How to be an Ethical Yogi
I've been getting ready to have these conversations with the students in my yoga teacher training, and it gets hard - having to prepare them for the massive storm they are about to launch themselves into, that is yoga in America today. Ah, how we manage to take such beautiful things and make them so yucky and complicated.
It's okay. I fully and wholeheartedly believe every yogi has the right to practice how it feels good to them. I believe we're all coming to the table with the best of intentions. This post isn't meant to shame anyone - I am guilty of things on this list & I am writing from a place of privilege and one small bubble of perspective. I am writing only to provoke thought, and awareness, because we all need a reminder sometimes.
1. Get rid of that savior complex. I understand that there is a real thin line that we have to walk between promoting ourselves & all of the ways we think our "services" are valuable, and making it out as if we're a true gift to our community. Here's the thing; you are a gift to your community. But you aren't the reason they are going to find peace; you aren't responsible in any way for their journey; and losing sight of this fact is a dangerously slippery slope into self-importance. I read an Instagram caption from a pseudo-famous yoga celeb recently that depicted a scene where she walks into an all-male sober house and manages to, in her words, inspire them to take down their walls so she can touch in to the very soft and vulnerable places beneath. Summarizing, "Although I had nothing in common with them, I recognized we are all one, and I was able to help them tap into that." Does that make you cringe? It should. Ditto to the recently popular prison yoga project. You know who should be teaching yoga to prisoners? Certified YTT prisoners. Yoga teachers, life coaches, gurus are no ones savior. We are not responsible for anyone's healing, and we definitely never get to take credit for it. This is especially problematic when we get into white teachers reaching out to disenfranchised communities. Examine your privilege; humility always. Go back and read through your posts. Even if you had the best interests, even if you were just trying to promote yourself - do any of them make you cringe? Some of mine certainly did. Delete them. Clean up & do better.
2. Invite your competitors into your world. To not do this is just a lack of confidence in yourself, in your colleagues, and in your community. It's insulting to everyone involved, including yourself. Trust that those who value you as an individual will keep seeking you out; and those who are needing something or someone else will keep looking. It is in your best interest, and theirs. To think we have something to share that is particularly unique or special, but is not complexly tied into our personality, that can instead be learned, taken, and re-distributed or copied, is plainly false. What we teach is tradition. What we share is universal. What we bring to it cannot be taken from us or replicated by someone else.
3. Stop self-promoting on other teachers' social media. The brazen shamelessness! This one has become so common-place it makes me giggle. We reach out in support and finish our comment with #yogabyjess (not a real person) and a link to our own page. Unless other teachers or other yogis are specifically calling out for recommendations, just stop. If you were selling cookies, and your best friend was selling cookies, would you walk into your best friends' shop to talk about how delicious cookies are and oh by the way, to her customers, "Have you tried one of my cookies? They're right across the street if you want some." No, you wouldn't, goddamnit. Re-examine what it means to you to support others, and to walk a path of integrity. Every opportunity is not there for your business-building purposes.
4. Do not be a life coach. No really ... don't. (Full disclosure: I did. I'm a holistic life coach in recovery.) What does that term even mean? Do we really feel that the quality of our experiences have prepared us to have someone put all of their faith into us, to lead them in a successful and meaningful life? This is not to say we shouldn't help others. Do you have a degree in nutrition? Teach about food. Do you have an affinity for meditation? Teach it. Are you especially skilled with money and organization? By all means, do your research and let people hire you for your services. Are you sharing personal anecdotes at the end of your classes? Is this really to serve others, or is it self-indulgent? Are you there to do personal processing? If you have ideas to share with the world, share them. Write about them. We need you. But be honest and real about your qualifications and your right to charge people for your services. Being a yogi qualifies you to teach about movement, body, and breath: not about life.
5. Two words (you can guess them, I bet) : Cultural. Appropriation. If you are a white yoga teacher in America, you are already inappropriately appropriating a culture that is not yours. Please act accordingly.
And last but not least, Humility. Always.