An Illicit Yoga Love Story

Photo: Michele Abeles

It was the affair that put the yoga world in a twist. Rodney Yee, yogi to the stars, who’d told People magazine that his practice was the “backbone” of his marriage, left his wife of 24 years after becoming involved with one of his students, Colleen Saidman. Now Yee, 48, possibly the most popular and prolific (30 home videos!) instructor in the country—extolled on Oprah and by Donna Karan—has moved to East Hampton to be with her. His ex-wife, Donna Fone, with whom he co-owns his famed studio, and his three children remain in Oakland, California. And Saidman, 45, left her husband of 24 years to be with him.

It would seem to be a good match: As co-owner of Yoga Shanti studio in Sag Harbor, she’s nearly as accomplished a yogi to the overstressed overclass as he is, with students like Christy Turlington, Christie Brinkley, and Russell Simmons.

Devotees still flock to their classes, but there’s been simmering disapproval. “I’ve had people that won’t speak to me anymore,” Saidman says, sitting entwined with Yee on the floor of the shingled house they now share. “Because I was their guru, the person they were going to spend the rest of their life with, at my feet in India, and they find out I did this; it’s like I destroyed them. One woman left town.”

“You have students—through the videos and books—who you haven’t met with all kinds of ideas of who they think you are,” Yee says. “No one really cares who Rodney Yee really is. I’m what? A little line in the newspaper [it was Time magazine] that calls me the ‘stud-muffin guru’? I mean, what the hell is that?”

Being a guru, of course, means mats upon mats of temptation: new, impressionable students. “In the past, I think I was conveniently ignorant,” says Yee, who has apologized for previous infidelities. “I was pretending to myself that I wasn’t sexual in class.” Now he turns down yoga retreats where the students hang out with the instructors all day, the very setting that gave rise to his affair with Saidman. “The thing is, I trust him at this point,” she says. “Maybe that’s ridiculous, but I have to.”

“We both have to,” says Yee. “And yet we both don’t.”

“There are little things,” concedes Saidman. “Like when Rodney’s away and I’ll have dinner with some guy friends, he goes crazy. And he knows he doesn’t need to.”

“I’ll ask her, ‘Okay, what were you wearing?’ ” says Yee, with a smile. “And of course, it’s her shortest miniskirt.”

Saidman insists that her bare midriff isn’t the problem. “The thing is, I think I’m actually more sexual in class than Rodney is. Even my touch is more sensual than his is. And I dress a lot sexier. But I think my boundaries are a lot clearer.”

“They were before,” Yee corrects her. “I think my boundaries are extremely clear at this point. Partly because I’m satisfied.”

“Because I’d kill him otherwise,” Saidman says.

“No,” Yee continues, “because I’m satisfied.”

Despite their apparent fulfillment, Saidman concedes they’re not poster children for proper conduct on the mat: “The teacher-student relationship is very complicated. That can definitely be taken advantage of by a teacher. And I think a teacher shouldn’t go there. Even though we did.”

An Illicit Yoga Love Story