This is a two part post, part one…
YOGA TEACHER ETHICS
We’ve all seen the comedic scene in movies and shows where a male yoga teacher pays special attention to the prettiest participant in the class by doing over the top “hands on” adjustments in a variety of imitative coital positions. Although pretty hilarious comedic fodder, when this happens in real life it’s far less funny. Are there really yoga teachers that use their yoga class as a dating pool? Unfortunately, yes. I have witnessed 2 teachers, both males who were so obviously “on the make” before, during and after their classes that I actually thought I was watching a sit com. These teachers taught at different studios and in two different areas of the city.
One teacher was a veteran yoga instructor teaching at a private studio. He was Bikram trained but did not teach Bikram yoga. He typically started each class by demonstrating a highly advanced posture or arm balance and the demonstration had one purpose only, that was to showcase his skill and prowess as an obviously advanced yogi as they were not part of the class he was about to teach. He regularly performed full contact adjustments and always on his “favourite” pupils. He never asked permission to touch anyone. I attended in excess of 20 of his classes because he always taught in the evening time slot most convenient for me and never once did I see him adjust a male student. Outside of the yoga room he often made remarks about the attractiveness of other (female) teachers and/or students wondering aloud if they were available/single. I was relieved when he left to teach elsewhere after a few months, frankly he just gave me the creeps.
The other teacher was a Bikram instructor, teaching at a Bikram studio. He was a young teacher and I took his class only twice. In both classes (two days in a row) there was a female participant who he made remarks to and about during the class, along the lines of, “Wow your glutes are very well defined”, and “there’s not an ounce of fat on you”. This combined with the fact that he did hands on adjustments several times on just this one girl (hands on adjustments rarely happen in any Bikram class) made it obvious he was “interested” in her. It was as though he was teaching her privately and the rest of us weren’t even there. He did this 2 classes in a row with the same girl. A couple of weeks later I happened to see this teacher in the lobby with that same female student, and yes, they were dating. I am not against people finding love at yoga or love anywhere for that matter, but for gawd sakes if you’re a teacher, a little discretion and respect for your other students should come into play.
It has not escaped me that both these teachers were Bikram trained and that Bikram Choudhury himself has recently been ordered to pay seven million dollars resulting from sexual harassment charges against him.
I also contend that the fault does not lay 100% on the teachers. The studios that hire them and entrust their members to be guided professionally and ethically by their teachers has a responsibility to do their part when it comes to teacher ethics.
But it’s just yoga, right? We aren’t talking about a university or some other serious educational institution where teachers hold a position of authority and can unfairly impact the outcome of a students performance by becoming inappropriately involved with them. But please, look at what yoga is. At it’s core it is a spiritual practice. Students are looking for a mind-body practice that will positively impact their lives and bring them some spiritual evolution. Isn’t that pretty serious stuff? Do you really want to go to a yoga studio where the teachers and hitting on you or making you feel uncomfortable with suggestive talk or actions?
Going back to the Bikram Choudhury case, it took years for his victims to speak up. Sadly, that is not unusual when it comes to a man in a position of power being accused by a woman in a subordinate position. In fact, I need to question myself about when I witnessed the two teachers in all their inappropriate glory, why did I not speak up? I could have complained to the studio owner, or I could have pointed out to the teachers that they were crossing ethical boundaries. But I did neither, and if I had to analyze the reason why it would be the same reason it took Bikram Choudhury’s victims years to speak up about those far more serious allegations. The reason is fear. For those women it was fear of having their careers ruined, reputations destroyed, integrity questioned, being publicly ostracized, just for a start. For me, it was just the simple fear that I would be ignored, belittled, accused of being prudish, or the worst, being labelled a b#t%h.
The ethical issue at hand boils down to using your position as a teacher to further your own agenda, whether it be sexual, monetary, or any other. Other ethical matters would be using your teacher status to promote discrimination, religion, politics, or other things that belong clearly outside of the yoga studio.
This brings us to part two…
YOGA ETHICS BEST PRACTICES
This is something that should be adopted by yoga studios as a whole and signed off by each teacher as they are contracted/hired by the studio.
- Treat each participant with respect
- Ask permission before making hands on adjustments (some studios use “adjust me” tokens)
- When doing hands on adjustments, perform them on a variety of participants
- Do not habitually single out the same participants for commentary
- Spatially, spend equal time in each quadrant of the practice room
- Whenever possible address the class as a community
- Demonstrate only postures that are relevant to the class / level
- Keep your narrative centred on the practice of yoga as much as possible
- Do not use profanity in your narration
- Do not play music containing profanity
Comments are welcome, please leave yours in the box below. Cheerio, Connie.