the guardians of wild spaces

I’ve been playing Devil's Advocate with a group of yoga teachers who want to be able to give out dietary advice in yoga classes. Some want to be able to tell people to eat meat and others want to be able to tell people not to eat meat, and some are claiming Ayurveda is a part of yoga so anything they do in the name of Ayurveda is ok. Some are even claiming that anything they claim is ahimsa is ok.

The trouble is that people can spin devil’s advocacy as ahimsa, and this can be used to shut down debate, and stifle critical thinking and promote group think. And before you know it all discernment is suspended and we’re a cult. If you think this sounds extreme, read into the recent court case around the Jivamukti sex scandal. Read the report of the Royal Commission into child sex abuse in the Satyananda ashram in Australia. We cannot afford to loose critical thinking in yoga. Indeed, discernment is a part of yoga, its called viveka according to the Sutras of Patanjali.

Devil’s Advocacy is how we learn. Dam it, its part of yoga! Even in the populist view of yoga we have the concept of attachment being undesirous. When we get too attached to one point of view we are stuck in a vritti and a good teacher might try to loosen that attachment, even if it means that others might think them a bit of an arse. The aforementioned Sutras of Patanjali even mention a practice of trying on the opposite view point to loosen those vrittis. And that is also called Devil’s Advocacy.

What interests me about this debate over dietary advice is not whether I or anyone else for that matter does or does not mention food in class. I mentioned sausage rolls in class today because its what I call one of my wrist & shoulder harmonising practices. Someone told me they’d be going to Greggs after class now. I told them I took no responsibility for any unhealthy eating decisions they might make as a result of my mentioning sausage rolls. But was that dietary advice? How far do we take this? What interests me is not so much where we draw the line now, its the legalities of our position as yoga teachers, and how any change in that may affect what we can and cannot call yoga.

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At the moment 'Yoga Teacher' is not a legally protected title, so we can generally get away with doing whatever we want to do and calling it yoga. But what happens if the NOS comes back? Then yoga teaching is legally defined and has clear boundaries based on that definition and once those boundaries are set, any member of the public can claim that someone operating outside of those boundaries is not delivering yoga. So if SkillsActive and the BWY had their way a couple of years ago, we would have taken the 1st step down the road of none of us being able to call anything we do yoga unless it was basically some form of stretching with a bit of breathing and relaxation.

The next stage after a NOS is a Royal Charter. Then you're really in trouble if you do anything that is outside your scope of practice, whether you are qualified to do that or not. This is basic professional ethics that operates in any sphere in this country. Regardless of whether you are a qualified hairdresser or not, if you have not entered into a contract to cut someone’s hair, doing so is considered assault. You see legally speaking, its not the qualification of someone that is important; its consent. We would do well to remember that in yoga. ( ).

I find myself wondering if the people who are defending the right of yoga to include ayurveda, dietary advice, etc. were for or against the NOS. As a community, we seem quick to point out what is not yoga and what is not yoga, and that is all wonderful and long may it continue! I'll defend the right of anyone to call pretty much any vehicle for contemplative self enquiry ‘yoga’. Even if I don't practice it. Even if I disagree with it myself.

But remember this, when the NOS comes around again, and everyone gets on at me for questioning it and causing trouble, I am doing that precisely so that you can continue to enjoy your freedom of expression as a yoga teacher; so how about helping me out rather than saying that politics has no place in yoga and I am unyogic for even discussing it?

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Let's be sensible about this. If we are calling everything under the sun yoga, stepping way outside of our professional scope of practice, teaching in any sort of manner that brings any kind of disrepute on the profession, or not considering how the law of the land affects our teaching of yoga; then the people who are all for regulation, will be starting to wave their banners about, telling us that we are not safe and need to be regulated. The Broads & Remskis of the yoga world will rightly keep on writing more books telling us dangerous we are, and before long the public will start crying out for regulation too.

The only way to avoid it is to self regulate. With great freedom comes great responsibility. If we don't act responsibly, someone is going to come along and regulate us, and rightly so. But I believe that would be a shame. There's very little of our world that is unregulated. In some ways we are the guardians of that unregulated wild space; free from bureaucracy, shoulds and should nots. And people need that so much. They are regulated half to death in every other area of their lives. One of the main reasons that yoga works is because it gives people respite from the regulations.

Its a big responsibility to hold that wild space for folk. And its a big thing for people to step into that wild space. Go easy on them. And each other. And now I'm going to step down off my soap box and open a bottle of red, and if anyone tells me that's unyogic..... Enjoy your weekend folks!

Art by Maurice Sendak from the book ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

Debbie FarrarComment