway. Just because I work with people doesn’t mean I want to socialize with them. In fact, oftentimes BECAUSE I work with people, I DON’T want to spend more time with them! Work is work; you don’t have to be best friends in order to be colleagues.

      1. That pretty much sums up the objection most people have for those sorts of things! Optional social things (open to everyone/everyone of a certain level/department) are great for those who want socializing! Mandatory things are not.

        You want improvement? Set clear goals, give clear and honest feedback, and reward hard work/good outcomes while managing (or manage out) people who aren’t meeting their goals. Create a professional work environment and strive to make everyone feel respected and valued by your feedback and appreciation. No yoga needed!

        1. Sure, if that were the actual goal, it’d work great. As far as I can tell the actual goal is “indoctrinating a cult-like work force who don’t have individual social lives so work constantly without complaint,” just like that was the goal of all the nerf guns and private chefs in the internet startups a while back.

    2. I love yoga and I think a corporate yoga retreat sounds like hell. I love that I don’t know anyone in my class so I can be embarrassing and anonymous in my cheap clothes and sweaty, ugly poses. No way is that something I want to share with the people who pay my wages.

  8. LW, I’m so deeply sorry for what you have gone through – both the original traumatic experience and the painful actions and reactions of people around you since then. It’s incredibly frustrating to be part of a culture where people are expected to universally participate in and enjoy the same things.

    I think this is something that manifests in SO many different ways in so many different situations and subcultures. It’s particularly incredible to me how many people feel entitled to a detailed explanation of another person’s choice to abstain from an activity or lifestyle choice. I personally have dealt (and am still dealing) with an immensely complicated situation involving “mission work” (which I now wholeheartedly regret and disagree with ideologically). The situation involves some strong personalities, guilt trips, painfully severed relationships, and decisions I wish I hadn’t made just because I couldn’t find a valid enough reason to back up my “no”. Learning to put the awkwardness of the conversation on other people (i.e. “how incredibly inappropriate for you to continue pressing me for that very personal information”) has revolutionized the boundaries I feel capable of setting.

    My thoughts are with you as you navigate this situation and continue to seek your own healing in your own way and your own time.

    1. Are you me? I know these feels. Intimately.

      As for LW, I am so very sorry that you are experiencing these situations at your work. Speaking as someone who has a lot of experience dealing with a great number of prying people who meant well but really wanted to get the juicy details about why, “No, I can’t attend __________, thank you” for the ultimate purpose of dissecting the reasons and talking me into a yes, don’t give in to the urge to explain. Offering explanations offers the asker a crack in the vault of no. Stick with “Sorry, can’t make it. Have a great time!” like a lifeline.

      If you’re worried about other coworkers aside from boss getting into your business, stick with a broken record variation on, “Thank you for asking, I appreciate your concern, but I can’t attend.” No details. At all. It gives them nothing to latch onto or pry away.

      As for boss, “I can’t for medical reasons. Full stop.” Should be enough. If it isn’t (I am so, so sorry if it isn’t), Captain’s scripts above are great.

      Good luck, LW.

  9. I think getting a doctor’s note is a great idea, but would the fact that many therapists aren’t doctors complicate that? I mean, if LW’s therapist is a doctor or if LW also has a psychiatrist (mine has definitely written me some very discreet notes for work in the past), then it’s not an issue, but.

    1. So…ask primary care physician to supply a note? “Can you write a note excusing me from a corporate yoga retreat? I have anxiety issues related to yoga (here’s my therapist’s #) and I really can’t.”

      1. This is also a great option if you don’t want ‘medical reasons’ to be ‘medical reasons related to my mental health’ for any reason. It totally shouldn’t be a thing you have to worry about, but in case you are, this is a great way to get around that.

    2. ADA accommodations do not necessarily have to come from a doctor; many practitioners will do. In the actual EEOC documentation they list – after pointing out that the employer may not even require such – quite a laundry list of people.

      An employer may require that the documentation about the disability and the functional limitations come from an appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional. The appropriate professional in any particular situation will depend on the disability and the type of functional limitation it imposes. Appropriate professionals include, but are not limited to, doctors (including psychiatrists), psychologists, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, vocational rehabilitation specialists, and licensed mental health professionals.


      1. While this is *technically* true, there are a lot of reasons why someone might not want to have an ADA fight with their boss (I say as someone who engages in ADA fights, among other access-related advocacy, for a living). This is a million times more the case when the disability in question is mental-health related (I say as someone whose primary disability is mental-health related). If you can circumvent the problem by getting an MD to write a firm but non-specific note, it’s probably worth it… even if you *technically* don’t have to.

        (Hopefully this doesn’t come off as condescending/’splainy… I’m mostly just really gun-shy.)

        1. Absolutely true, I was just responding to the initial question. It’s worth mentioning that no company HAS to require documentation for an accommodation. For something this benign a sensible place would just agree and move on.

      2. There is also the fact that OP may or may not be okay with the HR person seeing the letters after the therapist’s name, and realizing this a mental health issue. If HR = good and professional person, no problem. If HR = unknown quantity or timeserving toady, not so much. In that case, an innocuous and unrevealing M.D. could be helpful.

    3. I work in housing for people with disabilities. Medical letters do not have to come from MDs, just from qualified medical professionals. So if your therapist is an accredited professional in any of the fields that provide therapy (social worker, licensed counselor, QMHP, etc.) that is sufficient for the ADA.

    4. I wanted to reply on this issue – often what you can do is talk to your therapist to be in touch with a primary care doctor to explain why the note is needed. If you’re seeing your therapist regularly, they can essentially help write the letter for a primary care doctor and then spare yourself having to go into extensive detail with your primary care doctor about your therapy.

  10. I’d like to second point #2. There are a lot of people out there who love yoga, and they’re going to want to tell you how great it is–it’s natural, because people like talking about things that make them happy and bragging about hard things they learned how to do. But you have no reason to get involved in a debate about whether people in general should do yoga–you just want to not do it yourself.

    1. I really cannot imagine what is going through these people’s minds. Like, if I say I love yoga and someone says “oh, I tried a class once but I found it really boring” I might suggest they maybe try a different style or instructor, if it’s something they’re interested in, but who just badgers someone into trying a hobby that they also enjoy? NO REALLY I KNOW YOU HAVE NO INTEREST IN ARCHERY BUT I INSIST YOU TRY IT. . .?

      1. “who just badgers someone…”


        The person who will not STFU about trying to get their coworker to try yoga is the same as the person who will not STFU about diets or Captain America or the sweet lord above. Not people who like those things (everyone likes things), but the people who will push and push and push even when you show clear disinterest. It is okay to just shut it right down when it’s not your thing.

        1. It could actually be a fun strategy to respond to someone’s bizarre evangelism with even weirder evangelism. “Whyyyyyy won’t you do yoga?” Response: “Whyyyyy aren’t you quitting your job to hike Everest?? It will change your life!! Why haven’t you adopted a parrot?? Why are you still driving to work instead of roller blading??”

        2. Oh, this, so very much. Lots of people do this and I think it’s a pretty normal/natural impulse.

          But I spent a year sharing a house with a very good friend who’s quite prone to evangelising about things he likes (mostly popular culture, i.e. TV shows and such). Which has made me a) much less inclined to take bullshit from anyone who tries to pressure me into things (especially if it’s an activity, e.g. multiplayer video games, I don’t really do multiplayer with the single exception of MarioKart); and b) much more aware and careful about not getting carried away doing the same to others.

          And I have at least one other friend who *does* get carried away in trying to push me into something but when I point out that he’s doing it, will immediately stop and apologise. It’s a sincere apology when that happens, too, but it still happens every now and then.

          1. I hear you on the multiplayer games! When someone asks me, I give them the truth. “I can’t do Player vs Player at all! I get pissy, I hold grudges,I turn into this completely mean person. I don’t like the person I am when I do PVP. Let’s do something with co-op play instead.”

          2. Do we have the same friend (except mine’s a she)? I have had to fend off demands that I learn to love Jeopardy, Harry Potter, Calculus, several random on-line games, various random books, composers, bell-ringing and on, and on, and on. All from a person who wouldn’t even consider trying any of the hobbies, books, or kinds of music I adore. I mean, I don’t push my beloved things on her, but it’s extra annoying to be evangelized about all the wonderful books she loves, while summarily dismissing the books I love without even considering reading them.

        3. I have had to tell people before, “When you start telling me that I *have* to do XYZ, my immediate reaction is ‘No I don’t and FUCK YOU.’ So, if you don’t want to get my back up, you may want to reframe your thought as ‘XYZ is a thing I think you’d really enjoy’ and we can have a conversation about it.”

          I have also had to tell people, “I’m quite certain XYZ is awesome, and I am still not in the slightest bit interested” about everything from famous movies/TVs to sushi (raw fish NO THANK YOU I don’t care how wonderful it is). And pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I just don’t do video games, so they’ve quit trying.

          Um, you may have noticed this is a big red button for me.

          1. Try being the only person in the universe who didn’t really like The Avengers movie. I have total strangers asking me what’s wrong with me. I’m just like “I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t really do much for me” and it’s like I’ve just declared I have a shrine to Hitler in my basement.

      2. I think hearing the same thing over and over from so many people makes it harder to take, where if it were only one person, you wouldn’t mind.

          1. I used to have a similar issue…I hadn’t seen many movies, partly because they’re not my thing and partly for reasons that are kind of sad–so I don’t like the “What do you mean you haven’t seen X? How can you not have seen X? You HAVE to see X!”

            I don’t think those people are doing anything wrong–they just want to share something that makes them happy–but it wears on you.

          2. Cary, I get “OMG you HAVE TO SEE THAT HOW DID YOU NOT SEE THAT” a lot too, and I’ve started responding with, “Cool, I’ll put it on the list.” Mostly the speaker interprets that as me validating them and their intense desire that I see some movie, but really “the list” is “the list of things sanctimonious people insist are *necessary* to have had a proper childhood/teenagerhood/whatever.” Only me and my spouse know the full name of “the list,” though.

          3. (We’re out of nesting, this is a reply to caryatis)

            Ugh I get a lot of that too, and it leads me to awkward situations because the actual answer to that question is “I grew up in a near-cult version of Christianity where I wasn’t allowed to watch movies or have independent thought”. Nobody wants to hear about sad cult childhoods – i really only use it as a nuclear option when someone will not stop bothering me.

            I end up feeling lonely though, lots of friendships start by bonding over pop culture and I might as well be from another planet

          4. I’m like this too with movies and TV. I usually say, “yeah I should see that!” Regardless of my intention to ever watch it. I also bring in reviews I read alot to redirect. “Oh I heard that movie was like this, what did you think?” Often I’m actually interested in the answer, I may just have no immediate plan to watch the movie myself.

        1. This so much. Dealing with a lone evangelist is one thing, but it’s a different story when you feel like you accidentally moved into a cult.

          Rant time:
          I live in Switzerland. EVERYONE here skis. Tiny children, ancient grandparents, dogs, etc. All throughout winter, public transport is packed with families and couples and gaggles of youth, skis and poles casually slung over their shoulders, off to spend their weekends merrily skiing their hearts out. Even though I hang out with a large contingent of people who are not Swiss, learning to ski is seen as a sign of your commitment to integrate into the community and the speed at which you master it is a competitive subject.

          I tried skiing twice, which was enough to realize that plummeting down a freezing mountainside with two pieces of wood strapped to my feet is not my idea of a good time. Also, it’s expensive, time-consuming and really freaking dangerous unless you’re willing to shell out for professional lessons. But, in Switzerland, people don’t ask you if you ski, they ask where you went skiing at the weekend. For me, this results in a lot of these conversations:

          “I don’t ski.”
          “Because I grew up in a country with no mountains and no snow.”
          “It’s not really my thing.”
          “But this is Switzerland! And the mountains are so beautiful! I’m going to Chalet Du Skialot this weekend and there’s plenty of beds, you simply must come and ski with us!”
          “I’ve tried it and I really didn’t like it. I would basically rather do anything else with my time.”

          So yeah: while on a factual level, I know there is nothing weird about my lack of interest in the very specific hobby that is skiing, by my second winter here I was starting to feel like a complete social deviant (because I’d already had a whole winter to learn, most people seemed to think there was literally no excuse). Thankfully, my boyfriend also has zero interest in skiing, so we can cling to each other in the sea of ski evangelists and remind each other that we are normal.

          1. You are totally normal. I do aerial acrobatics, which (once you’ve trained up to it) involves climbing 20 feet up a rope, turning upside down and hanging on by one hand, wrapping the rope around yourself, then letting go and falling head first until the rope catches you. I’m okay with that, because I have total control of what’s happening. Downhill skiing? No thanks, that looks dangerous.

            Human brains are amazingly varied things.

          2. Here’s my philosophy about skiing: If I want to get to the bottom of the mountain, I’ll STAY THERE. (Maybe with a cocktail.) (OK, probably with a cocktail.) (And a massage.) (And nookie with a ski instructor.)

          3. I too hate skiing, and I was, once upon a time, actually a pretty good skier.

            I just realized that I fucking dreaded it, and I no longer do it. There are certain people in my life who have yet to accept this (it’s been over a decade since I’ve skied). /sigh

          4. I play roller derby. The sport of crazy women who enjoy violent competition. The sport where it’s assumed at one point or another you will break a bone on the track. Skiing scares me as well. I would probably offer to ski with those people if they would agree to put on skates and let me knock them into next Tuesday.

            Actually, I think the next time someone tries to get me into something I find entirely unappealing for whatever reason, I will offer that as a fair trade.

          5. Substitute “bicycling” for skiing and “large American city” for Switzerland and you have the bane of my existence.
            Oddly, it is often the first topic of (a very long and intense) conversation when I meet new people. Obviously, it is the last time I voluntarily interact with those people socially.

          6. NO! It’s a lie. Not everyone here skis. Among the my friends (geeky swiss people) I would say it is about 50-50 on who skis. And the ones that don’t ski really hate it. Because of the pressure. Because as children they were forced to. Personally I like skiing. But I still refuse ski de randonnée. Walking up a mounting with skis and stiff boots, no, not fun. It hurts! No, no, no, no way. We all like different things, and that’s okay.

          7. @30ish, ARE YOU ALSO A UNICORN!?

            @TO_Ont, to my knowledge, dogs do not actually ski, I was exaggerating for effect. On the other hand, part of me would not be surprised…

            @Anne On, I also spent a year of my life in a large American city and it took me the guts of nine months to get into biking, mainly because the convenience/money-saving aspect outweighed by traffic fear at that time in my life. But even then, as a convert, I was like OMG BIKE EVANGELISTS SIT DOWN.

            @poiuyt, real talk, I am aware that there are actually Swiss people out there who don’t ski! They are just not prominent/vocal members of my social groups I guess 😦 Also, I have seen the parents forcing the children to ski. On one of my ski excursions, I witnessed a mother screaming at her 8 year-old, who was hesitating at the top of a (legitimately terrifying-looking) red slope. Not a good way to teach a kid to love your hobbies.

          8. YUP. Replacing “skiing” with “skating” and “Switzerland” with “Canada,” and you have THE FIGHT I HAVE EVERY WINTER. I am from a place where it snows once every decade or so. I do not skate. I do not like strapping sharp blades to my feet, or balancing on slippery ice surrounded by other people with blades on their feet, or being outside when it is so cold that the temperature is the same in celsius and fahrenheit. And yet, EVERY YEAR: “Nonsense! Skating! Canada!”

            I don’t have a partner, so my solution is usually to offer an accompanying activity, viz.: “I don’t want to go skating with you, but I’ll sit with a hot chocolate and watch you skate!” The people who accept this offer get to stay friends with me. The people who keep pushing don’t.

  11. Yes yes yes to using important medical privacy reasons. + All the things to that advice. You have a medical issue, and no one, including HR, needs know it’s a mental health related medical issue.

    Also can we get a WTF for ableist company retreat? There exist people in this world who cannot yoga (or rock climb, or trust fall, or zip line, or go rafting, et al, ad nauseum) for a multitude of reasons, including people like me whose moderate mobility issues are exacerbated by the exact type of exercise that yoga happens to be. In addition, phooey on compulsory public exercise with one’s co workers. I can be a team player without having to get all sweaty in front of that creepy person from that other department, thank you very fucking much. Blech.

    1. “or rock climb, or trust fall, or zip line, or go rafting, et al, ad nauseum” I notice the common theme here is to make yourself vulnerable or face a fear. Which obviously can build confidence and team-spirit, but surely it’s just as obvious how a BAD experience could have very detrimental effects (like, for example, the feeling of being trapped and feeling like you can’t escape the experience or have control over it).

      If people leading these retreats are any good, they should be fully conscious of that and very deliberately work to be sure that every person always feels safe and free to opt out of anything, because that feeling of control is so vital to its being a positive experience anyway.

      1. And speaking as someone with a fear of heights, being put on the spot in front of coworkers is not going to make me face my fear, it’s going to distress me more that they’re watching me try not to panic.

        1. Or dig in the heels like crazy. The more someone tries to push stuff on me the more I’m likely to make like a cat on a leash and just refuse to budge.

          Year 11 school camp we had pretty much all the activities that involve heights (abseiling, rock climbing, ziplines, hikes around the Three Sisters). I loathe heights. The camp leader (one of the over-enthusiastic brand) made it her personal challenge to try and goad me into ‘overcoming’ my problem. I said something along the lines of ‘if you don’t want anyone else to get a turn, then please continue to harangue me. I can stand very far away from that cliff face all afternoon.’

          1. Yeah. Fortunately, I’ve never had to work in one of these places–I say fortunately, because my reaction in high school gym class was to refuse to participate (I’d literally just stand in the middle of the field and watch the ball go by) and then blow up at the teacher and storm out of the class when she wouldn’t leave it alone.

            I’d like to think I’ve matured slightly in the intervening 15 years, but on the other hand, nobody’s made me do compulsory public exercise since then, so I don’t really know.

      2. Ugh, yes. I will face my fears and make myself vulnerable in ways and at times I choose, thanks. In front of coworkers, on command? NOPE. BAD IDEA.

      3. I notice the common theme here is to make yourself vulnerable or face a fear. Which obviously can build confidence and team-spirit, but surely it’s just as obvious how a BAD experience could have very detrimental effects

        It seems that one very common form of ableism is corporate HR people believing that things like PTSD don’t happen to “people like us.” So they may be able to see very clearly that a person with mental health triggers would have difficulty with ziplining with their co-workers, “but we don’t have any of those people in our office! We’re all just regular people here!”

        1. Totally. But you don’t even have to have PTSD or any other specific history to find things like jumping off cliffs terrifying or traumatic. They’re intrinsically scary! I mean, people are scared of different things, and some people will panic in situations that would surprise the majority of people, but we’re talking about jumping off cliffs! It’s pretty much a human instinct to avoid falling from a big height. It’s not an obscure or rare fear.

          Although, maybe that’s actually part of the problem? Since it’s so common a fear, but exists on such a big spectrum, many people will be like ‘Yeah, I was afraid too, but then I pushed through it and that’s what made it so exhilerating and gave me the adrenaline rush. Why doesn’t this person see that of course the same will happen to them?’ Because they’re assuming that everyone’s fear is the same, and everyone will have it at a similar intensity and react in a similar way to facing it. Some levels of fear in some contexts can be exciting, some levels of fear can create euphoria when they’re overcome, but that’s very specific to the situation and person.

          The thing about facing fear is that it can increase OR decrease the fear. Small, progressive, incremental exposure that is under your control and that has small enough increments and enough rest time and enough control that you can successfully have a positive experience at each step can decrease fear. Overwhelming exposure can CREATE trauma, even if it wasn’t there before. And what’s overwhelming depends on the individual. (Some of the people I’ve learned the most about this from are dog trainers that have a lot of experience with shy dogs. Exposure therapy is very much in the details. If you do it badly you just mess up your dog).

    2. Trust exercises are horrid. I did them in school. They were massively educational. They taught me not to trust the other people in my schools (two different schools in two different school districts). I watched a friend fall off a table backward while the three sets of waiting joined hands that were supposed to catch her all withdrew, because they were afraid of the weight falling onto them. That was the worst experience I had with trust falls, but I had another exercise that also taught me not to trust. I have zero desire to ever do a trust exercise again.

      1. Yes x 1000! I have literally cried when faced with doing the trust fall, also due to seeing someone fall (and get injured) because the people they were “trusting” didn’t catch them. I am so grateful to not have worked for a company that believe in trust-exercise-themed retreats.

      2. Also, trust exercises done with everyone watching have nothing to do with how trustworthy someone will be while nobody’s watching. They foster a false sense of security. The best way to build trust is to build a corporate culture that is trustworthy.

