By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
How can teachers establish Yoga student safety guidelines? For all Yoga instructors, the number one priority in our classes is student safety. Hatha Yoga is important for the health of the mind and body, but, unfortunately, it can be unsafe if not practiced properly. In comparison to many other physical activities, Yogic methods are in the lower risk category.
Compare Yoga Student Safety to Other Popular Activities
Walking, golfing, canoeing, and swimming are also great activities, but most people never consider the fact that serious accidents and fatalities happen during these activities. My point is not to shift attention to another activity as more hazardous, but when you think of the possibilities, Yoga students are less likely to be hit by automobiles, golf carts or golf balls during a class. That said, when you turn a Yoga class into a boot camp or torture chamber, there is much more room for error and accidents.
Yoga Student Safety and Every Day Possibilities
The therapeutic benefits of Yoga can be magnificent, but over-extension of the muscles can occur if the poses are performed incorrectly or held for a time period longer than a student can handle. Many Yoga students are able to recognize easily when they are having a problem; but it is important for Yoga teachers to understand the signs that accompany a potential injury, as there are quite a few new students who may not have the ability to recognize a problem or who wish to push themselves as much as possible in order to keep up with the crowd.
Room for Concern
The usual concern with regard to Yoga student safety is the potential for tearing or straining of the muscles. When a student extends a muscle more than it can safely move, such as a deep lunge that puts excessive strain on the muscles of the inner thighs, this can cause injury in the muscles that will require a long-term healing process, which might involve physical therapy, rest, and less time for practicing in classes. Bed rest, and time away from work, are frequently prescribed to patients who have sustained a joint-related injury. This means that students are not able to practice yoga regularly and are not receiving the benefits to their health that it provides.
Pre-Existing Health Conditions
Many people practice Yoga for its therapeutic benefits, due to existing health concerns, and an injury for these students is a difficult situation if a posture (asana) practice has caused an additional injury or complicated the recovery from a pre-existing problem. Less physical activity, due to injury, can lead to a compromised immune system, and those students with health problems cannot afford to become ill. Even the smallest cold may lead to more severe problems, which complicates the healing process.
Other potential injuries associated with unsafe Yoga practices are problems in the tendons, ligaments, tissues within the spinal column, and tearing of cartilage. These injuries require long healing processes that may add up to months of recovery. Warming up, prior to beginning an asana practice, by doing basic circular or linear warm-ups, can prevent many of these injuries. Teaching students to be mindful of their bodies and making them aware of how gradual stretching should feel is important in helping them avoid a potential injury, and it empowers them with the knowledge to safely practice yoga when they are not in the presence of an instructor.
The Importance of Yoga Student Safety
As a teacher, establishing student safety is a primary responsibility that should be taken seriously. As focus is placed on the body, mind, and breath, instructors must be sure that every single student under their care is working properly and not putting any unnecessary strain on their bodies. Remaining safe during practice will result in a more effective Yoga training session, healthier students, and clear minds.
Get off your mat. If you cannot see your students, because a posture puts you out of position, this is the time to walk around the room. Taking an active role in class and, if needed, physically adjusting students will show them how to remain properly aligned and supported. Ask the the class up front about permission to assist and that you might be touching them if needed so they are not startled by your presence. If a student has issues with physical assists, you can still verbally explain how to correct an alignment. In fact, with viruses, flus, and sexual harassment in the mix, the assist for now and into the future may be verbal only. Many facilities are adopting “hands off” policies to prevent a wave of problems.
Explain Individual Limits
It is human nature to compare and judge. Encourage students to only work to their own limit and not be concerned with how their classmate is stretching further or holding a certain pose. Remain encouraging and speak of individual limits as a known factor of yoga; it is expected and normal that all students have different and unique bodies, with different levels of flexibility.
When demonstrating asanas, teachers should demonstrate alternatives so students have a visual that they can follow. Teachers can also verbally explain alternatives to breathing techniques (pranayama) and poses. If students understand that they can do an alternative pose, they will be less likely to attempt a posture that may cause them discomfort or an injury.
Emotional Flow and Yoga Student Safety
Creating a safe emotional environment, in which to practice Yoga, is an incredibly important part of the Yogic experience. Students need to feel safe mentally, emotionally, and physically, to get the most out of their time spent at the Yoga studio. Teachers can help a student feel comfortable and safe by being upfront about the emotional connection that is inherent in Yoga practice.
Let them know that it is fine to have emotions. Some asana and pranayama techniques can unlock muscular tension and release an emotional flow. If energy or tension is trapped in the body and suddenly released, each of us reacts to it differently. What is a state of euphoria for one person might make another person feel emotional. Imagine if all your life, you felt like you had a monkey standing on your chest that would not let you breathe, and suddenly it was gone. That’s bound to cause some sort of emotional reaction. Once students realize that this a normal experience, they will feel safe expressing themselves and working through their emotions.
Food for Thought
The practice of Yoga is unique. Students feel cared for and important, when their instructor takes the time to ensure that they are practicing safely. When Yoga instructors commit to keeping all of their students safe, class becomes a comfortable, supportive, and safe environment. Yoga student safety standards improve through a steady practice of quality in teaching.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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4 thoughts on “Establishing Yoga Student Safety Guidelines”
This is an extremely thoughtful commentary of student safety.