The Ethical Standards of a Yoga Teacher

27 March 2013

As teachers of Yoga it is important to remember that we forever remain humble students of the science. Yoga truly is a lifelong endeavor. Much more than teaching asana, the responsibilities of a Yoga teacher are many since we are in a position to greatly influence others’ lives.

The following list of ethics has been compiled to guide both the student and teacher of Yoga in their efforts to evolve spiritually:

1. Setting a good example – we must devote ourselves to practicing what we preach;  not just “talking the talk” but also “walking the talk.” We need to live as close as possible to the yogic lifestyle that we recommend for our students and also the lifestyle that is prescribed by our teachers. Authenticity, both with ourselves and with our students, will not only gain their respect but will facilitate the proper atmosphere for instruction and learning.

2. Remaining students of Yoga forever – this allows us the opportunity to continuously give our students something more and to cultivate our own personal growth along with the growth of our students.

3. Conducting ourselves professionally and with integrity at all times – due to the inevitable closeness of relationships within the student/teacher dynamic, people share some of the most sensitive parts of themselves with you and their vulnerability needs to be protected. Group and individual discussions that are shared in confidence with you must not be divulged to others under any circumstances, other than an emergency.

4. Accurately relating the training that we received – not exaggerating our accomplishments (or minimizing them), but giving an accurate and honest account of what we have learned so far and who we learned it from. This honest approach empowers students to find someone who can deal with their particular or unique strengths as their teacher.

5. Treating all others will respect – this includes but is not limited to our students. Respecting the time and energy of others, giving credit where credit is due and building up the world’s “kindness reserves,” works wonders in creating an atmosphere of mutual trust.

6. Not condemning or speaking ill of any yogic path, or their teachings – striving instead to attract students based on their recognition of our own inner (and radiant) light. We as teachers need to realize that students will only find their ideal teacher when they are ready, and this may mean that sometimes we may not be the perfect teacher for them. When we have honestly assessed our own strengths, and the response from each student, we have to be ready (if need be) to graciously refer a student to another teacher who may be better suited to help them with their specific situation and/or challenges.

7. No discrimination – shown towards students as a result of their cultural background, religion, sex or gender. Remaining aware of the ultimate “oneness” we all share, this is to be reflected through every contact we have with each and every one of our students.

8. We will not allow ourselves to be an intermediary between any of the higher states of consciousness and those of our students – rather than act as a crutch for students to lean on so they may feel stronger, we’ll help them to find their own inner strength.

9. Remaining mindful of where each student is at – not expecting that everyone is starting from the same point; mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually. Never looking down on others spiritual progression (or lack of it) we realize that this is a non-linear path. When we remove our egos from our teaching we must be prepared for the possibility that some students will take quantum leaps beyond us and then we should learn from them.

10. Resist the urge to “wow” others – it is not the point of a yoga class to attempt to impress others with your amazing physical feats (or deep philosophical wisdom) unless they specifically ask you to do so, and are completely open to it. Rather than push, we must lead through example.

11. Strive to maintain cleanliness – observing Saucha, which also means keeping different energies distinct, affects any environment where we teach, so making the space as comfortable and inviting to the student as possible is essential.

12. Remaining fully “present” when we lead a class or student – Arriving early enough to prepare ourselves for the instruction that lies ahead, this way we do not let our “mental business” interfere with the energy of the class. We first focus on calming our own minds before attempting to calm the minds of our students.

13. Always allow for physical restrictions or limitations – by offering a variety of modifications so that anyone can feel comfortable, thereby benefitting from participating in our class.

14. Realize that the teacher/student bond may be misinterpreted as a sexual attraction – an honorable amount of time (approximately 8 months to a year or more is generally recommended) should be reserved between being someone’s teacher and participating in a romantic relationship with them.

15. Enacting “tough love” – when someone is acting outside of the ethical boundaries that yoga establishes, it is our responsibility as their teacher to communicate the truth even when it may be difficult to do so. Of course, tact and a gentle attitude is the right approach.

16. Our truth may not be everyone’s truth – since we are all students of Yoga we realize the possibly that our truth may be somewhat distorted through our own egoic filters, so we allow (even encourage) our students to discover their own truth, and this may not always be in line with the class we teach. We must resist feeling angry or resentful if we ‘lose’ a student. If their path requires a different teacher we should honestly and lovingly give them our blessing on their choice to find an alternative.

17. As a full time Yoga teacher we are honored to make money from doing a fortuitous job – but since this is our primary means of sustaining ourselves financially we must continue to remind ourselves to put our practice and its teachings above the gain of monetary good at all times. In the words of Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois: “Yoga is possible for anybody who really wants it. Yoga is universal…. But don’t approach yoga with a business mind looking for worldly gain.”

18. And lastly; remember that asana is only one small part of the entire yogic science. In his “Astadala Yogamala,” B.K.S. Iyengar wrote: “Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”

Remember, above all, the responsibility to teach the “all” of yoga to your students only as they are ready and willing to receive these teachings.

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