      3. I also had to do them in school, and saw a blindfolded kid get led PURPOSEFULLY into a tree by his team members who were supposed to be telling him where to go. That team didn’t get to do any more activities for the rest of the day, including the blindfolded kid. I’d feel bad for him, except that I envied the “punishment.” Meanwhile, my team had to brainstorm as a group to come up with a way across a river without getting wet. There was a rope to swing across, but far out of reach, and I helped come up with the idea that enabled us to reach it. Then every single other member of my team swung across, and it was my turn. I knew full well I wasn’t capable of swinging across the river, but it wasn’t deep, so I was told to do it anyway. I fell in, up the waist, halfway across. Instead of just letting me wade to the other side, I was told to wade back and try again. After three falls in the river, I was finally allowed to wade across, but my entire team “failed” the exercise because not everyone had made it across dry. So instead of learning to trust me, my team learned to resent me for making them fail, because I didn’t have the upper body and arm strength they did.

        Since then I have ALWAYS hated team-building and trust-building exercises of any kind, to the point that I actively avoided social events with my first job so much that I gained a reputation as an anti-social recluse. I didn’t particularly mind, since I had friends of my own, outside of work, and I still got my job done and people knew I was good at it.

        So yeah, LW. Here’s one more voice telling you that it’s the situation you’re in that’s making things awkward, not you, and I really hope you get through this with minimum pushback from your coworkers. Good luck, and I’m sorry that you need it.

      4. The whole concept of such exercises is such a perversion of what trust is. I have friends I would do that with, because I ALREADY trust them. Being forced to act like you trust someone if you don’t already isn’t trust, it’s taking a leap. It might test your trust (or perhaps just your ability to stand up to social pressure), but it doesn’t create it if it wasn’t there already.

        This conversation is feeling weirdly similar to the one a couple days ago about the date who was giving hints he was a possible rapist. All that accusing someone of not trusting them, and pressuring them to act like they trust someone they don’t.

      5. Am I the only one having flashbacks to the conversation a few days ago in response to the letter about the disturbing hinting-he-might-be-a-rapist date?

        All that accusing someone of not trusting them, and pressuring them to act like they trust them when they don’t. And just generally acting as if trust is something you owe others, and that it’s possible and acceptable to create by social pressure.

        It’s kind of sick to realize now how pervasive this twisted understanding of trust actually is, and how many people are being actively taught it.

        1. acting as if trust is something you owe others, and that it’s possible and acceptable to create by social pressure.

          OMG, this is an amazing insight. I knew something was badly wrong with all this, but I couldn’t put it into words.

        2. Somebody invented the term “favor-sharking” for manipulating norms of reciprocity. There should be a term for acting like trust is obligatory.

          I’ll be filing this away, in any case.

        3. My personal philosophy on trust is this:

          You don’t get any from me until you’ve earned it. Which involves repeatedly demonstrating that you’re worthy of it.

          I wonder if part of the problem is that people often conflate trust with respect, which (for me anyway) works in quite the opposite way:

          You get that from me just by dint of being human. Until you’ve (repeatedly or egregiously) demonstrated that you don’t deserve it.

      6. Besides that issue of misplaced trust, there’s also the problem that requiring coworkers (or schoolmates) to catch each other is requiring coworkers to grab each other with their hands. That’s completely out of line — inappropriate and unprofessional and asking for many kinds of trouble.

    3. Oh god, the trust fall. My sixth grade class did a class-wide 3-day retreat that basically consisted of a huge series of trust exercises. As the person who had at that point been shunned by my entire class for more than a year, it was a three-day nightmare. My teachers were right there, insisting that I had to put my life in the hands of a bunch of 12-year-olds who I knew with absolute certainty would let me fall (or drown, or slip) the second they thought they could get away with it as an accident.

      I feel very fortunate that I escaped with only minor bruises, a face-full of spray insecticide, a major allergy attack, and two missed meals.

      1. My horror story: Year 10 (3rd year high school, last year of compulsory schooling), our social studies teacher (who was also the “year teacher” for our entire age peer cohort at the school) decided to run a “relaxation exercise” – everyone lie down and pick a piece of floor, close your eyes, breathe slowly, and so on. Then he starts reciting part of an L M Montgomery horror story which involves someone in the group disappearing and vanishing such that nobody perceives them any more (the story ends with the “vanished” person watching as the rest of the group ignore them). I had read this story (English class, it was in a book we were reading something else out of that I was ignoring) so I knew how it ended. I also: firstly, had issues with self-esteem which should have been pretty darn obvious to anyone paying attention to their class group rather than just their two or three favourite students; and secondly, was one of the “designated bully targets” for our age peer group, which again should have been pretty darn obvious to a teacher who’s supposed to be doing the whole “pastoral care” thing for the entire cohort. So at about the time I recognised what he was going on about, I bolted up in hysterics, and wore all kinds of shit about it from my classmates for the rest of my school history.

        Oh, and I never trusted that teacher again with anything, either. I’m also somewhat leery of compulsory “bonding” exercises. “Bonding” is for wood glue, not humans.

        1. “compulsory “bonding” exercises” I think this is actually literally an aspect of abuse that I’ve seen referred to in writing by developmental psychologists and others. Forced intimacy is something humans (and other social animals, for that matter) instinctively recognize and use as a form of control.

          And surely one doesn’t have to be a neurologist to see that forced vulnerability is abusive and harmful??

      2. I had to go one one of these retreats in the sixth grade too. For me it wasn’t the trust exercises that got me, it was the damned rock wall. I told them I didn’t want to do it, I told them I was afraid of heights. They made me put on the harness and start climbing. I got exactly three footholds up and started bawling until they let me down.

        I am thankful that there were some genuinely kind kids in my sixth grade class who assured me that I wasn’t a coward or a loser and it was okay not to like heights for a very very very strong value of “do not like”. Crying on that rock wall was still pretty fucking humiliating.

        1. Ouch -yes that would be plenty humiliating.

          I’m generally fine with heights, but our exercise involving heights (other than trust falls) was some sort of rope contraption strung between trees, where you were part of a team and you were counting on your other team members to keep your (guide ropes? something like that) steady so you could make it across. Theoretically, it was competitive between teams, and therefore everybody would be as reliable as possible for their team members so they could make good time. It never seemed to occur to the people who set this up that it a team might deem it worth it to lose if they got to humiliate or hurt a loathed team member in exchange.

          1. Good god, what happened? Did anybody hurt anybody else on purpose?

            I’d be nervous about this exercise even if I trusted my coworkers’ intentions implicitly. Would complete novices be able to keep the guide ropes steady? Would I?

          2. Maybe it depends what your classmates were like in school, but that sounds horrible to me. So the leaders of the class, who are already disgusted with me and who are very competitive, need me not to make any mistakes if they’re going to win. There goes my strategy of trying to keep out of their way and hope they forget to notice me.

            If I had slipped despite them doing their job right, or worse, if one of THEM had slipped in such a way that it might have been my fault…

    4. I climb, a lot and reasonable well. And I DO NOT WANT to go climbing with my colleagues. Grief. Firstly – there’s a lot of trust there, and that’s trust I’ve built up with my climbing-friends but not with my colleagues (and climbing as the BMC remind me very often has a serious risk of injury or death; especially if someone fucks up the safety critical parts); Secondly – I do not look “professional” doing it; also Thirdly “showing off” might be deprecated but also “being deliberately rubbish” is (I can’t pass for being actually rubbish) and that’s a difficult social line to tread.

      If I didn’t already know how to climb there’s Fourthly – it’s a scary thing to learn and I wouldn’t want to be scared like that in front of colleagues; oh and Fifthly – safety critical technique is much better taught in small groups of people committed to learning them, not large groups of people on “compulsory fun” days.

      I don’t really understand why companies think these things make great “team building” outings.

      Fortunately our “team building” extends no further than Christmas dinner; which is usually escapable with “sorry, have a prior commitment”.

      1. “and climbing as the BMC remind me very often has a serious risk of injury or death; especially if someone fucks up the safety critical parts”

        Yeah, there are people I would let belay me, and people I wouldn’t. And not all the ones I wouldn’t are terrible people, but to climb with someone safely you need to know that they know what they’re doing, that they’ve got enough practice, that they’re anal about safety and about following the correct procedures exactly every moment, that they’re totally comfortable and confident catching you when you fall, and that you have good communication with them and they will never do insane and unacceptable things like refuse to let you down when you say because they’ve decided they ‘won’t let you give up’ — which I’ve actually seen people do once or twice! (actually, for some reason people find this more acceptable to do to a child????)

        I mean you’re literally putting your life in this person’s hands. That’s not something any employer has a right to compel you to do (I mean maybe if you’re in the military you sign away some of your basic rights? I don’t know, I’ve never been in the military).

        1. Yeah, the military will go ahead and force people through this kind of thing. Because there are going to be life-or-death situations down the line and this is one of the best ways to simulate and prepare for it. It’s totally cult-y and brainwashing and coercive, and I’m mostly ethically okay with it because it’s the best way we know of to train soldiers. Under any other circumstances? NOPE.

    5. I happen to love rock climbing, but the idea of forcing or pressuring someone to do it disgusts me. I have had, and seen people have, panic attacks when stuck to the side of a cliff or wall. And no, ‘pushing through it’ doesn’t always make it better, in fact in my experience, the most useful thing you can do is make sure the person you’re climbing with understands that they can ALWAYS ask you to bring them down, and you will always do so instantly and without question. And practice doing it several times low down before they are high enough to trigger the ‘help I’m trapped on the side of a cliff and I’m afraid to come down’ reflex.

      Someone who wanted to say no to going up in the first place but didn’t feel free to is the last person who’s going to have a positive experience climbing.

      1. Even animal trainers know this. If you’re asking a critter to do something scary, they will be much braver if they know they can bail whenever they choose. If they think you’re going to try to compel them, they will start putting on the brakes immediately. Humans are no different.

        1. This applies to so very many things. I have gotten much better at seeing when I was going to be compelled, and I tend to put the brakes on hard very early now.
          If I even think it will happen at work(for a thing not work related) I start looking for a way out, including a new job. I don’t keep friends who think it’s ok to compel me to do things. I may have gotten too sensitive about it, but, I have HAD to put up with so much of it due to medical stuff that my awareness of coercion has gotten really really sensitive.
          On the flip side, those people I trust, I really trust. I have some really fabulous friends.

      2. I think this shows the error in thinking that underlies a lot of workplace compulsory thing-that-is-not-work: someone wanted to do X, and under no duress whatsoever freely chose to do X, and had an entirely positive experience with X, and doesn’t realize the link between the positivity of the experience and the free choice that is not under duress. And part of that is the free choice filters out a lot of people who are going to have a bad experience, and know this, which, after all, is why they don’t do it.

    6. Also, as a guide in an outdoor activity (raft guide), corporate groups that want to do those things are the worst! Because invariably there are at least one or two people who Do Not Want To Be There but are there because of corporate pressure. Those people have their own days ruined by being anxious/scared. They tend to ruin the rest of their group’s day by being anxious and scared and bring down the whole vibe of the group*. And then they ruin my day because they are anxious and scared and want to hide in the middle of the raft instead of paddling, which puts themselves in greater danger of falling out and getting hurt and also makes my job to keep everyone safe 100x harder.

      *Which, I am not trying to blame that person for that. They are not obligated to have fun doing this thing they don’t want to be doing and obviously don’t enjoy. It’s just that I see the fun-havers pestering them, and the fun-havers get upset that not everyone is having as much fun as them, and just. Ugh. Fun-havers, let the people who don’t want to be there not come for the purely selfish reason that you will have more fun without needing to constantly cajole them. Also, if you let them stay at home, I will probably get a bigger tip because you all will have more fun.

  12. Aaaaaaaah. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

    Oh whoops, I yelled involuntarily at the horribleness of corporate yoga retreats, especially in the face of your past trauma, LW. Aaaaaah.

    I’d also make a distinction between evangelizing at you (“you should do this thing”) which the Captain covered and passive-aggressively evangelizing at you (“yoga is soooooo great ;( ;( look at how peaceful and understanding yoga has made me ;( ;( “). This is probably coworkers doing the passive-aggressive evangelizing. It’s not going to feel right to respond personally with “I don’t like yoga,” and head it off directly. You could, of course, and it would be a great conversational thing to be blunt. But until you get a lot of practice, it’ll probably feel easier to match the level of discourse and also go indirect.

    I’ve had a lot of luck with “Great!,” a smile, and leaving the situation/changing the subject. Like, treating it as completely irrelevant to you, the same way you might congratulate an achievement to someone whose job you neither understand nor care about. It gives you a tone of voice to use when (if) they finally bring it up directly (“Great! I don’t do yoga. Hope you had a nice time!”). It makes you seem like you’re a positive person and also that you don’t care what they have to say. It gives them absence where they were expecting to set their little hooks. It’s not a substitute for what the Captain describes in the least, but it might be an beginning/intermediate step in coworker interactions.

  13. The nice thing – to the extent that there is anything nice about being hassled with this nonsense – is that as a physical activity, yoga is something that will very comfortably fall into the ADA camp of being something any mid-sized company will have to allow for*. You have a trigger word here of “yoga,” theres is going to be “accommodation.” As in “reasonable accommodation,” something they are legally obligated to make for you provided it doesn’t cause them an “undue hardship,” which no rational person would think letting you pass on this stupid retreat qualifies as.

    As a bonus you can, if they unreasonably push back, drop the words “penalize” or even “retaliation.” As in you don’t think you should be penalized for your medical inability to do yoga. If HR has the slightest sense – or at least a desire not to be sued – this will make them immediately say yep, we’ll take care of that for you.

    I am not suggesting that you play sly or threateningly with them, but being clear you understand that this is something you don’t have to get into details about and that it’s not a matter for debate whether they’ll do it can be helpful. You don’t want to alienate them in a way that opens you to stealth hassles because they think you’re overly litigious, but being a calmly confident person who clearly knows their rights can go a long way in shutting down endless discussion.

    [* not that non-physical activities doesn’t also qualify as ADA matters, but even those of us who are comfortable talking about our issues (in my case, chemical depression) might not necessarily want to raise such things with our employers and make it a public matter. Letting something seem like it’s a simple physical issue doesn’t open you up to as much of our society’s shitty outlook about psychological matters.]

  14. I end up defaulting to, “Wow, you’re nosy!” I’m sure there are better ways to handle coworkers who won’t mind their own damn business, but in the moment, I’m always incapable of thinking of them.

    Good luck on the retreat dodging. I really suck at that sort of artificial team-building and resent the hell out of it.

  15. Oh LW, I feel your pain! I work for one of those rah-rah-isn’t-team-building-great orgs, and had a supervisor that insisted I participate in “fun days” that included manis/pedis/massages, and I really, really don’t like to be touched due to an abusive background. I was the new person to the group and apparently the only one who had ever had an issue with it, and yes, I eventually did have to get HR involved, as I was feeling like my job might be on the line if I refused to go. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t handle it nearly as professionally as CA suggests, did not act it out with a friend first and got into an overly emotional outburst that likely left a negative impression on everyone involved. Fortunately, HR backed me to the hilt, let my supervisor know that the fun day had to be something more neutral (suppose we had men hired into the group?), and we all ended up in a cooking class for the day. And I became the department pariah. Luckily my story has a great ending, as that supervisor is no longer with the company, I was able to transfer to another dept, and I now work under someone who’s idea of team building is going to grab a quick cocktail with us at happy hour. But yes, it did get hairy for a while, I did have to stand my ground, and I did face some push back from my coworkers for being a “spoil sport.” For the record, I was fine with them all going on the spa day, as long as I did not have to, but apparently that wasn’t good enough for the boss.

    1. I’m glad cocktail hour works for you, but I seriously hate that. I don’t drink very much, and really can’t do so on a daily basis (which a lot of workplaces that are like that often want you to do), and frankly once I get off work I want to go home. And a lot of people don’t drink at all, and can’t or don’t want to be around people who are drinking.

      I used to be a cook and then a restauranteur, and heavy drinking is endemic in that culture. When I cooked, the restaurant would close and the whole kitchen crew would go down the block to the bar and drink. I was already the odd one out, and my choice was to go and be pressured to drink more than I safely could (I still had to drive home) or to not go and to isolate myself even further.

      When I owned a place, I tried to discourage my staff from pressuring others to drink (we had a number of underage people and straight edge people working there), but my chef and bar manager would want me to do shots with them and things. Ugh.

      1. I remember interviewing at a place that bragged about bringing out a red wagon of beer once a month. All I could hear was, “you will be forced to drink to drown your sorrows while pretending that you love your job.” It scared the crap out of me. I much prefer my current place of employment, where the last time I was offered a drink, it went like this:

        CEO: Izzy, you want a beer?
        Me: No, thank you.
        CEO: OK! Can you update me on Project X?

    2. What kind of shitty assholes would turn someone into a social pariah over a spa day? Could you get any more petty and mean? So sorry that happened to you, ktp. Glad the story has a happy ending though!

  16. Oh my lord, LW, I am so, so sorry that that happened to you, and I am so sorry that you are dealing with insensitive and pushy people who won’t take your word for it that this is not for you.

    I do want to point out that even if your reason for hating yoga was “minor” one (and not a holy-fuck-why-is-the-world-so-awful one), you would have the right NOT TO PARTICIPATE IN IT. Bodily autonomy means we get a say over what we do with our bodies! You don’t owe ANYONE a performance of “health” or “wellness.”

    There are many “healthy” things that I choose not to do, for two good reasons: A. oftentimes, they are NOT healthy for my particular body (certain common exercises make the already-damaged cartilage in my knees more inflamed, for example) B. I DON’T WANT TO (I don’t eat x, y, and z healthy foods because I DO NOT LIKE THEM.) Either one of those reasons is a perfectly good reason ALL BY ITSELF.

    I personally find yoga kind of painful and frustrating and even humiliating, depending on the day, but the truth is: EVERY activity is painful and frustrating and even humiliating for some people. You (plural, general you) are a foolish person indeed if you assume you know what activities someone can or will be willing without *asking* them, and you are a profoundly unkind person if you assume that someone *should* be able to do any given physical activity.

    As has often been said on this site, I think you should try as hard as you can to go into this with the knowledge that YOU ARE RIGHT and it is NOT REASONABLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE TO PRESSURE YOU INTO DOING SOMETHING, especially something that has nothing to do with your job performance.

  17. LW, I get very panicky as well if someone else is telling me how to breath. Just focusing on my breathing is enough to make me feel like I’m not getting enough oxygen. I’ve never had a negative experience like yours and it still makes me feel awful so you certainly aren’t alone! I totally agree with what the Captain said, particularly about giving people “the look” if they keep talking about it, your reasons are perfectly valid (but “I just don’t fucking want to” would also be totally valid IMHO) so if they keep on about it then they are just being a rude jackals and should be treated as such.

    1. Just focusing on my breathing is enough to make me feel like I’m not getting enough oxygen

      ! Oh, bless, I didn’t realize other people also got this! That makes me feel way less weird about having this issue.

      1. Yup, you can add my partner (who is also a CA reader – hi, sweetie!) to the list of people who have that reaction. Took me an embarrassingly long time to understand it, too (sorry, dear!).

      2. I’m actually taking a few deep breaths while reading these comments. The minute I start thinking about my breathing I immediately feel like I’m not doing it properly and need to gulp down some extra air. Weird but nice too know it’s not just me.

      3. Yep, me too. I’m extremely asthmatic, so any time a shrink’s been all “breathing exercises!” I have to shut that down because it gets me nervous about my lung capacity. I get that they’re effective for some, but I am not one.

    2. “Just focusing on my breathing is enough to make me feel like I’m not getting enough oxygen”

      Oh, bless, I didn’t realize that was a problem more people had. That makes me feel way less weird about it. Thank you.

      1. There’s actually a reasonably established research literature on what’s dubbed “the paradoxical effects of relaxation,” which is essentially when folks try to practice relaxation techniques, including mindful breathing, etc, and end up anxious and panicked instead. I wish everyone who taught yoga/meditation/anything of that nature would read at least a bit of this body of work and be able to tell students about it! It’s super frustrating that most teachers don’t bother.

        1. Ooh, I did not know this was a studied thing! If you have time, could you give us a couple links to material on the topic?

          1. I’m having trouble finding things that are recent and not behind a pay wall, but I will look when I’m at work tomorrow and have access to journals!

        2. Not to mention, negative connotations. For me, the only time I’m really aware of my breathing is in the grips of an asthma attack. So for me, being aware of my breathing is something I do to Not Die. That is Not Relaxing. That is Anxiety Inducing.

