Who’s teaching is it anyway? — Kia Miller

So, I was recently asked to give a presentation to a group of teacher trainees on a topic I love to teach. The studio asking me let me know that they wanted to film the presentation, so it could be shared with others who were not at the meeting. I later heard that there were some other presenters who had declined to be filmed because they felt the information they were sharing was proprietary to them. The experience brought up many questions for me about what yoga is, who ‘owns’ the teachings, and the ways we are going about sharing information that’s been given to us.

132/365  (+1 in comments)I can see both sides: On one hand, teachers pay lots of money to study, often taking multiple teacher trainings, and spending hours pouring over ancient yogic texts. This information has come at a cost for them, and they want to be able to earn a living from their hard work and study. Many teachers are teaching full time with families to feed, and they need to make a living as householders.

Some yoga teachers even develop and brand their own systems of yoga, then make their livelihood marketing it. Take for example Bikram Choudhury and his copyrighted set of poses taught in a heated room or John Friend and the Anusara brand of yoga. Not to mention the countless other spiritual masters who come from India to charge top dollar to learn a specific kriya or technique.

On the other hand, the ultimate goal of yoga is to spread the light, to uplift and elevate as many people as possible, to walk a path of service to the Whole. In short, the goal is to share wisdom. The word ‘yoga‘ literally means ‘union’ or ‘togetherness’. The Upanishad scriptures state that, in essence, all living beings are one and interconnected with each other.

The oldest of the Vedas, the Rig-Veda, begins with a prayer, “Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides.” One of the great Sanskrit invocations is translated:

“So let us think together, let us act together, let us be victorious together, for we all belong to that great light, where there is no place for hatred.”

So, the dilemma I face is this: I can be proprietary about the information I have and my way of presenting it OR I can share what I know with anyone who asks so that they in turn may be able to share it to far more people that I can access alone. I find myself leaning toward the latter.

I feel in my heart that I want to be on the side of generosity, as my teachers were before me, which is to me the essence of the path of teaching. What I understand is that no knowledge or information ‘belongs’ to us. In fact, I feel it is our duty as teachers to pass on as much information as we can so we can truly help people to evolve and to live more consciously each moment.

I would love to hear about how others think about this topic. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below…

Kia has spent 2 decades studying, practicing and teaching yoga throughout the world.  Kia teaches at YogaWorks in Los Angeles and leads several of their 200-hour and 300-hour teacher training programs each year.  Trained in both Hatha and Kundalini Yoga, Kia offers a powerful combination of asana, breath, meditation and chanting. Kia is a regular teacher at a number of different festivals and conferences including: Yoga Journal Conference, Wanderlust, Bhakti Festival, and Inner Idea Conference..  Kia’s first two DVD titles in the Radiant Body Yoga series ‘Sun Energy’ and ‘Core Energy’ are available at her website


(cc) photo credit: martinak15

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About Kia Miller

Kia has been studying, practicing and teaching yoga for over two decades all across the world. She teaches at YogaWorks in Los Angeles and leads several 200-hour and 300-hour teacher training programs each year. Trained in both Hatha and Kundalini Yoga, Kia offers a powerful combination of asana, breath, meditation and chanting. Kia is a regular teacher at a number of different festivals and conferences including: Yoga Journal Conference, Wanderlust, Bhakti Festival, and Inner Idea Conference. Kia’s first two DVD titles in the Radiant Body Yoga series ‘Sun Energy’ and ‘Core Energy’ are available at www.kiamiller.com

Comments

  1. So well said! I am personally against copyrighting or so called protecting rights of teaching meditation or yoga. Copyrighting the yoga or meditation teachings ruins the first basic purpose of such teachings: to share. We are simply not eligible to teach if there's zone of insecurity residing in it. If we ever take a step to simply spread love of yoga & meditation, the love will spread than we can ever imagine. I have just finished wrapping up a meditation course for my own wellness center & inspite of everyone's suggestions, I have decided not to trademark it. I have absolutely learned it & many other techniques since childhood but I also strongly believe that not copyrighting it would only spread its wings more. Thanks Kia Miller for reflecting on such an important issue!

