Yoga Teacher Ethics

This NYT opinion piece, addresses, but does not resolve an important issue in the Yoga world:

…the case of Mr. Choudhury is not unique. In 2016, a beloved teacher in the New York City-based Jivamukti Yoga center, known for its celebrity clientele, was sued, along with the center and its leaders, for sexual abuse by her mentee. John Friend’s Anusara community was rocked and dissolved in 2012 after he was discovered having affairs with married students and performing Wiccan-like sex rituals. Kripalu’s Amrit Desai was accused of sexual misconduct and abuse of authority in 1994 and a $2.5 million settlement was paid (the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts divorced itself from Desai and reorganized). And there are, of course, countless under-the-radar stories of yoga teachers coming on to students or touching them inappropriately in class.

The ‘solution’ offered at the end of the piece is a step in the right direction:

I believe all organized yoga teacher training should include training in ethics and, if affiliated with Yoga Alliance, point students toward that resource. Each community center, meditation group and yoga studio should post a code of ethics, as Jack Kornfield’s Spirit Rock community recently did. Every center should have a formalized, safe place to report abuse seriously and anonymously. Even secular yoga studios should provide this service, alongside mats and towels.

But this is only a first step. This kind of abuse happens whenever we put someone else in charge of our growth and healing. The teacher/student relationship (or priest/parishioner) is so inherently uneven in terms of voice and power that abuses like this are inevitable. It might even be fair to say that this is a feature, not a bug.

I find the reminder in the penultimate paragraph to be the most salient way to address this issue:

We ended each class with a Sanskrit chant that translates to, “The one true teacher lives in the center of your heart.” I wanted these young girls to know, though teachers are helpful guides, the one true authority is inside of them. I wanted them to carry this lesson forward into their adult yoga world as women.

We can all do with the reminder that our connection to the universal soul cannot be mediated, that growth is not granted, nor wisdom handed down, but earned through the sweat of our brow. I would love to know the mantra that the writer is referring to. I couldn’t find that translation anywhere, although there are a few mantras that have a meaning similar. Here’s one:





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