          1. I agree! As someone whose panic attacks involve hyperventilating, it is very unhelpful to be told to focus on my breathing at those times. I AM focusing on it, very much actually, and telling me to is only making me anxious that I’m not riding my panic attack out quickly enough for you.

        3. Oh man, I had no idea this was real! I have an anxiety disorder, and I had to quit a mindfulness class because trying to close my eyes and meditate (especially in a group of strangers, but even at home alone listening to a recording) started giving me panic attacks even worse than I’d been experiencing before. I’ve just been assuming that I was doing it wrong, and got really angry at myself when I couldn’t bring myself to go to the class about half the time.

          I had a lot of problems with the guy running those classes–he was really evangelistic about mindfulness to the point where I just wanted to say “let me actually try this before I have to hear about how great it is.” Especially when I was trying so hard to practice at home and do the work, and it was just making everything worse.

          Anyway, THANK YOU for mentioning this, because just knowing it’s a real thing is already making me feel better about that whole mess.

        4. I…did not realize that was a thing. Huh. That explains a lot. Relaxation exercises (not even specifically breathing) make me antsy and panicky, always have. As far as I know, there’s no trauma there, but they just have exactly the opposite effect they’re supposed to.

    3. Absolutely! I actually do enjoy some parts of yoga but cannot deal with any guided breathing. I’ve had to walk out of classes. It’s frustrating to have that not taken seriously, or have people tell me I’ll get over it, or just try, or … yeah.

      Nothing like this should ever be mandatory.

    4. My therapy program ATM has optional relaxation exercises after the main group. What does the therapist say? “Find a position that is comfortable for you. Breathe in whatever way comes naturally.”

      Then he will suggest some visualisation etc exercise but usually I just doze.

  18. There is nothing in the world that is right for everyone. Yoga isn’t right for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. And it is difficult for me to think of something more upsetting than to be forced into something that you do not want to do that you are being repeatedly told will be “fun” “relaxing” or “spiritual” – no matter what that thing is. I think smoke was coming out of my ears while I read your post!

    To share something personal, I have trauma around a major holiday celebrated where I live, and pretty much every year people are like “BUT DON’T YOU JUST WANT TO COME ITS NOT REALLY ABOUT THE HOLIDAY WE’RE JUST SPENDING TIME TOGETHER EATING TRADITIONAL HOLIDAY FOOD AND LISTENING TO TRADITIONAL HOLIDAY MUSIC AND TALKING ABOUT OUR HOLIDAY PLANS…” or something similar. I have had to endure corporate mandated celebrations of this holiday as well. And it is sooooo hard to disengage from that without seeming like a mean jerky person who doesn’t want to participate in office culture.

    Once in a while, though, I have had success with saying, “But shouldn’t we have someone in the office then in case anything comes up? What if $ClientWithProblem calls in? This isn’t my thing, and really, I promise I don’t mind, just give me off $HolidayIActuallyLike instead.” This could possibly be incorporated with the Captain’s excellent script, like “Given that I can’t participate anyway, if you need someone to cover the office, I’ll be happy to do that so you can all relax and not have to worry,” if you think that even being in the same building with the horribly triggering stuff might be too much.

    If that’s not the case, I like the idea of offering to lead an alternate activity a lot. I’m certain there are others in your company who would greet the idea of an alternate activity with great relief. If that gets shot down, depending on your role in the company, I wonder if it might also be worth offering to run the registration table, or make sure the lunch is being served correctly and everyone’s dietary needs are being offered, or whatever.

  19. “yoga in the dark where no one can see what the teacher is doing” – my first interpretation was damn, I hate it when I can’t see the teacher well enough to follow what they’re doing! Then I kept reading. LW, I’m so sorry that something traumatic happened to you. It was not your fault in any way, shape, or form. I wish you all the success in dealing with your coworkers.

    Yoga and mediation are faaaaaar from the only ways to “connect with yourself”, if that’s something that is important to you. The things that work best for me are therapy, knitting, and acrobatics. Whatever makes you feel happy and whole is what makes you feel happy and whole.

  20. One other thing, LW – it may help you to reframe this “mandatory fun” not as “employer trying to be decent but just choosing a type of ‘fun’ that is accidentally/inadvertently exclusionary,” but instead as “employer recognizing our work environment has problems and trying to fix those problems with a ‘quick fix’ instead of addressing the real underlying issues.” You mentioned your boss is into this retreat idea because it’s a “high-stress” workplace – you know what actually fixes high-stress workplaces? Doing actual concrete things to change the working environment to make it less stressful. Your employer is using this retreat as a way of avoiding addressing real workplace issues, so the next time people complain about the workplace, your employer can be all “what do these people even *want* from us? I mean seriously, we took them to yoga that one time, come on!” instead of having to make changes that would lower employees’ stress levels in a meaningful way on a day-to-day basis.

    I am so sorry you are dealing with this, LW, and I hope your workplace handles this situation with decency.

    1. Yeah, maybe it’s a high stress environment because the employers are so disrespectful of employees and there’s a workplace culture where people’s personal boundaries and privacy aren’t respected?

    2. Yep, this. Self-care is likely to be critical for survival at this company.

      Which may be an environment you’re ok with, as long as it doesn’t involve completely gratuitous yoga.

    3. This is exactly what happened at a previous job. Major workplace issues, including issues about (not) providing health insurance. Instead of fixing the problems, the boss started offering weekly yoga sessions. As someone who does not do yoga, I got no benefit from the offering, but the boss’s attitude was exactly what you predicted: “what more do you *want* from me?!”

  21. Oh man, LW, you are my hero for trying so hard to be calm and patient in the face of repeated triggers. You have been so much more kind and patient than your employers deserve. I have fairly mild PTSD, and I doubt I could have stayed calm as long as you did.

    I’ve had to get disability accommodations from my school before, and I worked for a disability advocacy center, and the Captain’s advice seems spot-on to me. I might suggest asking your therapist if she has stationary that doesn’t specify mental health for your note. Mental health issues are health issues, but people don’t always treat them that way, and then when you say “health reasons” they can imagine a pinched nerve or something. I have also been known to explain PTSD symptoms as “an old injury” because, well, PTSD is an injury. It’s not my fault if they picture a broken leg.

    But regardless, your bosses and coworkers who pressured you were behaving really badly, and I genuinely admire your toughness in the face of that.

  22. I’m so sorry you’re still having to deal with this. And, I realize that you’re still within your probationary period (tread lightly, right?)… I think the Captain’s recommendations are spot-on, so I think it’s best if you try to make HR an ally in a , “Hey, could you help me navigate this issue” sort of way vs. an “I need an accommodation and you’re going to help me or “. Also… consider that even with some help from HR to exempt yourself from this retreat, their corporate culture may not be aligned with your own needs. Just something to think about – because it sounds like they’re astoundingly obtuse when it comes to activities that are appropriate for everyone who works there. What’s next on the docket… (someone above referenced trust games and zip lines) – FFS. I wouldn’t put it past them.

    1. Must. Remember. Not. To. Use. Faux. HTML. Code/Symbols… or it will be eaten by the internets.

      That was, “…vs. an “I need an accommodation and you’re going to help me or [insert threat here]“ up in my comment.

  23. LW, I’m so sorry that happened to you.

    I mentioned earlier that your PTSD/anxiety is just as legit a medical excuse as a back injury, but in all honesty, you shouldn’t need a medical excuse to get out of an activity like this. Your declaration that you don’t like yoga and have no interest in it should be enough.

    1. Yeah. This is a power play by the employer, who should not be feeling this entitled to the private/outside of work time of employees, whether or not they have a good enough excuse to just not want to use their non-work time this way.

  24. I’m so sorry the awful thing happened to you LW. I’m glad you and your therapist are working through the resulting horrible brain things.

    I’m still reeling over the idea that anyone loves yoga that much that they’d steamroll you in that way. I’m trying to think of anything at all that I love that much that I’d respond in that way and… I’ve got nothing. Tbh I very much doubt that you’re the only one who doesn’t want to go. Maybe nobody else feels as strongly about it, and maybe they’re not speaking up, but they must exist. I dunno. I’m clutching at straws because I find the whole obsessive yoga workplace thing incredibly creepy. I have an image in my head of identical 1980s-styled fitness drones, with neon headbands and sparkly legwarmers and fixed smiles, empty eyes. It’s like the Desert Bluffs yoga club.

    1. Oh god as if Desert Bluffs wasn’t creepy enough… I will have nightmares.

    2. if their radio station is full of gore and entrails imagine how much worse their fitness center must be! Great, now I’m picturing people with catastrophic injuries continuing to do stuff with horrific injuries and those horrifying smiles…..I need kitten pics.

      1. Nooooo! Remember how dangerous it is to photograph cats and kittens! That’s caused the death of interns!

        1. ^^^Ahahhahah!! To be fair, kitten pics also caused the well-deserved death of a certain Strex bio-machine.

          High-five to Just Plain Neddy for the excellent Desert Bluffs reference ^___^

    3. This is literally why Strex’s “Company Picnic” was so horrifying, beyond its use in the actual storyline. Desert Bluffs = BEYOND creepy if you’ve actually worked in new-age corporate culture.

    4. I think the thing that bothers me most about the obsessive yoga workplace thing is the total inability to acknowledge that it is, you know, exercise. It’s physically strenuous; you can, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, probably will injure yourself. But it’s like…oh, because yoga is SPIRITUAL, none of that matters.

      /not that any of the religious/spiritual aspects of it are actually taught at your average Western yoga class, but that’s a rant for another day.

  25. I’m with the Captain here. I also point out that if none of the cut-them-dead responses work, you can go with Miss Manners: “Why do you need to know?”

    1. Another, slightly softer way to ask that same question is “Why do you ask?” Bonus points if it can be delivered in a genuinely befuddled tone.

      1. I think someone who’s missed all the previously suggested cues to cut it out and back off will miss a gently-toned response like this.

        1. Even if they “miss” the cue, they respond with some explanation of why they were asking, which you can follow up with “Oh” + subject change (or more strongly worded “let’s not discuss this any further” as needed).

          I’ve never had it not work, and figured the alternate phrasing might be useful in a workplace environment when you can’t necessarily take the kind of tone you’d use elsewhere socially.

          1. I love the “oh” response – like, find out why they think they need to know, and then, dismiss it entirely.

  26. I know that feel LW I know that feel. I can find myself randomly triggerd when doing pretty much any fitness thing. Usually the trigger is some skinny person saying something like “Now, just put your right leg on your own collar bone, easy, and then we will move into the strech.” (Also the words “just TRY” are like instant crying sobbing Shinobi.) Pretty much anything that can call to mind childhood public humiliation around my inability to do fantastic fitness feats that I had not trained to do in a body that was growing between 2-3 inches a year. Last year one of my dance teachers decided to start including very advanced yoga work for conditioning at the beginning of each class, which took something I enjoyed and made it very difficult for me. i know that feel.

    So yeah. It’s ableist and upsetting that your company doesn’t have a non yoga retreat option. A lot of people are talking about HR here, but my company actually doesn’t have HR. Nor are we large enough to be subject to a lot of rules around disability or workplace stuff. If you are at a company like mine (i.e. the boss’s clubhouse) I would encourage you to speak with the most senior member of your team, or someone you have built a good rapport with about the issue before approaching your boss.

    Something like “I know everyone is very excited about the upcoming yoga retreat, I wanted to talk to you because for health reasons I cannot participate. I need to approach Boss and let him know, I have a doctor’s note explaining that I cannot participate. But before I give it to him I wanted your advice. I know he values this retreat highly and I don’t want to be seen as not a team player it is simply unsafe for my health to participate in this kind of activity. What should I do?” And see what they say. If it were at my job he would be at your desk by the end of the day apologizing to you without you having to say anything. But every work place is different.

    If you DO have HR you should absolutely work through them as they are the people most likely to understand the legal implications of mandatory work activities that might cause health risks. (Seriously don’t people realize you can get injured doing yoga? Why does this seem like a good idea? And how have you worked at so many yoga obsessed places? What ever happened to paint ball and drinking?)

    1. EEK I may have initially missed some implications in your letter, so, I hope you will forgive me comparing my trauma to your trauma.

    2. Here to say: “What shinobi42 said about ‘when you don’t have HR'”.

      This is a thing worth considering and discussing. So, as they say, BUMP.

    3. Absolutely – I’ve had numerous issues with employers telling me I was going to hell if I didn’t find Jesus or forcing me to physically painful events (etc) and never worked somewhere with an HR department. They were small companies/organizations with only a couple of owners/a President and had no one to go to.

    4. In a job long ago in a galaxy far away, I was at a lunch table with a bunch of colleagues, one of whom was the Director of HR. It happened to be ‘national quit smoking day’, and the company had set up a bunch of outreachy type things. The HRD was a smoker herself, so she knew many of the other smokers from being outside with them for cig breaks. She spies one of her smoke-buddies across the cafeteria, and loudly exhorts him to quit, but stops herself and just as loudly follows up with, “Oh, no, that might be a bad idea for you! You just got out of rehab! Hahaha!” Across the caf, so anybody who didn’t know this dude at all now knows he’s in recovery. The other people at the table gasped in horror; she was oblivious. (And, naturally, she got promoted to VP and then SVP ere long.)

      So, not every HR person is actually good at their job, is the very sad point of my story. Generally speaking, the fewer people you can involve in your team-building recusal, the easier it will be to keep your biz to yourself.

      When I took over a large department in a company, I used my first staff meeting to vow I would never make them go on any kind of team-building retreat, and that I wanted their non-work hours to be just that. Though many people were shocked at how well such a thing was received, I was not. Because IMO, team-building retreats are some serious bullshit. If colleagues want to get together to go white-water rafting, I calculate they can arrange it among themselves as individuals without the company butting in.

      1. The other people at the table gasped in horror; she was oblivious.

        Who is she, Pam from Archer?

      2. Because IMO, team-building retreats are some serious bullshit.

        Can I come work for you? Pretty please?

  27. Required employee “downtime” or illusion of fun is such top-to-bottom privacy-invading bullshit I can’t even get started on it. I will always guiltlessly lie to get out of this kind of thing. My job isn’t to have fun with any of you, my job isn’t to do anything in front of you that isn’t my work, my job isn’t to make myself be or appear to be vulnerable with you for your satisfaction.

    LW, I’m so so sorry about what sounds like a horrific childhood experience, and I’m so so sorry you have to work with the kinds of people who insist they have better autonomy over your body and traumas than you do, because ugh. Please feel empowered to make a small HR ruckus and lie and whatever to get out of this. I can’t even believe this is happening to you.

    1. I know, even with activities I basically like, having them be mandatory can feel really invasive. If nothing else, it’s just the feeling that your employer has this much control even over your free time or hobbies, which can easily must make you feel trapped or depressed. ESPECIALLY if it’s a job that already has long hours — then ever bit of non-work time you have feels that much more valuable.

      1. What’s revolting to me is that non-medical idiots insisted to LW that LW should somehow “power through” obvious trauma in the interest of, what, corporate team-building? UGH GROSS

      2. I recently was subjected to the “workplace charity” thing–my company wants to be known for its charity, it says, so please give these items to this worthy cause. Well, if the company wants to be known for its charitable endeavours, maybe it should actually be the one doing the spending? I didn’t give, and it was clearly not the popular approach to that pressure, but sorry. First of all, I don’t have the money right now to give to any causes, and second, I have some specific kinds of charities I give to, and I don’t give to the rest. Period.

        1. Oh yes, my office has the high-pressure annual charity campaign and we all HAVE to participate even if it means sending back our form with “$0” listed for our donation (which I have done every year so far). I do donate my money and time to good causes but I do not support the organization that my office supports (I don’t think they’re nefarious–I just don’t think they use their money well.) It angers me that the organization proudly reports every year how much its employees donated to this particular cause, but don’t mention how many dollars and hours we all give to various other causes. It makes me feel like my good deeds don’t count.

          1. We have a specific annual charity campaign, though they don’t make us respond. I just ignore it, every year. Though yes, that they push how much is donated to this specific umbrella charity to the exclusion of other things we support individually, this is annoying.

            Worse was the time we were starting a major fundraising campaign, and all employees were pressured to donate (to be deducted regularly from our pay, if we signed up) so that fundraisers could show amounts raised internally and participation rates to prove to potential external donors “how much we believe in what we’re doing.”

            Don’t ask me to think about the sacrifices I’ve made for this job because I believe in what I do, $Institution. Unless you’re planning on giving me a tax receipt for a fair valuation of it.

            Employer pressure sucks. Fortunately, as the employees in our unit have changed, we’ve gotten more people whose reaction to both fundraising shakedowns and touchy-feely exercises on retreats is a very appropriate WTF, No. The latter have ceased.

        2. *nod* Or do what my spouse’s (soon-to-be-ex-)employer does: they will match employee donations to any of a very long list of charities, and I assume want the world to know this. There’s a setup for payroll deductions (one-time or recurring), but the employee can also walk in with “here’s my thank you letter from the Seattle Humane Society, please match my donation.”

          I have no idea if this makes any of the employees feel better about working for $MegaCompany, but it seems more likely than being told that they specifically want you to give to Charity-of-employer’s-choice.

  28. Why do companies even do this? I have never been to a team-building event with mandatory exercise/sack races/skits/dancing that wasn’t universally dreaded beforehand and loathed while it was happening. If we bonded over anything it was how much we all hated having to do whatever we were doing, which I don’t think was the point. (Or maybe it was; who knows what goes through the hive minds of big corporations.)

    LW, I’m very sorry that you’re having to deal with this, and I hope you don’t get any pushback from the boss or anyone else. Maybe if there’s a lunch or something as part of the day, you could join the rest of the group for that, assuming the location isn’t too far away?

    1. I can think of exactly one Big Group Team-Building Event that I enjoyed. This was long before the Predatory Lenders’ Recession. The company I worked for then had had a very good year. They announced a company-wide meeting to assess our performance and future planning and further announced that for Reasons it had to be in Waikiki. For a week.

      Day 1: Everybody assemble in the hotel meeting room for an hour. Here’s our company balance sheet. Let’s keep doing what we were doing, OK? Obviously it’s working! Now let’s have lunch and pass out tour brochures. Oh, and on top of free airfare and hotel, everybody gets $250 right now for whatever. (This was a long time ago. $250 covered cheap meals and sunscreen for a week.)

      Days 2-7: ‘Bye, see you at the airport!

      1. Now that’s an event I could get on board with!

        I went to one a few years ago where we had lunch at a restaurant, our team leader talked a bit about how things had gone that year, and then we were all sent to the cinema next door with ticket/popcorn vouchers to see the movie of our choice. No complaints there.

      2. Oh, man, back in the Days of Milk and Honey, my partner’s supervisor was invited to speak at a conference in Paris. It was somehow decided that it was An Essential Work Requirement that the whole team go with him to Paris – you know, in case anyone had questions about the project that were better answered by someone else. I mean, that’s how that works, right?

        And obviously, even though the speech only happened on one day, the whole team had to stay the whole week, for Reasons, right?

        And it would just be inhumane to brutally force everyone to stay in a cute little boutique hotel in Paris for a week without the solace and succor of their significant others. I mean, that’s just common sense.

        That was the first, and almost certainly the last, time I have ever been anywhere fancy on anybody’s work-related dime, and it was *glorious.* (I was also the only person in our entire group who spoke decent French, so I didn’t even feel like a freeloader, much.) And there was not a single scrap of yoga involved.

      3. This sounds great for you and your co-workers but I wouldn’t recommend this strategy to managers in general. Did you know the schedule in advance and have the option to decline?

        Some people (me) do not do well with travel or being off routine, which is not in the least overcome by being in a “fun” destination location. I travel if the thing for which I travel has to be done at a specific location (such as visiting a person where they live or going to a professional conference held at a specific location). The idea of travel for what came down to an hour meeting that could have occurred at work (or over e-mail) would have sent me into days of panic, interspersed with rage that I was put in that position in the first place. Having everyone else crowing about how great “free time in location wonderful” would just have made things worse. Work-related travel should be either actually work-related or explicitly optional.

        1. Oh, we knew about it for months. Every client was told that $thing would have to be scheduled around the company annual meeting. Attendance was strictly optional, although I have no idea whether anybody from the other branches declined. And after the first half a day, our time was entirely our own.

          Some people went waterskiing or surfed or did that thing where you slide down a mountain. Me, I slathered on sunscreen and sat under a palm tree reading pop-culture mags near the statue of Duke Kahanamoku in the morning, then strolled around shopping and trying new restaurants in the afternoon. It was exactly what I needed.

