By Azahar Aguilar
How do teachers know when to refer yoga students? Sometimes, referring a yoga student to a medical or yoga specialist is appropriate. Common referrals include when a student has an injury, is pregnant, or has a chronic condition. If a student is injured, it is important to refer them to a medical professional to get the proper treatment. When a student is pregnant, it is important to refer them to a yoga specialist to get the appropriate modifications for their practice. Additionally, if a student has a chronic condition, it is important to refer them to a yoga specialist to get the appropriate modifications and support.
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams.
The Right Fit
A yoga student will ideally have many yoga teachers in his or her lifetime. One teacher cannot act as an expert in all styles, modalities, and afflictions, especially with the diversity of the human population, the human body, and the number of options in yoga styles today. As an instructor, you must remember each time you step into the studio, the ego must be removed when you direct a group of students. Teach to the best of your ability, and recognize when a practitioner has the opportunity to learn from another teacher. Each student is on a specific and unique yoga path; try not to be the one to disrupt or confuse that process, and know when to refer yoga students.
The Three Major Types of Referral Opportunities
New practitioners, prenatal or postnatal students, and those with physical or mental afflictions typically need the most love, attention, and care. Bless these students with the opportunity to learn from other teachers specializing in these areas if you feel uncomfortable with them. Knowing when to refer yoga students is just a matter of gentle guidance.
New students may have many questions about specific postures. While you can answer most questions from beginning practitioners, often some teachers connect with new students and have a unique way of introducing them to the practice. Allow these teachers to share their gifts in this area and take the time to refer new students to them. If a student is new to yoga, it is important to refer them to beginner classes. In these classes, students will learn yoga’s basic poses and principles. They will also be able to ask questions and get guidance from the instructor. Once students understand the basics well, they can move on to more advanced classes.
When students come to you wanting to start yoga but they are pregnant, it is best to refer them to a certified prenatal yoga teacher. The reason is that as the pregnancy progresses, the student will need modifications for certain poses that you might not be able to give them. So, to keep your student safe and healthy, it is best to refer them to a prenatal yoga specialist.
Students with physical and mental injuries or afflictions require a lot of love and attention. Some practitioners speak up about questions and alert you to aches, pains, or mood disturbances. Others you only may notice as you walk around the room during class. If you have a student who is in mental or physical pain, it is important to know when to refer them to a yoga therapist or another health professional. When a student is experiencing pain in any part of their body, it is important to have them stop practicing and seek help. Also, if the student is having difficulty breathing, feeling faint, or has any other medical condition, it is important to seek help.
Take the time to learn a few modifications for the most common physical (shoulder pain, lower back injuries, knee problems, and ankle issues) and mental (anxiety, non-clinical depression, stress), but have a comfortable line ready to refer them if their question or behavior in class seems to surpass your level of comfort. Think of a gentle way to offer a recommendation to another teacher with a similar injury, specialty in anatomy, or focus on mental afflictions. Gently advise students to ask their doctor, especially if you do not know specialists within your yoga community.
Focus on Your Strongest Niches
Understand where you feel most calm, at peace, and energized in the styles of yoga that you teach. These are your home bases. Take the time to learn everything you can about these niches, talk to your students after class, and others may begin to refer to you when they have questions or practitioners that require more knowledge in these areas. When aches, pains, or life experiences occur on your journey (bodily injuries or pregnancy), take them as an opportunity to become well versed in the area. Students respect and trust someone that has coped with a similar bodily injury or life experience and will want to learn from your process.
Wrap Your Referral with a Gift
Love yourself and your students enough to continue your education. If a student walks into class and asks for modifications or to target mental care, offer your guidance, but don’t be afraid to recommend another teacher or medical professional with more experience. Supplement your referral with recommendations in other resources such as books, videos, and specialty classes, and take the time later to look up important modifications to have on hand for the future if you feel a bit rusty. There is nothing wrong with admitting that while you are a trained instructor, your specialty lies elsewhere, and you don’t have the experience with a specific topic to feel comfortable as an authority on the subject.
