Turning the teaching of yoga into a successful business venture can be a complex art to master in and of itself… and deciding one’s philosophical and ethical views about developing an entrepreneurial yoga platform can open up many challenging questions. Viewpoints around service, .e.g, what to give and what to keep for oneself, are all questions to contemplate in a society that may emphasize material wealth over altruistic aims.
This article is meant to explore this topic from different perspectives, considering the rights of a yoga student alongside a teacher’s right to earn and charge for their time and expertise.
Teachers can look inward towards their own unique inner compass, rely on the guidance of the profession in the Code of Ethics, and lean into the 8 limbs of yoga when making sense of the complexities of money and yoga in this modern world.
Different approaches to consider
From the teaching platform, teachers are wise to keep in mind that they hold an automatic seat of influence as the “yoga expert” or even “spiritual teacher” with the students in their class and extended community. Oftentimes this may trigger desire within students to gain the teacher’s favor. Let’s reflect on how this may impact the student…
Consider a time when you were beginning your study of yoga. Do you recall wanting to be noticed by your teacher? To be in the company of your teacher? Or to make a positive impression on them through your avid participation? Did these feelings contribute to your decision to purchase any courses or items? If so, no worries! These are natural human tendencies, however these types of feelings can make a student vulnerable to exploitation. Teachers must be mindful to not take advantage of their unique entrepreneurial platform and walk a fine line; especially when teaching yoga as their primary source of income. The student must never be made to feel that they are obligated to purchase from the teacher; it must always be a choice free of any overt influence.
Let’s look at an example of this power imbalance and the multiple ways the financial aspect can emerge in a yoga teacher-student relationship.
Teaching & Selling
Janet is working a booth at a yoga festival selling some spiritual jewelry, essential oils, and memberships to her online yoga coaching program. Her friend Amelie swings by and asks, “How are your sales doing?” Janet expresses dismay. She’s sold only a few items and no one has signed up for her online coaching yet! Amelie chides her friend saying, “Well, did you sign up to teach a class here this year or are you spending all your time at your booth? No one will sign up with you unless you’re on the stage, you know. When they see you up there that bumps you up to a higher level! I’ve even had students approach me after teaching, asking for info about my next retreat!”
From her comment one can see the significance of “customers” getting to know and recognize a teacher and how a teacher could easily use this platform to apply undue influence to manipulate students into purchasing accessory items or classes. As great as those products may be, students have the right to choose whether to purchase or participate without coercion of any kind.
At the next festival, Janet leads a compelling class for beginners. After class she announces that students can stop by her booth if they wish for a special discount on her items. Janet also invites them to leave their email address when they stop by if they would like to stay in touch. So far so good! She hasn’t applied any pressure and in both cases leaves the invitation to participate open ended.
But after class, back at her booth, Janet tells the new and admiring students flocking to her booth that her special malas are the only ones in the bazaar made “correctly” and not to purchase from any of the other vendors or their kundalini might spin backwards! Many people would see through this as manipulative or even ridiculous, but some students could easily be swept up in the sales pitch, driven also by an unconscious desire to please and impress Janet who had just taught such an uplifting class.
Teachers can consider the subtle (and not-so-subtle) choices they make with language. How can they inform students about helpful opportunities to learn and grow while supporting students in making their own decisions from a place of free will and free choice? Count yourself out from any type of pressure or misinformation (or outright lying!) and keep your communication and transactions clean.
This story illustrates just one of many ways a teacher could apply undue influence.
Now, let’s turn to the Code of Ethics for an understanding of how to avoid these kinds of exploitive behaviors:
Teachers should, in all marketing and promotional activities for products, classes, activities, and services, maintain integrity and respect for the students’ right to receive teachings and participate without pressure of any kind, including: financial pressure or social pressure, e.g., expectation of inclusion (or exclusion) or promises of a special status (or lesser status), by participation/purchase (or not).
Professional transactions (whether marketing or sales, or a seva/work relationship) must not be experienced by the student as being pressured or coerced. For example, it is fine for a teacher to promote their professional services in such a way that students are informed and feel they may choose freely (e.g., without consequence).
From KRI Respectful Student Teacher Relationships Policy
“Aparigraha” and the concept of “non grasping”
Many teachers will admit to sometimes counting dollar signs as students walk into the classroom. As dreadful as this may sound, it is a reality if a teacher is dependent on their teaching income in order to pay their rent and bills. What can help prevent this mind set? One option is to create additional types of income, so that this dependence doesn’t occur.
As per the teachings, Teachers are encouraged not to be solely financially dependent on teaching Kundalini Yoga (therefore, on their students) in order to maintain neutrality, integrity and the best interest of the students.
From KRI Respectful Student Teacher Relationships Policy
Understanding the moral codes of yoga through the 8 limbs (the yamas and niyamas – or “do’s” and “don’ts”) helps one to manage their financial situation with ethical restraint. For instance, we can, through creativity and the ability to self organize, plan our lives so that teaching generates surplus income and is not the primary source of income. Similarly, teachers can choose to “give away” certain parts of their teaching as a community service, to help yoga be accessible to all kinds of socioeconomic backgrounds. Such giving helps a teacher to identify with aparigraha or “non grasping,” one of the 5 yamas.
Aparigraha and the concept of non greed promotes the ideas of living within one’s means and avoiding the excesses promoted by a materialistic society. The “letting go” of aparigraha provides the yoga teacher an additional safeguard in the student teacher relationship, where the teacher respects each student in a “non greedy” way; by relating to each student as an individual and not as a source of income.
A teacher’s priority must be focused on the growth of the student and support of their highest consciousness. Yet teachers can role model ethical values by showing both respect for the student as well as oneself. Yoga teachers are encouraged to value their own time, energy and expertise! Many people, yoga teachers included, struggle with self-worth issues and are conflicted about how much to charge. But within the ancient yamas are principles of self respect both for oneself and others. Valuing oneself as a teacher and charging fairly for your time is completely different than greedy practices of pressuring students or using your role for your own benefit rather than theirs.
There is no one right answer here. There can be many approaches that feel wrong to a teacher and some that feel right. Through careful exploration and committing to the ethical codes found within the 8 Limbs and the current KRI Code of Ethics, teachers can pave a way forward that is truthful and fair to the students, while still honoring a teacher’s time and expertise.
Ultimately it is the teachers responsibility to sift through the many choices available in business and provide a safe container of respect that does not objectify the student or exert undue influence.