Ethics in Teaching Yoga

Ethics in Teaching Yoga

yoga certificationBy Gopi Rao

Although there is some debate about the ethics involved in teaching yogic techniques, most experienced yoga instructors believe that the answers to professional questions of ethics vary according to context. Other yoga instructors become frustrated by this idea of ethical gray areas and believe in a standard, across-the-board way of dealing with situations.

Ethical problems arise from more than just questions of whether to get involved with a student or whether to bad mouth a co-worker. Within a single yoga class, an instructor might have to decide whether or not to adjust a student’s pose, whether to encourage a beginner to attend a class better suited to his or her needs, whether to allow complaining about another teacher to continue, whether an emotionally-fraught student can attain balance through catharsis or through meditation and much more.

Ethical Principles

These decisions can have no one right answer. For example, a student who receives too many adjustments might become discouraged and quit while a student who receives too few adjustments might become ambitious and risk injury. Similarly, if the students are uniting over their truthful complaints about another yoga teacher should an instructor really risk breaking up that unity, especially if the instructor agrees with his or her students?

On the one hand, many studios implement standards to prevent too much variability in ethical conduct. After all, a yoga instructor who lacks wisdom or does not genuinely adhere to the yogic ethical principles can create plenty of problems for an established practice. He or she might constantly badmouth colleagues in order to swell the numbers in his or her own classes. Similarly, the instructor might exaggerate the beneficial effects of yoga without realizing that untruthfulness can be harmful to students. 

One way to address the needs of variability alongside the needs of standardization is to create a basic code of ethics from which yoga instructors can springboard their ethical decision-making.

Teachers should begin with a general code of non-harmful behavior. By considering whether a decision might cause harm to a student, yoga instructors can avoid making common mistakes. For example, a beginner may risk injury in an advanced-level class, so advising an inexperienced student to attend a more basic class adheres to a non-harmful code of ethics.

Extending this idea into a question of whether an action will benefit a student can also facilitate ethical decision-making. For example, a reserved student might benefit from an emotional release through crying during class, whereas an over-emotional person might benefit from practicing self-control through breathing and meditation techniques.

Clearly, even with a firm ethical standard in place in many studios, instructors face ethical problems that arise organically. Understanding where ethical decision-making comes from will help facilitate clearer resolutions to these gray areas.

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