A Code of Ethics for Yoga Teachers ~ a draft

We need to get a little more clear than just honoring the light in others.

Earlier this month, The New York Times ran an op-ed about yoga teaching and ethics. It’s worth marveling that teaching yoga has reached such heights that an “inside baseball” piece would appear in the Times at all. BUT, what does it say about the state of our community that yoga’s ethics problem has gone mainstream?

The story sparked some lively discussions in a couple of yoga Facebook groups I belong to. I was surprised at how many teachers didn’t think, in spite of very high profile examples of misconduct and countless stories from local yoga communities, that a code of ethics was necessary. The prevailing argument is that Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas should be enough. But are they really? In their terse vagueness, do they really rise up to the challenges of sexual misconduct, diversity, ethics of touch, cultural appropriation, “borrowing” other teachers’ ideas, and on and on? It doesn’t seem like it.

As a Buddhist, I’m more inspired by Buddhadharma than Patanjali. My spiritual home is with Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village monastics. My husband and I both have received the Five Mindfulness Trainings, Thay’s updated interpretation of the five Buddhist vows for lay people. We view these precepts as guide stars for how we make decisions and nurture relationships.

Thay took these ancient promises and modernized them for contemporary life. One of my favorite reboots is his take on not consuming intoxicants. Recognizing that alcohol isn’t the only way we dull our minds, this vow includes the responsible consumption of media and avoiding toxic people. 🙌

With the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a loose blueprint and inspiration, what follows is a DRAFT Code of Ethics for yoga teachers. I say it’s a draft because I would love YOUR feedback. Please leave comments and suggestions. I think something like this could be stronger with collaboration. I am particularly interested in what I’ve forgotten.

Yoga teachers: if this sings to you, FEEL FREE to take this and run with it. Let people know that you care about this important issue in our community. Let your students know that your number one priority is looking out for them.

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Aware of the suffering caused by improper conduct and taking advantage of student-teacher dynamics, I dedicate myself to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect my students from physical and psychological harm. Acknowledging my limited scope of practice, I will not provide advice or instruction outside of my skillset.

Knowing that harmful actions arise from ignorance, attachments, intolerance, fear, greed, and dogmatism, I will cultivate non-attachment to views and am committed to continuing my education so that what I offer is safe and appropriate for my students even if it means letting go of old methods and teachings.

Knowing that injuries, both physical and psychological, arise from unskillful hands-on adjustments, I will ask permission to use my hands and body to assist my students in their expression of postures. I will honor the wishes of those who do not want to receive hands-on adjustments and will not try to change their mind for any reason.

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of my students.

Aware of the suffering caused by social injustice and oppression, I am committed to understanding bias and privilege so that I can better provide an inclusive and safe environment in which to practice. I will treat everyone with respect and loving kindness regardless of race, age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, and political views.

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and my community. I will honor my students’ experiences and put their concerns ahead of my own agenda. I will speak out truthfully and compassionately against injustice in my community. I will not engage in gossip nor intentionally use my words to cause division and discord.

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation and stealing, I am committed to professional and ethical business practices including delivering on my promises to my students and business partners, responding to concerns promptly, using mindful and compassionate speech, and not presenting other teachers’ ideas and methods as my own.

Hi! I’m Jennifer O’Sullivan (Sati Yoga). I write about yoga, meditation, stress management, functional anatomy, and bit of this and that about living a healthy life. I teach yoga classes and workshops in the Washington, DC area, and you can find me online at Facebook or www.sati.yoga.
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