  2. Great read! Copyrighting spirituality limits its accessibility for everyone. The point is to spread light, not hoard it for ourselves. The more people these sacred techniques reach, the better. Truth belongs to everyone. :) Namaste! <3

  3. "no knowledge or information ‘belongs’ to us." — So true! I think this is an idea that applies not only to yoga, but to all disciplines in this interconnected day and age where we are seeing more DIY education movements and open-sourced alternative education models spring up in the online and offfline world. I am all for charging fees for classes and lessons, but copyrighting specific meditation techniques or yoga poses? Not a fan.

  4. I'm a voice teacher, not a yogini, but this argument is just as relevant to my industry as anything else. There's a level where you don't own what you teach, regardless of what it is. Western society encourages the jealous guarding of intellectual property and trade secrets to the point where anything can be branded, copyrighted and commercialized, including Eastern philosophical practices.

    At the same time, if I'm wanting to learn from someone, whether it's yoga, meditation or anything else, if I receive value from it, I WANT to compensate the person who teaches me–out of gratitude, not brand loyalty.

  5. I remember when this came up several years ago in the Reiki community. The same arguments are still being voiced today. This seems to me to be so sad, for Yoga and Reiki and other teachings as well. Are we truly sharing if we "patent", or "copyright", or otherwise franchise ideas?
    In a perfect world, I suppose that students/clients/etc. would reciprocate without a mandate for a fee.
    But we live in *this* world.

  6. Love this article, Kia. As you and I have talked about before, it's such a tricky balance! On one hand, we all have to make a living somehow — and for yoga teachers, the teachings are the "product" they have to sell. But on the other hand, it bothers me that so many try to fit the teachings of yoga into these neat little branded packages and claim ownership over them. I don't know about others, but that runs completely counter to intentions in sharing yoga to begin with. But that issue arises is less extreme cases as well… every time we charge a student to come to our yoga class, we've really just monetized the teachings, right?

    I don't think there are concrete answers to the questions you pose, but I do think that in this case the studio should be up front and clear about what they plan on doing with those recordings. Will they be selling the footage and making a profit themselves? Or are the videos only to be shared with teacher trainees? That, for me, would make a big difference.

    Thank you again for such a great post! Love.

  7. When I pay for a yoga class or bit of writing about yoga, I am thinking about the teacher's time, effort, and dedication to learning the information. I am thinking about how much needs to be paid to the studio's rent, heat, lights, or mortgage. I am wondering how the teacher feeds, clothes, and houses herself and/or her children. I gladly pay for certain yoga classes and for music that feeds my soul, because I CAN pay. But I also share what I can with those who do not currently have the means to pay. Teaching yoga at the local jail or homeless shelter is sharing with those who cannot afford to pay. Asking the local library to attain certain books and videos about yoga and letting those in the community know how to access those materials is another way of sharing.

    Here's a sort of prayer that I say to myself when thinking of whether or not I will be compensated for various creative endeavors…. "With every exhale I freely give all that I have. With every inhale I accept all gifts." I truly believe that the universe will repay me a thousandfold for every generosity. In this way I continue to live in a mental and emotional environment of abundance.

    A friend recently shared this quote with me, "Sun never says to Earth, "You owe me". Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the whole sky." ~Hafiz When I remember this quote, it eases any tightness or worry that I have about being compensated for my works in life.

    What I have I must share. And this may be easy for me to say because I don't earn my living from teaching yoga. Because I don't earn my living from teaching yoga perhaps it is much easier for me to give away my teaching time. But I know that sharing what I have learned about yoga lights me up, makes me feel like my heart is as bright as the sun.

