What is the difference between morals and ethics? 

The root word for morals comes from the Latin mor or mov which means customs. The root word for ethics comes from the Greek word ethos meaning character.


Morals are personal codes of right and wrong, which are abstract, subjective or based around religion. Morals are transferable and relevant to the culture, the place in history and political climate. What may be morally acceptable to one person or culture, may not be to you or us.  A politician may lack moral fibre when involved in a sex scandal, but that may depend on the culture and the generally acceptable standards of behaviour. Alternatively, a politician who accepts money from a company he is supposed to regulate may be an ethical issue.    


The yamas and niyamas are the universal and personal codes of conduct set out in Patanjalis eight limbs of yoga.


  • Ahimasa  –  non violence
    • Satya  –  truthfulness
    • Asteya  –  non-stealing
    • Brahmacharya  –  non-excess, abstinence
    • Aparigraha  –  non  – greed, non-hoarding


  • Saucha  –  purity
  • Santosha  –  contentment
  • Tapa  –  self-discipline, training the senses
  • Svadhyaya  –  self-study, inner exploration
  • Ishvara pranidhana  –  surrender


As a yoga teacher we have a responsibility to uphold yoga’s moral and ethical codes. It is our responsibility to apply moral and ethical codes, when dealing with our students and when promoting our business. How we behave affects how viable yoga is as a higher way of living.

At Yoga Dharma we get many enquiries for yoga and meditation classes and to ensure the student is directed to the most appropriate class, we enquire as to the student’s expectations. A likely response is they are tense and need to relax, have been recommended by their medical practitioner, yoga is very relaxing, and they can’t stop the mind working. 


Yoga and meditation do have the tools to help with these issues, but not necessarily in the way the student may expect. Yoga is a tool for transformation and will cause pain as the path of transformation is undergone. This may be physical pain, or emotional pain and needs the guidance of an experienced teacher to steer them through the rocky waters to come.  If the teacher has undergone many years of self-practice with the guidance of an experienced teacher, they will be qualified to guide the student through the rocky waters. 


As yoga teachers we have a moral and ethical obligation to uphold the values passed on to us.  There are concerns that yoga and meditation are being presented as a generic system without applying the cultural and spiritual values behind it.

Yoga asana will make the body fit and lean and meditation will make the mind sharp. Without including the ethical and moral principles it will bind us even closer to the ego and materialism. 


The kleshas form part of the Yoga Sutras and are described as the obstacles to truth or the five causes of affliction.   

1. Avidya: misapprehension about the real nature of things. Avidya could be the seed bed for all other kleshas

2.  Asmita: ego, when the experiencer and the experienced seem the same

3. Raga: attachment. Remembrance of pleasure

4. Dvesha: aversion. Suffering as a result of a past experience

5. Abinhivesha: fear. Fear of death, wrong perception of the body as the self         

Yoga tells us that ignorance is no excuse and we have a responsibility to educate ourselves. The Kleshas highlight the 5 causes of ignorance with avidya being the root of the cause of suffering.


When meditation is dressed up as a new system such as mindfulness and taught as a generic system of mental relaxation, it is said can lead to deep emotional problems. There are many systems of meditation which have their roots in cultural and spiritual backgrounds, and involve waking up the mind, not pacifying it. The process of waking up will inevitably involve releasing deeply buried issues, which may be experienced as physical or mental pain.

The system of yoga meditation set out in Patanjalis sutras explains this and gives us the tools to understand and process the pain. With the guidance of the teacher who will have undergone the same process themselves, they will be able to guide and advise a safe way through the experience for their students.       


The path of meditation is not suitable for everyone, and students sometimes need to be protected from themselves. A person with psychological problems may well be drawn to mediation as a way of pacifying the mind, in the mistaken belief meditation will relax them. Meditation has its dangers and without the underpinning of the cultural values behind it, exposing our dark side will be disturbing and potentially harmful.


There is an experience in mediation defined as the void, for which the only explanation is nothing-lessness. Meditation takes the practitioner through many layers, which can start with the body, and experienced as discomfort and restlessness. As the practice progresses the experiences go from the external to the internal, that can lead to an experience known as the void. From personal experience the void was like standing on the edge of nothing. Faced with the prospect that nothing exits including the self is a sobering experience, which may have huge emotional consequences without proper preparation.      


Yoga and meditation throw up issues to face requiring a teacher with knowledge gained through personal experience to guide students safely on the path.     

If we embark on the life of a yoga teacher and continue to act in ignorance, we must eventually face the consequences of our actions.  

Martin Thompson.