Can I still sell mats? The ethics of direct product sales by Yoga Teachers. What do you think?

What an adventure! Yoga Tree Plano registered yoga school has met its one year anniversary. What a wild and exciting time. It is unbelievable that somehow students from all over are contributing to make the practice of yoga available for themselves and others. It was such a leap of faith to start doing this full time.
One of the first efforts I made was to work on a statement of ethics for yoga teachers. Each teacher in the training program is required to sign it. We study the ones for Yoga Tree, Yoga Alliance and The California Yoga Teacher’s Association.
Our discussion was interesting. Somehow, for teacher training students that haven’t yet started teaching, it is so hard to grasp what relevance ethical standards have. The comment I hear most is, “I already act ethically.” As a seasoned teacher, I can tell you I have blundered into some ethical missteps along my path. Not intentionally, and not always innocently either. (Just keepin it real)
Ethics is about when you think you are doing the right thing, or an ok thing, or a thing everyone else does… and it causes harm. Harm could be a violation of any of the Yamas or Niyamas.
For those of you not familiar with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali; The Yamas are suggestions for our treatment of others. In a nutshell they are non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, non-greed. The Niyamas are the suggestions for the practice of self-restraint; they are purity, contentment, discipline, spiritual study and devotion. These seem pretty easy, but the more you practice yoga, the more complex they get.
So here it goes. The Yoga Alliance has an ethical guideline to adhere to the Yamas and Niyamas. It is easy to be pleased with this statement. They have about covered it right? The issue is: That guideline isn’t very useful.
I have been approached by no end of direct sales “health and wellness” companies who would love for me to sell directly to my yoga students. Most direct sale companies emphasize trust and relationship for the basis of developing a sales relationship. Students already have this relationship with their instructor.
I need guideline to help Yoga Teachers understand that even though they may really help people through their sales of vitamins… selling to students after Savasana is unethical.
Here is why:
1) Yoga students are in a non-ordinary state when they practice Savasana. They are more suggestible in this state. Taking advantage of this state is a type of harm.
2) A yoga teacher is not the same as a savvy neighbor. As a teacher, students will attribute all manner of authority to a teacher whether deserved or not. Generally, unless a yoga teacher happens to be a nutritionist, he/she is not qualified to recommend nutritional products. Accepting this authority outside of the yoga field is non-truthful.
3) The new dual relationship could cause anxiety and ruin the yoga experience for the student. I.e. what happens if/when they no longer wish to buy from the teacher? The student will become uncomfortable. Students want to please their teacher. It is part of the student teacher dynamic. Students could continue to buy items they don’t want to keep the teacher happy. (This is stealing from the student.) The student may stop coming to class. (This is stealing from the studio) They may not enjoy class the same way. (This is stealing from the student’s right to an emotionally simple yoga environment.)
4) You would probably not make the same actions if you were not selling the vitamins. I think probiotics are awesome. They work great for me. I love Suzie. I think they would work great for her. I don’t provide probiotics at cost to save her the trip just because I love them. Therefore, it is untrue that a direct salesperson is “only helping people get what is good for them.” The motivation of money can quickly turn to greed. What if the student shouldn’t do yoga anymore because of an injury? But the teacher knows that student will not reorder if they stop yoga?
I vote we need an ethic that guides teachers away from direct sales to yoga students.

Oh no! Can I still sell mats in the studio?

What do you all think?

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3 Responses to Can I still sell mats? The ethics of direct product sales by Yoga Teachers. What do you think?

  1. Amy says:

    Right on! As a yoga student, I would fly out the door of any yoga studio that practiced any type of direct/relationship marketing with its students. One of the things I love about yoga is that it blocks out the world. It would be sad to see the commercial world invade that space.

  2. NN says:

    Hmm. Every yoga studio sells something. Some sell trips to India, others sell yoga toes mats, lululemon lures you in with yoga and leaves you with $90 pants. I think it depends on the products and the boundaries. If you are offering up a free yoga party and let people know up front that it is to purchase green skin care products or eco-conscious cleaning, then it is okay. But if you pretend to do one thing then sell another, that is a different story. I teach yoga to students who don’t know anything about the green economy. I am opening them up to a new way to use their funds that helps the planet and also supports caring for themselves.

  3. CW says:

    I love it that you are even having this discussion and thinking this hard and deeply about things. I agree I think bringing sales into the yoga at muddies the waters. I have been wrestling with this myself as I teach and I also have an
    interest in direct sales to make enough to support my family. I often try to put myself in the shoes of my students, and imagine how something may or may not make them feel. It is such a privilege to work with people in this way…as their teacher. I think if we ever stop putting the feelings and needs of students first, we should not be teaching. I have decided, like you, it is critical to keep the 2 separate. I think mats may be a bit different however.
    A mat is a tool that you actually need to do yoga. it seems okay to provide it as it can actually be a help to the student who needs one….sell your mats! :)

    this waysuch a privilege to even work with people in this way

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