This article appeared in the November/December edition of Yoga Journal, entitled;
"A special message from the California Yoga Teachers Association"
We Americans first learned yoga from Indian masters. Many of the classical teachings of yoga translated well into our culture, but some did not. One area in which there was sometimes an
unfortunate gap was in the way the ethical teachings of traditional yoga were understood and practiced by westerners and sometimes abandoned by Indian teachers when they taught in the U.S.
In the philosophy of yoga there are 10 major points of ethics; these are the five yamas and the five
niyamas, which can be found in the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The yamas and the
niyamas are the "Ten Commandments" of yoga. They include such things as nonviolence, nonstealing, ethical sexual conduct, truth, and purity. Unfortunately, sometimes the personal power of the
teacher or "guru" has been used as an excuse to override both the letter and the spirit of the yamas and niyamas. In many yoga groups, the guru/teacher is always right, regardless of whether his or
her behavior is legal, ethical, moral, or beneficial for the student.
In spite of these traditional proscriptions about ethical conduct, there have been a surprising number of yoga teachers, Indian as
well as American teachers in the U.S., who have not followed ethical behavior. Some of those teachers have been written about in Yoga Journal, most have not. Those of us who are acquainted with the various
systems of yoga know of cases of serious ethical violations at some level in all of the systems of yoga currently taught in the U.S. today. These ethical violations include, but are not limited to, serious
cases of emotional, physical, sexual, or verbal abuse. While this may be surprising and hard to accept, it is true that the yoga community, like all other communities, has manifested its share of
unprofessional, unethical, and, at times, illegal behavior on the part of teachers. Some of these teachers are quite well known and even quite financially successful.
Because of the climate of
confusion about the application of the ethics of the yamas and the niyamas in a Western context, the Board of Directors of the California Yoga Teachers Association decided to write a set of professional
standards for yoga
Teachers that would unemotionally and clearly express the highest ideals of conduct for yoga teachers, regardless of the system in which they practice. The Board wanted to
underscore the concept that there can be no competence in teaching if ethical and professional guidelines are ignored or breached, regardless of how revered, renowned, or technically able teacher. We felt
that we needed a Westem statement of our commitment yama of ahimsa, or nonharming, to protect the student-teacher relationship in which the spirit of yoga is transmitted.
In order to write such a
document, we undertook research consisting of obtaining and studying various codes of conduct and codes of ethics from a wide variety of professions. We read, studied, and interveiwed experts in the field of
student-teacher relationships. Over a peiod of more than two years we thought about, argued about, and struggled with the philosophy behind a code.
I personally would like to thank Board members John Abbott, Elise Miller, and Richard Rosen, and
former Board members Linda Cogozzo, Donna Farhi, and Donald Moyer for all the time and care they have taken
in helping to create these professional standards. Because we feel so strongly about these standards, we have decided to publish them in this issue of Yoga Journal to share them with the wider yoga community.
These professional standards are a voluntary code which has been provided to all members of the
California Yoga Teachers Association. We hope that other yoga groups will use these professional
standards, or ones like them, and that these standards will stimulate discussion among teachers about ethics, professional conduct, and the sanctity of the student-teacher relationship.
years of teaching, I have heard numerous discussions among yoga teachers expressing dismay that, as a group, yoga teachers are sometimes not respected as efficacious, trained, and important contributors to
the health professions. Perhaps with the voluntary acceptance of this set of professional standards, or one like it, yoga teachers as a profession will take an important step toward clarity and compassion in
their teaching behavior. That will be of great benefit to all teachers. But it will do something more important. It will protect and inspire our students, the two most important things we do.
Please write with your comments, in care of Yoga joumal. Namaste, Judith H. Lasater, President
California Yoga Teachers Association
SECTlON 1: Statement of Purpose
The members of the California Yoga Teachers Association recognize the sensitive nature of the
student-teacher relationship. We believe that it is the responsibility of the yoga teacher to ensure a safe
and protected environment in which a student can grow physically, mentally, and spiritually.
SECTION 2: Principles
In order to protect the student in this potentially vulnerable relationship,
as well as to uphold the highest professional standards for yoga teachers, we agree to accept the following foundational principles:
1.To avoid discriminating against or refusing
professional help to anyone on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national origin.
2.To stay abreast of new developments in the field of yoga through educational
activities and studies.
3.To seek out and engage in collegial relationships, recognizing that isolation can lead to a loss of
perspective and judgment.
4.To manage our personal lives in a healthful fashion and to seek appropriate assistance for our own personal problems or conflicts.
5.To provide rehabilitative instruction only
for those problems or issues that are within the reasonable boundaries of our competence.
6.To establish and maintain appropriate professional relationship boundaries.
cultivate an attitude of humanity in our teaching, we dedicate our work to something greater than ourselves.
SECTION 3: Professional Practices
In all professional matters, we maintain
practices and teaching procedures that protect the public and advance the profession.
1.We use our knowledge and professional associations for the benefit of the people we serve and not
to secure unfair personal advantage.
2.Fees and financial arrangements, as with all contractual matters, are always discussed without
hesitation or equivocation
at the onset and are established in a straightforward, professional manner.
3.We may at times render service to individuals or groups in need without regard to financial
4.We neither receive nor pay a commission for referral of a student.
5.We conduct our fiscal affairs with due regard to recognized
business and accounting procedures.
6.We are careful to represent facts truthfully to students, referral sources, and third party payers
regarding credentials and services rendered. We will correct any misrepresentation of our
7.We do not malign colleagues or other professionals.
