I’d like to talk about changes to the Yoga Trinity Code of Ethics for Yoga Teachers
I’ve been sharing yoga training programs for over a decade now, and there is never a moment where I feel like they are a finished product. Programs are a constant work in progress, forever being refined and updated. While I work hard to be sure that students are aware of these updates, I realize that some things do fall through the cracks. I think it’s just as important for past students to be informed of changes as my current trainees, even if those graduates have moved on to other studies, styles, or teachers. This is especially key when it comes to areas where I have erred, or areas where there have been significant evolutions in the body of yoga knowledge (i.e. movement science, yoga history etc).
So, with that in mind I wanted to let my community know a few areas where my own teaching is changing, including removing the use of the Ashtanga Yoga chant from my classes, adding the use of consent cards, more robust terms and conditions for training, and, what I wanted to discuss further today, an update to the Code of Ethics that I provide in all my courses.
As of this writing I’m still researching and fine-tuning the Code, but one of the things I have updated, which was a carry-over from a lineage I trained in many years ago, was the commitment to ‘protect and enhance the public image of the yoga profession.’ I removed this line because, while I understand the spirit of this guideline, on deeper reflection, and given the ongoing revelations of misconduct and assault in our yoga and spiritual communities and the ongoing covering up of these deeply harmful actions, I am reading something new in this sentence that just doesn’t sit well with me.
I do not want to participate in, or encourage, the ongoing ‘image management’ of yoga practices, communities, or teachers who cause harm.
As teachers we are representatives of yoga. It is part of our duty to be honest, responsible, and respectful in our teaching, in student, peer and employer relationships, and in public communications and actions as we represent yoga. Regardless of our lineage, style, duration of teaching, or membership status, we each have a duty to demonstrate as well as transmit the philosophies and ethics of yoga. In this way, we do have a responsibility to uphold the public image of yoga.
However, I also think that this promise to uphold and enhance the public image of yoga could be used to encourage people to remain silent, protecting the image of yoga so the public don’t find out yoga’s dirty little secrets; people get hurt doing yoga, some yoga teachers or communities cause terrible harm, some people know their yoga teacher/community is causing harm and they don’t say anything about it, or worse, deny it.
Maybe I’m taking things too far or reading too much into a simple statement. But, now that I’ve seen from this perspective, I can’t unsee it. It looks to me now like a code of silence rather than a code of ethics. This may prevent people from questioning yoga’s history, practice, leaders, or safety. This may prevent people from speaking up when they see misconduct. It may prevent teachers from being clear about harms or potential harms that exist in yoga. I worry that this type of statement about the ‘public image of yoga’ can be used to perpetuate the myths that yoga is harmless, that our leaders are infallible and above scrutiny or oversight, and that any hurtful actions they engage in or cover up are misunderstood, or the fault of the victim.
I won’t stand for this anymore, and I want to be sure that the code of ethics that I pass on to students (and of course live by myself) does not overtly or subtly carry this messaging forward.
The other thing that concerned me about with this ‘public image of yoga’ statement, was that the public image of yoga is about as authentic, welcoming, and accessible as the cover of a fashion magazine these days. Many teachers feel that pressure to uphold an image that for most of us is impossible to attain, and quite contrary to our own values, lifestyle, and even health. And, many potential practitioners don’t step into a studio for the same reasons, they don’t match up with the ‘public image’ of yoga.
I will not ask, overtly or subtly, that teachers are required to uphold the image that yogis are all flexible, or skinny, or vegan, or drink kombucha, or are peaceful-all-the-damned-time-and-never-have-a-negative-thought. Yogis are people, and they come in all shapes, sizes, flexibilities, fitness levels, abilities, colours, genders, races, religions, lifestyles, and of course ages.
Perhaps my actions here are clumsy, or not really doing enough to address the harms that some yoga teachers, yoga communities, and lineages have done. But, it’s one step, and I hope it will lead to me learning more about how to be a better teacher, a better member of my yoga community, and community at large. At this stage, I’m doing a lot of listening to those with far more experience, insight, and wisdom.
Maybe I’ll change this code of ethics again. I hope I will if it makes yoga safer, more inclusive, and more sensitive to the needs of all. I still have a lot of learning to do in this area.
For now, today, here is what feels key to me:
- I won’t ask teacher trainees to sign away their right to question anything, including me.
- I will encourage teachers and practitioners to question, challenge, and reimagine the public image of yoga.
- I will empower and encourage teachers and practitioners to speak up, both on and off the mat.
- I will listen.
There are many teachers and educators who have been doing this work for decades. I hope to join them and continue to learn alongside my whole yoga community to make yoga spaces safer, more accessible, and spaces where everyone will be honoured, respected, and valued as members of an evolving global yoga community.
If you are interested, here is my current Code of Ethics for Yoga Teachers:
- Uphold the integrity of my vocation by conducting myself in a professional and conscientious manner in all my interactions.
- To have respect for my students, teachers, peers, and employers in the spirit of yoga.
- Provide safe and effective instruction, and a clean, comfortable and accessible environment for all participants.
- Provide equal and fair treatment to all.
- Make my practice and my continuing education a priority.
- Comply with all country/state business, employment, and copyright laws.
- Maintain the confidentiality of all student information.
- Respect the rights, dignity and privacy of all students.
- Acknowledge the limitations of my skills and scope of practice, and refer students to more qualified medical, health, or rehabilitation professionals when necessary.
- Acknowledge all the teachers and traditions that inform our practice, and the land that we practice on.