    I would like to transition into teaching yoga full time and I pause, because I want to continue to give it away. Can I have it both ways? I don't know yet. But that is my wish. I wish to support myself and my family by sharing the things that light me up… yoga, meditation, nature, music AND I wish to give these things away freely. Not either/or, but both/and. yeah. that is my wish. and so… with every exhale I will continue to give all that I have to give and with every inhale I will accept all gifts. and while I am working to get there…. I won't quit my day job.
    :-)

    1. Thanks Dawn. This path of yoga is so profound and beautiful. I love the wisdom of Hafiz… My sense as others have mentioned here, is that the more you give, the more you receive. The moment we start holding on to things we become more contracted…
      Blessings, Kia

  8. My teachers have been extremely generous with their support and teachings. When talking about my interpretation of peace, love, compassion and unity I want to be just as generous with my students. I make my living through yoga and I find places where the exchange can be monetary and I fight for that exchange to be fair but I also find places that the exchange is purely energetic. Often when giving it away I feel the greater return.

    1. Thanks Dawn. This path of yoga is so profound and beautiful. I love the wisdom of Hafiz… My sense as others have mentioned here, is that the more you give, the more you receive. The moment we start holding on to things we become more contracted…

  9. I sincerely believe that knowledge is meant to be spread. It should not be put under any stamp or pressured with limitations . Copy writing something like Yoga makes it sound artificial and unappealing . I used to go to a local Yoga Center . The environment of the center & approach of the Yoga Instructor was about making you feel good & whole. It was not about branding , but about Yoga the way it was & the way it should be spread in this world – so that more & more people benefit from it. The same kind of approach & work can be put forward by mushrooming Yoga Centers — preach/teach Yoga — not a product.

  10. Thank you for writing about this.

    Let us not be too careful who takes the credit…

    I have been teaching yoga for a couple years now & I repeat things that speak to me from a variety of teachers often times not giving credit as I don't always recall where it came from & I have been reading texts of wisdom & writing my own quotes for 15 years which comes through my teaching as well. I am happy for anyone who hears what I have to say to repeat it if it speaks to them …I can not spread this message alone & I don't need the credit. I am doing my best to make a living as a yoga teacher in our society & perhaps some believe it would better serve me to protect my 'wisdom', but I know better in my heart. After all, what is the purpose of yoga if not to transcend & shift consciousness so that we may all recognize our oneness & take care of each other.

    Just this morning, I was mentoring with a teacher I admire very much & she began talking about what we see when we look in the mirror…about 6 months ago, I was visiting that idea in my classes often. It was almost as though I was listening to myself speak in my classes as our wording was so connected. I had never heard her speak of it before & she has not been to my classes. How can we possibly say that something is only our idea if we are truly experiencing & flowing in consciousness?

    If we are going within & experiencing oneness, we will not run out of ideas & sometimes the greatest way to learn is to mirror others at times to build confidence in our own voice & creativity…

    Saying that we have to 'survive' in our society is an excuse that is keeping us stuck in these habit patterns of the mind that don't serve us…may we come together as yoga teachers & share with reckless abandon to guide the world to inner peace.

    Let us not live in fear…our earth is a place of abundance if we allow it to be.

    1. I have had this too. Funny how all of a sudden many teachers who do not appear to be connected will be talking about similar things – like we tap into a collective inspiration. May the Energy keep flowing…

  11. Excellent article, and so much wisdom in the comments. I practice and teach yoga and Reiki but don’t charge for either. I feel fortunate to have a “day job” that pays well and comes with a lot of vacation time. I think it’s okay to charge though, if you need to, and also if you’re clear that what you’re charging for is your time – which certainly is valuable. I really believe it all works out in the end.
    I really believe the problem with “branding” yoga is that the rules seem so exacting, so precise. How can you listen to your own voice when someone else’s is considered to be “right”? I believe a good teacher gives you the tools to find your own truth through your own experiences.

  12. I think there needs to be a balance. Yes, at the core yoga is an uplifting, universal source that is free to roam into open hearts of the world. On the other end, intellectual property does pay respect and homage for the enlightened yogic guidance the instructors receive from their Higher Power, and their efforts to share their novel practices. Why not honor both? Maybe as an exchange initiative, we adopt the principals of artists in the Renaissance era. We commission or donate (I dislike the connotation there) master individuals to create yogic programs to share with all. Then hopefully inspiration spreads like wildfire.