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Ethics in the Yoga Community

In 2006, the phrase “me too” was coined by Tarana Burke in a revolutionary move to unite women, particularly women of color who had been sexually abused, when no one was listening. Fast forward 10 years, repeated reports of sexual misconduct in Hollywood have brought attention and awareness to the movement with a clear message that this behavior would no longer be tolerated. Abusers were being specifically called out, by name, from women all across the country. According to 2018 statistics by Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually abused every 98 seconds, with 90% of the abused being women. In the not too distant past, women were considered property, and the submissive archetype has been literally inscribed in our DNA, which has led to many decades of unclear and unsafe boundaries. The real numbers are challenging to understand, or measure, as only 30% of abuse cases are reported to the authorities (NSOPW, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Justice and state, territorial, and tribal governments). Couple this with unclear definitions of what can be considered “abuse”, and there is a widespread epidemic of confusion and hurt, in the search for clarity and justice.

In the current climate of inappropriate and harmful use of power, no community has been left unscathed. There have been countless stories, on both the national and local levels, of yoga teachers using their position of power and privilege to take advantage of their students, causing unjust harm to a vulnerable population (Bikram, Pattabhi Jois, and John Friend, to name a few). Yoga communities have the power to create safe spaces, break down barriers, and lifting up those needing encouragement and support, but it has become clear that the lines have been severely blurred. The practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years, and historically a potential student would seek to earn the trust and guidance of their prospective teacher. This process could take months, or years, of the student proving themselves worthy of such valuable teachings. Today, anyone with a few thousand dollars can travel somewhere tropical, return in two weeks with a certification, and the title of yoga teacher. This all too familiar revolving door of training does not allow the student an opportunity, nor time, to fully digest the importance of upholding ethics as beautifully expressed by Patanjali as the yamas and niyamas in the Yoga Sutras, with non-violence (ahimsa) always being the first rule of conduct. This type of understanding takes years of self-study. Fortunately, there is a regulatory body that does its best to uphold this code by setting requirements of continued education, and more recently removing the language of “healing” from approved descriptions in trainings, and strengthening the criteria of who can call themselves a yoga therapist. This is all well and good, but not all studios require their teachers to be registered with Yoga Alliance. Furthermore, it is not currently possible for Yoga Alliance to check in with the thousands of yoga teachers across the country to make sure they are representing the yoga teachings in their purest form. It is up to us, as a yoga community, to hold each other accountable, speak up when something isn’t right, and no longer hide in the shadows of “love and light”.

The culture around permission, power, and teacher standards is shifting and it's important to come together, as a larger Charlotte community, and have the tough conversations for learning and information exchange. In partnership with Amplify and Activate, we have created a series of community meetings to raise awareness under the large umbrella of upholding ethics in the yoga community. We will come together for an all-levels mindful slow flow yoga class, followed by a meditation and panel discussion with members of the greater Charlotte yoga community, and beyond. The intention is to listen to the narratives, empower us all with a greater understanding of reducing harm, and to further open these dialogues to strengthen, include, and benefit the total community. All interested students, teachers, and community members are welcome. CEU’s will be available for teachers through Yoga Alliance. These events are completely free, but we will be accepting donations for local organizations. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

Confirmed dates, venues, and topics to be discussed, more to follow:

May 12th Yoga One Central - 4:30pm What is Abuse, on and off the mat? - How to recognize it and what to do to empower ourselves. The definition of abuse, misuse, and permission is still in process. We will work together to listen to the narrative of others as well as evaluate our own and understand various perspectives of what is appropriate on the yoga mat, in the studios, and community.

June 9th Be Yoga Dilworth - 6pm Victimization, Blaming, and Shaming Often, the victim of abuse is shamed, blamed, and made to believe it is their fault. Through the sharing of perspectives and lived experiences, we can shift away from finger pointing and move towards understanding contextual cues and systems that may help us generate solutions oriented cultures.

July 21st Friendship Missionary Baptist Church - 12pm Power of the Teacher Discussion on the misuse of power, and privilege, of the student-teacher relationship. The word teacher also includes therapist, body workers, or any person of authority.

August 11th Noda Yoga - 1pm Trauma Awareness Defining types of trauma - Sexual, racial, cultural, physical, emotional, misgendering, etc. In doing so, we can become aware of unconscious behaviors, harmful messages, in order to create a more welcoming and inviting environment for all.

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