SECTION 4: Student Relationships
It is our responsibility to maintain relationships with students on a professional basis.
1. We do not abandon or neglect students. If we are unable, or unwilling for appropriate reasons, to provide professional help or continue a professional relationship, every reasonable effort is made to
arrange for continuation of instruction with another teacher.
2. We make only realistic statements regarding the benefits of yoga.
3. We show sensitive regard for the moral, social, and
religious standards of students and groups. We avoid imposing our beliefs on others, although we may express them when appropriate in the yoga class.
4. We recognize the trust placed in and unique power of the student-teacher relationship. While
acknowledging the complexity of some yoga relationships, we avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of
students. We avoid those dual relationships with students (e.g., business, close personal, or sexual relationships) that could impair our professional judgement, compromise the integrity of our instruction,
and/or use the relationship for our own gain.
5. We do not engage in harassment, abusive words or actions, or exploitative coercion of students or former students.
6. All forms of sexual
behavior or harassment with students are unethical, even when a student invites or consents to such behavior involvement. Sexual behavior is defined as, but not limited to all forms of overt and covert
seductive speech, gestures, and behavior as well as physical contact of a sexual nature; harassment is defined as, but not limited to, repeated comments, gestures, or physical contacts of a sexual nature.
7. We recognize that the teacher-student relationship involves a power imbalance, the residual effects of which can remain after the student is no longer studying with the teacher. Therefore, we
suggest extreme caution if you choose to enter into a personal relationship with a former student.
SECTION 5: Confidentiality
We respect the integrity and protect the welfare of all persons
with whom we are working and have an obligation to safeguard information about them that has been obtained in the course of the instruction process.
1.All records kept on a student are stored or disposed of in a manner that assures security and
2.We treat all communications from students with professional confidence.
3.When supervising apprentices or consulting with other yoga teachers, we use only the first names of
our students, except in those situations where the identity of the student is necassary to the
understanding of the case. It is our responsibility to convey the importance of
confidentiality to the apprentice or consuItant. We do not disclose student confidences to anyone, except: as mandated by law; to prevent a clear and immediate danger to someone; in the course of a civil,
criminal, or disciplinary action arising from the instruction where the teacher is a defendant; for purposes of supervision or consultation by previously obtained written permision. In cases involving more
than one person (as student), written permission must be obtained from all legally accountable persons who have been present during the instruction before any disclosure can be made.
5. We obtain
written consent of students before audio and/or video tape recording or permitting third party observation of their sessions.
6. When current or former students are referred to in a publication, while teaching, or in a public
presentation, their identity is thoroughly disguised.
Section 6: Assistant, Student, and Employee Relationships
As yoga teachers, we have an ethical concern for the integrity and welfare of our assistants, students, and employees. These relationships are
maintained on a professional and confidential basis. We recognize our influential position with regard to current and former assistants, students, and employees, and avoid exploiting their trust and
dependency. We make every effort to avoid dual relationships with such persons that could impair our judgement or increaase the risk of personal and/or financial exploitation.
1.We do not engage in sexual or other harass- ment of current assistants, students, employees, or
2.All forms of sexual behavior, as
defined in Section 4.6, with our assistants, students, and employees are unethical.
3.We advise our assistants, students, and employees against offering or engaging in, or holding
themselves out as competent to engage in, professional services beyond their training, level of
experience, and competence.
4.We do not
harass or dismiss an assistant or employee who has acted in a reasonable, responsible, and ethical manner to protect, or intervene on behalf of, a student or other member of the public or another employee.
SECTION 7: Interprofessional Relationships
As yoga teachers, we relate to and cooperate with other professional persons in our immediate community and beyond. We are part of a network of
health care professionals and are expected to develop and maintain interdisciplinary and interprofessional reiationships.
1.Knowingly soliciting another teacher's students is unethical.
2.Speaking of other teachers with disrespect is unethical.
SECTION 8: Advertising
Any advertising, including announcements, public statements, and promotional activities, done
by us or for us is undertaken for the purpose of helping the public make informed judgements and choices.
1.We do not misrepresent our professional qualifications, affiliations, and
functions, or falsely imply sponsorship, or certification by any organization.
2.Announcements and brochures promoting our services describe them with accuracy and dignity.
These promotional materials should be devoid of exaggerated claims about the effects of yoga. We may send them to professional persons, religious institutions, and other agencies,
but to prospective individual students only in response to inquiries or as long as that promotional material is sent to a reasonable audience in a non- invasive way.
3.We do not make public statements which contain any of the following:
a. A false, fraudulent, misleading, deceptive or unfair statement.
b. A misrepresentation of fact or a
statement likely to mislead or deceive because in context it makes only a partial disclosure of relevant facts.
c. A statement implying unusual, unique, or one-of-a-kind abilities, including
misrepresentation through sensationalism,exaggeration, or superficiality.
d. A statement intended or likely to exploit a student's fears,anxieties, or emotions.
e. A statement concerning the comparative desirability of offered services.
4. Advertisements or announcements by us of workshops, clinics, seminars, growth groups, or similar services or endeavors,
are to give a clear statement of purpose and a clear description of the experiences to be provided. The education, training, and experience of the provider involved are to be appropriately specified.
The Board of Directors of CYTA welcomes your reply. Send any comments to: Judith Lasater, c/o Yoga Journal, 2054 University Avenue, Berkeley, CA, 94704