The Ethics of Yoga

A New York Times article has been brought to my attention, written by Sarah Herrington, questioning the ethics of yoga teachers.

This article details the more widely publicized cases of sexual inappropriateness that has occurred by “celebrity” yoga teachers. The author demands a change to our industry, which often attracts emotionally vulnerable participants. She cites Yoga Alliance’s “Code of Conduct” and admits that most wouldn’t know it exists unless they knew where to look. Sarah urges trainings to include ethics and to abide by the YA Code.

But there is one thing Ms. Herrington, and Yoga Alliance, do not include in their writings. The Yamas and the Niyamas.

The postural yoga practice, or asana practice, is one of eight limbs in the yogis’ quest for enlightenment (the last limb, Samadhi). If practiced in order, Asana is the third limb. The first two limbs are, as I call them, the ethics of the yogi.

The Yamas are the ethical values that guide our interactions with the external forces in our lives (people, places, things).

  • Ahimsa – non-harming (in word, or deed), this can also be applied to how we treat ourselves
  • Satya –  truthfulness
  • Asteya – non-stealing, or appropriating that which doesn’t belong to you (possessions, energy, time)
  • Brahmacharya: non-excess (often interpreted as celibacy)
  • Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed

The Niyamas are the ethical values that guide our internal forces (heart, body, soul, mind).

  • Saucha: cleanliness of body, environment, food, attention
  • Santosha: contentment and acceptance of your best works
  • Tapas: self-discipline, dedication to your life’s practices and works
  • Svadhyaya: self-study, a meditation on yourself
  • Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender (to God, or a power greater than ourselves, Nature)


Does this list sound a little familiar? Does it possibly sound like ten commandments? Isn’t that supposed to guide the leaders of Judeo-Christian faiths? Are they all perfect? I don’t say that to pick on Catholic priests, but to highlight that we all live in a society with laws, but there are still people that choose to live their lives outside of these norms. It becomes imperative for us, as practitioners to protect ourselves and bring these immoralities to light. And, as a teacher, it is vital for me to share these guideposts of yogic living with my students so they are armed with the knowledge that can lead their discernments wherever their practice may take them.




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