Yoga Ethics Debate Heats Up

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In recent years, sex scandals involving prominent yoga teachers has rocked the yoga community. In light of scandals involving John Friend, Kausthub Desikachar, and Bikram Choudhury, there’s been a lot of discussion about the student-teacher relationship, and whether the traditional guru system should be left behind.

The conversation about this important relationship has come to forefront again, this time ignited by a blog post written by Budokon founder Cameron Shayne. In the post, Shayne admits to having “engaged in deep and meaningful intimate relationships” with students. He justified his actions by questioning the authority differential between yoga teachers and students. He went on to write: “The guru/students manipulation—like cocaine—is the symptom of a larger problem; the student’s lack of self worth, identify and voice. Clearly the corrupted guru is a problem, but the student, like the user, is the real disease.”

Of course, many readers posted thoughtful comments both in support of and opposition to Shayne’s views. Several yoga teachers have also taken up the debate through posts of their own. Yoganonymous posted a rebuttal by yoga teacher Chris Courtney, who called for all yoga teachers and practitioners to support clear ethical boundaries. “Any yoga teacher, male or female, who sees their students as anything other than souls to be protected, guided, and loved (not in a sexual way), needs to stop teaching, immediately,” Courtney wrote.

Yoga teacher and author Carol Horton recognized that there seems to be a divide in the yoga community over this issue in a post published on 90 Monkeys last week. She also pointed out what she sees as flaws with Shayne’s argument, and called for a regulatory body, such as Yoga Alliance, to distinguish teachers who agree to abide by sexual restraint. “We need to reflect on how best to interpret and adapt this restraint to support the meaningful transmission of yoga in our time,” Horton wrote. “Considering the profusion of recent scandals involving teacher-student sex in the yoga community and the incalculable suffering they have caused, the need to do so is urgent.”

Yoga Alliance is addressing the issue, by developing an Enforceable Code of behavior for yoga teachers and schools registered with the organization, according to a statement released to Yoga Journal. “Yoga is a practice, but it is also a profession. By virtue of the fact that most yoga teachers in the West accept money in exchange for teaching classes, yoga teaching must be viewed through the lens of professionalism as well as through the lens of practice,” writes Kerry Maiorca, chair of Yoga Alliance’s Ethics Subcommittee.

“The yoga teaching community, like any other profession, has an obligation to determine some best practices regarding key and common ethical dilemmas that may arise within the context of our work.”

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