What is a yoga standard?
As we continue to explore how pedagogy evolves in yoga traditions, we can keep in mind that apprenticeship or disciple traditions of India do not fit neatly into the “square pegs” or accreditation models of education in the Western world. There are many steps to take in order to become an E RYT-500 (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance). Such standardization is a necessary part of yoga reform and growth.
In today’s world, yoga teachers are held to quantifiable standards and a credentialing process to ensure not only that quality and high pedagogy standards are upheld, but also the safety and wellbeing of students.
Pedagogy is the "art" of teaching and is an ever-changing aspect of education
As this art evolves, the Code of Ethics informs pedagogy techniques so that the roles and responsibilities of the Teacher support the workshop/class/training experience.
The tension between a teacher’s creative expression and regulatory oversight is a healthy evolution of the yoga teaching profession. This tension allows for regulatory standards and a level of scrutiny that is given to similarly influential professions, e.g., therapists, lawyers, and ministers. Such oversight is a necessary component of ensuring community safety.
There is a tendency to think that yoga teachers are the “exception”; that somehow a yoga teacher is more “elevated” or “special” and doesn’t require guidance on appropriate or inappropriate behavior.
Wise teachers recognize that they contribute to the experience and hold unwavering respect for the student and for maintaining a professional relationship, so that there is no room for exploitation
Teaching yoga is a trusted position of authority. The timeless quality of the postures and meditations and the nature of sharing these can impart a deep feeling of connection to the teacher; students may feel this connection as very special. Teachers are responsible to contain their own ego so that the class receives all the benefits, free of any personal agenda of the teacher.
Let’s explore a scenario where a teacher’s passion and knowledge impact the students in a harmful way. How? When the teacher’s ego gets in the way and they inadvertently breach the Scope of Practice.
Stories from the studio
Olivia is a popular yoga teacher who is a 220-hour yoga teacher certified with Yoga Alliance. She also recently completed a 6-week health coaching course and is building a private coaching business. During a weekend workshop, Olivia delivers a powerful yoga set. As she is teaching, she feels very full of wisdom and energy. When Jennifer, a student in the workshop, asks Olivia a question about her health, Olivia takes the moment as a chance to show off her newly developed coaching skills. Perhaps thinking that the other students will be inspired by her wisdom, she jumps in and advises Jennifer in front of the entire class. She explains that the health problem stems from Jennifer’s samskaras and then continues by “reading” Jennifer’s aura, explaining in front of everyone the ancestral and genetic reasons why she is not well. She assigns a kriya and a meditation to “fix” the health problem.
Analysis from the stage
While Olivia’s words are compelling for the student, some other students don’t feel comfortable with what they experienced. After class, a few students talk about it, and some share that the public advising felt exploitative of the students health condition and inappropriate.
Jennifer herself feels sort of “weird.” She confesses to her friends that while she asked the question publicly, she didn’t expect to be analyzed in front of the entire class.
The students’ sensibility that something was “off” or “exploitative” was accurate. It is inappropriate for a yoga teacher to give health advice within the context of a yoga class, even if the advice may have seemed like “good” advice or if the teacher is a credentialed health practitioner. Olivia would better have recommended for the student to take this question to her medical doctor.
By turning to current policy and guidelines for clarity, we can understand that Olivia’s display of her coaching talents from the teaching platform is egoism as well as a clear violation of the KRI Scope of Practice:
“KRI recognizes the powerful healing potential in our practices, but our teacher certifications qualify a Teacher to teach Kundalini Yoga, not to practice Yoga Therapy – which would require additional training and certification. This principle does not limit a licensed healthcare practitioner or certified professional from practicing according to their respective scopes of practice outside of a Kundalini Yoga class setting (meaning that a licensed healthcare practitioner would not practice that profession within a Kundalini Yoga class).”
– KRI Scope of Practice for Kundalini Yoga Teachers
This story has an ending where the teacher recognized how her actions had compromised the student and class and breached the Scope of Practice for Kundalini Yoga Teachers. Olivia overheard the students’ discussion in the studio and realized she had overstepped. She talked to Jennifer about what had happened and Jennifer explained that she felt exposed in front of the class. Olivia acknowledged Jennifer’s feelings and apologized. She suggested that Jennifer speak to a medical doctor about the health complaint. From that point on, she would make a clear separation between her coaching and yoga, keeping her coaching practice outside of the yoga classroom; staying within the KRI Scope of Practice.
Support without overstepping
Yoga teachers must remain aware of the trust the student places in them so they may use their expertise to support the student’s journey without overpowering or capitalizing on the student’s trust. As a teacher with a committed practice and some years of experience, you may feel the development of greater intuitive capacity. Keep in mind that intuition or extra insights you may experience are not a shortcut to expertise in other professions. Becoming a licensed therapist, psychologist, or doctor takes many years of schooling, internship and mentoring. Yoga teachers should never claim to have the answers to physical/mental health problems or emotional/relationship issues. Rather, if asked for advice, teachers may share how the practice of yoga is a very positive step toward improved health and wellbeing, but for a given issue the student would best consult with their health practitioner or physician for health advice.
“KRI teaching credentials must never be used to imply competency or to promote the Teacher in fields not specifically included in KRI’s Scope of Practice.”
– KRI Scope of Practice for Kundalini Yoga Teachers
In today’s world, there are many more requirements for credentialing and the profession continues to evolve. It can takeyearsfor a yoga teacher to acquire the necessary credentials to become an E-RYT 500 or a Lead Teacher Trainer. Teachers / Trainers must have practical knowledge and understanding of ethical transactions with documented and reviewed standards that are met so that the art of teaching itself is protected.
A best practice for all studios is to post the 10 Rights of a Kundalini Yoga Student in a visible location at the yoga center and keep copies available as handouts. Remind everyone of the care and attention that teachers in your studio bring to the healthy student-teacher relationship. Teachers are encouraged to read the Code of Ethics annually to remind themselves of the ethical boundaries that they hold to protect the students’ trust. The creativity, passion and knowledge that a yoga teacher brings to the classroom and their ability to use evolving pedagogy for class engagement are grounded by the solid foundation of the Code of Ethics and other regulatory standards that support the healthy student teacher relationship.
Guidelines for reporting & preventing abuse
A clear mechanism for when things go wrong and guidelines for reporting and preventing abuse have been carefully developed by the Office of Ethics & Professional Standards. Kundalini Yoga studios can have these procedures in mind in the event that concerning behaviors occur.
- The EPS Report Hotline & Webform provide a safe, secure and confidential way to submit a complaint or question about concerning behavior, in any language.
- Complaints can be filed anonymously and securely.
- If you wish, you may communicate with someone at EPS about your situation without filing a complaint.
- If you are concerned about retaliation, know that retaliation is considered a serious offense. See the KRI Anti-Harassment and Non Retaliation Policy.
Yoga teachers who have taken the time and effort to complete a 220-hour training as well as additional training have much to offer their communities. The lifelong learner who becomes a yoga teacher can share and teach for many years, giving helpful wisdom and support. Yoga culture, as it continues to evolve, allows for a respect for both teacher and student, that most teachers care deeply about their student’s journey and that the teacher will adhere to best practices to support the student. The profession continues to grow in accountability with ethical codes of conduct and standards by which teachers must abide. Clear guidelines, procedures, and the teachers’ creative pedagogy techniques ensure community safety for many years to come.