Sutra 2.31 Jati desa kala samaya anavacchinnah sarvabhaumh mahavratam
Ethics in Yoga – How we position ourselves in the world and why it should always be considered, without exception.

Introduction:

I will start by defining some pertinent terms:

Ethics – moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour (yoga practitioner) or the conducting of an activity (teaching yoga), it is the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles, the science of behaviour – what is appropriate behaviour and what is not

Morals – standards of behaviour, principles of right and wrong

Ethos (the word ethics comes from this Greek word) – guiding beliefs or characteristic spirit of a culture or a community as manifested in its attitudes and aspirations (EUY)

Outline:

  1. Yama and Niyama as in Patanjali’s Yoga sūtra – personal code of conduct
  2. Ethos and ethical principles of the EUY – agreed community code of conduct
  3. EUY Ethical Committee – safe guarding code of conduct

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  1. Yama and niyama – personal code of conduct:

The principles of the Yama and Niyama come from the Veda and appear in many yogic texts. They are mentioned for example in some Upanishads, in the Yoga Yajnavaikya and in the Hathayogapradipika.

In Patanjali’s Yoga sūtra they are described as the how to liberate the false identification of the seer with the seen and what is Kaivalya, the liberation, and how it can be achieved when false identification ceases.

The Yama and Niyama are the core that coordinate the 8 limbs, they need to all work together and are as equally important as all the other limbs. They are not independent of a conscious practice.

The Yama deal with all our relationships in the world, the world we live in; they bring stability to our lives and describe what we avoid to retain our own sanity – so how we position ourselves in our community or in society.

And even though I am sure you are all very familiar with these principles it is my opinion that rather than being externally enforced rules, regulations or laws, they concern themselves rather with the way in which we as yoga practitioners see the world. Our world view or cosmology is the reason why we choose to adhere to these principles.

If I believe that everything around me is part of one essential unifying force then why would I do harm to anything? To do harm, whether in thought, word or deed, to anything or anyone else means I harm myself. So it can be seen that himsa – violence, comes from an existential fear – a fear of our being mortal rather than immortal. And any action, however peaceful, done egotistically is still violent!

Universal truth, restraint from consuming and indulgence and a single minded focus on the purpose of the practice of yoga are also inextricably linked to the world-view we hold. When our senses are open and we live mainly in the gross world we are consumed and move away from the purpose of the practice of yoga.

Similarly the Niyama, our relationship with ourselves, strengthen our own personal progress on the spiritual path; they give us direction and fuel enough to continue the work we have chosen to undertake. Sutra 1:1 Atha yoganusasanam

In Sutra 2:31 Patanjali says all the above principles are always to be considered, birth after birth. Until we are liberated we continue on this cycle.

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  1. Ethos and ethical principles of the EUY – agreed community code of conduct

The Yama and Niyama are also the basis of the agreed code of conduct and ethos of the EUY. All the documents I will be quoting from are available either on the EUY website or through the Federation representatives / delegates.

Here I will look at the EUY values in relation first to (1) students training to become yoga teachers (2) the conduct of yoga teachers (3) the conduct of EUY delegates

(1) students training to become yoga teachers

In the Mission statement the EUY is described as a forum for European Yoga Federations to share yogic values based on the framework of the EUY-YTTP (EUY Yoga Teacher Training Program) in accordance with the classical texts of the yoga tradition, the Yoga sūtra of Patanjali as well as contemporary values and it advocates the principle of unity in diversity.

Many Federations represent some or many schools from different yoga traditions but all accept the EUY code of conduct, whether they have their own additional code or not. All Federations have agreed educational values based on a minimum training of 500 hours over 4 years which provides many opportunities for students to apply the personal code of conduct in their lives both on and off the mat.

EUY-YTTP enables students to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to become effective teachers of yoga, they must have the ability to convey the yoga methods in a way that will help them understand the true essence of yoga, increase their well-being and provide the necessary elements for spiritual growth. Yoga in the EUY is non-religious, non-competitive and aims to develop human potential fully.

(2) the conduct of yoga teachers

Once the personal code of conduct has been developed through training and the student qualifies as a teacher of yoga an obligation of compliance is required to uphold the highest ideals of offering professional services with trust and responsibility. The yoga teacher has an obligation to behave professionally in all situations and the code is binding for all members of the European Union of Yoga. Again I do not give you the full list but highlight only a few:

  • To respect all students, their abilities and ultimate self-determination

  • Not to abuse their authority – this includes all forms of exploitation

  • To be conscious of their professional relationships and responsibilities with their students

  • To ensure the safety of their students – in what and where we teach

  • To increase awareness and develop independence in their students

  • To respect confidentiality

  • To maintain their personal and professional development

  • To only teach what they have experienced and have expertise in

As yoga is a deeply transformative practice, and since the student has undergone this process, the teacher always stays conscious of the responsibility, sacredness and privilege that comes from being a teacher of yoga.

(3) the conduct of EUY delegates

In the Charter of Commitment delegates agree to uphold the values discussed already to bring the yoga values to life, practising the Yama and Niyama off the mat.

  • Delegates agree to be open to all yoga traditions, to learn from each other and to share and exchange knowledge.

  • Delegates agree to be respectful in meetings, in their activities and in their communications.

  • Delegates endeavour to find the best solutions to deal with conflicts that arise.

  • Delegates strive for transparency, honesty and to be loyal to the essence of yoga.

  • Delegates work amicably with commitment and collaboration in their teams.

  • Delegates encourage federations to support the activities of the EUY.

  • Delegates refrain from making false or malicious statements about each other.

I hope I have shown that the values we develop as yoga practitioners, as stated in Patanjali’s Yoga sūtra – the Yama and Niyama, transform the way we behave and relate to each other and to ourselves. They in turn influence and affect the way we teach, remaining vitally important in our relationships with our students. And in the EUY, as an organisation that represents yoga federations across Europe, these principles are what unify and create the common forum.

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  1. EUY Ethical Committee – safe guarding code of conduct

To help reinforce the emphasis placed on the importance of the codes of personal, professional and community conduct the EUY has set up a committee to address the professional ethics, in terms of governance, responsibility, and transparency, to guarantee the conformity with current laws and regulations, and to deal with any ethical questions faced by our members.

In the contemporary yoga community it has become necessary to have structures in place that can deal with complaints raised in reaction to unethical or offensive behaviour either by the EUY, its Federations, the delegates or the teacher trainers of the recognised EUY schools, or from external parties towards one of our members. The moral principles have to be considered, then we have to think and act about what will be the best decision in the particular case?

The procedures of the Ethical Committee have been drawn up to ensure that all topics and complaints can be dealt with in a fair, satisfactory and ethical manner, in accordance with the agreed codes of conduct.

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Contribution of EUY President Gabi Gillessen to the Zoom Ethics Seminar set up by FPY on October 29th 2020

My name is Gabi Gillessen. I was the EUY President for the last 6 years. I qualified as a yoga teacher with the Irish Yoga Association and have been teaching yoga since 1995. I am also a Tutor on the IYA teacher training courses since 1997

Video of the Zoom event

I would like to thank Joana Oliveira, Luisa Gil and the Portuguese Yoga Federation for inviting me to speak on this topic today. I would also like to thank the EUY delegates Catherine Laugee from FIDHY France and Dagmar Blight from SJA Slovakia for their contribution to this presentation – I am indebted to you all..