    2. The places where I’ve seen it work are things like schools, where staff spend a lot of time apart doing separate things with a large and demanding audience keeping them from stopping to talk to each other. Staff meetings were hurried things when school let out an hour early one day a week and people tried to get through a full agenda while still being able to pick their own kids up after school, so a retreat was extended time without students to talk and strategize without being stressed and busy. But in businesses where teams get to spend a *lot* of time together and structure their own meetings, there’s less actual call for a retreat.

      1. I’d agree with this. I’m a little surprised by how much hate there seems to be for team-building, but then my coworkers and I (being teachers) would kill to have some time to actually sit down together and co-ordinate what we’re all messing around with in our classrooms. If I spent as much time with my coworkers as with my students, I can well imagine I’d feel differently.

        1. I think it’s because what you are describing would fall more under the realm of actually building a team and getting things done. Which I’m all for. And sometimes this can be improved by interactions in less formal settings.

          What I (and surprisingly for me) many others have experienced are activities unrelated to work that are designed to get people to know one another better, thinking this would improve morale, but instead force people to do uncomfortable things unrelated to work in front of one another. And in many cases, “uncomfortable things” can go as far as to say “things that require me to disclose a disability in ways I otherwise would not have to in order to do my job.” And these things are always billed as “fun and easy and relaxing” so it becomes extra-hard to convince people in charge that they are in fact difficult or stressful or impossible.

          Also, there’s no reason why what you are describing couldn’t happen AT work (with time carved out.) But a lot of what I’ve been put through occurs at unfamiliar places, which again is supposed to be a benefit but often isn’t. For example, at work I have access to a computer and printer if I need to write something that someone else can read. At a retreat out in the woods somewhere, I’m expected to be able to keep up with handwriting which I can’t.

  29. Just as a small add, you might want to have a set of broken record scripts ready of “I’m happy with my doctor’s recommendations” ? Because it is not always the case, but in my experience there’s a decent crossover of the Yoga/Massage crowd and the woowoo Western Medicine(TM) Is Lawful Evil crowd. So informing coworkers “My doctor says no” may unleash a barrage of how all medical professionals are only trying to keep you away from yoga so they can keep you sick. You may already known this, but really any attempt to derail you and put you back in a position of debating yoga with them is frustrating.

    1. OMG yes. My sister is a yoga teacher, and apparently getting my gall bladder removed based on the recommendation of the doctor in the ER is cowing to the medical industrial complex, or something. DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT ASKING ME TO PRETEND THAT ScIENCE ISN”T A THING IS LIKE TELLING ME TO JUST QUIT AT MY LIFE?

      1. When someone I know took a massage class the instructor told him to go vegetarian because meat just sits in your stomach for 7 years unable to be digested. I think they might have been mixing it up with the old urban legend about gum.


            Oh right magical fields that neutralize your chakras and bring you into balance. Or was that crystals? ANYWAY IT IS TRUE.

            We just got into it at a Thai place because she was telling me my natural female attractive energy would draw good things to me. And I was like “I do not believe in feminine and masculine traits.” It was like I tried to blow up her brain, it was awesome.

          2. Not sure if the nesting is going to work or not, but this is for shinobi42:

            “We just got into it at a Thai place because she was telling me my natural female attractive energy would draw good things to me.”

            ::boggle:: Even leaving aside the nope-ness of “natural female attractive energy”… is she actually saying that only good things happen to women (and/or female persons, since who knows what she actually means here), and also that good things *don’t* happen to men/male persons? Or are women to whom bad things happen just… insufficiently female-energied?


          3. Entendante – I think she things that you have to like engage your female attractive energy? I don’t know, she keeps evangelizing her beliefs in a very half baked way, but I really am so not interested. I know that she’s very into this thing where if you just only think positive thoughts then only positive things will happen to you. And I was like yes, I think being positive and optimistic and focusing on achievable goals is good. But she actually means it in a magical way where like, if you think too many negative thoughts you trip and fall and that sort of thing.

            So it wouldn’t surprise me if she believed that not being in tune enough with your feminine energy means you don’t attract good things? or something?

            The attractive energy thing, I basically blew her mind by saying that I don’t believe I possess certain traits because I am female, any more than I believe I possess certain traits because I am an Aquarius. Which seemed to make sense to her eventually but the idea that I don’t really believe that men and women have different “energy” was very upsetting. I’m not even sure what energy is supposed to represent in this scenario.

            I totally am happy she has her belief set, I just wish she would stop trying to fix me with it.

  30. It’s weird that people can not understand this, with all kinds of experiences people say change their life. Surely part of the reason many people find certain activities improve their life is because they are very emotional experiences, or tend to make someone very emotionally open (which in the right, safe, freely chosen context can be part of a very positive experience), or are very intimate experiences of connection with others, or are in some other way powerful experiences. Which is part of what makes them useful to people, but obviously (I would have thought??) also makes them particularly horrible and invasive things to force on another person, with the power to do as much harm as good. In particular, the very fact of someone insisting you do something fundamentally changes the experience.

    I mean put it this way — I’m sure many people have had great sexual experiences that changed their life in positive ways. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t see how twisted it would be to insist someone have sex they didn’t want for their own good!

    Or to take a more neutral example, drugs change how your body or mind works, but that very power they have is also what makes them potentially harmful if misused.

    Long story short, you shouldn’t need to justify this to anyone or have a good enough reason or anything. It’s your body, your mind, your breathing, etc. No one has the right to insist you do this.

    I think the medical note and presenting it as a done deal are good practical options. And when it later comes up in conversation, your best pleasant smile and ‘nope, won’t be able to go, hope you have lots of fun.’ If possible redirect the conversation to something else, or even just to the other person and what they’re looking forward to or their plans for the trip.

    1. I kept feeling this about all the Charlie Hebdo pen is mightier than the sword stuff. Obviously I think writing things, even writing nasty things, is better than literal violence. But a lot of stuff seemed to operate on the assumption that not only was writing more powerful than the sword but that everything written was by definition GOOD and NOBLE just because it wasn’t literal violence.

      If you think something is powerful, whether it’s yoga or meditation or herbal medicine or writing, you should acknowledge that it can be powerful in negative ways as well as powerful ways.

  31. Gah. I haaaaaaaaaaaaate yoga. I had a horrible first yoga experience, which was nothing compared to LW’s yoga experience, it was just a terrible instructor insisting, in a beginner yoga class, my first time out, that I hoist my plus-sized ass over my head and do a headstand. When I refused because I didn’t feel like breaking my neck, she shamed me in front of the entire class for not giving enough effort. I mean, not that it’s hard enough to get myself to a fitness class as a plus-sized person or anything, what I need is public humiliation because I’m genuinely worried that I’m going to injure myself.

    (my friends who like yoga all universally tell me that she was terrible, and that NO ONE should be doing a headstand the first time out, and no one should be pressured to do anything that they’re not comfortable with, but I digress).

    To this day though, I have never done yoga again. I do like pilates, and do that on the regular with an awesome trainer, but that’s also not for everyone.

    And even thought I *like* pilates, I would NEVER get into exercise clothes in front of my colleagues and exercise with them. because that’s just…no. Heck, my company pays a stipend towards our gym memberships so we all go to the same gym chain, and I intentionally go to a location that is not the one across the street from the office, but rather halfway home, so that I face less chance of running into co-workers on the gym floor or (even worse) in the locker room. The closest I’ve ever come to engaging in physical activity with these people is when we went and played shuffleboard last summer for our summer outing. There were drinks and BBQ involved. That’s about as high intensity as we get.

    1. Headstand on the first day WHAT D: I had one of the first hatha yoga handbooks ever printed in the U.S. as a kid (one of Richard Hittleman’s titles), and the headstand was only introduced about 20 pages from the end! Because cervical vertebrae, and gravity! It did feel good when I had mastered it, though–like I was temporarily reversing gravity and a bunch of little tight spots in my spine and legs were saying “ahhhh.”

      And what the hell is with this blaming pain on the student?! If it hurts, you stop. That’s so bedrock obvious I feel kind of dumb typing it out.

      Yoga was my happy exercise as a kid because it was just me in my room with my little hatha yoga handbook whose last owner had really liked patchouli, with pillows scattered around the floor for safety, and nobody bugging me or watching me exercise. I liked the rare times in P.E. when we did folkdancing or disco with pre-set steps because everybody was concentrating on their feet, not checking out the other students. Every other kind of P.E. made my stomach hurt. It took me 15 years to go back to the swimming pool. Some of the stuff they covered in P.E. might have done me good–if not presented in full sight of the goddamn bullies by teachers who only wanted to find the kids who had natural talent for intermural sports and treated the rest like stray dogs hanging around.

      I guess what I’m saying is that if there is a Purgatory the people who take a giant dump all over something that might have done somebody else good are going to spend quite a lot of time there.

      1. Oh lord, it took me a long time to realize I had the potential to be athletic and enjoy exercise. Even, god forbid, RUNNING. Because running is pretty cool when you can do it on your own with your music and at a pace you set and you can stop when you feel like it. And “I ran three k in the freezing rain” can be a cry of triumph when you WANTED to do it, rather than a moaning whimper when somebody forced you to and set you a punishment lap if you weren’t fast enough. It was somewhere around university when I went, “Hang on a tick, I’ve always liked cycling and swimming and surfing is great when I get the chance. Sports don’t suck, gym class did!”

        1. Just wanted to +1 “Sports don’t suck, gym class did!”

          It’s amazing how much more I can do when I’m not on public display and being fat-shamed or lack-of-coordination-shamed in front of my peers.

        2. Fistbump of solidarity!

          Overweight, uncoordinated, anxious, and glasses-wearing: I probably would have been bullied in school sports anyway, but none of these helped. But I kind of liked sports (and had good sports teachers).

          It wasn’t until university when I looked at a super-sporty friend and went ‘wait… we do about the same amount of exercise’ (one or two things each day, some of it together). If that made *her* sporty, what about me?

          And, oh, the sweetness of coming across a bunch of teenagers who had cycled 3m to a venue [and moaned about it] when I could say ‘ah yes, I came on my bike, too, nice ride’ and I lived more than ten miles away, and they knew it 😉

        3. I remember that while I didn’t love gym in elementary there were a lot of days where we played fun games or got to pick any ball we wanted and play with that. Then junior high came around and the first 4 weeks of all 3 years had the dreaded ‘4K’. That is, run 4K outside in whatever weather in 80 minutes. I think I finished it twice in three years and then only barely. I developed a loathing for physical activity that has followed me into adulthood and has made it extremely hard for me to develop healthy exercise patterns. Haaaaaaaate.

        4. Yeah, this. To this day I dislike team sports, and only as an adult did I learn that running (by myself! with my own chosen pace and my own chosen distance!) is awesome. I’m super active now, but all of my activities are either individual or non-competitive, or both. Running, cycling, hiking, martial arts, weight lifting. I’m probably physically capable of doing fairly well at team sports, but I’ve been pretty soured on them and I’m not likely to try.

      2. I guess what I’m saying is that if there is a Purgatory the people who take a giant dump all over something that might have done somebody else good are going to spend quite a lot of time there.

        This is so true and I feel this so hard, thank you for putting this into words.

        (As an aside, I am sloooowly getting to the point where I can almost stay up in headstand without the assistance of a wall and it feels so good and I love the way you describe it!)

      3. Only yoga class I ever took was in college, and the deeply unpleasant instructor did try to get us all to do headstands on the first day. Ha, nope. Nope nope.

    2. I have been to one yoga class, and I am never going to another. I was having a lot of muscle tension and TMJ issues and various people recommended yoga, so when the studio in my neighborhood held a free class, I went to check it out. First they didn’t even want to let me in because I was wearing jeans. (They were broken in almost to flannel and the most comfortable pants I owned.) They tried to make me buy a pair of yoga pants on the spot; they seemed completely baffled that I would want to try an activity before purchasing specialized equipment for it.

      They did finally let me in. The class was terrible. Everyone else there was a regular who knew what to do; the teacher kept giving instructions like ‘ground yourself’ without explaining what that meant or how to do it; and all the stretches hurt horribly– but this was at a time when all stretching, of any kind, hurt me horribly, and I’d expected that, and tried to follow along as best I could anyway despite the pain. Then at the very end they had us lie down in corpse pose, and my jaw instantly seized up– so tight that my lips were still numb half an hour later. I’ve never experienced a TMJ spasm like that before or since. I sat up and clenched every other muscle in my body, and it started to release, but I was still crying with the pain when the class ended and they let us out. Whereupon I was immediately surrounded by concerned regulars who told me, very seriously, that these things could happen when you tried to do yoga in jeans and I really should dress appropriately next time. And when I said there wasn’t going to be a next time, I got FOLLOWED AROUND THE FARMERS’ MARKET FOR THE NEXT HOUR by evangelists telling me I shouldn’t let this put me off yoga.

      1. >.< Jeans causing TMJ spasms WHAT. I am so sorry, that sounds like a horrible experience.

    3. Oh no, headstands! I did capoeira for a few months, and enjoyed it, for all that I am not a fit person. That changed when the instructor told us all to practice headstands, without showing us (especially me, the utter newbie) how to do it. I tried my best, and injured my neck for my troubles. Its been about a decade, and I still get chronic neck pain as a result. I’ve been reluctant to go back to exercise classes since.

      1. Oh god! I went to ONE capoeira class and really enjoyed it up to the part where the instructor was like. “Now just flip your legs over your head.” and I was like ” I can’t.” And he was like “You CAN just TRY.”

        I think this is a thing that incompetent fitness teachers say to try to make problems go away instead of acknowledging that NOT EVERY BODY IS THE FUCKING SAME YOUA SSHOLE.

        Sorry… Uhh… yeah… maybe not.

        I take bellydance now, and with a good teacher it is very “now this movement might not look the same on your body as it does on me, or be very big, but that’s ok.” Which is so nice. I actually took a workshop where they said “IF you’ve only been dancing for less than 3 years, you might not be able to do this.” THANK YOU SOMEONE for acknowledging that changes to ones body to perform new actions takes TIME!

  32. Grrrr! I’m so mad for you, LW! I celebrate your snarly face!

    I am strong, I’m a horseback rider, and I sometimes practice other forms of exercise. I’ve tried them all. And I, too, HATE yoga and meditation. I’ve never been bendy or flexible, and I really dislike the sensation of having my head below my waist. My brain is a constant ticker-tape of thoughts and trying to “empty” it of thought just makes it louder and makes me anxious. The evangelists say, “but you just haven’t tried it long enough,” “you just have to get past the noise,” “but it’s just so great when you finally let go,” “you’re just manifesting all this anxiety,” and other versions of “you’re doing it wrong.” Screw them. What makes their way better than mine? My head clears when I move in synchronicity with my horse, I feel a rush when we glide over jumps, and I breathe deeply when I hug her dusty neck after a hard ride. I’ll take that over down-dog any day.

    One former good friend is a yoga instructor. When I broke a rib falling off a horse, she pressured me into doing her stretches (because yoga can cure anything!) and then made me feel small when I cried from the pain (“you’re holding onto the pain, not releasing it, you must want it, I work with people with pain all the time, I know”) I put my foot down, relegated her to small-doses friendship, and gave myself permission to never try yoga again.

    Yoga is not something you ever have to like. You never have to try it again. You have already done so much work for yourself, so be proud of that. If they try to yogavangelize you again, recognize them for the bullies they are and remember the Captain’s advice: “I don’t want to” is a good enough reason.

    1. Oh my god, I’m so sorry to hear your story about your former good friend.

      This thread is turning out to be “how to be a really hurtful dickhead without even intending to: the yoga edition!”

    2. [quote]My brain is a constant ticker-tape of thoughts and trying to “empty” it of thought just makes it louder and makes me anxious. [/quote]

      I find that computer games like Tetris or Bejewelled work for me in giving the busy surface part of my brain something to do and allowing me to think much more clearly. This has the disadvantage that I look as if I’m just playing around a lot of the time (so not necessarily work safe) but I’ve found it much more useful than meditation.

  33. LW, if there is one person at work you feel comfortable giving full or partial disclosure about this problem, you may feel better just knowing that person will have your back.

    Disclosure is super personal so I am not saying you should. But depending on your own comfort levels it may be worth considering.

    I won’t preach yoga but have you considered the broad sword? I just started classes. People stop bothering you quickly when you wield a broad sword. 😉

  34. Dear LW,

    I disagree slightly with the Captain about whether to approach HR in person first. (Not necessarily in principle, but in practice)

    I think it depends a lot on the organization. In some (i.e. most I’ve worked in) writing a note or calling requesting time for discussion of a possible disability issue (and this is horribly ablist of your employer, and PTSD gets covered under disabilities , right?) would work better than going in cold.

    Aside from that very small caveat I think the Captain is completely on target.

    And I am crossing my fingers and wishing you success in converting retreats to yoga optional.

    Also, Jedi hugs if you want them.

  35. I haven’t seen anyone mention HIPAA in this conversation (assuming LW is in the U.S.) so that’s another thing to drop into the conversation if need be.

    1. HIPAA only applies between people who provide medical services and their clients, and it’s only about information privacy. It doesn’t have anything to do with you and your employer and required activities. (It’s also not a word to invoke unless people breaking into a cold sweat is the desired outcome.)

      1. An employer can absolutely be considered a covered entity under HIPAA, if they are providing health related services (insurance, benefits, wellness plans, etc) to their employees. Not just “medical services”. And protected health information has been interpreted by some authorities to cover things as broad as whether or not you even receive medical services and or participate in an insurance or wellness plan.

        I’ve spent enough time negotiating the benefit plans (and the related privacy agreements) for my company to want to strangle HIPAA and drown it in a river. But it’s broader than just medical professional/client.

  36. My office runs conferences throughout the year; I have a condition that makes it excruciatingly painful for me to be on my feet for any extended period. On the advice of a very smart friend, I had my doctor write a note saying that I could not stand on my feet for extended periods and then left it up to my boss to decide how to respond. It was phrased in such a way that the only sensible (not to mention humane) response was to excuse me from working conferences, with the added bonus of having someone in the office to handle the inevitable emergencies. I’ve been joined by another person who is even worse off, physically, than I am, so it’s worked out well.

    In a previous job, we had more or less mandatory staff picnics every summer. The problem, for me at least, was that they were always scheduled for a Saturday (when the office was closed), were always very far from the city where I live and work, far enough out that there was no public transit, there were no arrangements or accommodations for people who didn’t have cars and always seemed to take place on one of the hottest days of the year. One year, when I managed to get a ride from someone who had a car, we had to wait for half an hour in the blazing sun, in a parking lot, waiting for a shuttle to the picnic grounds. I finally decided enough was enough and refused to go; several others took this as precedent and also stayed away, which made all of us happier.

  37. Evangelism of all types sucks — I’ve been dealing my whole life with depression. I also have never been very physically coordinated, and didn’t have my exercise-induced asthma diagnosed until I was in grad school. (I didn’t know you *weren’t* supposed to feel like throwing up all the time while exercising, and everyone else just thought I was that out of shape.) As a result, only VERY limited types of exercise do not make me feel absurdly enraged/hostile and inclined to acts of self-harm. But every few months, when someone hears I have a depressive disorder, I get the “oh! Have you tried exercise??! It <>!” I usually go with “well, everyone’s brain chemistry is different, and I, unfortunately, have a more negative response to those endorphins…” but it’s still massively annoying! I’m trying to get back into fitness, but it’s a tricky process; but I sort of have to for health reasons. There is absolutely no reason you ever have to do yoga. None. Avoid, and be merry!

    1. Yep. My brain does do better when I’m getting regular exercise, but it only starts doing better the next day– in the moment, I have, like, negative endorphins, and if I’m seriously depressed exercise can push me over from dysthemic-but-functional into fetal and sobbing.

      (Actually, I think what I have is an automatic association of ‘elevated heart rate and breathing’ with ‘panic attack,’ so as soon as my heart starts pounding I break into a cold sweat and wait for the wave of fear to hit.)

      1. AAAA I get this too sometimes where exercise makes my body think I’m having a panic attack! Luckily I haven’t gotten that for a while, but if I’m already upset it can ruin my day.

        1. Mm-hmm! If I’m already in a good frame of mind, haven’t had a panic attack in a long time, then it’s not a big deal– I have that moment of dread, but then I remember what it is and after a while it goes away. But I have to already be in a really good mood for exercise to not be an immediate downer.

    2. Ugh. “Have you tried exercise!?” is also one of the most patronizing things you can say to someone upon learning that they have a health complaint. Like really, are they expecting you to be like WHAT IS THIS MYSTERIOUS EXERCISE YOU SPEAK OF TELL ME MORE OF ITS STRANGE MAGIC.

