Special thanks to: www.aurawellnesscenter.com.
By Faye Martins
There have been times when it has been stated that yoga teacher ethics were just a matter of common sense. Teachers have seen the looks in an intern’s eyes, when the lecture starts. The intern’s eyes tell me that he/she is thinking, “What’s the big deal?” with respect to teacher ethics.
Yoga instructors are the guiding lights for all students interested in learning yogic methods. Teachers operate under a series of ethics and moral guidelines. These guidelines are designed to help them teach yoga fairly, kindly, and morally. Yoga is a form of recreation guided by the key scriptures of kindness, compassion, generosity, tolerance, patience, helpfulness, forgiveness, and purity.
Walking the Talk
As a result, yoga instructors need to reflect these ethical stances in their teaching practice. A teacher may not constantly live up to these ideals in their day-to-day lives. Unfortunately, we are human and we make mistakes. However, instructors must do whatever they can to promote these ideals through their teaching methods.
A good teacher understands that yoga is a noble path of life, with an extended history of highly successful teachers. They must align their behavior and their teachings with these teachers. Successfully promoting the values of yoga can help teachers reach their students on a deeper level, beyond the physical benefits of the postures.
For example, imagine you are a yoga student, and your teacher swears at you as you struggle with a Downward Dog Pose. His or her lack of patience will greatly disturb your mental well-being. It may even cause you to become resentful of your yoga teacher and to harbor feelings of anger, grief and angst.
A successful yoga instructor will tolerate the mistakes of others in the classroom. If a teacher must criticize a student, they should do it fairly. They should never make fun of the student or their attempts at practicing a yoga technique. Instead, they should gently focus on the facts and give solutions that help a student to learn. Whenever you spend time with a great teacher, you learn how to improve yourself, surpass an obstacle, or modify a technique.
How do we Apply Ethics in our Classes?
Yoga teachers must also respect the physical “bubble” around their students. Slight, brief touches, are acceptable for correction purposes. The teacher must respect a student if they don’t tolerate being touched in any way.
Yoga ethics demand that a teacher be truthful with his or her students. An instructor should never praise a student’s progress falsely. Instead, he or she must be honest with the student about their technique. On the other hand, the teacher must be understanding, patient, and fair, with all students. Our students will be inspired to work harder by a teacher who shows compassion and honesty.
Teaching students fairness, compassion, and honesty is a big part of the reason why yoga teacher ethics are such a “big deal.” The poses, breathing, and exercises of yoga are important, but are not the primary benefit of a practice. Instead, a yoga teacher is working to impart upon, his or her students, the morals and ethics that guide yoga as a practice.
Yoga Teacher Ethics and Liability
Yoga is all about the mind and body connection. It is about being in tune with your breath and your posture, so the issue of ethics and liability is often far from many yoga instructors’ minds. That is not to say these teachers are unethical, only that this indicates their passion for yoga. The fact is their students often take precedent over potential ethical and legal concerns.
Yoga is a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual endeavor, and as such, any skilled yoga instructor must help guide students into the proper techniques in order to achieve the best results. During a posture (asana) practice, this often involves physical contact of various degrees. While touching may seem a benign endeavor, within the confines of a safe yoga studio, it very easily can turn into something questionable, even if performed with the best intentions. Therefore, it is imperative for any teacher to take the time to consider ethics and liability as it relates to their instruction.
Aside from the pragmatic use of physical touch to help align a student into a proper position, the human touch has an essential quality to it that, in a healing art such as yoga, should be encouraged. That said, it is important to consider acceptable boundaries and the individual nature of people while discerning when, where, and how to touch someone.
Some teachers ask their students prior to instruction if they welcome touch, and if so, to what degree. Some students may prefer a hands-off approach, even when it comes to alignment; in which case, it would behoove both the yoga instructor and the student to be aware of such a boundary in advance. Other students may welcome touch and thrive on it. Of course, it goes without saying that touch, which could facilitate injury or be construed as sexually invasive, should always remain off limits regardless of the student.