Fitness Magazine

Yoga Teachers Who Abuse Their Students

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Yoga Teachers Who Abuse Their Students

Speak Up by Mimmo Rotella*

Yesterday’s opinion piece in the New York Times Yoga Teachers Need a Code of Ethics about yoga teachers who sexually abuse their students prompted a discussion between Brad and me. The basic message of the opinion piece was this:
"I believe all organized yoga teacher training should include training in ethics and, if affiliated with Yoga Alliance, point students toward that resource. Each community center, meditation group and yoga studio should post a code of ethics, as Jack Kornfield’s Spirit Rock community recently did." 
I told Brad that the problem with this proposal was that yoga already had a code of ethnics: the yamas. Between non-violence (ahimsa), sexual responsibility (brahmacarya), non-stealing (asteya), greedlessness (aparigaha), and truthfulness (satya). you’ve basically got all the bases covered. Someone who is sexually responsible, doesn’t want or try to “take” what’s not theirs, refrains from hurting others, and is truthful isn’t going to be raping their students, molesting students in classes, emotionally manipulating their students, or cheating on their partners by having multiple affairs with their students. And many teacher training programs do introduce teachers to the yamas and niyamas and also train them in a code of ethics that explicitly mentions refraining from having romantic or sexual relationships with their students. But unfortunately just having a yogic code of ethics isn’t enough to stop some teachers from abusing their students. After all, look at the Catholic priests who abused children. Obviously, the Catholic Church has a code of ethics for priests and obviously the priests understood what was expected of them, but just having a code wasn’t enough to stop their behavior. The same is true for yoga teachers. Maybe every single gym yoga teacher out there doesn’t know about the yamas and the niyamas and other yoga teacher codes of ethnics, but certainly all of the abusive yoga teachers mentioned in the New York Times did! 
Brad agreed that a code of ethnics isn’t enough. He said that people who have been abused by yoga teachers and/or know about abusive yoga teachers need to speak up! 
As it happens, we’re in the middle of watching "The Keepers," which is partly about the sexual abuse of Catholic High School girls by Catholic priests. So I reminded Brad that as that series shows it is often very hard for people who have been abused to speak up. They are afraid of not being believed. They are afraid of being blamed. They are afraid of being shunned by their community and “losing everything.” They are even afraid the abuse was somehow their own fault. 
Brad replied that yoga students typically aren’t part of a repressive institution like the church, and those girls couldn’t just walk away from their school and families, so he didn’t feel that the parallel was justified. I agreed there was a significant difference, though I still feel that some yoga students have similar fears and concerns.
But as I thought about it afterward, in the end, even for the Catholic schoolgirls, it was when they were finally able to talk about the abuse many years later that they began to heal. In the series, one woman explicitly said as much. And, of course, all the people who eventually came forward and are still coming forward about sexual abuse in the Catholic church did a lot to bring system-wide changes in the church.
From that perspective, this New York Times article did us in the yoga community a service just by raising the issue to the general public. I hope this will encourage others to speak up as well.
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