      1. I don’t know why people are so fond of asking, “Have you tried/considered…” and then stating something ridiculously obvious. I’m legally blind due to retinal damage. I’ve had people ask me if I’ve tried glasses. Glasses? What are these mysterious objects of which you speak? No, I have never heard of them! Why, it’s so lucky you came by to tell me of them. My opthomalogist and retinologist are certainly unaware of them and would not have brought up the idea with me if they would be helpful for me. So, please, please enlighten me about the possible use of these wonders which are designed to compensate for lens abnormalities and not retinal problems.

        Really, if you don’t have a close enough relationship with someone to have some idea of what they have/haven’t tried and some of the details of their issue, then you should assume you’re not qualified to give advice. It can sometimes be okay, if they want to talk to you about the subject, especially if you have a shared problem. Like how I’ve spoken to others who also get migraines about what their triggers are, because while migraines vary massively, it’s good to check whether things that trigger someone else are an issue for me. Sometimes you can learn a new trigger to avoid. But it needs to be done very respectfully and with full knowledge that they may be different. But it’s really obnoxious to assume that somebody else who clearly has enough knowledge of a subject to say it’s not for them has less knowledge about how it will affect them than you have, especially without even knowing the details of their situation.

        1. I once asked someone flat out if they really felt they had a better idea what I could/couldn’t do than I did after 38 years living inside my brain and my body. I had run through all tactful scripts I could think of first and couldn’t let it drop because I needed the accommodation I was insisting upon. On a related note, I’ve learned that any suggestion with the word “just” in it is bound to be a disaster. For example, “why don’t you just use a backpack?” in response to my carting things around with a luggage rack for Reasons. I suppose if you haven’t heard of glasses, it might be possible that I’d never heard of a backpack?

          1. THIS. If a sentence begins with “Why don’t you just …,” you can safely disregard the rest of the sentence.

            A few years ago, someone who tried it on me got a cranky outburst that ended with, “If that were the solution, we’d just be doing it. WE ARE NOT MORONS.” Not only did she apologize, but nobody has ever said “Why don’t you just” to me again. It’s almost too bad. I’d finally stumbled upon an effective response.

          2. Oh my god, “why don’t you just…” is the worst. From time to time I notice myself typing it on a message board or something, and it is my cue to delete the whole thing and close the window. Because it is the least helpful thing anyone can say, ever.

        2. The ‘respect’ part is totally key, honestly. I can have deep conversations about my health issues with a friend who also has chronic diseases, and she can even recommend things to me, and the only reason we can even talk about that stuff is because we respect each other. It’s the same with religion–I can talk about religious feelings and beliefs and traditions, but only with people who a) back off when you say back off b) respect you c) acknowledge that a plurality of right answers exist, and d) don’t try to evangelize or convert you.

          And ‘why don’t you just’ is intensely gross and patronizing. There are lots of different ways to suggest things without condescending to people.

      2. Argh! I am currently dealing with a really frustrating health issue that among others has completely destroyed my physical fitness and stamina for the nonce (as of yesterday, I have trouble walking too quickly. Hate anemia hate). I mention this to people whenever we have anything particularly physical planned in order to warn them, thinking that they will go “oh, that sucks, hope you get better soon”… but no! “HAVE YOU TRIED EXERCISE? YOU JUST NEED MORE EXERCISE. IF YOU EXERCISE MORE YOU WILL GET FIT.”

        It’s as if “I have a health issue and…” went through an internal translator as soon as it hit their ears and came out as “I am a really lazy person and…”

        1. Also, “why don’t you just try slowing down?” for my speech disorder. GLORY HALLELUJAH O SAVIOR, for some reason in the course of twenty-four years of dealing with this neither myself nor any of my speech therapists ever thought of this. (On a related note, basically any sentence starting with “But you don’t stutter while singing-” will make me want to hit you with a dead fish.)

        2. High five anemia haver! My PCP had me buy a car because they didn’t want me even walking the half mile to and from the bus stop any more when we were still trying to figure out why my blood wasn’t doing blood-things (I was lucky I could afford to go out and pay cash for a car).

          Here’s hoping your health issue stops being frustrating soon.

          1. High five for oh my god this sucks! I know exactly why I’m anemic, but thanks to health providers dragging their feet and medication that will totally stop the symptoms honest!! not… stopping the symptoms… I’ve been moderately to severely anemic since November. I was *just* getting my iron levels back to normal when last week happened and welp, back where I started. Yesterday I had a super-scary moment where I almost fainted in my flat. Considering I live alone I basically sat there going “right, I either have to call a friend to come stay with me or call [911 equivalent] because this is not safe.” I can totally imagine why you wouldn’t want to be walking to and from the bus stop.

            But surely exercise will cure us!!! *blech*

        3. My sympathies. Anemia is quite unpleasant. I’ve had mild anemia. I get it intermittently. It’s not too severe in my case, but even a mild anemia isn’t a good thing. I can’t tell you how many people suggested I get more iron. To which I explained that actually, mine wasn’t caused by being low in iron. Yes, many anemias are, but not all. More iron won’t fix the problem when the problem isn’t being low in iron. Mine was labeled anemia of chronic disease. Basically, because I have a chronic illness, my body is just not always up to producing blood as well. I’m already treating the chronic illness as best as current medical science will let me. Again, if the answer were blatantly obvious, then I and/or my doctor would probably have figured it out by now. On the plus side for me, my family doesn’t do this with me. My father is very supportive, and because he’s a retired doctor the rest of my family will always back off if I mention that I talked to him about it and he agreed with me or he said that wouldn’t help or what not. And he actually listens to things I say like, “exercise makes my symptoms worse”. I think people just really want simple answers to exist, so they don’t always take a moment to think through the fact that if it were simple and obvious, it’d already have been figured out. But by doing so, it has the really disrespectful implication that you could miss something really simple and obvious.

          Also, even with anemias due to lack of iron, it’s not like it’s always a quick and simple matter to fix. You can’t just eat some spinach and steak and turn into Popeye.

  38. yeesh! I am an Actual Yoga Teacher and I think a mandatory corporate yoga retreat is a horrible idea. Yoga can be really personal and bring up a lot of issues – physical and emotional – and as a teacher, I wouldn’t feel comfortable teaching a big group of people who were being forced to be there and felt pressured to do it to keep their jobs. It seems likely to me that the retreat could turn into a very competitive (and therefore physically unsafe) environment, with everyone pushing past their own limits and busily checking out how Donna from Accounting is doing over there. That is NOT a recipe for a safe and rewarding yoga experience!

    Plus, I firmly believe that corporate events should not involve having to wear yoga pants, which can be pretty revealing, in front of one’s co-workers. Or [ESPECIALLY] a bathing suit. Ever.

    1. Yeah. A place I used to work had a company picnic at the beach and I wore my standard beachwear which includes long sleeves, long pants, and a hat. I got some funny looks but luckily nobody said anything. Even if I owned a bathing suit I would most definitely not want to appear in it in front of coworkers and I didn’t appreciate having to see them appear in their bathing suits in front of me.

      Work is work. Beach is beach. Unless you’re a lifeguard or a swimming teacher the two shouldn’t be combined.

  39. LW, perhaps you could shut up said yoga-evangelist co-workers with a retort like, “Actually, I don’t find the co-optation of Indian culture / spirituality by doing yoga personally appealing or acceptable.” If your coworkers are white, middle class folks, they will probably not know how to respond and will likely never want to bring it up with you again.

  40. Is it just me or are corporate ‘team bonding’ socials getting more ridiculous and less inclusive with every passing year? A friend of mine was recently forced to attend an optional-but-not-really team away day where they had to spend the day meditating… at a pig farm in the middle of nowhere. In businesses with a strong drive to find new and innovative ideas, sometimes the idea that ‘new/unconventional = good’ can get inappropriately applied to things like social events or canteen menu choices when honestly, what most people want is boring, tried-and-tested ideas.

    The organisational team bonding at my small non-profit consists of holding a (genuinely optional) picnic at a local park once a year. It’s not particularly imaginative, but picnics are a time-honoured way of socialising with people fairly cheaply and 9 times out of 10 the reason lots of people aren’t doing a particular thing, is because that thing is shit (literally, in the case of the pig farm).

    1. My husband’s company takes everybody out for dinner during the Holidays. The company provides the roasted beast, covers the bar tab (within strict limits!), uses assorted vendor gimmes as prizes for the (optional) games, and rents the space at the Elks. Everybody brings a dish to pass and a gift worth up to $20 for the steal-it-twice gift pile. And we all take home leftovers. It’s actually pretty fun, even when the upper-ups decide to visit.

      1. I’m not too sure what constitutes a team bonding event — my company had their holiday party at a local art museum, which is small but very fance, and a really lavish buffet from a v. tasty local restaurant and two free drinks. Then they handed out $10, $20, and $30 giftcards to everyone. There was also a photo booth, which was kind of adorable.

        This is the first “corporate” type office I’ve worked in, so I don’t know where this falls on the range of things you can expect, but I thought it was nice. No leftovers, though. Sigh.

        1. Also there was no obligation to attend, which made it more appealing.

          I dunno, I’m still in a place in my life where “they’re giving me FREE FOOD” is a big draw.

          1. I spent enough time in grad school that I think my response to free food is a spinal reflex now.

      2. See, that sounds horrific to me.
        I don’t drink alcohol. I’m vegetarian. I don’t like eating with large groups of people. I don’t like large groups of people generally. I don’t celebrate Christmas/EOY hols. And I take gift-giving quite personally and would find the whole random-lucky-dip-gift-pile super anxty.

        Just goes to show the whole point of this post, really.

        1. +1
          Can’t drink alcohol, juice, or things with bubbles. Not vegetarian but have a bunch of (sometimes conflicting) dietary requirements. Have just enough auditory processing issues that I find it difficult to do anything much in large groups of people. And same about the gift-giving. :s

        2. They don’t expect people to drink or get up from the table at my husband’s company, which is a relief. No relentless-happy-peppy stuff. The talking to people I don’t hardly know…ehhh, once a year.

  41. Phooey on them. I’ve got a tailbone that sticks out and makes most of “normal” exercise kind of bad for my back. But nobody should be put in the position of having to explain why they don’t do yoga or any damn thing like that.

  42. I do want to mention that doctor’s notes are not binding for employers; they aren’t legally obligated to do what the note says. In most cases, reasonable employers will anyway — but I just want to make sure people know that the note itself does not confer legal obligation on the employer. (It’s possible that the ADA would, if the OP is covered under that — but she may not be, if the company has less than 50 employees or if what she’s dealing with doesn’t end up falling under the relatively narrow scope of what’s covered by that law.)

    Again, a reasonable company won’t even ask for a doctor’s note. They’ll say, “Oh, a medical issue, of course you shouldn’t participate in that.” But I want to clarify that the note doesn’t obligate that response.

    1. Thanks, Alison! This is why I think the Letter Writer shouldn’t volunteer or even mention the doctor’s note (just, take steps to get it in case it becomes an issue) – if the firm asks to see a doctor’s note, they are sort of outing themselves as “we’re gonna be jerks about this, just so you know” and that’s good information for the Letter Writer to have.

    2. If the LW is in the United States: Documentation submitted as part of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 does need to be respected by an employer.

      I will resist the temptation to evangelize under the horrifying circumstances, but I would nonetheless gently suggest that if the law applies to them and their workplace (some small companies are exempt; there are also rules about length of employee service, etc.), they file for intermittent leave under the FMLA. The US Department of Labor has a great site that explains how this works, but the nitty-gritty is, you are allowed up to 12 weeks in one rolling year (counted from date of first FMLA absence) of intermittent leave for a serious health condition–that means you can take a day here, a week there, as needed. It doesn’t have to be consecutive. If those days out coincide with scheduled yoga retreats, well? The stress of contemplating attending them caused what is called in FMLA terms “an episodic flare-up” of your serious health condition. And, really, that’s no lie. That’s how PTSD works.

      I spent 2014 in a job where processing FMLA requests (for the FMLA manager who couldn’t or wouldn’t touch them) accounted for over 50% of my time, so if I may, one tip: There is a form that the primary treating provider for your condition will have to fill out as part of your leave request, and most providers fill it out very badly. Explaining to your provider why you are requesting intermittent leave and getting them on board with how necessary this step is for your job protection can’t hurt and may help, as in a large company, it’s not uncommon for incomplete or incoherent provider forms to wind up on the bottom of the pile as the FMLA lackey moves on to processing requests that make more sense to them. This goes triple if the FMLA lackey has no medical terminology or healthcare background, as indeed most HR professionals do not. If you have no HR department and your field is not at all healthcare-related, the odds of having your request approved in a timely manner worsen, even though the law mandates that you receive a response from your company within 15 days.

      I’ll let the US DOL site explain further, but if, after following the Captain’s excellent suggestions above, you have any reason to think your company might get assy about this, I would really encourage you to do whatever you have to do to safeguard your employment, and possibly the protection offered by the FMLA might be helpful in that regard–again, if it applies to your situation and you feel comfortable doing so. Best of luck to you regardless and oh, I am SO sorry you are in this situation. I’d be snarling too.

  43. FYI the Angel link actually just goes to the Justice League vid again. Sad, because I was excited for some Angel!

  44. Love all of the Captains advice, just wanted to suggest maybe taking a look at the letterhead on the docs note.
    HR people are people, and people make mistakes.
    If you can, take the note from your therapist to your “holy crap I have flames in my lungs give me antibiotics!” Doctor and ask them to take the note and write you one on their letter head. Then there is no way for HR or your boss to slip up and mention the kind of doctor.
    This also might work if your company doesn’t have an HR department and you need a note to hand directly to the boss.
    Sending unicorn farts and Jedi hugs to you if you should so desire them.

  45. Having a fear or trigger around something seemingly innocent and commonplace is one of the most annoying thing to deal with.

    When I was a kid I had a bad experience with a bicycle, even now as an adult being on a bike makes me feel panicky and I’m deeply uncomfortable the whole time. Eventually I embraced my bike hatred and now I straight up refuse to ride them – no point making myself miserable to perform an unnecessary skill. Since I hang out with a hippie/hipster crowd I have to deal with bike evangelism a lot and really pushy people who really can’t wrap their brains around the idea that not everyone is going to like every activity they find pleasurable.

    I like to go with the Italian Job response https://youtu.be/-9Q1xx7t-HU

    “Why don’t you like riding bikes?”
    “I had a bad experience”
    “But bicycles blah blah”
    “I. Had. A. Bad. Experience.”

    Repeated as many times as necessary with the general attitude of “Why aren’t you getting this? How much CLEARER can I be”.

    Once you head down the path of trying to justify your choice people will try to talk you out of your no – having a solid wall of cheerful nope can be pretty effective. Remember they are being rude and awkward not you, feel free to let them know that through body language and tone.

    Good luck LW!

    1. OMG, the bike evangelism. I am VERY blumsy and have a terrible sense of balance, and there’s no way I would ever feel safe riding a bike. But no one believes me. I’ve experienced yoga evangelism too, and I don’t like yoga either. Every time I’ve tried it, I have tears of misery sliding down my cheeks in that last “lie there like you’re dead” pose.

      I have a friend who keeps hinting that I should borrow one of her bikes when we hang out. I’ve tried to explain that I have NO interest in biking as transportation or for fun or for exercise because a) I will lose my balance and be hit by a car, OR b) I will not lose my balance but get some bicycle road rule wrong and be hit by a car, OR c) I will have a heart attack while riding due to being i) out of shape and/or ii) BEING SO FREAKING ANXIOUS ABOUT MY TERRIBLE SENSE OF BALANCE AND WATCHING OUT FOR THE CARS THE CARS THE CARS. Seriously, a) is going to happen. I have explained my terrible sense of balance and certainty that I will be killed. She keeps working it into conversations. Now I just say, “Nope, no biking for me, let’s take the train and walk.” I wish she’d stop trying, though.

        1. I thought it was a darling reference to all the awkward teenage love from our dear Judy Blume! We need to adopt “blumsy!”

          1. Blumsy: of or pertaining to awkward teenage shows of affection. Use: “He leaned in for a blumsy kiss, knocking her glasses off with his nose.”

      1. I can relate to that.

        Several years ago now, I went on a bike afternoon with my boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend) and his friends, very early into meeting these people. I was happy to do it, but my one stipulation was “I only want to do this if there’s bike paths and no riding in street traffic.” I also made it clear that I hadn’t ridden a bike in several years.

        So I was given a bike from someone’s garage and then away we went! On a bike trip that started off on bike trails and through parks and very quickly ended up on curving industrial roads to get to a very lovely park 26 km from where we started. I’m huffing and puffing at the back of the pack and up and down hills while trucks thunder by at 60+ km ph a metre away.

        It ended with my sitting in that park puffing away on my inhaler and having one of the super-fit yoga-health friends talking to me with concern because they saw me use my inhaler twice over this 26km journey.

        And the only way out was to ride the very same industrial road/truck way to get to a train station so I didn’t have to ride the entire way back to the original station.

        SO UNHAPPY. Not impressed on any level.

        Now I know how to say, “No thanks, this does not sound like fun to me” or “This is not what I expected, so I’m going to stop here and call a taxi – have fun without me though!”

      2. With friends, it sometimes works just to say “No”, like it’s a dog trying to get on the furniture. Even if they question/sentence they’ve just uttered isn’t a question and “no” isn’t really a logical response. Don’t apologise, don’t explain. It doesn’t work with everyone but the people it does work with, it stops that conversation forever.

        1. I’m currently auditioning scripts for dealing with creepy stalker neighbor who believes my openly snubbing him means “she’s just so shy, I’ll keep trying!” This is going on the list.

    2. This is part of the reason why I am *really not a fan* of group sporting events, particularly bicycling. I LOVE my bicycle. But! I have really specific and somewhat hard-to-explain fear responses that mean that sometimes I have to get off RIGHT THE FUCK NOW AND WALK. Going down steep hills upsets me enough that sometimes I can’t sleep the night after because when I close my eyes I’m falling. For people without anxiety (or who have been riding bikes all their lives — I started riding mine at age 24) some of the ways I manage my fear while bicycling may seem bizarre, but being pushed to do something that upsets me is the quickest way to ensure that I can’t do an activity at all without having a panic attack (see: skiing. Just the pain of wearing the boots makes my heart rate ramp up.)

      “I’m not interested in doing this with you, because I don’t know/don’t trust you to respect my boundaries around it,” is sometimes a difficult sentiment to communicate.

  46. Good luck LW! I think the Captain has really excellent scripts here. I can’t do a range of very common things, because I have an extremely rare immune condition affecting my vulval skin. Nobody has ever heard of it, and it is invisible to them, so at retreats etc nobody ever understands that I can walk three miles one day but not the next (friction, my old pal), or can’t ride a bike, or that I suddenly get spasms of pain so bad I have to stop whatever I am doing, because I look just fine.

    Very occasionally, when all the other ‘shut your interference down’ routes have failed, I go with the long, hard stare, and ‘I have an extremely rare vulval disorder. It is highly private, but you have ceaselessly pressured me into disclosing it. I hope I have sufficiently sated your curiosity’, or similar. They are always hugely apologetic, but for heaven’s sake, people, butt out!

    Basically, sending Jedi Hugs if they are welcome: I feel you. Ax

  47. In addition to all the reasons people here have mentioned that corporate yoga is a Bad Idea, it occurs to me that some people might object to yoga on religious grounds. I know it’s often practiced secularly, but even the secular versions of it have religious underpinnings that might conflict with certain faith traditions, and if it’s mandatory, that could be a problem. This whole thing seems like and HR nightmare.

    1. Yup! My sister in law objects to meditation on religious grounds (she’s a variant of Christian). Privately, I roll my eyes a bit at her conflation of all forms of mindfulness with Hinduism. But ultimately, if she thinks meditation is against her religion, it doesn’t harm anyone else if she refuses to meditate, so no one should try to make her.

    2. This was my first thought. The people I know who don’t do yoga for religious reasons tend to be Jewish and not Christian, but religious discrimination is a major issue for any company that mandates yoga.

  48. I don’t drink, and I live in the UK, for a company which chose to welcome the new Arabic translator (who was to be based in his home city of Dubai, but came to London to meet us) by taking him to a pub without checking if that might be a problem (we already knew he was Muslim). Even after I pointed out the issue, nobody said ‘ah yes, good point, let’s go somewhere else’. Thank goodness we could sit outside, but he was visibly uncomfortable.

    The current team never remembers that I don’t drink, but doesn’t actually pressure me. Old team, I eventually just moved teams entirely, in part because every single social event boiled down to “entire team gets drunk and stops making sense by 8pm.”

