We learn about cheating at school. We know copying someone else’s homework right before the lesson is wrong, but sometimes you get away with having ‘done the work’. Then, by extension, we learn about plagiarism and copyright infringement; it’s wrong to take someone else’s work and pass it off as our own.
But what’s the stance on stealing sequence and yoga lesson ideas from other teachers? Is this as bad as plagiarism and cheating? There’s no doubt about it that yogic stealing happens. One of the founding principles of yoga is asteya – or non-stealing. The third of Patanjali’s yamas, asteya is also the urge to covet what another has. We might want the charisma of another teacher, the smooth teaching style, the easy grace. But that is not ours to take. What we can take are their ideas.
So how do we sort out the ethics of yogic stealing?
As a trainee yoga teacher, I remember very clearly being told that you shouldn’t just parrot instructions like a shopping list. Rather, you need to go home, work on the instructions that chimed with you in the lesson, and only give the instruction when you could teach it from your own experience.
However, when we are teacher trainees we are not ‘stealing’ the knowledge of the teacher trainers. Firstly, we’re paying for it! Also, the idea is that we are learning, establishing our theoretical knowledge through physical practice and experience, and then, once we’re qualified, passing it on to others, safely and responsibly.
When we become teachers it’s not as if we stop learning. If anything the learning curve is even steeper. For most teachers, attending our own lessons and going to workshops and CPD (Continuing Professional Development) workshops are part of our ongoing yoga journey. These are valid ways to improve our teaching and keep learning as practitioners.
The difference between stealing another yoga teacher’s lesson plan, and adding to your toolkit of yoga teaching skills, is practice and acknowledgment.
I have been in many classes where the senior teacher will acknowledge the method or teaching point they’re using if it is not originally theirs. They might say, “Those of you that were at the (insert brilliant yoga teacher’s name here) workshop, will remember their point about focusing on the calves in Adho Mukha Svanasana” – or something like that. We all learn something new, but the teacher doesn’t pretend it’s their idea.
However, it’s not practical to acknowledge every single teaching source for our ideas. It would make for a pretty dull and repetitive yoga class.
But if it’s something freshly learnt from a workshop that you went to in order to become a better teacher, then acknowledge the source. By doing that you enrich it, expand it, and let it grow by passing it on to your own students.
Be confident in your own ideas!
Another reason that yoga teachers might ‘steal’ lesson plans and themes from other teachers is that they’re not confident enough in their own planning abilities. Lesson planning is not easy, and it’s a never-ending job. Sometimes a lesson plan can go well, at other times you can get to the end of the lesson and feel like you’ve been in a car crash.
By using another teacher’s tried and tested lesson plan there’s an element of security. However, in truth, even if the lesson has been tested 100 times, there are still no guarantees that it will work with the particular group of students that you have in front of you. I often teach variations of the same plan to multiple classes in a week and sometimes what worked the evening before seems over-complicated the next day.
But the best way to learn about lesson planning and themes is to simply try things out! If you’ve got a group of students that have been coming to you for a long time, then test out new ideas on them first, and if it’s successful you can roll it out to your other classes.
Taking Lesson Plans from a Book/Or Online Source
This isn’t technically stealing. You have, after all, bought the book. Many of us use outside learning tools to help us with our home practice or to gain valuable yoga business or teaching ideas. I use a book every month for the brilliant menstruation sequences and advice in there. There’s no doubt that this has influenced the way I teach around menstruation because I know how much I value the wisdom in its pages.
Perhaps the test needs to be allowing a certain amount of time to pass before incorporating learnt ideas and plans into our teaching. By giving time to mentally ‘digest’ the new things learnt, we allow the knowledge to move from head to heart. If we simply copy things out of a book or note down an online course idea, we are simply regurgitating knowledge.
I teach a group of students who also regularly attend a class with another teacher. Often they’ll comment that the other teacher and I teach very similar classes or have the same focus pose in the same week. This is not on purpose, but as this teacher and I attend the same class, it’s not a huge surprise! However, the surprising fact is that we’re not just repeating the class our teacher taught. Instead, it seems that we’ve tapped into some shared yogic consciousness that just means that a certain pose seems to be instinctively chosen that week.
In the same way, you’ll find that a certain pose might seem to become ‘fashionable’. You’ll focus on a pose in your classes, and then find that it keeps reappearing in other classes you attend. This is because as yogis, we are all connected. The yogic ‘hive mind’ is at work, and as the seasons change and the politics get crazier and crazier (!) we instinctively all reach for those poses that will steady us, open our hearts, or detox our bodies and minds.
Yoga is not copyrighted. It’s not owned by anyone.
People try their best to brand it and make it theirs. But the very foundations of yoga are unity and trying to take little bits of yoga and make it yours goes against that founding principle. B. K. S. Iyengar and Patthabi Jois, two of the founding fathers of yoga in this century, took a practice that was very niche and gave it freely to the whole world. They held nothing back and they didn’t claim it.
As yoga practitioners, it’s our job to spread the benefits of yoga to as many people as we can. We’re also tasked with the job of keeping our own learning journey going for as long as our yoga lasts because there is always more to learn. So, respecting the examples of our yogic forebears, give freely and give credit where credit is due.