Teaching Has Limitations
Teachers may need to be authoritative in all yoga subjects, but students will understand you can’t be an expert in every practice or situation. It takes more love to refer your students to another practitioner or medical professional with experience in the area. At the same time, let them know the areas you are well versed in, in case they have future questions in that yoga subject. It is important for yoga teachers to know their limits in knowledge. Sometimes, a student will come to them with a question that is beyond their scope of practice. In these cases, it is best to refer the student to someone who can help them. This could be another yoga teacher, a doctor, or a therapist. By knowing when to refer students, yoga teachers can ensure they get the help they need.
Balancing Ethical Possibilities
Never stop looking for opportunities to expand your knowledge. If you feel uncomfortable with certain modifications, but it comes up consistently as a question, have a few modifications on hand. Just take the time to offer a referral after class to supplement your adjustment. Balancing ethical possibilities is important in knowing when to refer yoga students. In some cases, referring a student to another teacher or practitioner who can better meet their needs may be appropriate. Other times, it may be more beneficial to the student to keep them in the class and provide support. Ultimately, the decision should be based on what is in the student’s best interest and what will help them grow the most.
To Refer a Student Comes from a Place of Love and Truth
Continually learn and explore. Take new classes, hang out with other yoga teachers, find a mentor, and read yoga articles and books. Fascinate yourself with the diversity of this practice and the number of afflictions it unlocks. Practice your referral conversation so it feels natural and filled with love. As a teacher, you affect the lives of your students and those around them. Your students will thank you for the love behind your referral.
Should Yoga Teachers Give Medical Advice?
In short, the answer is “No.” Yoga teachers are many things – they are versatile fitness gurus, grounded spiritual examples, and compassionate and open-minded leaders in their community. Many teachers have a lot of experience in not just the practice of yoga but also in human anatomy and the body. This means that many experienced yoga instructors can recognize pain and discomfort in their students during practice. However, yoga teachers should recognize their limitations when dispensing medical advice. Legally, yoga teachers are not licensed to give medical advice in most areas of health. Sometimes, a student needs you to recommend a medical professional to help with their injury or discomfort.
Be Up Front About Your Qualifications
Many people will ask their yoga teacher questions about health and medicine. This may be because your students are more comfortable talking to you than their normal primary care physician, whom they may not see regularly. As a yoga instructor, you must tell your students that you are not equipped to give medical advice. This is for the safety of your students as well as for your safety regarding legal and ethical matters. If students come to you asking for detailed, personal health information, such as what it means if their back pinches in a certain pose or why they are having digestive issues, avoid trying to diagnose the issue. Instead, recommend seeing a medical professional – such as their primary care doctor or a chiropractor. If you get asked many questions, you can always have contact information for nearby medical professionals on hand.
Suggesting Poses and Props
If your student does have an already diagnosed medical condition or injury, one thing you can do without worry is recommending which poses they should avoid. This is something yoga instructors will learn during their teacher training. For example, you can help students with back problems avoid pain by telling them to avoid poses like intense backbends and deep forward bends. You can also help students by recommending poses that can help strengthen the area or stretch the sore muscles. For students with existing injuries or pain due to lack of flexibility, props can also be used to make the poses easier and gentler. Have props like yoga blocks, straps, and bolsters available for use in your class so that you can help your students find the best way to do a pose for their current physical ability level.
Avoid Nutritional Recommendations
Since yoga focuses on natural health and healing, many students will have questions about holistic nutrition and herbal supplements during class. While you may have nutrition guidelines outside the studio, it is important to avoid giving any nutritional advice in the classroom. As a yoga teacher, you are not licensed to dispense this information, which could land you in legal hot water. The best approach is to recommend that someone with specific dietary concerns seek professional guidance from a doctor, a licensed nutritionist, or a dietician. If you like, you can keep business cards or brochures at the studio for local professionals.
Since yoga teachers hold such a personal, prominent role in the lives of their regular students, they are often swamped with personal questions about health and medicine. As an instructor, you are responsible for directing students to the appropriate professionals regarding health, medicine, and nutrition. This will not only help your students to achieve optimal health, but it will also protect you from getting into trouble legally and ethically.
Food for Thought
It is the yoga teacher’s responsibility to remain aware of the ethical implications of their words and actions within the student-teacher relationship. There are countless ways a yoga teacher can unwittingly cross ethical boundaries with their students. To protect both the teacher and the student, it is important that teachers understand where the line is between an appropriate student-teacher relationship and an unethical one. Sometimes, two good people should not be together in the same yoga class.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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