    In short, I feel your pain LW, and I’m sorry you are dealing with this.

    Also, a lot of yoga teachers are utterly shit at dealing with people with even mild physical infirmities. One teacher told me that the adaptation another teacher had taught me for RSI wasn’t necessary because nobody ever had pain when they rested full weight on their hands. I walked out. So I’d hate the idea of this retreat too. You could always start countering evangelists with stories of bad teachers.

    The only way that corporate team building exercises ever build team is by the universal horror with which they are viewed by most of the involuntary participants.


    1. My old job, we had some big boss come over from the UK who actually had to be sat down and told to knock it off with the constant attempts to get everyone out to the bar after hours. He had no clue of the *harsh* social/racial stigmas surrounding public drunkenness here, nor of the way his “snide Christopher Hitchens wannabe” persona was making everyone assume he was an incompetent bully.

  49. I want to veer off into one particular point in addition to all the great stuff others have said about the ADA.

    (And I’m someone else who can’t do yoga, forced relaxation or retreats, for a variety of reasons)

    Somewhere there exists in the universe a job description for your job. It includes the essential job functions that presumably you can do. The ADA states that employees have to be able to perform essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation. Things that are not in your job description can be argued to be peripheral job functions. Things like yoga, unless you are hired as a yoga instructor or possibly an occupational therapist, are probably not even construable as peripheral job functions.

    I’ve had multiple horrible experiences at “forced team building” activities and even more so with orientation activities (where you don’t even know the people running the show) that ask me to do things I can’t do. I can perform the essential job functions for the job for which I have been hired as a pediatrician, with some minimal accommodation. Exercising on cue, moving around a room with stairs, handwriting several sentences – all of which have been thrust upon me at orientations as fun easy things everyone can do but are in fact harder for me than my actual job. It gives me both perspective and anger when I think about the relationship between “things in my job description” and “things required at retreats/orientations.” Of course, “follow your boss’ directions” is sort of implied in job descriptions, but he/she/they really shouldn’t be requiring people to do things that they weren’t hired to do, no matter how fun or easy those things are generally perceived to be.

    1. As an actual Occupational Therapist by trade, I can tell you that there’s very, very little call for being able to do yoga, unless you work in a field where relaxation therapies are used frequently. My last exposure to such a setting was back in 2007 or so.

      OT as a profession has a surprisingly high number of people with physical and hidden disabilities that would make yoga quite difficult.

      1. The last 2 times I encountered yoga, it was when shadowing pediatric occupational therapists. (I’m a developmental pediatrician and part of my training was to observe PT,OT and speech therapies.) They had this BINGO game with YOGA written across the top and the kid was supposed to pick a card and do the pose on it and then play the card. The kids loved it.

        And so the OT invites me to join in. And I can’t say “I can’t do yoga” in front of the kid. But. . . well. . . I can’t do yoga, and I definitely can’t figure out poses by looking at them on a card.

        So I’m sure there are plenty of OTs who don’t need to do yoga as part of their job, but it will forever now be linked in my mind with something OTs do.

        1. Yeah, although yoga can be good for children with co-ordination disorders or developmental disorders, it doesn’t sound as if that session was individually adapted – although the group could have been selected on ability.

          Yoga sessions with PT and OT input can definetly be a fun addition to paediatric wards. As OT’s are typically of the ‘Arts and Spirituality’ bent whereas PT tend to be of the ‘horses and hockey’ bent, OT’s tend to end up running such sessions by default. At my Uni/College, the yoga sessions were vastly oversubscribed – no surprise for a course with a lot of middle-class middle-Englanders.

          1. Oh the activities were quite adapted for the kids. Each was in a 1:1 OT session, each had done the yoga activities before, each specifically chose the yoga activity that day when given a choice of several things to do. They did great.

            What it wasn’t adapted for was the observing, invisibly disabled doctor (me) who got put on the spot by the OT in front of the kid and knew it wouldn’t be politic to say “I can’t” do something the kid was doing.

            And I’ve been a patient of both PT and OT myself before (OT has the better toys) and would have been game to participate in just about any other proposed activity. What I really wanted to do was hop into the ball pit and swing on the sensory swing. When did I stop being the right size for those?

  50. I hate yoga too, and also frequently find myself trapped I conversations about how great it is. I just want to thank the letter writer for her words in describing why she hates it. I’ve never been able to articulate it that well!

    And company team building is universally loathesome. I once had to play laser tag and eat pizza like some 10 year old. I came out of that one looking like a complete asshole, so I certainly can’t say how not to do that, but I thought the captain’s advice was excellent!

    1. Team building exercises that seem designed for ten-year-olds by people very sad they had to stop being ten-year-olds, specifically the sort of ten-year-olds who love Phys Ed, inspire me with the desire to revert to my own ten-year-old self, to wit, fading backward out of the group, only to be found later sitting in the shade reading a book.

  51. Oh man, I had this exact same problem with Tai Chi recently. Reminds me of a terrible childhood experience and I loathe it with the fire of a thousand suns. Then I went on the department retreat, where I did not know there would be Tai Chi because the itinerary is supposed to be a FUN SURPRISE. (PSA: Mandatory retreats and secret itineraries != fun.) There wasn’t a chance to sneak away from the activity without everyone noticing, and while I considered feigning sudden illness, I figured my own bad experience with Tai Chi was long enough ago that I could tough it out.

    Turns out that I was wrong, and I will probably never be over that particular experience. I had to exert a Herculean effort not to burst into tears or collapse in a panic, and I did a fucking amazing job, if I do say so myself… but everyone still commented on how pained I looked. I got a similar earful about how “healing” the experience had been for the other coworkers. Afterwards I decided never to attend another… corporate workshop, birthday party, or event of any kind… unless I know exactly what the plan is. I don’t care if I have to pretend to be sick for 10 years in a row, I’m never doing that again.

    LW has gotten a ton of useful advice, but I just wanted to commiserate a little. Nice to hear I’m not the only one with this problem.

      1. A company I work for did the ‘secret itinerary’ thing once. It turned out to be line dancing followed by hockey.

        Apparently the CEO had organised it because he liked those things… and he looked genuinely surprised when three of us sat out the whole afternoon and evening because our respective surgeons would have had apoplexy if we’d done any of it.

        I still don’t know what he was thinking.

      2. “I’m sorry, but I need to know exactly where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing in case [FAMILY MEMBER] needs to get a hold of me.”

        [push back]

        “Well, if you can’t tell me, you can’t tell me, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to attend.”

        [blah mandatory blah]

        “OK, let’s take this to HR/boss person and go over the part of my job description that says I have to go on secret excursions. I don’t remember seeing that one and would love to know how I missed it. Regardless, however, I am not going to attend a work function without knowing exactly what is involved, and it is unreasonable to ask me to.”

        Now, that’s the script for an ideal situation with relatively functional processes. In a more dysfunctional workplace (say, mine, if my CEO got this idea into his [ableist slur] little head), my script would be “NOPE, not happening, not going anywhere with you people without an itinerary and an escape plan, and we WILL be looking this over in advance so I can tell you what I will and will not be doing, and if that causes mistrust in the office, maybe the whole thing is a stupid idea in the first place.”

        Uh, I may have some work stress at the moment.

  52. Mainly commenting as another “Nope, no yoga for me basically ever!”. I have a condition that makes me extremely flexible- but also means I can very easily over-extend my joints and accidentally dislocate them without meaning to. And another condition that makes me uncoordinated and clumsy with very little awareness of where my limbs are. Oh and nearly no sense of balance. AND a phobia of falling! NO YOGA. EVER. ESPECIALLY NOT AROUND PEOPLE.

    But as I have chronic pain and depression people are often telling me “Do yoga!” and I say “No, that would be unsafe for me”.

    LW, please feel free to say to people that yoga would be “unsafe” or “dangerous” or “harmful” to you. Because it would be and it’s not a lie and if people start making assumptions about why that’s their problem.

    1. Not applicable to the LW but may be applicable to others. When all else fails and someone Just Won’t Stop yoga-vangelizing at me, I start to describe in detail exactly what would happen if I accidentally over-extended my shoulder and how Terribly Awkward And Upsetting it would be for the teacher and the rest of the class to see my arm dislocate halfway through a class.

      1. +1
        (Hi, are you a fellow EDSer? I have never full-on dislocated something, but I sublux a lot, and did group yoga classes at uni for several years before I knew better (before I had a diagnosis other than fibromyalgia/chronic-pain-that-doesn’t-quite-fit-fibromyalgia. It always left me in way more pain than before, no matter how carefully I followed the instructions.)

        1. Yeah, same here. Or at least, I have a HMS diagnosis (among a dozen other diagnoses) and am on a wait list to get seen about “Erm.. all my friends with EDS are adamant that I also have EDS and I think they have a point”. I sublux a lot.

          And because God apparently has a sense of humour, my Aunt is a yoga teacher and spent most of my childhood getting me to do yoga because of how flexible I am… and never thought “Hey, maybe he *shouldn’t* be able to bend his limbs so far backwards”. And I now have to repeatedly remind her that I have been *explicitly told* that I should not do yoga because i *will* injure myself.

          1. I have something like a HMS diagnosis (different names for things here, not sure how it maps, and not sure the rheumatologist ever wrote it done in my files –and it’s very hard here to get an EDS diagnosis), and (since I’m very fond of yoga, but very careful with it) I fear the day that a doctor tells me that it’s gotten too dangerous to do yoga. Also, archery I’m pretty sure I’ll have to give up someday. I realize now that I’m very lucky to have this time where it’s mild enough that I *can* be careful enough not to hurt myself.

            I’m currently on crutches and forbidden every activity for weeks because of an incident involving walking down a cobblestoned hill. 😦

            I also didn’t realize until a few years ago that not everyone can do x overflexing thing, and that I should probably stop doing it. Also that this many lifetime ankle sprains was unusual.

          2. *raises hand* EDSer here, too, as is my daughter, who initially introduced me to Captain Awkward.

            The number of things that we thought were “normal” in our family, and went on to horrify others with . . . there’s an actual list (because I had no idea that some of the things that *she* could do were abnormal, because *I’d* always been able to do them, too.)

            When someone is REALLY pressuring me to do [insert physical activity], I’ll occasionally pull my shirt neckline aside, deliberately dislocate my right shoulder, and roll it back in again. Never fails to get a dramatic reception. I try not to do “party tricks” that can further loosen my joints, but occasionally a demonstration is worth a thousand words, especially to a skeptical doctor.

            I never did yoga growing up, but the ONE sport I was good at (because it turns out that I’m not “clumsy,” I have terrible proprioception) was gymnastics, because flexibility was a major asset there. Sadly, it’s also where I acquired some of my longterm injuries.

            People STILL try to talk me into yoga, even when I remind them that I’m severely hypermobile and pushing my range of motion is a very, very bad idea. At that point, I just say “only water-based exercise is safe for me, deal with it.”

            I’ve seen people evangelize about a lot of things, but the Cult of Yoga is exceptionally pervasive. (Not that I think that yoga is cult-ish, in and of itself, but the people who push it like they’re getting kickbacks for every new participant is . . . really striking.)

            People genuinely do not understand EDS as a disorder — they see me standing/walking at home (occasionally staggering/limping/falling, but generally getting around okay *because I have my house set up with a ton of grab points*), and act like I’m somehow faking the need for a power-assist wheelchair when out in the world.

            I primarily need the chair because my EDS-related heart issues can cause me to black out if I’m standing or walking for too long, or if I get overheated, or if my blood pressure changes dramatically . . . it’s ALSO difficult and painful to walk long distances or to stand for more than a few moments, but the chair is primarily for dealing with my POTS when upright.

            But, yeah — if you can stand/walk briefly in your accessible, customized home environment (or if, relevant to the OP, you can perform your job responsibilities in the workplace), but have a disability or physical/mental health issue that interferes with doing *other* things outside of your home or your professional setting . . . that doesn’t mean that the issues are fake, or that you should have to explain them in detail to nosy looky-loos who really just want to pass judgment on whether your “issue” really “qualifies” to exclude you from those activities, based on their own biases and viewpoints.

    2. Oh! I have the same condition! Though I thought the lack of proprioception was a symptom of the former condition, not a separate condition.

      I don’t get “do yoga” a lot, but everyone tells me to exercise more – I’ve started to snap at them when they do, because I’m damn sick of them. And periodically people tell me that if I didn’t drink so much milk I’d be better off. It’s only a matter of time before someone suggests gluten-free . . .

  53. Just adding my own experience to this…after many incredibly bad experiences with a lot of things like this as a child/teenager, I’d be in exactly the same place. I have vision issues, and no kinesthetic awareness essentially. Basically if somebody tries to explain/show me how to move my body in a certain way, I can’t do it. The fact that people trying to show me say things like “it’s easy” or seem really baffled as to why I can’t do it makes it much much worse. I am not normally an emotional person but this is the sort of thing that really can send me into a crying mess. As a kid the things that failed spectacularly included yoga, martial arts, dancing, various types of stretching, etc…I just don’t get it, can’t do it, can’t follow along. I would love to get these things and do them well, but it isn’t happening and the added emotion from bad bad experiences with it (everything from stereotypical bully gym teacher/classmates to well-meaning people insisting *this* time it would be different..) just makes me want to run screaming from anything like this.

    1. The cry of ‘it’s easy’ while showing someone something they are scared of/can’t do/even are a complete novice at needs to be retired from human speech. Jedi hugs for you.

      1. +1. I have been known* to snap, “Obviously it’s FUCKING NOT” in response, particularly since I tend to be a figure-it-out-myself type, so if I’ve broken down and asked for help, I’m already super frustrated.

        * Euphemism for “I do this every time.” 🙂

        1. The word “just” should probably be banned in general. Any advice containing “just” is as suspect as any directions starting with “you know the…” (Well, that last bit might be my idiosyncrasy, but that’s my principle: I don’t know the whatever it is, people, please just give me actual directions from here to there.) Parenting advice is a great case in point. My imagined dialogue (maybe I’ll actually say this someday?):

          “Oh, you should try what I do, I just nurse him and sing to him and when he starts looking sleepy I just put him down and rub his back and he goes right to sleep.”

          “Oh, you JUST do that? Hm. I’ll consider JUST doing that. Who knows, maybe a lot of moms JUST do that. I’ll tell my husband what you JUST do to get your baby to sleep and see if he thinks I should try JUST doing that.” (or whatever, just making sure you say JUST a lot with really heavy irony on the justs)

    2. I’m a strongly kinaesthetic learner who used to have very little body awareness. This meant that I a) wasn’t very good at sports, and b) I just cannot, absolutely utterly cannot, learn moves by watching someone else perform them, much less watching them do stuff where they face me and I need to translate ‘he’s moving the arm on my left upwards, so I should be moving my right arm’. What happens is that I stand in the middle of the floor and stare and frantically try to work out what kind of body feel the things I see translate to; by which time the dance/exercise/yoga/whatever class has moved on.

      The few times I’ve lucked out and had kinesthetically aware teachers, on the other hand, I found myself suddenly being able to learn very, very quickly. Which led me to complete puzzlement of ‘but it can’t be that easy, it always takes me weeks to even halfway competently stumble through a thing.’

      Working out how I learn best (and not just physical exercise, but *anything*), has been a life-changing experience for me; and I’m now at this point where I can evaluate teachers and learning methods, and translate into what *I* need, or outright reject them. Without this, I would have spent a much larger portion of my life believing that ‘I’m just bad at-‘ instead of knowing that I’ll probably never be great, but I won’t know until I meet a competent teacher and get a chance to give it a fair go.

      1. “I’m a strongly kinaesthetic learner who used to have very little body awareness.” OH MAN THIS. Never mind exercise classes; I thought for years that I was terrible at spatial reasoning because I did so poorly at geometry. I was well into my thirties before I realized that I’m actually pretty good at fixing things, packing books and moving vans, adjusting knitting patterns on the fly, sculpting, and basically everything else that I was able to learn with my hands and not my eyes.

  54. You may want to have your counselor contact your primary care doctor/nurse and have them write the medical excuse note. Sad to say, but some people do not recognize mental health as being equally important as physical health. HR or your boss might not respect the note as much if it comes from a mental health professional. Also, having a PCP doc write the note provides another layer of privacy regarding your mental health status.

  55. LW, I have no useful advice to offer that hasn’t already been said a million times. I just want to offer solidarity and the idea that having a thing you can’t or won’t do is so normal it always shocks me when people don’t understand a boundary like that when they see it.

    I have oddly specific social anxiety. I was an actor for many years, and I play roller derby in front of crowds of several hundred people on a fairly regular basis. I do well in front of crowds when it’s scripted or I’m in a situation where I can focus so hard on what I’m doing that I don’t think about all of the people. But put me on the spot to do a task I’m not comfortable with, with people who are comfortable doing it? Call in the nopetopus! I did a short unit in my theatre MFA where the actors and designers (me) collaborated to create art. One of the instructors was an evangelical sort, and one day he asked us to do a series of exercises where we had to come up with movements and vocalizations on the fly with our classmates which would tell a story. And I was all kinds of triggered. And the pressure I got from him (“No big deal!” “Contribute to the ensemble!” “Team player!” “Your problems aren’t so special you get out of this!”) was so great and so shitty that I walked out of the class. I don’t even have a concrete reason such as your very real trauma; I just was all freaked out by this exercise and couldn’t handle being dismissed for wanting to observe rather than participate. I occasionally get that sort of thing elsewhere, where people use my acting background and my involvement in derby as reasons I shouldn’t get to have the feelings I have. You get to say no when you’re uncomfortable. And people who say you don’t are assholes.

    1. ‘Your problems aren’t so special that…’ is a spectacularly fucking bad way to start a sentence. There is no good way of ending that sentence. That is a bad, no good sentence opener, and I am sorry that you were presented with the twin mountains of unthinking suckage that surrounded it.

  56. “I can’t do yoga.”
    “Why not?”
    “I can’t.”
    “But whyyy?”
    “Because I can’t.”
    Choice A: “Because I can’t.” Repeat ad infinitum.
    Choice B: “I have my reasons for it, and those reasons are my concern and mine alone. Please stop asking about this, it’s really weird that you keep insisting on something that I obviously do not want to do and that really has nothing to do with my job.”

    I’ve had super nosy coworkers before (Including one that, when he broke me down to the point of admitting to being sexually abused as a child, when I said I didn’t want to talk about it he literally stated “No, I want details” Needless to say I was very happy to be moved to a different part of the store where I did not interact with him) and the best way in my experience to shut them down is to either give them nothing long enough that they give up, or give them an answer that makes them feel super awkward.

    1. OMG I’m so so so sorry this happened to you. I wish there was some sort of Bat signal that summons leagues of supported when people harangue you like this and persist beyond all boundaries. They can surround them and target them with a unified death stare while you leave and have some privacy. Maybe there could even be a special detachment who surround you like a human shield as you walk away – like the secret service around the president.

        1. …and so I can properly judge whether or not your response is warranted.”

          Good gods. My guard hairs have been bristling at a lot of the stories in the comments.

    2. Holy mother of WHAT?!
      There’s clueless – “I wanna know, tell me, c’mon, why won’t you tell me!” – and then there’s FUCKED UP.

  57. LW, you are not alone. You are SOOOOO not alone. You need to know that.

    A friend of my once reluctantly told me group instructional athletics or dance caused a rage reaction in her, and when I said ‘meee tooooooo’ she started crying. Because she’d never met anyone else. You are not alone, my friend.

    Your description of the angry heeby jeebies when an ‘authority’ tells you to ‘relax’ almost gave me the self-same raging jeebies. Because I have been there too. We can get together sometime and and burn down small countries of yoga evangelists with fire. Yay for us! Because they have NO IDEA.


    I will, sometimes, occasionally, do it in the privacy of my own home. With YouTube. Maybe. This allows me to cry, feel rage, break shit, bawl uncontrollably, or whatevs, in sacred and glorious privacy. Which is sometimes what I need to do. But only on my agenda.

    Yoga is an intense, wretched thing that brings up crap (memories) that live in my body. Those memories surface in the form of burning rage and fierce teary shame. You want to see me deteriorate into wrath-filled screaming wreck who will burn all your shit down? Tell me to relax while instructing me in downward dog. PTSD beyotch from hell will eat yo face, is what will happen.

    Of course I too was sexually assaulted. So I feel you. You should know that our sisterhood of survivors is frequently triggered by yoga. Even if we weren’t sexually assaulted during yoga. It has something to do with control by an authority. Something to do with fake-calm words like ‘relax.’ And something to do with how yoga aligns mind and body and forces things up into awareness. Things that are trauma-things. People who have no body trauma have zero concept what that means, and zero authority to speak on it.

