We know that there are no shortage of stories and articles about ethical issues arising in yoga studios, and various other spiritual communities. Conflicts between teachers and students, issues with studio administration, conspiracies of silence. Even though everyone seems to have a vague idea that ethical guidelines are a good idea, they aren’t often agreed upon, and rarely are they explicit.
As a result, there seems to be a lack of oversight and accountability for those in positions of power. We’ve seen power exchanges go goofy all too often, and when they do, people don’t know what to do about it, and as a result, unpleasant situations get ignored or denied, and blame gets thrown around all over the place, seemingly indiscriminately. Sincere people, who want to be able to practice safely, deserve powerful ethical guidelines that are actually valued and adhered to.
I’ve read, as I’m sure you have, articles about people complaining about being treated unfairly at a yoga studio, or even being molested on some level. And, I must admit, some evoke more sympathy in me that others. Sometimes someone was obviously wronged, and its horrible, and heartbreaking. Sometimes, folks with bad judgement and poor boundaries get themselves in messes, then feel like it’s convenient to point fingers. Either way, we run into this issue of hindsight being 20/20, and/or trying to solve a systemic problem with anger and vengeance. I don’t see a lot of people being proactive about it, trying to create solutions. And I don’t see people showing up, making it known that they feel like it’s important to them that their community have guidelines in place to sort out messy situations.
This morning, I was really very pleasantly surprised. I was looking at Noah Levine’s Against The Stream Meditation Website. I recently moved to The Mission, and his center is within walking distance. I like Noah, he taught at my yoga studio, many years ago. All the punk rockers and I all went out for Govinda’s and Gelato afterwards.
Anyhow, on the website, there is a page called ‘Grievance and Reconciliation Procedure’. It acknowledges that emotional distress and/or conflict can arise within ones self, and between practitioners, and between practitioners and teachers. Practice, by it’s nature, brings up issues, for the express purpose of finding freedom. The website states that “The health of our community is not measured by the presence or absence of conflict, rather by our willingness to find effective, responsible, and compassionate resolution of interpersonal tensions when they arise.”
I won’t quote Against The Stream’s entire page, but I encourage you to read it. It’s here. I’ll wait. It goes on to detail a clear procedure for bringing up concerns, and how those concerns will be dealt with. It makes it very clear that this community takes its code of ethics seriously, and is willing to create time and space to deal with any perceived violations of this code in a thoughtful, grounded manner.
Consider how this shapes the culture of this community. How would you feel as a student, knowing that this kind of accountability is in place? If you were a teacher, how would it affect how you show up for your students? How would it change the standards you hold yourself to? Or if you are a studio owner, or community leader, do you have something this explicit in place? If not, why not? What would it require of you to implement this? What would it mean for your community?
Change happens when consciousness changes. And consciousness changes on an individual level. It happens when we do self work. Yoga Alliance isn’t going to save us from ground level ethical dilemmas, and neither are countless articles detailing who did what to who. As near as I can tell, the way is to work within ourselves and our communities to create environments that, as ATS puts it, values “dialogue over silence, reconciliation over estrangement, forgiveness over resentment, confession over accusation, and atonement over punishment”
I don’t want you to think that I’m not willing to help, either. If you want to have a conversation about how to work on this for your space, you are certainly welcome to reach out, and we can workshop this together.