I believe that clarity about ethics and values is fundamental to living a more awakened life. Our ethics are a series of choices that we make, that are born of our experiences, our culture, and our capacity for empathy. They are the result of our history and conditioning, and they can change as we move through the phases of our life.
The central ethics of yoga are the Yamas: these are not-harming, honesty, not being greedy, not stealing, and responsible sexual conduct. I have written about these extensively in my book and will not expound on them here.
Knowing about ethical principles is easy. Practicing them, and incorporating them into one’s livelihood is much more challenging, What seems easy in principle is often complicated in reality.
One of the central tenets of yoga and Buddhism is the acknowledgment of interdependence. Although we feel like individuals living our lives based on a narrative that is somewhat predetermined by our culture, we are in fact connected to, and dependent on everyone and everything else. Because we are so interconnected, the choices we make ripple out and affect people and things far beyond our conscious awareness. Our actions are important. Full stop.
I am not holding myself up as an example of ethical perfection. I have failed to meet my own standards many times, but I feel that the following aspirations are of central importance to me (and hope that by declaring them publicly you’ll help me on that path):
In my attempts to be as open and ethical as possible I value having a “north star” to aim towards. The following principles were developed by a group called The Ethical Move. These are:
Put the person before the sale
Practice honest marketing
Commit to transparency
Sell with integrity
Level the playing field (i.e. avoid discrimination)
You can read more about The Ethical Move and take the pledge on their website: www.theethicalmove.org.
My aim is to make yoga as accessible as possible, for as many people as possible, regardless of gender/sexual orientation, physical ability, age, body size, race, or economic status. Although I must balance my own ability to pay my bills with how much I can afford to give, I do not wish to turn people away for lack of funds. I will offer scholarships, when possible, to those in need.
I acknowledge that in Canada we are living on the ancestral and unceded territories of the Inuit, Métis, and First Nations peoples. The area where I live (Mount Albert) is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinabekawi and the Mississauga. I also acknowledge the Chippewas of Georgina Island as my neighbors and friends. The Truth and Reconciliation Report of 2015 challenged all Canadians to achieve a more just and equitable Canada based on a shared future of healing and trust. For me that will mean educating myself on how these issues are affecting Indigenous people today, asking for their advice, and pitching in to provide support wherever I can. To learn more about indigenous land and the importance of acknowledgement go to: https://native-land.ca/territory-acknowledgment. (thank you to Lois Hayes and Peter Smith for sharing their previous work on Land Acknowledgments).
Further suggestions for supporting reconciliation include reading books by indigenous authors, taking courses by indigenous teachers, buying music by indigenous musicians, donating money to organizations that lobby for indigenous rights, writing letters and signing petitions, and supporting policies that guarantee better access to resources, clean water, food security, health care, and justice.
The practices and traditions of yoga come from India, and are deeply spiritual and diverse. They go far beyond asana, the practice of postures most Westerners are familiar with. When India was colonized by the British, many yoga practitioners were forced underground, beaten, killed and threatened for doing yoga. As Westerners and practitioners it behooves us to be aware of the imperialism, exploitation and cruelty that was visited on the Indian yogis; and the colonial and dismissive attitudes that many of us still hold toward present-day India. As many of us turn to yoga for relief from the stress of our highly technological and fast-paced existence it would behoove us to learn more about the day-to-day life and problems of contemporary Indians, and to share our privilege and gratitude with them in whatever ways we can.
Suggestions: Engage with works by Indian authors, directors, musicians, and yoga teachers. Learn more about the ancient texts, history, culture and the current struggles of Indian people.
White supremacy and racism towards non-whites and indigenous people is a problem that must be acknowledged. I have committed myself to learning and listening. Good resources:
Ibrim X. Kendi, How to be an Anti-Racist (New York: One World, 2019).
Robin Diangelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018).
“Sharing Privilege” an online course available at GoodBodyFeel.com
New Leaf Foundation: newleaffoundation.com
Gina Crosley-Corcoran, “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person.”
Based on the central place of interdependence, the way that we treat nature is damaging to us all. Nature is not a commodity for harvesting, and once it’s been paved over or otherwise destroyed it doesn’t just regenerate. For far too long we’ve been too obsessed with consumerism to recognize that the planet can’t sustain our continued ignorance.
I am working on becoming more environmentally responsible in my own life, and recognize I have a lot further to go. I am committed to learning more about these issues and helping out wherever I can.
A few years ago I had a student who “resigned” from my classes, immediately unfriended me on Facebook and who didn’t return my emails when I asked what was wrong. I felt awful, mainly because I didn’t know what I’d done. I don’t doubt that I did or said something that was not skillful, but I can’t resolve what I don’t know about.
Always, if you have a problem with something that I’ve said or done, I would like to hear from you. We don’t have to agree, but I’d always like the opportunity to discuss it and see if there’s a mutually fair resolution. If you’re uncomfortable talking to me, my assistant Jenn is another option. You can speak with her and she can follow up with me. (And she said to say that although she gets paid to work by me you can trust her not to take sides. She’s happy to convey your messages).
I’m human, I make mistakes, and I say things at times that I regret later. As James Joyce wrote, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” The only way I can improve is to be made aware of them.
Do you have comments or questions? Please send them to me here.