    It’s okay not to like yoga. It’s okay not to ever do yoga again as long as you live. And the Captain is completely right. The less ‘reasons’ you give these people, the better. It’s medical. PTSD is absolutely medical. And I second all the advice from other commenters about ‘broken record’ techniques where you keep saying ‘no’ until you eventually have to call attention to the fact that ‘I’ve just said no 12 times, do you need me to say it a 13th.’ In classic Captain style, make it awkward *for them.*

    And just for the record, I LAUGH at yoga. I LAUGH UPROARIOUSLY at news stories where ‘Yoga shown to reduce PTSD symptoms by xx%’ and ‘Yoga eliminates the need for anxiety meds in test group’ and blahdie-blahdie-blah. Whatever! I hope it does work for them. But I love my gallows-humor heart.

    I laugh because I own my shit. I own it that yoga makes me boil with rage. I own it that yoga is the fastest way for me to bite your head off. And I own it that I do what I want. When I want. At my own pace. I alone know what is good for me and not good for me. And I am the authority on ME.

    Anyone who cannot get with that doesn’t want what is best for me. They have an agenda. You owe an explanation to no one.

    Fierce anti-yoga sisterhood of survivors, girlfriend. Own it. Own it professionally, own it with panache and grace and authority. But own it. You have all the rights. You always have. You always will. You are not alone.

    1. Thank you for this, had never thought of my dislike for yoga this way, but yes, dead on about the control by an authority. Also makes me think about how as rape/abuse victim I internalized the justifications and the entitlement to my body. Yoga –> exerting that control onto myself. No wonder I don’t like it.

  58. I’ve actually had great success with the “just snapping” method. Controlled snap, nothing violent or aggressive, just a biting I-am-so-done-with-this shut-down. Sounds a lot like what Cap suggested. And I’m not ignoring the part where I also really didn’t want to disclose my personal history and appear unprofessional, but it does help as a last resort, if all else fails, for people who just will. Not. Stop.

    “No I will not be hanging out with Ex. Since you won’t shut up about it, Ex is a rapist. I know that for a fact. So no, I won’t be cool and play nice, but thanks so much for suggesting it eleventy billion times.”

    Some people are just oblivious and need a serious whack upside the head with the clue-by-four. It’s quite a lot of fun.

  59. On a much more mild note of ‘not dealing with shit at work we don’t want to because’ I finally bowed out of a department wide lunch thing. I didn’t give any more excuse than ‘I’m an introvert and I don’t like eating with large groups of people, but have a good time.’ I think it was all the intense lurking I’ve been binging on here, but I finally realized that it’s not that I don’t like those particular people, or the resturants always too loud with a fucking huge TV right in front of me, or I can’t focus on a group causal discussion of 7 people + too much background noise, or any other perfectly valid reason, I just don’t like eating with a large group of people. I don’t mind eating alone in a croweded restaurant for some reason that is different.

    At that is ok. I dont’ need past social trauma, or excuses, or long theraputic explanations, or a therapists letter explaining I hit a 80-90% introversion rate on the MB every time I take it. I don’t like eating in groups. Dayenu. Enough.

    And I had a wonderful lunch alone in my cube with my iphone and Doctor Who fanfiction. My aura was henceforth filled with rainbows and I farted sunbeams and got a shit load of work done.

  60. Would it be possible to leave out the yoga altogether? As in, “Sorry HR/boss but I’m unable to attend the work retreat.”
    If they press you could say something about personal/medical issues and follow up with the doctor’s letter.

    If nothing else, when it comes up with colleagues just ignore the yoga aspect and redirect ie “I’m sorry I’m unable to make it. Hope you have a great time.”

    I can think of ten things off the top of my head that make a work retreat sound horrid – and that’s before I get to any of the physical and mental health stuff:
    – I’m introverted and need a lot of alone time
    – I don’t like eating with/around a large group of people
    – I don’t like sleeping in a bed that is not mine
    – If the retreat requires more than 30min driving then I don’t want to drive (too tiring) and I’m very uncomfortable carpooling
    – I have 10000 things to do at home like laundry, cleaning, walking the dog, sleeping, reading, catching up on 12 Monkeys, mucking about on Tumblr…
    – I’d rather spend time with my boyfriend and/or family and/or nobody
    – I have kids and childcare is painful
    – I’d rather self-educate/study via online resources or attend a professional conference during the work week
    – I’d like to keep the church and state separate
    – I don’t want to

    I mean seriously, what about people who have regular weekend commitments (sport, volunteering, social club, art group etc), family responsibilities, assignments/projects for study to work on, who work a second (or third) job? This kind of “compulsory out-of-business-hours crap pisses me off.

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this crap, LW. I hope you get to work it out.

  61. Oh LW I just couldn’t get past the part where people pressured you until you cried. What kind of dickbags do that about yoga for cripes sake? Or anything?! I’m so sorry that happened, and I send many many Jedi hugs if you want them.

  62. You know, since they’re the ones making it weird, why not call them out on it?

    Annoying Co-worker: But WHYYYYYY won’t you do YOGA?!?!11111
    You: Please don’t make this weird.
    ACW: I’m not making it weird.
    You: Yes you are. You’re refusing to take no for an answer and making this awkward. Please stop.
    ACW: *whines more*
    You: Why are you so obsessed with me?

    And hopefully they’ll get the Mean Girls reference. If not, you’ve still managed to change the topic from “Why won’t you do yoga?” to “Why won’t you drop this?”.

    1. This is an awesome strategy if you’re willing to follow through on it. Bonus points if you have great co-workers who will chime in with “Hey, LW already said they don’t want to do yoga, so just let it go.”

  63. Oh man, LW, I’m so sorry for what you’ve already been to in relation to yoga and I’m so glad you’re getting out of this corporate retreat.

    Just from reading comments and thinking about my own workplace, it’s clear to see that there are just so many reasons, health and other, why yoga wouldn’t be appropriate for some people.

    From a casual scan of my (reasonably small) office, I have:
    – A colleague who has had a double lung transplant and limited lung function
    – Two colleagues who sustained physical injury giving birth – including one who has explicitly said “I can’t do yoga as a result”
    – One colleague with an injured knee
    – One colleague with a neck injury which has already forced her to go down from five days to three days work per week
    – And me – dealing with unrelated trauma that could nevertheless make me cry in a yoga class. Not necessarily quiet, subtle crying, either.

    Remember, these are just the barriers to activity that I’m vaguely aware of. So max, there would maybe be two people out of 10 who would even be candidates for having a decent / not-fucking-me-up yoga experience. Maybe 20%.

    Also, we’re a public health organisation which researches and publishes on acute and chronic health matters. So even with health in the background of everything we do, this kind of mandatory-bonding-halp-your-halth!-crap just wouldn’t exist in our workplace. (Thankfully!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

  64. Ah Jesus, LW, that’s terrible. I can sympathize. I get anxious and prickly when people break out the New Age or meditation talk because my abusive mom was way into that stuff. Actually, listening to meditation instructions makes me want to bite someone, which I’m sure is not the intended effect. But your thing is so much stronger, because the trauma is tied directly to the activity. I’m so sorry people are trying to force you into something that’s so bad for you.

    One thing I’ve found really helpful when I don’t want to talk about something personal, is to remember that people really really like to talk about themselves. I’ve had a lot of success with just gliding over my sensitive info and coaxing the other person to talk about something more interesting to them.

    Person: “I’m taking this new meditation class that’s really changed my life. You should try it! They have a ‘bring a friend’ deal.”

    Me: “Nah, that’s not my thing, but thank you.”

    Person: “I didn’t think it was my thing either, but when I was in Phoenix last year I found this really great teacher who…”

    Me: “Wait, you were in Phoenix?”

    Person: *proceeds to talk at length about their time in Phoenix*

    Me: *feels like the conversational circle walker I am*

    1. This is a great strategy! Also appreciative listening to that person go on about *something else* reminds them that you’re not rejecting them, even if you don’t plan on taking their advice.

  65. Oh gosh a few years ago I went on a company team building exercise. It was all about being your best self. One of the exercises was to describe your childhood to a group of colleagues. The prep talk triggered me something rotten (had a lot of traumatic things happen) so by the time it got to my turn I full on ugly cried while incoherently trying to speak. It was awful. Someone else in th eteam says it out and I only wish I had.

    1. Oh my goddess. That’s… so appalling. In that situation I would have absolutely not known what to do. My usual go-to is to say “Actually, I don’t like to talk about my childhood.” Full stop. But in that situation I don’t think I would have been comfortable.

      Jedi hugs for you Kittentastic!

    2. I have learned to become really blunt about my childhood and say it in such a bland tone that most people don’t realise what I’ve said.

      “I grew up in a cult. So there’s that. Who’s next?”

      1. I do the same about being sexually abused and raped from being 5 to 21. I’m doing it online to start working up to saying it out loud, but I’m sick to death of hiding it. I’ve been dealing with PTSD for 30 years and I’ve only just been diagnosed! I’ve not even started treatment yet! If stupid obnoxious people insist on pushing for info I give it to them, very clearly and calmly. It works wonders.

  66. Sorry that last line should have read “someone else in the team sat it out and I only wish I had”.

    It really was:
    Colleague 1. I had a great childhood in all these marvellous ways.
    Colleague 2. Me too!
    Colleague 3. Me three!
    Me: Waaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, sob, sob, can I have a tissue, gulp, sob.
    Boss. Ok, so moving on.

  67. The principal at the school where I work loves team building, I wonder when yoga will be included.

    The problem I have is that everything is a surprise or a secret. I have so far sprained an ankle, gotten a severe allergic reaction and gotten sick because of getting to cold and worn out. Getting out of surprises is really hard, but I will try to use some scripts from this thread!

  68. My partner can’t do yoga. It confused me for a while, but it was also crystal clear that is was not working for him. He would get frustrated at the instructors (especially video instructors), his breathing would get anxious and disordered, and he was generally a wreck after. I was a little sad that we couldn’t share it, because I like it and it makes me feel good, but I wouldn’t have wished his misery on anyone. I’m only relieved we were able to discover it together. I can’t imaging how he would have felt with my likely reaction had I not seen his distress firsthand. I would have said some ignorant, evangelical crap to him because I just didn’t understand. On behalf of all the ignorant evangelists, I’m ever so sorry about that. Sometimes it’s really hard to see why something that works so well for us would not work for someone else. It feels really nice to share something good. So nice we can be a little stupid about it.

  69. LW, I feel for you. Yoga evangelists are so intensely annoying. It seems that a lot of people think of yoga as ‘exercise lite’ that everyone can easily do, and the ones that think of it as the cure-all for everything are always really shocked at the fact that some people CAN’T. Everything from Ehlers-Danlos to anixety/panic/PTSD (which is a real MEDICAL issue) to TMJ, and so on.

    I can’t do yoga for the most part, and I don’t want to try, and even at my (mostly sensible) university people get shocked when I say I don’t do yoga and refuse to sign up for the yoga gym class. (I also don’t want the class because the yoga instructor is infamous for telling everyone about everything horrible that’s ever happened to her while leading the class. Like quite literally going ‘now tree pose, and let me tell you about how my ex-boyfriend tried to kill me on Thanksgiving…’)

  70. I have found that diet and exercise evangelists tend to back off when I respond with something along the lines of “yeah, you’re right, I really should do more of that!” Some of the most zealous will follow up to see if I’m actually doing it, but most seem satisfied hearing that I believe in whatever they’re selling. Usually I only say those things when I at least sort-of mean it, but it stops the evangelizing consistently enough that I wonder if it might help you, LW.

    For example, when coworkers harp on how the yoga retreat is going to be SO GREAT, what would happen if you said “oh, I know! I’m so sad that I can’t go, but my doctor said no yoga for me right now. I really wish I could join you, it sounds so fun/helpful/whatever!”

    This doesn’t have to be a total lie – it actually would be nice if yoga were not traumatic for you and you could do it without rage and tears – and to the extent that it is, well, who cares? As my dad always says, if someone asks for information that’s not their business, and you don’t respond with the truth, that doesn’t count as a lie.

    1. I feel like that might work for some folks (I use this script all the time when coworkers suggest books/movies/anything social that I’m not interested in at all), but maybe is not the best course of action for LW? This response still leaves room for potential future yoga retreats or yoga-related activities, whereas the broken record approach might more effectively shut down this retreat and any future ones.

      I’m a big believer in volunteering as little information as possible and being totally unequivocal about it and, when it gets to a certain point, either giving the raw truth, or responding with No, even when it doesn’t make sense. (“Wait, why can’t you do yoga?” “No.” “It’s so good for you, it’s ~*~calming~*~.” “No.”) That’s a pretty aggressive move, but with coworkers or friends with whom I’m more comfortable, I’ll use that when I’m getting really frustrated.

  71. I used to work for a company where teamwork and socializing and being friends with your colleagues deeply ingrained in the culture. When I left unexpectedly five years later, it was actually traumatizing because so much of my life was tied up with work and I realized how insidious and cult-like it really was.

    What I also realized is that even in a culture like that, you can and should put down limits, even as you are establishing yourself. The first part requires doing your best at the actual job functions, and I trust you have that down. The second is to choose how far you want to go down along the path of merging with your corporate culture. If the culture is reasonably healthy, it will be fine to be the weird one who doesn’t do yoga so long as you’re also the one who turns in the reports on time (or whatever). There are many valid reasons for not being able to attend a retreat: family obligations, health, competing personal priorities, and if you feel a doctor’s note will get you out of it with the least questions, go for it. In terms of stopping the yoga talk, you probably can’t stop them from talking about how much they love yoga to each other, but when someone pesters you about it, you can always say that you tried it but you discovered you really prefer biking/boxing/zoomba and then start talking about one of those alternatives. If they won’t shut up about it, get busy with something else.

    On a slightly separate note, I had a manager invite our small team to her house for a pool party in the summer. I literally cannot think of anything I want less than to be in a bathing suit in front of my colleagues. Luckily, one of my colleagues felt the same and we were able to never be available at the same time until the weather got cold. One thing I’d like to emphasize is that you should just get resolved that you are not going on the retreat. YOU ARE NOT GOING. So whatever bits of the universe need to shift to make that happen are going to shift. It is a very good thing to have hard boundaries that you will not cross with yourself and to stand up for them with others. People actually mess with you less when they can sense you’re not going to be manipulated and eventually, I suspect your colleagues will give up on trying to convert you.

    1. I remember working in the 1980s for a very professional organization, good people, loved the work, learned a lot — and then I got invited to a party where I was the *only* person who didn’t do cocaine, and so they moved that activity to the bathroom and everyone kept slipping off there. Awkward.

    2. I went to a mandatory beach event with colleagues once. I managed to get away with wearing shorts and a tank top because I was pregnant at the time, but it was still incredibly weird and awkward to sit around with everyone else in their bathing suits. I still work with some of the same people years later, and every once in a while we talk about that day and cringe.

      1. That is just awful. I think I’d rather be at the cocaine party, and I don’t do drugs either!

    3. Oh, swimsuits and coworkers! Yes, so awkward sometimes.

      Rather off-topic story: So this one time, I was working on a farm and my crew leader was terrible. And she would not. let. go. of this idea about how we should all knock off work early sometime! and go swimming together!!! – except she never actually wanted to lose a minute of our labor, so then she thought maybe we should extend our lunch break to go swimming but then work later to make up for it. Yay?

      I have fond memories of days on other, smaller farms where we would all sometimes pile into the farm truck and go for a swim on lunch break or when it was too brtually hot to be in the field for a while or whatever. In that context with those people, it was awesome! And I suspect that my terrible boss had similar memories of her own and was trying to recreate that atmosphere. But I had since acquired more demands on my evenings, and while I have sometimes been OK with coworkers and swimsuits mixing, I somehow felt deeply uncomfortable getting all swimsuited up with Terrible Boss. So, it turned out, did the rest of the crew – but Boss kept bringing it up, and kept bringing it up, and talking about How Much Fun It Would Be, until finally, on one especially hot day, she managed to get everybody else on board with this long-lunchbreak-late-evening plan and it came out that everybody except me would admit to having their swimsuit along, and that was cool because she’d brought an extra one for me because she knew I always forgot mine??? (I secretly had a swimsuit in my car in case of non-work swimming in the lake on my route home.)

      I said I didn’t really feel like doing that, and anyway I’d been keeping well-hydrated and I was good to keep working right after lunch. She tried to make it that I would disappoint everybody else, but I said that it was fine if everybody else went, I could always take my own car to the upper field for the afternoon and they could join me there with the farm truck later. I remember she wouldn’t believe me, as if it was incomprehensible that I would break from the rest of the group like that, even as my “no”s got more and more brusque. I remember thinking it was incomprehensible that she couldn’t seem to understand “no”, and also that I absolutely could not give in now because there was no way in hell that I was going to reward this terrible behavior. I think she sort-of tried to order me to come, but I just kept going, “Nah, can’t stay late, I’d really rather just keep working” and “I don’t want to go swimming, I’d rather finish weeding that bed” and finally, looking her straight in the eye, “I already said I’m not coming. Why are you still asking?” She tried to play that she would be soooooo disappointed if I didn’t come, and I think I said something like, “Well, that’s too bad, but I’m still not coming.”

      So I got in my own car and went off and had a pleasant afternoon working by myself while everyone else went swimming. The others were hot and cranky when they turned up, whispering to me about how they wished they were as gutsy as me and how awkward it had been and how it had taken forever to find the place where Boss wanted to go, etc. (And if I remember right, I think Boss had been snarky and shamey about bodies, too? It would be in character, though I don’t remember any exact phrases.) And like an hour later, I got to go, “Welp, that’s my shift done” and toodle off home. It was glorious.

      I am usually someone who gets described as “sweet” more often than “gutsy”, but that was one of the days when I learned that I have a certain kind of social courage.

  72. Can I say, my friend works at a weirdo tech company and told me the other day that her office was “having an AMA” the next day. Turns out, it wasn’t a Reddit AMA, it was an in-person thing where she would sit in the middle of the room and her colleagues could ask her anything (literally anything) for something like a half an hour. I can’t imagine a more invasive, threatening situation, and I LOVE to talk about myself (who doesn’t?). Why do workplaces feel the need to do shit like this? Honestly!

    1. Well that’s terrifying. For some reason of all the horrible corporate retreat / school trust exercise stories posted on here, that one really squicks me out the most.

    2. I think I would just lie. Endlessly, creatively, and obviously. “Well, actually, after my alien parents abandoned me on Earth, I was raised by circus monkeys who trained me to be a tap-dancing assassin…”

    3. WTF? What kind of tech company does that? What are they doing it for? I mean, what can they want to get out of that experience for you, your colleagues, upper management and the overall company? No way jose!

  73. I haven’t read all of the comments, but I really want to thank the commenters. I just left an ugly marriage via an ugly divorce and I’ve given up yoga. After doing it for ten years, I started hating my body every time I did yoga. I had to give it up for my mental stability. The clear statements on how raw bodywork can leave one is very affirming. Thank you so much.

  74. I cannot understand hobby evangelists. That, and food evangelists. No, I will not like leafy foods due to my sensitivity to bitter flavors; stop telling me I just “haven’t cooked them right.” No, I will not like running, even though “keep trying and you’ll eventually get runner’s high and it’s amazing!” Everyone has different interests, skills, and preferences. Rambling on about how awesome yours are, and how others should force themselves to care, is not helping anyone. Including you. And others’ opinions of you.

    Jeez, people. I don’t go around demanding everyone learn how to paint. Y’all spare me your rants in return.

    LW, Cap’s got your back with this one. I don’t have much to add other than my confusion at these folks. It’s also really hard for your boss to get around “I just medically can’t do X” when X is on top of this extremely optional as a work activity. If you were a yoga instructor, that’d be one thing, but you’re not. Yoga is not part of your job description.

  75. Can I recommend Connie Willie’s book BELLWETHER? “Always be going to the bathroom during team-building exercises.”

    1. I love Connie Willis.

      “Management is proving beyond a shadow of a doubt they don’t have enough to do,” she murmured back. “So they’ve invented a new acronym.”

  76. What I have to add is probably not constructive but…. OMG I feel for you so much. My example is considerably less dramatic but for a long time, I worked at dot-coms back when that was cool. Often we had mandatory “fun” outtings to bars at night. I worked an early shift (content person who needed to get stuff up before normal people got to work) so instead of taking off an hour early to go to a bar to hang out, I had to stay two hours later than usual. Also, I don’t drink.

