Ethics for Yoga Teachers
"What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches" -Karl Menninger
Yoga is a life long journey, there is no end. No arrival. As instructors, we must remember that we are life-long students, always learning and growing. We, and thus our practice, is ever changing. By acknowledging that we are constantly learning, we stay humble. This is the only way we can truly progress on this beautiful journey called yoga.
Our ethics as yoga instructors come straight out of the Yamas and Niyamas, which are the first two limbs in the eightfold path of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Ahimsa (non-violence)- As instructors of yoga we shall not knowingly harm, or consent to harming, another being. Try to be kind, conscientious, caring and compassionate at all times in order to embrace and support your students. Himsa (causing pain or violence) includes harassment in any way. It also includes gossiping or publicly talking in a negative manner about a student, another teacher, or any other lineage of Yoga.
By practicing Ahimsa we welcome all students regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin, sexual preference, or physical disability (skill level of teacher permitting). In addition, we will not discuss our students’ private matters or practice with others. Always treat others with respect. In this same vain, we always allow for physical injury and show plenty of modifications so that anyone can feel comfortable participating in our classes.
Satya (truthfulness)- We will be truthful and accurate about our training and experience. Not exaggerating or minimizing our abilities as an instructor.
We strive to remove our egos from our own teaching. It is not the point of a yoga class to wow others with your amazing physical feats or deep philosophical wisdom unless our students specifically ask for it and are open to it. We do not push our own philosophies about yoga and life, but lead through example instead.
We realize that since we are still students of yoga ourselves, our Truth may not be real. It is possibly distorted through our own egoic filters. We allow for others to discover their Truth as they need to, and this may not always be within the class we teach. If we ‘lose’ a student, we are never angry or vengeful. We honestly and lovingly wish this person well and know that their path requires a different teacher.
Asteya (Nonstealing)- We will not steal. This includes stealing of yoga students, time and/or ideas. We steal because we misperceive the universe as lacking abundance or we think that there is not enough for everyone and that we will not receive in proportion to our giving. Give and you shall receive; there is no need to steal.
Brahmacharya (Nonexcess)- We will always live within our means, not taking more than we need or more than our share. This applies to food, living necessities, time and energy of others etc. Always trying to find the middle path and not living with excess.
Aparigraha (Nonpossessiveness)- Nothing in this world is owned by an individual, that is an illusion (maya). We share of our knowledge and ourselves freely.
Aparigraha also relates to coveting that which is not ours. This is different than stealing. Aparigraha includes jealousy and/or greed.
Sauca (purity/cleanliness)- We strive to maintain cleanliness in ourselves and any environment where we teach. By keeping the space clean we make it safe and inviting for the student to experience whatever they need. Avoid abuse of drugs and alcohol. Avoid use of foul language.
Santosha (Contentment)- Contentment can be an active practice rather than a reaction to events around us. Peace of mind can never rely on external circumstances, which are always changing in ways beyond our control. Santosha requires our willingness to enjoy exactly what each day brings, to be happy with whatever we are experiencing.
As teachers, we accept our students and fellow workers as they are. If they are having a bad day we do not allow that to disrupt our own peace of mind and contentment.
Tapas (self-discipline)- We dedicate ourselves to studying and teaching the art, science and philosophy of yoga. We will maintain high standards of professional competence and integrity, always teaching to the best of our knowledge and ability. We will continue to learn and grow, knowing that we are a constant student of yoga. Our lifestyle will reflect this self-discipline as well, to the best of our ability. Self-restraint can be a positive force in our lives, giving us the necessary self-discipline that allows us to head toward the fulfillment of our dharma, or life purpose.
Svadhyaya (Study of Self)- Yoga teachers study and stay current with the teaching and practice of yoga. In addition, we will continue to study our tendencies, on and off the mat, in order to grow and better ourselves.
We will also encourage our students to study themselves. We will not be the middle-man or woman between the higher states of awareness and our students. We will not act as a crutch for students to become stronger, but help them to find their own inner strength.
Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender)- When we have exhausted our own strengths as an instructor, we will honestly and graciously refer a student to another type or style of yoga, or to a teacher who can more satisfactorily help their specific challenges.
As best as you can, lead by example... and along the way have compassion for yourself :)