There was a time when some would assume the ethics and morals guidelines for yoga teachers were obvious or just a matter of common sense. The reality is that is not the case today. When you become a yoga teacher, you take on a certain responsibility. Students look towards teachers to learn and grow in their physical practice, mental strength and yogic way of life. They even see teachers as mentors and guides. This makes it even more critical for teachers to set a standard and clearly communicate one’s values and ethics. It establishes a fair, kind, open and understanding environment where every individual respects each other and there is a safe space to grow. Needless to say, it will set a respectable professional standard for you as a yoga teacher. Let’s look at what are some of the main ethics and professional values you must follow.
During a yoga teacher training you will learn just how important patience is. Whether it is the patience required to learn to meditate or the patience with which you have to practice a challenging posture everyday until you achieve it – after all, you won’t be able to do a full split or a handstand on day one. The same patience has to shine through when you start teaching yoga as a career. If a student finds an asana challenging, patiently providing guidance and modifications is important. Respecting where each student is in their journey and patient with them is key.
Compassion and kindness
Being fair, honest, kind and compassionate is an important characteristic as a yoga teacher. If a student is struggling with a posture, you have to guide them in a kind, understanding and compassionate manner. Shouting, impatiently explaining or rudely brushing them off will add a negative mark to your name as a yoga teacher. You also cannot compare one’s capability or progress to another’s, especially without permission. Stay mindful of the words you speak and the tone of voice as this makes a big difference to one’s motivation.
Practice what you preach
Asking your students to come on time to class? Repeatedly communicating the importance of Pranayama and meditation practice along with asanas? Giving yoga knowledge on a balanced lifestyle and routine? You have to be willing to speak from experience. Follow through on your own words. Yes, sometimes delays happen or you miss a meditation practice – but the key is to communicate, be integral and honest. As much as you can, take the time to follow your own words and encourage students to follow these ethics.
Ask for permission
If you are using one student’s journey as an example to explain something specific to the others, ask for permission before doing so. Do not compare or give critical feedback without asking your students. Focus on the facts and provide modifications and variations. Similarly, as certified yoga teachers, it is important to guide students with the proper techniques and this may sometimes require physical contact. Maybe a nudge or a supporting hand is needed to ease into an asana. Firstly, check if there really is a need? Second, consider acceptable boundaries and ask your students for permission to make physical contact. Some might welcome the support, some might prefer a hand-off approach. Whichever it is, as a yoga teacher asking for permission is the proper and ethical way to go about it.
Speak with respect and clarity
Use encouraging, uplifting and positive language when instructing your students. If a student is not able to do an asana correctly or is finding it difficult, applaud their effort and progress. Make eye contact when speaking to students, be clear in your instructions and demonstrate positive body language. Even if you disagree with something or someone, don’t encourage it but don’t voice your disagreement. Simply provide an alternate option or move onto something else. Encourage students to ask doubts and be available to them via text or email should they need assistance. Most of all, speak with respect. Your studio is a space for everyone to feel safe and welcome. So, if someone is struggling with the Seated Forward Bend do not use foul language or respond with impatience about how their back is rounding or knees are bending. This will cause them to resent your yoga class or you as a teacher. Instead, patiently and respectfully give them tips on how to lengthen the spine and gently straighten the knees.
Always encourage your students to practice safely and help them avoid injuries. If a student has a medical history or a recent injury, ensure they have got their doctor’s sign-off to practice yoga. And, for a few weeks or months allow them to only practice beginner-level postures. If you are unsure of how to go about a particular student’s case, ask for help from your mentors or network of yoga teachers from your 200-hour yoga teacher training program. If you are unsure of a specific yoga anatomy concept or a breath cue, ask your mentors and yoga teacher friends. Do not hesitate to do so as it is important to always keep your student’s best interests in mind.
Clean and bright space
For in-person yoga classes, always keep the space clean, bright and airy. After each class, put the props away, clear the floor, keep the washrooms clean and let some sunlight pour in. Treat your space like it is your bedroom or a spiritual or religious place of your liking. This way you will automatically demonstrate respect towards it. Remember, you want to create and maintain a welcoming, warm space for your students to learn and grow.
Personal emotions, thoughts and to-do lists aside
During the class, don’t let your thoughts wander to a pending to-do list in the middle of giving instructions. The professional thing to do is to keep your personal emotions, thoughts and to-do lists outside the door. This will help you develop a neutral, professional attitude and outlook towards all students. This means, even if you’re having a bad day, dealt with an-hour long traffic jam or had an argument with a loved one, a part of being a yoga teacher is being able to let go, stay steady and balanced. So, when you come to class, your students will look at you with the same respect as always, rather than wonder if something has happened to their teacher.
How can you apply these ethics in class?
It may take time, effort and practice, like everything else, to apply these ethics. Some of them may come naturally to you and some may require extra effort. Yoga is all about being mindful and staying in the present moment. So continuously remind yourself of your ethics and morals and make the effort to implement them. You can even inform your students about the values you follow. This way, your students are aware of what to expect and what not to. Remember, it is ultimately your responsibility as a yoga teacher to ensure a safe environment for students to grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.