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Ethics, Adjustments, and Cathartic Release

In yoga teaching, touch can be necessary, or ill-advised. The treatment of a student's emotional release can be equally sensitive. Thankfully, the health care profession provides some adaptable standards for teachers.

By Michael H. Cohen, J.D., M.B.A.

The IOM report offers a starting point for applying ethical standards across the board, whether the modality is deemed conventional or complementary; whether the intervention focuses on the body, the mind, or the spirit; whether the diagnosis and treatment are within the medical domain or outside and possibly beyond it; and whether one is offering physical therapy, acupuncture, or yoga instruction and therapy. Respect for healing and acknowledgement of the client's decision-making capacity are at the core of the IOM principles.

In this sense, the IOM report embodies traditional yogic ethical principles such as ahimsa, typically translated as "nonharming," but also reflective legally of nonmaleficence. Although the IOM report is relatively new and the values it articulates have yet to filter more fully through the professional health-care provider communities, an early grasp of the report's central description of ethical issues can help yoga studios and teachers in the ongoing translation of yoga and the other therapeutic disciplines into the broader health care world. Ethics remains a puzzle, yet one that is shared across clinical care disciplines and increasingly applicable to yoga teaching and the business of yoga.

Michael H. Cohen, J.D., M.B.A., is a principal in the Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and publishes the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog ( The materials in this website/e-newsletter have been prepared by Michael H. Cohen, J.D., M.B.A., and Yoga Journal for informational purposes only and are not legal (or ethical) opinion or advice. Online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel.

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