    The “Whhhhhhhyyyyyy don’t you drink?!” is probably not unlike the “Whhhhy don’t you yoga?” now that I think about it. “But you haven’t tried the RIGHT drink!” and all those fun variations. I’ll use this moment to back up the Cap’s “power in raw truth” comment. I don’t do it a lot, but when necessary I’ve pulled out this line: “Every single branch of my family tree, going back five generations, is an alcoholic. I am not. I’d like to keep it that way.” And showed my teeth in an expression that might be interpreted by an alien as a smile. It works amazingly well.

    I’m sorry you’re going through this.

    1. I also don’t have a ton new to say, but I can so that I am also a huge supporter of the power in raw truth when it’s called for. I am such a huge fan of making people that choose to disregard requests to not talk about something as uncomfortable, if not more uncomfortable, than they just made me.

      I will never forget when the girlfriend of a friend of a friend that I met at a social function made a move to “jokingly” touch my breasts (HILARIOUS, RIGHT?), and made a big deal about it when I grabbed her hand and asked her not to touch me. After I repeatedly changed the subject and she repeatedly asked about why I was so “sensitive” about my breasts, I said, “I don’t like being touched by strangers because I was raped. Bummer that my sexual assault ruined your joke. Now I’m going to walk away, because I feel unsafe when I’m around you.” It worked. My friend later told me that “she felt awful,” to which I replied, “Good, she should. Maybe she won’t assault strangers at parties anymore.”

      Echoing DameB, I’m sorry you’re going through this, LW. I hope it works out without your having to disclose any information you don’t want to. You certainly shouldn’t have to.

      1. Who even fucking does something like that?

        I mean, I can almost see the initial ‘joke’, because I have been in friend groups where teasingly groping one another was pretty par for the course. But (a) you don’t do that to someone you are not 100% sure is going to be fine with it and (b) if you do miscalculate, you apologize profusely and BACK THE HELL OFF.

      1. I had a friend who used to say when people offered her something that she felt was unsafe and wouldn’t take a no for an answer. “Ok, I ‘ll take it, but will you drive me to the hospital afterwards?” Somehow no one ever agrees and promptly stops bothering her.

    2. Ugghhh. I do drink, but it drives me up the wall when people pressure others to drink. You don’t drink? Okay! That is your choice, your tongue tasting your beverages of choice, your liver metabolizing whatever you throw at it, etc. It is none of my business what you ingest. If I or other drinkers is to make a polite suggestion, it should be to recommend a delicious soda or juice or milkshake we could go for instead of drinks.

  77. Some more potential phrases:

    “If I decide to give yoga another try, I’d prefer it to be with someone who is familiar with my medical history.”
    “When can we arrange for the yoga instructor to meet with my doctor?”
    “The last [few|several] times I tried yoga against my doctor’s advice, it went really badly.”
    “I’m sure everyone, me included, would prefer that I be able to be at work and working, instead of dealing with doctors for the next few weeks.”
    “I prefer to take my medical advice from my doctor, thanks.”
    *Cobb stare* http://l-userpic.livejournal.com/103392521/13663993

    1. I generally like your suggestions, but I would be careful about the second one. The most enthusiastic folks pushing for the yoga session may take that as a “I can do this under these circumstances”, when really the entire point is “there are no circumstances under which this is something I will do”. Actually, the first one has a little bit of this too, possibly resulting in “Great, then you can privately talk to the instructor before the class and be able to join us!”.

      Basically, LW, what you’re going for is anything that conveys “Under no circumstance will I be participating in this yoga you’ve arranged.” Anything like “If I am to do yoga, x thing needs to happen” since some will likely take that and try to make x a reality.

  78. Really quickly I’d like to add something to the *asterisk*: Alcoholics Anonymous evangelism also applies. Good on you, LW, for reaching out.
    Now back to reading the comments.

    1. Sadly, if LW is in the U.S., her job is very likely to be at-will, which means that her employer can fire her at any time for any reason as long as it’s not related to being a member of a protected class. Refusing to attend a corporate retreat would be grounds for firing at most of the jobs I’ve worked (not my current one, mercifully, which is civil service, but pretty much any other one).

  79. Can anyone point to evidence that corporate weekend team building exercises EVER work? Never having been subjected to one, I don’t know much about them. Most of my information comes from television sitcoms (remember Murphy Brown?) so I’m sitting here trying to puzzle this out. Let’s say it’s the best of circumstances and a bunch of work colleagues get together for an activity that’s supposed to be fun and that no participant has any previous bad associations with and no health reasons to avoid. Let’s say it all goes as planned, and there are no injuries, and now everyone is back in the office working together to meet sales quotas or write code or meet deadlines or improve customer service. Outside of that which comes from the companies that are selling the retreats, is there any evidence by any measure that productivity on anything gets better after the team building exercise?

    I’m guessing there isn’t. I can understand that things are generally better when people are pleasant to one another and everyone gets along in a professional manner. I can understand that things are generally better when people are motivated to try hard for the good of the group. I can understand that things are generally better when there’s a supportive atmosphere and people aren’t overtly hostile, or even covertly hostile. But has anyone EVER seen any of those things translate from a team retreat to the workplace? I mean, let’s say that you’re NOT dropped in one of those trust circles or that you’re NOT allowed to fall when you’re blindfolded. Let’s say that as a team you come up with a brilliant solution for building an oscilloscope out of a potted bush bean, nail clippers, and a spiral notebook? How does that apply to your co-workers picking up slack or writing better code or coming up with better solutions on how to outmaneuver competitors in the bonds market?

    I’m surprised that “team building” wasn’t long ago unmasked as a code term for the minority bashing that it is. Skip the weekend retreat for a second and just apply it to what’s supposed to be a friendly environment where everyone goes out for drinks after work or giggles about their dates in the break room or bonds while sweating on the treadmill. Sure you’re not required to drink or giggle or sweat, but if you’re a conservative Muslim who doesn’t drink or someone gender queer who doesn’t date or someone with health issues that preclude sweating, now that you no longer can get fired for belonging to the minority, we’ve got this nifty not-a-team-player catch-all phrase/reason for getting rid of you anyway.

    1. I’ve had good experiences with team-building exercises at my work. I don’t know that they were substantially helpful, but the one I remember (building cardboard boats) did have teams that were somewhat-randomly selected from an organization of about 50 people, so it meant that I now know some people in adjacent teams better than I did before — and that was a particular goal of this exercise, so I think it was successful on that count. And it was also an interesting learning experience for me being on a team with my director and playing with the dynamics of both of us having strong ideas about how to build the boat, which is likely to be useful if/when that comes up in actual work.

      But one of the key things is that these things are strongly optional, and we make a point of doing _different_ things each time so different people can join in. And, I think, the other key thing is that we already have a good team atmosphere at my work.

  80. Nothing much to add, except jedi hugs.

    I work at a very small business that doesn’t offer health insurance. My boss is one of those new-agers (and I am also pretty damn hippy, but this shit makes me crazy) that believes that everything bad that happens in your life is because you manifested it. When I was negotiating going full-time, and she wasn’t offering health insurance, I mentioned that I hadn’t been to the doctors’ in 5 years. She goes “good for you!” I bit my tongue so goddamn hard to stop the “no, actually, I would like to get a fucking x-ray because I have had SPINAL SURGERY due to a CONGENITAL DISORDER (please tell me how I manifested that).”

    So I am in the ranks of people who can’t do yoga because of a multitude of reasons. Two titanium rods bracketing my spine = nope, not happening. “Trying” won’t help. Sorry. I look like a regular healthy person (and I am an athlete) but no amount of new-age-evangelism will make me not believe in surgeons or the fact that I LITERALLY CANNOT bend my spine.

    And PS – I run in extremely hippy circles, in which some people enjoy hallucinogens, some people enjoy non-monogamy, some people enjoy meditation/bodywork, and everyone SHUTS THE FUCK UP and respects a “no”. I am so, so sorry for all the yoga evangelists in your life that make you feel unsafe.

  81. Eugh. LW, all my sympathies. This is a sucky situation 😦

    It reminds me of an edict that came down in week 2 of my tenure in my current job (I’m an Australian, so this is in Melbourne, Australia). We had to do a presentation to another part of the organisation on what our team did. Totally fair enough – presenting is fair and square part of the role, so no surprises there. One colleague came up with the idea that “to be different and interesting”, we should do this as a group sing-a-long of song parodies based around our functional areas. Out of the team of 8, three were enthusiastic, two were lukewarm, and three were aghast at the idea of singing joke songs in front of a bunch of strangers (for different reasons in each case, but yeah). I was on Team Aghast, btw. My manager thought it was a cool idea so ruled that we all HAD to do it “because it would be good for team-building”. In fact what it did was make me and the other objectors highly resentful of our manager and of the co-workers who pushed the idea despite our discomfort; not much team was built by insisting on forcing people to do a “quirky” thing that was outside the normal expectations of the job, just because it seemed like a great idea to someone who quite likes singing in public.

    Re Yoga, I am totally on board with all the many commenters pointing out that medical reasons to not be able to safely do yoga can be multifarious and it’s an unreasonable expectation that everyone can, should or would want to. I myself do an adjusted Pilates program to help strengthen my bodgy spine, but I have been specifically warned off yoga by my physiotherapist because of the fragile state of my musculoskeletal system. I am very grateful that corporate yoga is not a thing for me to have to refuse (or corporate anything-else at the moment, as my organisation, which is circling the drain towards insolvency and shedding staff at a rate of knots, has put a total freeze on all professional development, offsite activities, team-building “fluff”).

    1. Aaaah. So much sympathy. I can’t sing. I wish I could sing, but I can’t. I tried for years to learn how to sing. End result: I can’t sing. I would have just stood there and stared and been all, “But I can’t sing.” I really hate how a lot of social activities assume that everyone can sing. It’s really awkward to be pressured about it, especially since if I try to sing, I will tend to ruin the experience for others unless I am carefully very quiet. And I can of hate being socially pressured to pretend to sing while just mouthing along, because it feels wrong. Probably because having to pretend you don’t have a disability, even one as minor as amusia, is obnoxious. I’ve learned this, and so I do not try. But this is something that does come up now and then, and some people are really into trying to encourage everyone to join in, with no understanding that this isn’t something everyone can do. I’m not shy. I’m not awkward. I don’t have a self-esteem issue about my singing. It’s not secretly fine. I just have come to terms with the fact that I was born with amusia and that other people are able to perceive some things that I can’t. That’s cool for them. But I have about as much desire to be made to sing as the person I knew who had both red-green and yellow-blue colorblindness probably has to try to color coordinate fun outfits for the team. So, yeah, being pushed to sing is a bit of a grievance of mine.

      1. Yes, it was pretty unpleasant. I think one of my fellow objectors would identify as amusical too (she in fact called in sick of the day of the action with a sick note for stress signed by her doctor, so badly did she not want to do it). I am not amusical – I have a reasonable ear for music, I can play intermediate-level piano and a little guitar, and I read musical notation easily. My voice is not great, but not outstandingly tuneless either. I just *don’t like* singing in public, especially “funny” songs, double triple especially in front of strangers. I find it agonisingly embarrassing, I cope with mumbling along to the national anthem in situations where that’s expected, but I don’t even sing hymns on the odd occasions I accompany my family to church – and funnily enough, no one either at my parents’ church or in my family itself has ever given me grief about it. ONLY AT WORK. A place where forced sing-a-long should NEVER be a thing.

    2. Oh my God. No. The physical reaction I had reading that first paragraph…..

      My partner similarly does adjusted pilates for their banjaxed spine, and has been explicitly told NOT to do yoga. Every time they mention a back issue everyone is all up in their grill about ‘HAVE YOU TRIIIIIIIIIIIED YOGA?!’

  82. So people keep recommending yoga to my sister. With Ehler-Danlos. Who has basically been ordered not to do feats of flexibility because her body breaks when she does that nonsense. (Even though she’s very very good at them. See: friable cartilage) “But have you *really* tried yoga?” has become our snarky catchphrase for ableist Google certified medical amateurs.

  83. Indian person here. Y’know, the land of yoga and all that.

    The white people yoga is a weird hybrid of the yoga that I grew up around. I am NOT a fan of doing yoga. My back aches. I also hate the pseudo spirituality that the people who doesn’t understand sanskrit sprout by bastardizing the actual sanskrit terms and phrases.

    You do you – I can assure you that 99.99% of people who evangelize yoga actually are not doing it the way the ancient Indian scholars envisioned it to be done.

  84. so what freaks me out most about this is the mental image of LW snapping and saying that yoga triggers them because of sexual assault, only for workplace people to go into victim-blamey, “but why aren’t you over that yet” mode.

    sometimes the only reaction to people is to start screaming and never stop.

  85. How the f**k is enforced yoga even a problem people should be dealing with at the office? I mean, I actually love yoga, but it in no way shape or form should be some kind of mandatory office thing. Work should be a mandatory office thing. It’s like coming in to work and being told that purple hats are now mandatory. I mean, WTF?

      1. Right!? I just made a comment to that effect below, but I kept thinking that this felt like a really anti-yoga approach to yoga.

  86. Oh

    If LW’s bosses were touting a particular religion, there’d probably be a *lot* fewer people on board with the mandatory part.

    Yoga as is practiced in a certain western European country is… well, let’s just say that yoga people there had a definite sense of ownership of *you*, once you’d signed up. Even when you stopped coming. And repeatedly said that, yes, you really did mean to *not* sign up for the new course. During a chance encounter at a nice restaurant.

    In the end, I had to use repeatedly mentioning my love of $MARTIAL_ART, like a kind of vaccination. I had drifted away from it but, the yoga had been to accompany a friend (who was about as impressed as I was). Returning to a regular physical activity gave me the necessary push to go back to $MARTIAL_ART. I’m not sure how my success in finally plucking off that social burr happened, but maybe it was me sounding equally fanatic (I might have been copying my former teacher’s tone by then) or thanking her sweetly for having run such a lovely class that it reminded me how much training in $MARTIAL_ART had brought me such joy.

    In any case, much wishing of strength to LW, and grateful appreciation of the Captain’s insight – particularly the distinction between “having” to prove your point of view vs just simply changing the interaction pattern.

    1. See, and this is why I won’t call or email families who stop coming to cub scouts, even in the face of our Cub Master *strongly* suggesting that I do so. They know we’re here on Specific Weekday at Specific Time. If they wanted to be here/could be here, they’d BE HERE! Harrumph.

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  88. The thing that disturbs me the most about the OP and comments threads is the lack of use of the words ‘respect’ in conjunction with ‘my personal boundaries’ Please note this is not a criticism of any commentators, CA or LW, I am just personally gobsmacked that so many people are in pain and have shared their various traumas, disabilities and life stories and this is one of the most potent and fundamental weapons in my personal armour which works a treat plus reinforces to me every time I use those words that I am entitled to, AND DESERVE personal boundaries and people should respect them.

    This was not a place I arrived at lightly or without a great deal of personal grief in my own life and it has taken years of practise to get there. LW and many other people on this thread have spoken of physical and/or psychological (in many cases including my own – both) good reasons to avoid the crap that LW has been subjected to. In reality, as autonomous human beings the reality is (IMHO) just not wanting to do it and seeing it as a boundary violation should be enough. You get paid to go to work and produce the work product, they do not own you body and soul, for random team building exercises out of work hours as they see fit and even when the unemployment rate is high and times are scary I would beg you all not to underestimate the adverse effect that staying in a toxic work culture can have on your long term health (spoken as one who screwed that up personally and learned the hard way). And to those who have had their various managers claim random team building is in their contract, ask them to put it in writing. They seldom do as they know its bullshit. If they do, you have evidence if it all falls apart.

    LW, I feel for you. If your colleagues (no matter how well intentioned) are ganging up on you and trying to force you into Yoga which you cannot attend then that is simply group bullying if you have indicated you *DO NOT WISH TO ATTEND* Please note the ‘do not wish’ should be enough if they respect your boundaries. I would suggest (and definitely practice it first and if you stuff it up – and you might – just look at it as practice for when it will really count) responding to any concern trolls at work (and that is what they are) First answer ‘I do not wish to attend’. Second answer (after the why) ‘This is a personal boundary issue and I must insist you respect it’ (said calmly, quietly and firmly). Anyone who pushes after that is someone you should not trust or respect. They are looking for/provoking some kind of emotional response that fills some kind hole inside them. this is when you walk away. If they follow you, and keep asking, head towards other people, they just end up looking really stupid if they are following you down the hall and you are not answering.

    On a legal technical point, did you have to do a medical when you joined the company you work for? If you did and disclosed your medical conditions (in my field of work it is mandatory along with police and security clearances) then you simply say to management ‘this was fully disclosed at my medical and your Dr declared me fit for work subject to a small range of exceptions which they believed fitted into the reasonable accommodation criteria. I am merely following medical advice to ensure I do not exacerbate a medical condition as I am required to do under work safety laws’ . If they persist on details, simply state that you have met your obligations as required and if they have an issue with that please put it in writing so you can consult your medical and legal team before providing a response. (Again, calm, cool, collected and don’t worry if you don’t achieve it on the first go and have a meltdown – it takes practice). It will be an incredibly stupid, nasty or just plain sociopathic organisation (ie somewhere you need to leave as soon as you practically can) that pushes past that one.

    If you didn’t have a medical then skip the ‘I declared it bit’ and go straight to the bit about how you have a duty of care to ensure you are not injured in the workplace. Advise them you are doing this to ‘mitigate their losses’. After a while (it took a few years for me) you can have fun with it.

    Some eg. responses:

    ‘Did you just teleport in from a parallel universe that has no empathy”
    “wow… I can’t believe it, yesterday you were an engineer and today you have magically become a ground breaking neurologist – you SO have to meet my neurologist to compare notes on my treatment’
    ‘Dude… (make the noise of a game show wrong answer). Total boundary violation. Alert the guards! Battle stations everyone (V loud)
    To (an evil) HR: Yes I know the policy says I am supposed to go through your process but your in house lawyers were upset when I discussed your treatment of this situation with them and have told me I am exempt from it (after discussing with their lawyers )

    Apols for long comment. Was personally upset by many above in a ‘I remember feeling that way’ kind of thing and wanted to share some stuff that had worked in case it helped anyone.

  89. Hey LW,

    I haven’t read through all of the comments, so I’m sorry if this has been touched on before. I just wanted to say as a person who actually really does love yoga, everyone who treats you as though you are weird about this is being a total asshat *from a yoga stand point*. ***Warning:*** I’m wanted to mention how you might be able hush obnoxious folks by turning their own yogi-ness against them, so I’m going to talk a bit about yoga. If that’s triggering you may not want to read further. ***End of warning***
    (This advice is meant for hushing up people who really want to discuss how yoga could help you without getting into your reasons. It probably isn’t useful for the more formal informing-the-boss-about-not-attending aspects.) I have made a point in my yoga practice to actively seek out teachers who offer modifications for poses or open the class by saying something like “you know your own body best, so if anything doesn’t feel right, don’t do it, or ask me for a modification and I’ll offer one.” I generally don’t go back to teachers who insist that their way is the only right way. So you might be able to say something like “my understanding is that yoga is very much a personal practice that should be adapted to one’s needs. I’ve found that the most healthy thing for me is to practice mindfulness on my own” or whatever platitude works for you. Basically what I’m getting at is that by pressuring you to practice yoga, they are being very un-yoga (for my favorite definition of yoga).

    As a side note: I really like yoga and I still find yogevangelists to be really obnoxious. For example, I really don’t like Bikram yoga, and I encounter people who seem to think that’s because I am a yoga weakling, and I always feel some combination of “um, why would you think that?” and “ok, say that’s true: why do you care?!?” Grrrrr.

  90. LW, I was filled with outrage at what happened to you. The whole thing about trauma is that the body is stuck in emergency mode. Breathing and body awareness are two of the tools that can be used to heal trauma. So the fact that an assault turned yoga into a trigger is just the worst worst. Likewise the other commenter (Charlotte) for whom yoga turns you into a ragey rage monster. I think yoga could still be a helpful tool, but only in the hands of a teacher who was explicitly using it as a trauma treatment, helping you deal with the anxiety, panic, anger, etc. at the same time. And NOT in a class full of people.

    I’m glad you have a mental health counselor, LW, and I hope you can not only deal with the whole team building crap but also find some healing. I found EMDR to be very useful. I really enjoyed reading Mac McClelland’s recent book Irritable Hearts, about her healing from PSTD. And I’m now reading Bessel Van Der Kolk’s new book, The Body Keeps the Score.

    1. ” I think yoga could still be a helpful tool, but only in the hands of a teacher who was explicitly using it as a trauma treatment, helping you deal with the anxiety, panic, anger, etc. at the same time. And NOT in a class full of people.”

      Or, she could just never ever do yoga, ever, and that could also be helpful.

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