Kindness of Business

Yoga and Ethical Business

At first, it may be hard to discern an ethical business from a non-ethical one. Often, when we find out, it's too late. There are people who do right and people who are just selling you "do right". They are in every field and every market; but, it got me to thinking about yoga as an ethical business since I teach yoga and because it is a practice where you are very close to people. I asked Joan Harris, owner of Umber Yoga, questions about yoga and business ethics. Here's what she had to say:

1. Do you think your standards for ethics in yoga is different from any other business?

No, I don’t think my standards are any different.

2. Do you treat people differently with yoga than with your other professional work?

I’d like to say that I don’t, but I guess I do because in my other profession there are rules, procedures, and protocols and those rules are not always consistent with what I would do; but because of those rules, I’d have to say that I do treat people differently.

3. Do clients ever seek to take free classes, because it’s yoga and somehow it is held to a different standard? Is yoga held to a different standard?

No, I don’t think so anymore. In the recent past, yes. Traditionally, yoga was free and your guru didn’t charge you for knowledge and wisdom, as long as you were coming. Now your yoga teachers are in business and people don’t come expecting anything for free. That said, I don’t think that yoga should cost you a fortune. While it should be free, business owners must pay rent and I don’ t see people trying to take advantage.

4. What’s the importance behind skill and training in yoga?

As a teacher, I place less emphasis on the skill and more importance on the training. You have got to learn or at least be willing to learn the whole practice of yoga, because everyone can’t stand on their head-teacher or student-which is more about skill. What’s important is the philosophy. The training is ongoing and never ends. Even if the teacher is not industry recognized, you still want to be trained properly. Training is more important than skill. The certification is always the best.

5. What do you think the link is between being a business owner and being kind?

My link is to treat people the way you would like to be treated out in the world. Treat people with kindness and be reasonable. Perhaps being reasonable is important here. If a policy doesn’t work, I’d like to be able to do what does work. In the case of yoga, for example assisting/touching a student in a pose might be appropriate, but a policy might not allow that. At the same time, that may be what the person needs. If it were me, I’d like the instructor to be able to assist me in the pose.

6. What should yoga students make of the connection between kindness and the practice of yoga?

Just the notion that someone is coming to a yoga class means that they are trying to be kind to themselves. It may be that they are being kind to no one else, but themselves, but this is still kindness. But if you can be kind to yourself, you can be kind to others. If you allow yoga to open you up to non-judgement and breath, for example, you may be able to do that with other people or to share that energy.

As an instructor and a business owner, this question speaks to kindness and yoga, but also to the code of conduct that yoga businesses are asked to adhere to. A lady that I was teaching became injured and couldn’t practice yoga. She had already bought several class packages and rather than refund her, she asked that I pass the classes on to someone who needed them. At the same time, I had two sisters coming who said that keeping up with classes was beyond their financial means. To honor the injured woman’s request, I split her remaining classes between the two sisters. It was kind of that woman, and I also felt compelled to honor her request, rather than not re-issuing the paid for classes.

What do you think of the Code of Conduct for Yoga Instructors? 

Interviewer/Me: We always have the option of erring off the path, but when we go back to basic yoga principles, or in this case, the code of conduct, the right answer is easy to give.

Joan: A woman came to me and she was eager to begin yoga classes. She had arthritis and asked if I could heal her. Of course, I wanted her to buy yoga classes, but I could not guarantee that taking yoga classes would heal her (although they would probably help her). Acknowledging limits and balancing this with getting new students is important.

Umber Yoga:

King Arthur Flour and Kindness

I'll start by saying that I am (unfortunately) not being paid to endorse King Arthur Flour. Nonetheless, I love the example of a big company articulating kindness by treating its employees well.  With that said, life is not a panacea.  Every company has unsettling characters. This motivates me to continue to write to figure out how to engage with most people with your kindness intact (notice I said "most").  That said, if you are thinking about how to make your organization better, the ideas articulated here are a great point of departure.  It seems here that the employees at King Arthur are more happy than not.

Check out this article to find out what it means for this organization to do their best by their employees. 

"This Company Boosts Growth By Treating Its Employees like Royalty":


Why bother to write, read, and practice higher values? Didn't you learn that in school?

Check out this recent podcast from Radio Times about office behavior: